DOH!!

Amid reports of interest from Tottenham, Adam Bate analyses Matt Doherty’s unique role as a wing-back and a goal poacher for Wolves. Assessing how he would fit in under Jose Mourinho and why he would be a difficult player to replace at Molineux… 

Last Updated: 27/08/20 10:21am

Wolves' Matt Doherty is a wing-back unlike any other in the Premier League

Matt Doherty plays as a right wing-back for Wolves but he interprets that position in an unusual way.

He does not just hug the touchline and provide width but acts as a genuine penalty box threat. Freeze the frame and he can appear to be Raul Jimenez’s strike partner at times. Doherty is reinventing the role. He is Wolves’ defender-turned-poacher extraordinaire.

This is not news to any fantasy football aficionado. Doherty has scored eight goals for club and country in each of the past two seasons – numbers that owe little to good fortune and lots to the Republic of Ireland international’s ability to raid forward from the right flank.

In fact, four Premier League goals was a slightly underwhelming return last term given his threat. Doherty’s expected goals tally, based on quality of chances, was closer to seven. That was more than every Wolves midfielder combined. He was almost twice as likely to score as Adama Traore – the man ahead of him in the line-up graphic but rarely so on the pitch itself.

Doherty has more touches in the box than any other Premier League defender

The key to Doherty’s success is his willingness to drive into the box like no other so-called defender in the Premier League. He has had over 200 touches in the opposition area over the past two seasons. Among defenders, that puts him out on his own, but it is rarefied air regardless. Doherty has had more touches in the box than Kevin De Bruyne in that time.

For Wolves, in particular, the importance of his appetite to push forwards cannot be overstated given their otherwise rigid structure. Joao Moutinho and Ruben Neves rarely make it that high up the pitch. Traore prefers to stay wide to isolate the full-back. It is essential for Nuno Espirito Santo’s system that Doherty provides that option in the box.

Doherty's run was the catalyst for Daniel Podence's goal against Palace

Consider Daniel Podence’s opening goal against Crystal Palace in Wolves’ final home game of last season. Much of the focus in the immediate aftermath was on Moutinho’s exquisite lofted pass through to Doherty that set up the goal. But the ball could not happen without the run from the 28-year-old Irishman – expertly timed to break the defensive line.

Watch Wolves regularly and it is noticeable how often the ball does not come. Doherty, head bowed, returns to his position with that languid stride of his and prepares to go again. It is a routine more akin to that of a striker trying to beat the offside trap than a wing-back.

He summed up his thought process in a recent interview in which he discussed his 94th-minute winner at Newcastle in 2018. “It was the last minute of the game, give it one more run and see what happens. If it came out and I wasn’t there, I would have regretted it.”

Doherty was Wolves' most advanced player when scoring against Man City

Doherty had his reward again in the closing stages of the dramatic win over Manchester City in December. Again, it was the final moments of the match. Again, it was Doherty with the decisive impact, rushing forward to score. At the moment that he struck the ball left-footed into the net, he was Wolves’ most advanced player – the only one inside the penalty box.

He is not the only wide defender in the Premier League with a pivotal attacking role to play but, as the numbers suggest, his is unique. The principle offensive threat provided by Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson is from their crossing. Doherty makes underlapping runs instead. He is less of a creator, much more of a goal poacher.

Doherty's shot map for Wolves for the 2019/20 Premier League season

Examine his shot locations since Wolves returned to the Premier League and they help to tell the tale. There are some impressive finishes in there but the most obvious point is that there have been plenty of tap-ins too. The opportunities that come to those who find themselves in the right place at the right time.

His equaliser at Tottenham in March was a prime example. Japhet Tanganga’s clearance from Ruben Vinagre’s low left-wing cross was a poor one, but who was there to slot home from six yards out? Doherty had little right to be there. It was a counter-attack. But there he was, nevertheless.

It is natural to wonder how much of that skill is learned and how much of it is down to Doherty’s own instincts. “He never says no to a challenge,” says Nuno. But is this just a man exploiting his licence to attack or is there an innate ability to sense where the ball will drop?

Perhaps the best clue to the answer comes on the other wing for Wolves. Jonny Otto and Ruben Vinagre are players with gifts of their own. The former is a tidy and diligent defender, the latter has the tricks to beat his opponent. Neither has the scoring record of Doherty. Neither has been able to find themselves in the positions that their counterpart takes up.

Doherty's touch map for the 2019/20 Premier League season with Wolves

As Wolves reflect on their first two seasons back in the Premier League, thoughts inevitably turn to how they might be able to improve. Given the top-class players elsewhere in the team, there could be a temptation to think wing-back offers the potential for an upgrade.

But the three years of work that Nuno has done with Doherty – converting him from the left side of defence, remember – should not be underestimated and would certainly not be quick to replicate. How do Wolves even begin to scout for the replacement?

The relationship that Doherty has forged with Traore has been just as important to the team’s success as the more celebrated one between Traore and Jimenez. His understanding with others such as Conor Coady provides the basis for plenty of Wolves’ build-up play.

Wolves' passing networks under Nuno Espirito Santo in the 2019/20 season

The Wolves captain is credited with completing more long-range passes than any other outfield player over the past two seasons, but he needs a target to hit. Doherty is the outlet, making the most of those passes with a sure touch or by competing in the air. It is worth noting that he also won more aerial duels than any other wide defender last season.

“It is not just about me practising the pass,” says Coady. “It is about knowing where your runners are going to be. I have to make sure that I know what run Doc or Adama will do to make sure that the pass lands in their path. Sometimes they can drop back or sometimes they can go forward with it more. Everybody knows their role and how to play it.”

In Doherty’s case, that is especially significant because his role is truly unique right now in the Premier League. Wolves’ wing-back-cum-poacher has made the position his very own.

How would he fit in at Tottenham?

On the face of it, Tottenham might not seem an obvious fit given Jose Mourinho has favoured a nominal back-four for much of his career. However, in practice, his deployment of Serge Aurier as an advanced right-back means that his attacking responsibilities have been more akin to that of a wing-back than a full-back anyway.

Mourinho has preferred an asymmetrical formation with Ben Davies sweeping to provide greater defensive cover on the left side. This has given Aurier licence to go forward.

The result is that the majority of Tottenham’s openings originate from moves on that right flank. The threat has been high but the end product from Aurier has not always been there.

Tottenham have been more threatening when attacking down the right flank

His effectiveness in that role has been a subject of much debate among Spurs supporters.

The statistics show Aurier he puts in a lot of crosses – the fourth most of any Premier League defender last season, behind only the Liverpool duo and Everton’s Lucas Digne. The statistics also reveal that he has one of the worst cross completion rates of any defender in the competition – failing to find his man with 85.4 per cent of his deliveries into the box.

Aurier actually succeeded in provided more assists than Doherty last season. But there is still the suspicion that another player could have used the time and space more efficiently. Perhaps it is time for another way.

Doherty’s off-the-ball movement and aerial ability in both boxes would appeal to Mourinho. There are prettier players but few in his position who can impact the game quite so much. A move to London in this transfer window would solve a problem for Spurs – and create one for Wolves.


We don’t do Stubbed Toes…

Modern day footballers aren’t just natural athletes; they are assets, they are vessels, ready to be filled up and poured out, they are specimens.

Premier League players are engineered to hit the heights, fill up trophy cabinets and etch smiles onto thousands of faces every time they do their day job.

And they certainly aren’t left to their own devices. The future direction of a club does not merely lie in its current stable of talent, it is dependant on an environment designed to unlock potential and optimise the function of every cell – literally – in a player’s body to succeed.

That’s where The Lodge comes in.

RadioTimes.com was invited along to The Lodge for a behind-the-scenes taste of life as an elite Premier League footballer to witness first-hand the processes a player must enjoy and endure in equal measures to achieve footballing glory.

We were put through our paces in a gruelling workout session led by Jose Mourinho’s right-hand man, fuelled up by a crack team of nutritionists and chefs, before expending those calories in a training session led by Spurs legend Ledley King.

Work hard

All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur

Carlos works his subjects hard in fitness sessions Tottenham Hotspur

A whisper of the name ‘Carlos’ around The Lodge is always greeted with the same reaction, a smile, a grin, a intake of breath.

Carlos Lalín, Venezuelan-born, Madrid-educated. He has followed Mourinho from Real Madrid to Chelsea, from the Bridge to Manchester United, from Old Trafford to Tottenham.

He is a demanding figure, the type of man who feeds on the look of fear on your face as he outlines his plans for the next hour.

Whether you’re a collection of the world’s finest footballers or a rabble of less-than-shredded sports writers fresh from five months on the sofa, Carlos does not make concessions.

He name-checks every individual in the room, you are not one of many, you are a student of his regime, his infectious enthusiasm fuels a series of drills ranging from press-ups to lunges.

That was only the warm-up. He is a muscle-clad smiler whose goal is to end you.

Carlos’ routines are quick, sharp and logical. His latest plan – approved by Mourinho himself – involves a series of short, intense bursts designed with footballer movements in mind.

Every movement is crafted to replicate a natural position a player is likely to find themselves in during a game situation. No time is wasted, no drop of sweat oozed in vain. His job is to stretch his subjects to the limits.

Once that has been achieved, The Lodge itself becomes more than a building, it becomes an environment in which to grow.

Rest well

Upon leaving Carlos’ underground abode, players have the option of sliding into hot or cold pools, a session in each is the preferred routine.

A range of jets and gizmos will automatically massage players in targeted areas to prevent seizing up or soreness in the aftermath of a fitness session.

A theme from the day is that absolute rest is a pillar of success.

The Lodge building is centred around a main farmhouse in which Mourinho himself occupies the upstairs quarters, his zone for the most confidential discussions between his most trusted inner circle.

Downstairs, a cosy living room complete with a resplendent fireplace, a space befitting of the most luxurious cottages.

It’s a world away from the rest of the state of the art facilities, but there’s a purpose. And the purpose is simple: rest.

There are just two Tottenham badges in the entire Lodge complex, purposefully so. This is to put players and staff at ease, to take their minds away from the rigours of the day job, and to simply allow them to switch off. Recovery is crucial.

Each player is assigned a bedroom in a two-floor wing of the complex. Each is designed down to the microscopic details.

Bedroom phones cannot reach other bedroom phones to cut down on prank calls and unexpected disturbances, while lights automatically dull or brighten to a certain percentage depending on the schedule of the day. (Immediately post-workout the light is ambient to inspire rest.)

A sofa is included in every room to provide protractor-perfect angles so that a player’s posture isn’t ruined by a Fortnite binge. The rooms are also equipped with 100 per cent noise cancellation to avoid waking others up when a player actually does win round of Battle Royale.

The club don’t want their assets crumpled in half binging on a PlayStation in bed. Downtime is for recuperation, not further stress on the body.

Bedding is bought to replicate a player’s bed at home for consistency purposes. In some cases, players have conversely ordered training ground beds to be installed in their own homes, thus is the level of comfort.

The beds themselves don’t even come with legs or bases to prevent a toe-stubbing injury. Every detail, every inch, every millimetre of a player’s bedroom is designed to enhance the chances of beating X, Y or Z on any given matchday.

The corridors are dimly lit, restful, and adorned with constellations. Only on a third or fourth pass did the true meaning behind the star map become apparent.

Small touchscreens at the start of each wing contain a selection of 37 goals cherry-picked by former boss Mauricio Pochettino.

The installation is named ‘The Universal Game’. Each constellation is a visual representation of a goal, the lines between ‘stars’ represent passes between players and the eventual strike.

First on the list? Maradona’s 1986 wondergoal for Argentina against England. Pochettino had also included clips of Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Paul Gascoigne, Lionel Messi, former Arsenal star Robin Van Persie’s header against Spain and Erik Lamela’s outrageous rabona effort against Asteras Tripoli.

The Lodge is more than a hotel, it’s an immersive world designed to wrap its arms around you and keep you from looking back out into the world. You’re there to rest, relax, recover and go again.

Fuel up

All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur

The food is designed to fuel, energise and revitalise players at all times Tottenham Hotspur

Before we go again, it’s fuel time. This is where The Lodge really does feel like a return to its farming heritage.

Food is not lazily served up, it is considered down to a molecular level and portioned up to the optimum amount required for a footballer to find the balance between gaining energy, battling fatigue and keeping the fat at bay.

Players burn up to 5,000 calories on a matchday, that’s double the recommended intake for an adult male.

Head chef Ted Turner is tasked with overseeing the preparation of food under the orders of Performance Nutritionist Craig Umenyi.

Umenyi has experience behind the scenes at Everton, Arsenal and now Tottenham, and his entire role revolves around making sure every cell in a footballer’s body is in the best shape possible to win.

“With the intensity of the Premier League and different cup competitions, recovery is so much more important. You really have to focus on the stuff a lot of people overlook, like micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, other compounds and properties in food. We’re fortunate science has really progressed,” he said.

“We’re aware of how things work at a cellular level, we have that knowledge of exercise and biochemistry so it’s quite nice to think of it as science but then actually be creative with food.

“The big thing for me is the longer-term well-being of the players. If we can help players healthy and fit and available for selection or if they are injured help with their rehab process and reducing those recovery times, that to me is the big thing.

“Of course we always want to see them perform because that’s the name of the game, we like to think we do that as standard, but I take a lot of pride from allowing players to maximise their training and playing availability.”

Craig speaks as though he and the team are fuelling a car, fine-tuning their engines to perfection with each passing day, or developing livestock, as The Lodge did once upon a time.

A range of green juices, collagen – usually found in cosmetic surgery, and even the humble banana bread are all given a place in the dietary schedule of players, each with a specific purpose, deployed at a specific time.

Like a parent trying to feed a reluctant child, small bite-sized snacks are created to provide vast quantities of nutrients with minimal effort of actually eating the things.

After defeats, traditional meals are scrapped in place of ‘finger food’ as players won’t be in the mood to sit at a table with tensions boiling hotter than the meal they’ve been served.

Fuelled up and ready to roll, we actually saw our first football of the day.

Train hard

All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur

Ledley King leads a training session Tottenham Hotspur

It speaks volumes that the actual ‘training with a football at your feet’ part of the day took up a relatively small portion of the Premier League footballer routine.

These elite athletes have played with a ball at their feet for as long as they can remember, they will not simply lose their touch, but the various luxuries and lavishness of The Lodge haven’t been known to many for long.

Football has moved on from being simply about the game itself, and Tottenham are deeply invested in priming their stars throughout every minute of the day.

Fitness regimes are designed to develop players’ mobility, core, strength and explosiveness.

Rest is designed to reduce stress – both physical and mental – to promote and build on the platform laid by working out.

Nutrition plans are crafted to further advance on the previous steps, to energise, fuel and activate players’ potential.

And then it’s time to play.

Spurs legend Ledley King – who has since been appointed to the club’s coaching staff – was on hand to inspire a session.

(Taking a deep swig of indulgence here, splitting two defenders with a backheel pass to the approval of King felt like some form of life goal completion.)

The coaches’ logic is simple. They want the ball at the players’ feet as much as possible, to be an extension of the body, not a separate entity.

The grass carpet is kept in typically sublime condition, another nod to the world-leading base Tottenham Hotspur now call home.

Success may have been muted, even backtracked, in 2019/20, but in The Lodge, the north London side have a facility that will engineer success in the long-term.

You woz only Supposed to blow the bloody doors off!!

What is the point of having FFP when club losses can be wiped out by pumping money into a club via personnel loans. Why doesn’t the PL and UEFA stipulate that personnel loans must be approved (on a case by case basis), and subject to certain conditions before being allowed. If there is a genuine need to inject money into a club, that club should be required to show why (via financial records) it is eligible for such a dispensation.

I find it difficult to see how Chelsea can afford the players they have signed so far, not to mention the other players they are linked with this summer, despite supposedly saving money due to the clubs recent transfer ban.

Accounts for the year ending 30/06/19 showed Chelsea made a loss of £96m, which means they would have been in breach of FFP, therefor they would have needed to sell players to balance the books which they did by selling Hazard (not that it was their choice to do so though). It also highlights the clubs need in the longer term reduce the clubs turnover to wage ratio (64%) in order to run the club in a sustainable manner. But instead Abramovich is free to pump in an additional £247m (last summer) into the club to cover the clubs inability to operate within its means.

It appears we have the same scenario as it was before FFP was introduced, with clubs being able to spend heavily on players, and no doubt offer considerable wages without facing the consequences most businesses have to deal with, which is operating within financial means.

It seems unrealistic to think Chelsea’s finances haven’t been effected due to the pandemic, yet they appear (if reports are true) to be willing to spend big, which could potentially allow the club to challenge for honours where it may have otherwise struggled to do so without recieving an injecting finances into a club via personnel loans.

My objection isn’t with Chelsea or Abramovich in particular, he and other owners are just taking advantage of a system which currently permits owners to continue to run a football club beyond it’s economic means, but it does have a knock on effect of potentially denying other clubs who operate within their means the opportunity to gain relative success, whether that be final league position or winning silverware, it effectively further distorts an already lopsided (the big clubs) playing field.

Everton are another club where it’s owner Farhad Moshiri has put in £350m since 2016 in a bid to return the club to the top of the league. in addition to Moshiri’s injection of money, the club has seen it’s revenue to wage ratio rise to a staggeringly dangerous 85%.

Allowing wealthy club owners such as Abramovich at Chelsea to inject money into a club only serves to add pressure to clubs with aspirations of somehow reaching the top four joining the lucrative spoils on offer. Getting their is easier said than done, with clubs (the big six) being able to pump in cash to already wealthy clubs, that goal can be even more difficult and potentially dangerous (financially) to achieve.

There is nothing wrong with having provisions for clubs to receive personnel loans from wealthy owners, but surely the onus must be on the club and it’s owner to demonstrate a legitimate reason for needing to do so.

Simply because a club has chosen to operate (financially) beyond its means by overpaying players should not permit an owner to prop up the club, nor should owners be allowed to provide clubs with additional funds merely to sign new players. depending on the circumstances of each case, clubs should have to agree to a realistic repayment plan to ensure a club doesn’t benefit at the expense of others.

FFP made a great song and dance about how it was shutting the door on reckless spending by clubs, yet they conveniently left the back door (personnel loans) wide ajar. Go figure?

Sorry chaps, it’s been a bittova slow day…

The Parrott has flown the Coop

Parrott: “I want to be a part of something at Millwall”

Troy Parrott is ready to “work hard and give everything for the fans” after signing a season-long loan deal with Millwall.

The 18-year-old striker will spend the 2020/21 campaign in SE16 after making the temporary move from Tottenham Hotspur, and has bolstered The Lions’ attacking options ahead of the new season.

After the signature of Ryan Woods, Parrott becomes Gary Rowett’s second summer signing – and the Irishman credited the club’s fanbase as one of the reasons behind his decision to make the transfer from North to South London.

“I’m buzzing to get straight into things, I’m really looking forward to it,” Parrott told millwallfc.co.uk. “The crowd, the club itself – I’ve heard a lot of good things. When I’ve watched games, the littlest of things gets them going, and I want to be a part of something like that.

“It’s not hard to see from the outside that all [the fans] are looking for is someone to give 100% every game. When I was growing up playing football, that was the player I always was, so I feel as though I can fit it very well. I’m really excited to get going, work hard and give everything for the fans.”

Parrott hopes to follow in the footsteps of successful former Lions loanee Harry Kane, who spent time at The Den in 2011/12.

“I’m really grateful to Spurs for letting me go out on loan and get some regular football. Hopefully I can improve a lot whilst at Millwall.”

Rowett on “important” Parrott capture

Gary Rowett has expressed his pleasure at getting a season-long loan deal for Troy Parrott over the line – and is looking forward to the striker showing “a little bit of everything” on the pitch during the 2020/21 campaign.

The exciting prospect arrives at The Den with Premier League and international experience and adds to the manager’s striking options ahead of the new season.

Speaking to millwallfc.co.uk, the boss explained how securing the signature of the youngster was an important one “for a number of reasons.”

“I’m really happy to get the deal over the line,” he said. “It took a lot of work, and Alex [Aldridge] and Steve [Kavanagh] have worked really hard to get it done.

“There were a lot of clubs in The Championship, and beyond, who wanted Troy – that’s how highly he is regarded. We’re pleased that Tottenham, and Troy himself, chose us as the preferred option. I think that shows what we think we’ve got to offer, a) as a club, b) with fans, when they’re back, and c) the way the team is developing.

“For a number of reasons, it’s a really important signing for us and I’m pleased to get it over the line.”

When describing what the frontman will bring to The Lions’ squad, Rowett explaned Parrott’s attributes, but also added caution to the age of the loanee and subsequent dips in form.

“He’s got lots of ability, that extra bit of quality we’re looking for – especially in his finishing – and he is mobile, hungry, aggressive and athletic. I think he’s got a little bit of everything. But, he’s a young player, and like any, you might not see that straight away.

“We’ll have to work with him throughout the season. He can play anywhere in the front three areas, which is important to us to add goals, flexibility and options in those types of positions. We’ll have to be patient with him, though – he’ll have some really strong parts but also some dips. We’ll do our work and see him through it. Hopefully he can have a real impact.”

Good luck to Troy Parrott, I hope he has a fantastic season in Bandit Country!

Lo Celso ready to kick on after topsy-turvy beginning at Tottenham

: The Guardian

For Giovani Lo Celso, it is difficult to imagine what could possibly have made the experience sweeter. But there has been something. The Tottenham midfielder made his Argentina debut against Russia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in November 2017 and he now has 21 caps. The something was the person playing with him and in and around him on many subsequent occasions. It was the symbol of his hometown. Lo Celso is able to call Rosario’s own Lionel Messi a teammate.

“It was a unique experience; a beautiful feeling,” Lo Celso says. “I’d dreamed of playing for the national team since I was a boy and to have been alongside Messi in training and to have played with him was a wonderful thing. He’s admired across the globe and we know he was born in Rosario. That’s wonderful for kids from there who idolise him. We know the class of player he is and that he’s from Rosario makes it even better.”

Even if he is from the opposing side of town? Rosario is split along football lines with the different barrios painted in the colours of either Rosario Central or Newell’s Old Boys. You are one or the other in this football-obsessed place. Lo Celso is Rosario Central; Messi, Newell’s. “No, no, there were no problems with that,” Lo Celso says. “He’s a Newell’s fan but that’s fine.”

Lo Celso came through the youth ranks at Rosario Central and the 24-year-old played two and a half seasons for them before moving to Paris Saint-Germain. He arrived at Spurs last summer, via a productive season at Real Betis, and is now preparing for Sunday’s derby at home to Arsenal.

Derby day is mayhem in Rosario. Messi never played in one, having left Newell’s for Barcelona as a 13-year-old, but Mauricio Pochettino did and so did Lo Celso.

The former Spurs manager, who brought Lo Celso to the club in a deal worth around £57m, is fond of telling stories of how, as a Newell’s player, he would have “bricks, radios, phones, everything” thrown in his direction on forays into enemy territory. Lo Celso, who was involved in four such occasions, never tasting defeat, describes it as “one of the most heated derbies in Argentina”. It is so volatile that away fans have been banned.

“People are really passionate about football in Rosario – the majority of the city talks about football, whether it’s Rosario Central or Newell’s Old Boys,” Lo Celso says. “When you go out to play, you feel all of that passion. The fact you only have home fans makes it special. I got the chance to play in the away game and it was a wonderful feeling.”

Lo Celso had his first taste of the north London derby last September when he came on as a late substitute in the rip-roaring 2-2 draw at Emirates Stadium but Sunday’s return will be another story – no fans, no feeling from the stands. Everything is upside down at the moment and Spurs must find the answers to the issues that are holding them back and making it seem as though José Mourinho is already in third-season mode.

The manager called out his players for a lack of fight after the 3-1 defeat at Sheffield United and he has had cause to lament more broadly their absence of direction and sharpness in the final third. Before lockdown, Spurs were without a win in six. Since the return, it is two wins out of five.

“We spoke after the Sheffield United game,” Lo Celso says, a comment that rather skates over the details of the inquest. “We needed to show a different side to us against Everton [last Monday] and the reaction in the 1-0 win was good. At times, we’ve needed to be stronger as a team but at other times we’ve done well.”

Lo Celso’s season has been topsy-turvy. He had an extended holiday last summer after his involvement with Argentina at the Copa América, which finished on 6 July and having signed for Spurs on 8 August and made three substitute appearances he injured his hip on international duty and was out for seven weeks. Lo Celso did not start for his new club until their 4-0 Champions League win at Red Star Belgrade on 6 November, when he scored and played well. One game later, Pochettino was gone and replaced by Mourinho.

“I wasn’t worried but when I came to the club Pochettino was manager,” Lo Celso says. “At that time he’d contacted me to come here. But a new top-class manager and coaching staff have come in.”

At first, Mourinho did not rely on him, starting him twice in 13 games. But Lo Celso dug deep, showing his mental toughness and when opportunity knocked in mid-January he took it.

He has since been a regular, displaying a comfort and security in possession, an awareness of time and space. His numbers have not been eye-catching – two goals and two assists – but that sort of thing never seemed to trouble Tottenham fans with Mousa Dembélé. Then there is Lo Celso’s slightly cynical edge. He has come to look made for English football.

He is a smart bet to win Spurs’ player of the year award – the field is not a deep one – and says he wants to finish with a place in Europe; mostly likely the Europa League. After a season finding his bearings, Lo Celso is ready to kick on.

Tottenham’s second season ends like the first – with Jose Mourinho blaming someone else

Richard Jolly: The Independent

The last goal of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign at Tottenham Hotspur was scored by George Baldock which, it is safe to say, was not what he had in mind when he mused about depart in the glow of making Tottenham officially Europe’s best team. Eight months later, it felt as though Sheffield United had provided further finality for Spurs and dashed more dreams. Last season concluded in a Champions League final. This, surely, will not end with Tottenham in the Champions League places.

It would amount to a year of failure. In particular, it would reflect badly on the ultimate short-term manager who has proved incapable of executing his short-term objective and a normally hard-headed chairman, in Daniel Levy, who seemed blinded by stardust in appointing him. He did not pursue a project or a philosophy. He appointed a manager who came with the promise of a good time, not a long time.

Jose Mourinho inherited a team in 14th and his return of 31 points from 20 games is an improvement on Pochettino’s record this season. It is not Mourinho-esque, however, not in the way we knew it. It is Mourinho-esque in that he took 30 from his last 20 in charge of Manchester United. He left them in sixth and Chelsea in sixteenth. Now Tottenham are ninth. He has never finished a season that low down the standings.

A 3-1 defeat at Bramall Lane had the hallmarks of many a late-period Mourinho loss. There was the sense his team were less than the sum of their parts and that, in some cases, they had performed more for other managers. There were the pointed snubs in selection, with Dele Alli and, predictably, Tanguy Ndombele overlooked so the winger Steven Bergwijn could play as a No. 10. There was the lack of intensity and identity. There was the porous defending overseen by a man who constructed the most watertight rearguard in the history of English football.

They were unlocked by underdogs: Chris Basham got his first Premier League assist for nine years. Enda Stevens, a graduate of the League of Ireland and League Two, set up Sheffield United’s second. Oli McBurnie, formerly of Chester and Newport and Barnsley, scored the third. Chris Wilder assessed his starting line up and noted four of them were free transfers.

Mourinho was beaten by a younger manager but it is not merely the ageing process that means he often is. Wilder is only four years Mourinho’s junior, but his career is on an upward curve and the Portuguese’s is on a downward trajectory. The Yorkshireman has traits Mourinho used to exhibit. Wilder has the capacity to take players to new heights, the evident bond with them, the feeling his tactics are very topical. Like Julian Nagelsmann and Ralph Hasenhuttl and Jurgen Klopp, others to have beaten Spurs in 2020, Wilder has captured the Zeitgeist. It comes in part from mood. United feel a band of brothers, Mourinho a bitter grandfather complaining he doesn’t understand the youth of today.

He was critical of his team’s mental strength at Bramall Lane; in particular for their inability to respond to the disappointment of seeing Harry Kane’s ‘equaliser’ controversially chalked off. “We have to be mentally stronger, to cope with what happened during the game,” said Mourinho.

Not for the first time, it was someone else’s fault; once again, he compared others unfavourably with himself. “It is very easy to motivate myself because it is my nature,” he said. “When a professional player needs an external motivational source then he is in trouble. Motivation is directly related to professionalism: respect for the club, for the fans, for the job. Clearly if these boys don’t care about the results and the end of the season, there will be big trouble for the future.” It was a tacit admission a campaign is in effect over.

Mourinho is paid £15million a year to organise and galvanise, not deflect the blame but, at a third consecutive club, he gives the sense he feels the players are letting him down. The common denominator, at Chelsea, United and Spurs, is him, seeking to recreate his past and escape from it.

He cited the attacking line-up he named – with Kane, Bergwijn, Heung-Min Son, Lucas Moura, Giovanni Lo Celso and Moussa Sissoko all starting – yet they mustered two shots on target, plus Kane’s three disallowed goals. The one that stood was made and scored by players, in Son and Kane, who might have missed the remainder of the campaign had it finished on its scheduled dates. It highlights how football’s sudden break afforded Tottenham a second chance to salvage their season. They failed to take it. In February, when he was feeling sorry for himself, Mourinho said he wished it could be 1 July. Perhaps he does again because on 2 July, Spurs’ campaign came an anticlimactic end.

When England played Germany at White Hart Lane in 1935

Guardian Sport
John Harding

 

The Germany players give the Nazi salute before their match against England at White Hart Lane on 4 December 1935. Photograph: PNA Rota/Getty Images

When it was announced in October 1935 that England football’s next home match would be against Germany, there were misgivings; when the venue for the match was confirmed as White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur, a club noted for its significant Jewish following, there was consternation. In September that year, Germany’s Nuremberg race laws had prohibited intermarriage and criminalised sexual relations between “Jews” and “persons of German or related blood” effectively turning Jewish Germans into second-class citizens. What was the Football Association thinking? Not much, was the answer

There was, it was explained, no underlying malicious intent. The choice of venue had been made on purely utilitarian grounds. Between the wars, England matches were not played at Wembley but at prominent league grounds, almost always in London. Arsenal had already hosted three such games and Tottenham one. It was simply Spurs’ turn.

As the FA considered politics to have no place in sport, the match had been arranged without involvement or discussion with the government. The club itself appeared to harbour no misgivings. In fact, it immediately hiked admission prices. As for Jewish sensibilities, the Weekly Herald for Tottenham reported: “The extent of the Spurs Jewish following has often been discussed. Someone within the inner councils of the Spurs told me this week that the size of this following was not nearly so large as was popularly imagined.”

There were protests, the Herald acknowledged. On 18 October it admitted: “Apparently, 50-odd letters had been sent to Spurs from individual Jews and Jewish organisations, protesting against the match. A boycott is suggested and protests on the day threatened. Spurs simply sent them on to the FA and reminded the latter that it was their responsibility to keep order.” As far as direct action was concerned, at the forthcoming Spurs versus Burnley match “a bugle would be sounded and 6,000 Jews would walk out of the ground as a protest against the England-Germany match.” Elaborate police precautions were taken to prevent disturbances but nothing happened.

The Swastika flies over White Hart Lane.
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The Swastika flies over White Hart Lane. Photograph: Fox Photos/Getty Images

The controversy prompted an outpouring of letters to the Weekly Herald whose football correspondent concluded: “The Jews complain of the Nazi treatment of their compatriots in Germany and demand that the match be cancelled! The Jewish protest has received little sympathy amongst the general football public who resent the introduction into sport of such a controversy.”

To prove the point, the News published a score of letters from “fans”, the vast majority of whom were against any sort of protest and a number quite openly racist. Under the heading “England For England”, one read: “As one of the oldest season ticket holders of the Spurs it greatly amused me to read of the Jewish proposed boycott of next month’s match. I am in every way with them that they should walk out at a given signal but with a one way ticket and not come back … It is up to the English boys to turn up as many as they can; it will be very nice to watch an English match with only English supporters.”

But it wouldn’t only be English supporters standing on the terraces. Close on the heels of the fixture’s announcement came the news that upwards of 10,000 – perhaps a many as 20,000 – German supporters would accompany the team, something quite unprecedented.

The Jewish Chronicle understood the implications: “It is idle to suppose that the great German descent on London has been organised and encouraged – even to the extent of providing cheap travel – out of pure love of the game … there can be little doubt that the ulterior purposes in the present instance is to present to the world the spectacle of mass Anglo-Nazi fraternisation, to blanket the protests against Nazi tyranny by English churchmen and others and to create the impression that this country is reconciled with Nazism and all that it implies.”

In fact, it would be the invasion by thousands of German supporters that would arouse the most intense media interest. The football, by contrast, paled into insignificance. The preparations for the trip – the feeding, accommodation and travel arrangements for such a large number of people – took up swathes of newspaper space. On the day of the match, 4 December 1935, the Daily Express revealed beneath a headline “Hans Across The Sea!” that a score of cross-Channel steamers had already disgorged up to 16,000 Germans and that airliners, trains and coaches were now relaying them into London.

Crucially, the visitors were polite, they didn’t wear Nazi badges and they praised everything they saw. Germany captain Fritz Szepan extolled “wonderful London” and said: “I am a footballer. I know nothing about politics. After all, the game is the thing, is it not?”

The only note of scepticism in the popular press came in the Evening Standard, where David Low’s cartoon appeared beneath the caption “Germany Discovers Sportsmanship”. It depicted a football team of Jewish East Enders striding out to play surrounded by Nazi Storm troopers hurling abuse. The accompanying text read, “Berlin press appeals to British sportsmanship to give the German footballers fair play. That’s the way to talk. Berlin of course will respond when we send a team of Whitechapel boys over on a return visit.”

Fans watch the game at White Hart Lane.
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Fans watch the game at White Hart Lane. Photograph: PNA Rota/Getty Images

As kick-off approached, it was clear that fair-play or not, the authorities were taking no chances. According to the Daily Worker, “The concentration of police and plains clothes detectives was one of the largest yet organised in London with scarcely a turning or side-street left uncovered.” Police were stationed every 10 yards along the road leading to the ground and inside they were positioned every eight yards around the pitch perimeter. Almost 1,000 officers were on duty in and around the ground. A temporary police station with cells was provided in one of the out-buildings in the Spurs car park, while reserves of police were secreted in the pavilion on a neighbouring school ground.

Two hours before the match, an anti-Nazi parade left Bruce Grove station and proceeded towards the ground handing out leaflets and carrying posters proclaiming “Fascist Sport is Jew-Baiting”, “Our Goal, Peace: Hitler’s goal, War”, “Hitler Hits Below The Belt” and “Keep Sport Clean, Fight Fascism”.

Close to the ground, police moved in on the march, tore down the posters and arrested those shouting slogans. Leaflets were grabbed and torn up. Undaunted, protestors handed out leaflets at Manor House and Stamford Hill while others showered leaflets from the open windows of buses onto the crowds below. Men with sandwich boards proclaiming “Stop the Nazi Match” chanted at the visitors; there were regular scuffles with lone pro-Nazi sympathisers.

Inside, the vast German contingent was accommodated in the New Stand where they waved little flags bearing the swastika. When the band struck up the German national anthem, they gave the familiar Nazi salute. Above the ground, two flags were displayed side by side: the Union Jack and another bearing the swastika – although the latter would experience a brief moment’s absence.

Of the match itself, little need be said. England ran out 3-0 winners, although it was not a vintage performance. Forwards Stanley Matthews and Raich Carter endured poor games, with Matthews uncharacteristically missing three good early chances. Szepan, interviewed afterwards by the Daily Express declared it an “honourable defeat”. He praised the English players’ “clean play and fine sportsmanship” and said his abiding memory would be the “enthusiastic cheering from the spectators”.

While the two teams and officials gathered for a post-match banquet, thousands of German visitors were swiftly hustled back to their coaches and on to trains for the return journey. By 11pm that night, they had vanished from the capital, sent on their way by a flurry of protests at Victoria Station, where more leaflets were distributed and large banners proclaiming “Free Thaelmann” displayed. Ernst Thälmann, the leader of the German Communist Party leader had been imprisoned since 1933. He was murdered in Buchenwald on 18 August 1944.

George Camsell opens the scoring for England, who went on to win 3-0.
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George Camsell opens the scoring for England, who went on to win 3-0. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

The day after the game the people who had been arrested were dealt with at magistrates courts in Tottenham and Westminster. They were, for the most part, veteran Communist demonstrators. Sid Elias, William Morris, Barnie Bercow and Herbert Ettlinger had all served prison sentences for various offences connected with anti-Nazi demonstrations in recent months. The Westminster contingent were charged with scattering “offensive and insulting” literature at Victoria Station and hurling insults such as “Down With Hitler”. All were working-class, including a labourer, a hairdresser and a carpenter.

At Tottenham the charges were mainly of obstruction and refusing to take down banners. The star, however, was Ernie Wooley, a 24-year-old Shoreditch turner. Wooley was charged with maliciously and wilfully doing damage (to the amount of 3/6) by cutting the lanyard which held up the Nazi flag over the East Stand.

In evidence, detective sergeant Wilkinson explained: “I was near the turnstiles at the main entrance. I saw prisoner walk to the end of the stand and after loitering about for a few minutes he clambered on to the gutter at the end of the stand and edged his way along the gutter towards the lanyard supporting the German national flag. He produced an open knife from his pocket and cut the lanyard causing the flag to fall on to the roof of the grandstand. He was seized as he climbed down. Upon being arrested, Wooley remarked: ‘You’ve got thousands of police about the ground but no one to watch the flag.’ Wooley claimed: ‘I did not maliciously cut the rope. I was merely going to unfurl that flag by untying the knot of the lanyard. That Nazi flag is hated in this country.’”

A Spurs official present said there was no evidence that the rope was worth 3/6 nor was the rope produced in evidence. There followed some confusion concerning the exact knife used (the police had lost the original) and the case was dismissed. Wooley apparently smiled broadly as he left the dock.

Why Mauricio Pochettino leaves behind a complicated legacy at Tottenham Hotspur

The Independent

Article by Alex Fynn and Martin Cloake.

Why Mauricio Pochettino leaves behind a complicated legacy at Tottenham Hotspur
One year on from the Champions League final in Madrid, how do we quantify the impact Pochettino had at Spurs?

A year ago, Tottenham Hotspur were preparing to play in a European Cup Final in Madrid. In the time since 1 June 2019, everything has changed.

Tottenham Hotspur’s run to the 2019 Champions League final was the culmination not only of an extraordinary campaign, but an extraordinary five years under manager Mauricio Pochettino. When Pochettino was appointed, many Spurs fans – and, it was rumoured, club chairman Daniel Levy – had been casting admiring glances at Louis van Gaal. But Van Gaal took the reins at Manchester United on 19 May 2014. When, eight days later, Pochettino was appointed by Spurs, many were underwhelmed. Sure, he had a reputation as an up-and-coming manager, but many wondered if his ability to nurture up-and-coming players, rather than demand big buys, was the deciding factor in his appointment.
The reality in 2014 was that the idea one of the world’s biggest managerial names would take over at Spurs was, let’s say ambitious, at best. Yet by the time Pochettino left Spurs just five months after leading them out in Madrid, not only was he being touted for the top jobs in world football, but Spurs were able to secure the services of the most successful manager of the age to replace him.

Pochettino did indeed develop young talent, forming a team that for two seasons at its height played what was acknowledged to be the most attractive, exciting football in the English top flight. He made Spurs into Champions League regulars, the team challenged for the league title for the first time in decades and, perhaps most extraordinary of all for a club the rest of football seemed to delight in disliking, he made Tottenham Hotspur likeable again.

When I was a kid, growing up during the 1970s and watching the team of the early 1980s, it wasn’t unusual to find fans of other sides naming Spurs as their second team. Spurs had a glamour about them that even the decline of the mid-70s didn’t quite rub off. Attractive football, a bit of swash and buckle, entertainment for the eye and the heart, likeable characters. In a time before the combination of commercial hype and social media platforms meant every rivalry was ramped up to the nth degree, people didn’t mind admitting they liked teams other than the one they supported. Even if they hated them. Hate wasn’t quite such a literal accoutrement then. One of Pochettino’s achievements was to make the Spurs team genuinely likeable.

Pochettino was able to make Spurs likeable again (Getty)
More importantly, he struck a chord with the club’s own fans. He connected with the best of the past, playing the kind of football the fans loved to see. His teams not only entertained, they thrilled. There was genuine excitement among those lucky enough to watch the team regularly – especially those who remembered the days under Alan Sugar and George Graham where turning up was a chore at best.

In our book One Step from Glory, Alex Fynn and I examined Pochettino’s years at Spurs and told the story of the Champions League run that was to prove the beginning of the end for him. The run is fascinating for two main reasons.

The night Spurs stunned Ajax to reach the Champions League final
It brought the conflict that defines Spurs into perspective. The tension between success and style had been there even before Danny Blanchflower’s famous but much misunderstood quote about winning with glory, and the longer Pochettino’s stylish side went without lifting a trophy, the more pronounced the tension became. And if you really knew your history, you knew in the weeks leading up to the final that winning would not only put Spurs firmly into the elite group of just 22 clubs who have lifted Europe’s premier trophy, it would once more connect the two components of the conflict into what has always been the point – stylish victory.

The run is also fascinating because it signalled the beginning of the end for Pochettino’s Spurs – and retrospect allows us to see this even more clearly. The truth is that for most of the 2018/19 season, Spurs did not play that well. The Premier League campaign was a shadow of what had gone before, away form in particular was awful. In the Champions League, the club stumbled through the group stage, then turned in a surprisingly thorough and accomplished demolition of Borussia Dortmund.

What followed were two of the most extraordinary ties in the competition’s history, culminating in dramatic second legs at the Etihad Stadium and the Amsterdam Arena. Both matches seemed to encapsulate the season, with victory snatched after self-inflicted defeat seemed certain.

In the three weeks of joy that preceded the club’s first final in Europe’s premier competition, there was a feeling that it was the club’s year. But the falling apart had already begun. Pochettino’s tendency to issue odd statements at key moments had started to grate on even his most devoted supporters, and the bombshell that he may leave the club if they lifted the cup was the oddest and most disruptive of the lot. What was the purpose of it? And come the final, Poch made another decision that will forever be debated. He picked Harry Kane instead of Lucas Moura. Kane had been injured and out of sorts. Moura had scored the hat-trick that secured the Miracle of Amsterdam and was in form. But Kane was fit, and had proved himself one of the top strikers in world football. Moura’s brilliance had more often flickered than illuminated. The decision will be debated as long as people are still interested in debating football.

Pochettino’s decision to start Kane backfired (Getty)
On the day, Spurs lost after a lacklustre performance against lacklustre opponents. The penalty in the opening minute was debatable. Less debatable was the fact that – as Liverpool fans admitted – their team had turned in one of its worst performances of the year. A Poch team in its prime would have swatted that evening’s Liverpool team aside to lift the trophy. But Liverpool won. End of story.

Pochettino retreated in the weeks after the game. When the following season started, the sense of togetherness was not there. Results and performances were poor. The usual rumours about the backing the club’s board was or wasn’t prepared to give in the transfer market began to swirl. There was a palpable sense of drift and, in the end, Poch was gone. Just like that. Within hours, Jose Mourinho was in his place. An appointment less in tune with what Poch had created or, in the minds of many Spurs fans, the character of the club would have been impossible to make.

Whether or not that move for something different succeeds, only time will tell. And time, as we now know all too well, has been slowed almost to a standstill. Everything seems both so long ago and so far away.

Spurs may yet achieve the success that opens up new vistas. But for now, the first day of June in 2019 remains an iconic moment. Because it was the culmination of a journey, a celebration of an era, a beacon of hope and a confirmation of despair… a mishmash of emotion and a reminder, now, of better times, of crowds and togetherness and joy and atmosphere and noise and bustle and, well, life.

Things were not the same for Pochettino at Spurs after the defeat (Getty)
There are some who want to forget. Others who aggressively dismiss any significance, because the day did not deliver a trophy for Spurs. They miss the basic pleasures, the essential joys. In these most challenging of times, the need to recognise and embrace the simple and pure joy of the moment is clearer than ever. It is possible Spurs may have their chance again. It is also possible they won’t for a very long time. But to dismiss the quality of the moment, to deny the treasure such moments constitute, seems even sillier now that reminders of the need to appreciate the good times are so much greater and more prevalent.

One year on and the very concept of glory is in question. But better to have lived and loved the moment than never to have loved at all. Losing the game was one thing, losing the ability to saviour the experience not just of one night in Madrid but of a thrilling five-year journey, seems a longer-lasting pity.

One Step from Glory by Alex Fynn and Martin Cloake tells the story of Mauricio Pochettino’s time at Spurs, the club’s European pedigree, and the extraordinary run to the 2019 Champions League Final. It is published by Pitch Publishing.

PL wage stand-off showS the worst of football as players stand defiant against owners

Miguel Delaney: The Independent

The 20 Premier League captains were at first stunned, and then apoplectic. The mood has not changed much since, and could have significant repercussions.

When the Premier League issued a wide-ranging statement on 3 April that said they may ask the players for a 30 per cent wage cut or deferral, the assumption from many – and even some of the most prominent figures in the game – was that this had at least been run past the captains, or the Professional Footballers’s Association (PFA).

That actually hadn’t been the case, which makes it all the more remarkable that the clubs talked themselves down from an initial figure of 40 per cent in that Friday videoconference.

The wonder is how the players would have reacted to that. It was bad enough with 30 per cent. They went “ballistic”, in the words of one source. The same individual describes it as a “spectacular failure” in communication on the part of the Premier League clubs, which really “alienated” the players.

It could yet mean the various parties keep failing to strike an agreement on this issue for some time, and that it gets very ugly.

The picture isn’t all that good right now. A time of international crisis has seen the national sport descend into disagreement between millionaires and billionaires, over money.

It just looks like the worst of football, at the worst of times, summing up a supposed moral bankruptcy in the game.

The true picture is naturally more complicated than that, but thereby all the more difficult to sort out. The key difference is not financial status, and that between millionaire players and billionaire owners.

It is actually one of outlook and objective for this, that is not solely motivated by greed or self-interest or any of the other loaded words thrown around.

It really comes down to this. The players are perfectly willing to give up significant money, as they have made clear, but want it all to go to the National Health Service or other charitable funds.

The clubs say they badly need the money to stay within their businesses – in order to survive. This is the principal problem, that has so far not seen even the suggestion of a solution. Making the situation even harder is that, within those differences, there are the sort of decisions that could yet make a huge difference in so many other lives – above all whether club employees can be paid. It is this that has seen the player pay issue sometimes unhelpfully rolled into that of staff going on furlough, that has thereby further irritated the captains.

To be fair, they should be under no illusions. The issue of regular staff pay is inherently connected to that of player pay, especially at clubs outside the big six, but also some within that group.

It’s also true that a series of missteps have fostered a worsening distrust, which is where this threatens to really get ugly.

The players were already annoyed at how Tottenham Hotspur’s plan to furlough staff prompted that entirely unhelpful comment from health secretary Matt Hancock. The understandable feeling was they were typically being made the most convenient of targets, in evident diversionary tactics. They were resentful they were being put under unfair pressure, and singled out.

Liverpool’s initial decision to avail of the furlough scheme only made this worse, especially given it came on the day the captains held a videoconference with the Premier League, but what really did the damage was that Friday statement.

The captains were simply aghast it could be made without even consulting them. One source went on to say that, “of all the parties involved in this, the Premier League have been by far the least useful”.

It means the player view of the hierarchies remains as low as ever. They simply believe the clubs will “use any chance to screw them”, and that the billionaire owners have more than enough to just solve any issues by putting money back in. It’s also been pointed out that the clubs haven’t actually lost the hundreds of millions in broadcasting yet.

This is why the players want any cuts to be on their terms. They are currently completely hardline on this.

Many officials see this as hopelessly naive, however, but fear it may take the harsh reality of a Premier League club going into administration to snap them out of it.

While there is an acceptance that some of the wealthiest clubs – like Manchester United, like Manchester City, like Liverpool – should be able to weather whatever happens for some time, and thereby not expect cuts, that is very far from the case for most outside that core.

One executive privately argues that outfits like Bournemouth and Watford just don’t have access to money like that, and badly need to adjust their economics now. The primary problem is that most are break-even cash-flow businesses like airlines, who have had that flow of income stopped.

Games have stopped, which has cut off match-day income, and devastated commercial income, with so much uncertainty over the third pillar: TV.

Even if a deal is struck on broadcasting, the issue is that clubs are missing out on so much incremental revenue related to the other pillars that it’s creating a “massive financial black hole”.

To pick the most prominent example, clubs are worried that finance companies for season tickets won’t be there going forward, which could mean thousands not being renewed.

The same climate is likely to see businesses do away with non-essential expenditure, such as corporate boxes and premium seats. One big-six club has 40 boxes up for renewal this summer, and are increasingly concerned they won’t be taken up. There is then all the connected expenditure like money on food and restaurants, and force majeure clauses preventing sponsorship bonuses getting paid.

Even in the case of clubs like Tottenham, it will slow the moves with the NFL.

“There are going to be huge shortfalls which simply can’t be made up,” one source says. “It is why they have to go back to the players, and why mere deferrals are meaningless. Player wages are the current biggest expense, but that was from the pre-coronavirus economics. It’s unsustainable now.”

It’s going to cause an upending of the structures of the game, as more and more prominent figures talk of “unprecedented” financial problems they couldn’t have foreseen, and that the current systems just aren’t able to cope with. It’s that bad. “The dominoes are falling.”

The expectation is thereby that the clubs will go as hardline as the players. That is even likelier to be the case given the hardline view of some in the game.

“This is why the whole issue of player deferral is a disgrace,” the same source says. “They and their agents don’t want to cut.

“Too many pundits are praising players when they’ve actually done very little. Remember, if a player donates £30,000, they write it off against tax, so it isn’t really costing them anything. But it’s great PR.

“Deferrals actually cost a player nothing. For a club, though, it’s just debt down the road. Players simply need to have their salaries cut.”

“This is just going to lead to many of those out of contract not getting renewed, and they won’t be able to get anything like their current money elsewhere… Players need a reality check.”

That reality check may well be a club going into administration.

The players, however, evidently aren’t the only people that require such a realignment. There badly needs to be some agreement between the side soon, some conciliatory gestures.

That’s how severe the situation is. That’s how far apart the sides are. That’s how ugly this could get.

Troy Parrott: The striker many Premier League clubs wanted, so will he play for Tottenham?

By Alex Bysouth

Troy Parrott
Troy Parrott has made two Premier League substitute appearances for Tottenham

Troy Parrott had scored four goals in one game in an Everton shirt, was wanted by both Manchester United and Manchester City and was set to visit Chelsea, only to decide at the age of 15 his future was with Tottenham Hotspur.

Now the 18-year-old has been thrust into the spotlight as a potential solution to Spurs’ striker crisis as a result of injuries to Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Steven Bergwijn.

Parrott, who made his Republic of Ireland debut in November, has been restricted to six minutes of Premier League action across two short substitute appearances, but could find himself thrown into Champions League action on Tuesday when Spurs look to overturn a 1-0 first-leg deficit in the last 16 at RB Leipzig.

Lacking a serious goal threat, a vocal section of the Spurs fanbase has been calling for Parrott to get more minutes, and there was a huge cheer at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium when he was brought on in extra time in Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie against Norwich.

It did not end well though, with the Irishman showing the bravery to raise his hand and step up in the penalty shootout, only to have his spot-kick saved on the way to defeat.

“He was so confident, he wanted to take one, he wanted to take the responsibility, it’s an experience in his career,” said boss Jose Mourinho, who has yet to start Parrott.

“The problem is not his experience. The problem is the 30 minutes. Now people can see that he has to work a lot so don’t think that Parrott is the second Harry Kane because he’s just a young kid that needs to work.

“Let’s forget the penalty because we all miss the penalties, it was not Troy.”

Parrott’s climb to the fringes of the Tottenham first team has been sharp – only five years ago he was barely on the radar back in Dublin, never mind for Premier League scouts.

So who is the “good kid” Spurs beat their Premier League rivals to sign?

‘Every main club in Britain was interested in him’

Vincent Butler is the director of football affairs at Belvedere in Dublin, where Parrott played his youth football, and has known the striker for 10 years.

“He’s a very good lad, easy to deal with,” Butler tells BBC Sport. “He comes from a very tough area – north inner-city Dublin, a lot of social, drug and violent problems.

“But he’s never been involved in anything like that. Football was the one thing that kept him going. He’s mad on football, he’d play every day if he could.

“He is a very determined player and will never stop running. If he makes a mistake he’ll make up for it very quickly. He puts a lot of effort in. He’s an excellent character.”

Butler says Parrott was always a good player but a growth spurt in his early teens “added a bit of strength, pace and size to him”, and suddenly made him stand out.

Playing representative football in Dublin allowed him to shine on a wider scale and the chance to play for Everton at a tournament in Northern Ireland gave the then 14-year-old his break.

“They beat Glasgow Rangers 5-1 and he scored four of the goals,” Butler says. “Nobody knew about him at this stage. Troy turned out to be the star performer of the tournament.”

Butler’s phone soon lit up with Ireland-based Premier League scouts wanting a look.

“Word had spread around. They were on to their clubs to say ‘this lad from Dublin has done exceptionally well and nobody has ever heard of him’,” he adds.

“Every main club in Britain was interested. Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Everton, you name them, there was a queue of clubs looking at him.”

What made the youngster choose Tottenham?

Troy Parrott
Parrott and Wolves wing-back Matt Doherty both played for Belvedere in Dublin

“He came on the scene relatively suddenly,” says Butler. “He was very good, but there wasn’t the urgency to get him over because people felt they would get him in due course and they couldn’t sign him until he was 16.”

The following summer Ireland-based Spurs scout Marty McGuigan contacted Butler, wanting Parrott to join the under-18s on a pre-season trip to Bruges.

“I got a phone call from John McDermott (Spurs’ academy manager) halfway through the week to say they were delighted with him and wanted to follow it up,” says Butler.

“He had been in Manchester City and was going to Chelsea, he was due to go to Manchester United and had been to places like Aston Villa and Everton.

“He had to pull out of the Chelsea one because Tottenham brought him over to sign an agreement.”

What can Spurs expect from Parrott?

Troy Parrott
Parrott scored 19 goals in 27 youth team games for Spurs last season

Parrott impressed former boss Mauricio Pochettino, who called him up to train with the first team, played him in pre-season against Juventus and Manchester United, and gave the youngster his debut in a Carabao Cup defeat by Colchester in September.

He scored six goals in four Uefa Youth League outings before Mourinho’s arrival in November but first-team duties, despite not featuring in matches, have limited the teenager’s game time at all levels this season.

Butler says Parrott is enjoying life in London, living in digs with a family in Enfield, but would like to see him playing more competitive football.

“He settled in very well. He likes the family he is staying with and they think the world of him. He is very happy there,” he says.

“The only thing he doesn’t like is not playing matches. He would play three matches a day if he had the option of doing it.”

Mourinho says Parrott must first prove to his colleagues why he has the “privilege” of training with the first-team squad, and show willing when featuring for Spurs’ youth sides.

But a lack of games could also impact his international hopes.

Parrott was linked with a loan move in January but Tottenham needed to keep him at the club to meet eligibility rules about homegrown players.

Republic of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy said he “wished he’d gone to Charlton” on loan and if Parrott is not playing he has “very little chance of being in the squad”.

“If he is not playing it’s going to damage his chances of getting a first-choice position,” says Butler. “But he has plenty of time ahead of him.”

How modern football became broken beyond repair

If you thought Wasdans pieces were long…

By Miguel Delaney of the Independent.

“We don’t want too many Leicester Citys.”

These were the words spoken by a senior figure from the Premier League’s ‘big six’ clubs, in the kind of high-end London hotel you can easily imagine.

 

“Football history suggests fans like big teams winning,” the official continued, to the group of business people and media figures present. “A certain amount of unpredictability is good, but a more democratic league would be bad for business.”

Exactly whose business would it be bad for? And why is football even viewed that way? The answers are among the biggest problems for the game right now.

That big-six representative need not have worried. The entire sport has been increasingly conditioned so that Leicester City situations – where a club from outside the financial super elite actually wins a major title – are close to impossible. This is why the odds in 2015-16 were so long and that story was so exceptional. Let no one tell you, as former Real Madridpresident Ramon Calderon insisted to The Independent, that “football has always been like this”.

He’s wrong. It hasn’t.

Every metric indicates that it is at a far worse level than ever before. It is getting worse and threatening to become irretrievable.

As this investigation will reveal, football’s embrace of unregulated hyper-capitalism has created a growing financial disparity that is now destroying the inherent unpredictability of the sport. This is not just the big clubs often winning, as has been the case since time immemorial. It is that a small group of super-wealthy clubs are now so financially insulated that they are winning more games than ever before, by more goals than ever before, to break more records than ever before. They are stretching the game in a way that has caused the entire sport to transform and shift.

That is a consequence of the explosion of money in the game, which means you need a minimum amount of annual revenue (€400m in 2020, going by Deloitte’s figures) to even begin competing. On the other side, when clubs like Liverpool or Manchester City maximise that revenue through admirable intelligence, the disparity then has an amplifying effect. The gap gets even greater on the pitch. This is why we are seeing so many historic records now being broken season after season.

The last decade alone, which represents the true rise of the super-clubs alongside the huge rise in money, has seen:

  • a second Spanish treble
  • a first German treble
  • a first Italian treble
  • a first English domestic treble
  • three French domestic trebles in four years
  • a first Champions League three-in-a-row in 42 years
  • the first ever 100-point season in Spain, Italy and England
  • ‘Invincible’ seasons in Italy, Portugal, Scotland and seven other European leagues
  • 13 of Europe’s 54 leagues currently seeing their longest run of titles by a single club or longest period of domination.

Many of these feats appeared to be impossible for decades. They have now all taken place around the same time in the last decade, with the prospect of more to come. Needless to say, they have all been achieved by the wealthiest clubs in those competitions.

The concentration of money has brought a concentration of quality and thereby success.

This is not to say there won’t be outliers, like the underwhelming seasons recently suffered by Manchester United or Arsenal, or the unexpected triumphs of clubs like Leicester City.

Humans are involved, so there will be fluctuations and rises and dips.

Long-term trends don’t bring total uniformity. That’s not how they work.

To point to such exceptions as counter-arguments is the football equivalent of using a few cold days to dismiss global warming.

The wider trends are beyond debate.

They are also causing huge debate at the very top of the game.

__________________________________________________

Growing fears

Uefa president Alexandre Ceferin made the issue front and centre of his introduction to the body’s 2020 annual benchmarking report, citing the “threats” and “risks” of “globalisation-fuelled revenue polarisation”.

And it really comes to something when Deloitte’s Football Money League – as bombastic a celebration of wealth in the game as you could have – warns of “a situation where on-pitch results are too heavily influenced by the financial resources available” as well as the danger to “the integrity” and “unpredictability” crucial to the long-term value of the sport.

Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, speaks in even graver terms. “If we don’t fix that problem, in a few years our industry will collapse.”

It is teetering on the brink because this core problem loads up so many other ongoing issues: the precarious financial health of clubs outside the elite; the tension between the super-clubs and the rest; the tension between leagues; the tension between Uefa and Fifa; the tension between self-interest and the collective that represents the inherent contradiction of professional sport.

The Independent has been told this problem of financial disparity is at the core of ongoing debates about the structure of the football calendar, an issue that has exploded in the last month, with one high-level source speaking even more starkly.

“We have to stop the trend now. The gap is growing exponentially every season. It’s now or never. We can potentially destroy the world ecosystem of football.”

That “ecosystem” is right now very finely balanced, but nowhere near as finely balanced as the very nature of football itself and how the game is actually played.

This is what must be understood in regard to the core unpredictability of the sport being eroded by money.

Football has famously always been the game that anybody can play, with matches anyone can win. The preciousness of a goal has ensured it is just low-scoring enough to strike the perfect balance between satisfying reward for performance and the right amount of surprises. The fortuitous positioning of the penalty spot perfectly reflected this. Its distance gives a 70% chance of scoring, exactly the right ratio between punishment and possibility of missing.

That has generally been translated into wider results for the majority of the game’s history, so there have been spells where Bayern Munich’s league titles have been punctuated by victories for clubs like Kaiserslautern, Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg.

Football, as Johan Cruyff once said, is “a game of mistakes”. That is where its unpredictability lies. That is what the embrace of hyper-capitalism is eroding.

An 11-strong group of what Uefa describe as the “most global” clubs have reached a size where mistakes are less and less likely.

It makes a Dejan Lovren error against Shrewsbury Town stand out all the more, and any upsets stand out all the more, because they are so rare.

“There will maybe be the odd surprise, but this is how it’s developing,” former Southampton owner Nicola Cortese says. “These bigger clubs are now massive money monsters.”

Due to the sport’s very structure, its immense global popularity has actually funnelled more and more resources to an extremely narrow band of clubs, because they are the only ones with the reach to maximise this.

It is not so much the 1%, as the 0.01%.

And it is not that money guarantees success. It is that an awful lot of it – in 2020, around €400m – is the single most important requisite to even compete.​

_______________________________________

The economics and the effect

In order to grasp just how great the shift in the game has been, it’s worth going back to quainter times. That is as recently in history as the 1980s, when the processes that led to all of this properly began.

This was a period when, as many attest, football was “barely running as a for-profit business at all”.

An all-conquering Liverpool were running the game, but this was domination of a more organic nature to now. There just wasn’t enough money in the game for it to be such a factor. The 1982 English First Division TV deal was just £5.2m and the total international rights were a mere £50,000 from Scandinavia. The wage bill of the wealthiest top-division club was less than three times the bottom club, which meant there was a period when two of the best paid players in England – Michael Robinson and Steve Foster – both played for Brighton and Hove Albion.

It also meant that as many as 13 clubs could finish in the top four in England, as many as 12 in Spain, and that teams including Aston Villa, Steaua Bucharest, PSV Eindhoven and Red Star Belgrade could win the European Cup.

Football, in effect, was too small an industry to feature anything like the current inequalities. There was far more mobility within the sport.

That was to dramatically change.

The bare figures are enough to explain why.

The total Premier League TV rights for the current 2019-22 cycle are now worth £8.4bn. The total Champions League prize money is now worth €2.04bn, having grown from €583m just 10 years ago. Such forces have seen Manchester United go from a turnover of £117m at the start of the millennium to £627.1m in 2018-19, the most recent figures available.

The biggest clubs are no longer the financial size of local supermarkets, as was the case just two decades ago.

The size of the game has totally transformed. As David Goldblatt relays in his superb book, The Age of Football, the sport in Europe now turns over more revenue than the continent’s publishing or cinema industries.

Money has been the great differential.

More money, however, has simply led to more disparity.

Returning to wages, the ‘stretch’ from the bottom to the top in the Premier League has gone from 2.85x in that breakaway season of 1992-93 to 4.7x last year. In Spain, it has been as high as 17.2x, and in some mid-size leagues like Switzerland over 20x.

This is relevant because of how crucial wages are to the working of the sport. Repeated studies – most notably by Stefan Szymanski and Tim Kuypers – have highlighted that they condition results to a greater degree than anything else. Arguments about net transfer spend are close to irrelevant.

“Buying the most expensive players doesn’t automatically generate good sporting results,” Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano wrote in his book The Ball Doesn’t Go In By Chance. “What does generate those good results is having the best players in your team and paying them the salary they deserve.”

This is what really creates the stretch.

“I had the money to buy players,” Cortese says. “But not the money to keep players.”

This has been the primary issue for most Premier League clubs seeking to grow, despite the influx of TV money that has allowed high transfer fees.

By the competition’s latest figures, the big six paid 51.3% of the total wages.

This disparity has led to a corresponding disparity in results. And thus the unpredictability of football – the lifeblood of the sport – begins to dissolve.

Put together here for the first time, these figures say even more, and paint quite a staggering picture.

Absolutely every metric shows the sport across Europe is more predictable than 30, 20 or even 10 years ago.

You can start at the very top.

The average points won by champions in the five major leagues has shot up.

England might only show a marginal change from the 2000s to the 2010s, but the change becomes much more pronounced if you focus on the last three seasons. It then extends to 96.7 points – and that’s before you even bring in Liverpool’s current season.

Many might fairly put that down to the standard raised by managers like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. But they are paid handsomely too. They are part of the same force. What these rises in top points tallies really represent, going by the correlation between wage and league finishes, is that the wealthiest clubs are simply winning more games.

Greater disparity has pushed up the requirements to win the league. That can be seen in the most ominous figures of all: the title-winning streaks. In some leagues, it is getting impossible for almost anyone else to win.

Prior to this run, Bayern Munich had never won more than three Bundesliga titles in a row. They have now won seven in a row, which is by far the longest streak of league victories in Germany’s history. It is also one of eight such situations across Europe.

There are then situations like in Croatia, where Dinamo Zagreb have won 13 of the last 14 titles, or Dundalk, who have won five of the last six Irish titles. There has never been a situation where so many of Europe’s leagues – 13 of 54 – are suffering such domination at the same time.

That it extends from the very top, to mid-sized leagues like the Austrian Football Bundesliga, to the bottom and the Andorran Primera Divisió, shows the depth of the problem.

It also shows the effect of Champions League prize money, which has become one of the most profound problems in the game, as influential as anything else in creating this disparity.

The difficulty in qualifying for the competition, of course, is just another representation of that disparity.

That is emphasised by the fact more clubs finished in England’s top four in the first five years of the 1990s than in the 20 years so far of the new millennium: 11 to 10. The number for 2010 to 2019 as a whole is seven, down from 13 in the 1990s and 1980s, and 15 in the 1970s and 1960s.

The other major leagues tell a similar story, and that without a defined big six. Just as with the title race, meanwhile, increased wealth has also increased the points threshold for qualification to the Champions League. It is not just that the wealthiest clubs are winning much more, however. It is that they are winning by much more.

So many clear victories are perhaps the clearest indication of the ‘Overton window’ effect of this: where gradual shifts over time make abnormal situations feel normal to anyone watching on. Thrashings of the scale the wealthiest clubs now dole out – Manchester City beating Watford 8-0 or Bayern Munich beating both Mainz and Werder Bremen 6-1 this season – used to be so much rarer. Even 5-0 thrashings were comparatively uncommon.

Looking at England’s wealthiest four clubs – which has varied since the start of the Premier League – over a fifth of their games are now won by three goals or more. For the 90s, that was just over a tenth, at 12.6%.

This is most pronounced with Spain’s big two, who are always cited as the eternal victors. “Así gana el Madrid” is the chant, meaning “That’s how Madrid win”. It refers to how, no matter what happens in a game, they always find their way.

But even the mighty Real Madrid did not used to win like this. Together with Barcelona, their percentage of wins by three goals or more has jumped from 20.5% in the 90s, to a staggering 37.8% now.

The shift in football as a whole is now undeniable.

It is simply blinkered to say that it has ‘always been like this’.

Even Soriano argues in this book that “the classic ‘that’s football!’argument” defies both logic and evidence”.

It has never been this bad. And it might yet get even worse. The forces that led us to this are as important as the effects.

_________________________________

How it got here, and where it’s going

The 14 other Premier League clubs were at first taken aback. Then the feeling that they were being taken for a ride began to grow.

Their representatives were at a meeting to discuss the competition’s international TV rights distribution and, in putting forward the position of the big six, Daniel Levy just kept using the same five words: “We only want what’s fair.” As Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg’s book The Club details, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman repeated it to every single objection.

The argument was that the ‘big six’ are the clubs who bring all the international attention – and so they therefore deserve more of the money. The counter-argument is obviously that they need teams to play against, and that the attractive founding principle of the Premier League is equality.

The great complication is that the following cycle: the more money the ‘Big Six’ receive, the better they become. The more attractive they are to audiences. The better commercial deals they can strike. The better they become. And the more attractive they are. Thus strengthening a self-perpetuating cycle that just keeps on increasing the gap.

The leverage – of course – is another break-away.

“They’ve been using the threat of the super league for 20 years now,” one high-level source says. “Every time there is a discussion about revenue distribution, they put it on the table.”

This dilemma – still live and present in the game and growing – is a microcosm of the wider situation that has led football to the brink.

The game has been engulfed by capitalism, yes, but the compounding issue is that the most influential stake-holders have so fully embraced this.

There has been almost no resistance or regulation, which in itself has added multiple layers of self-perpetuation. The belligerence of the big clubs has been a huge part of it. This is why the problem is threatening to get worse.

A massive issue, as Goldblatt argues to The Independent, is that inequalities were already “hard-wired into the global football infrastructure” before the game’s authorities even realised the need to do something about it.

The initial re-wirings were, of course, nakedly capitalist.

The first in England was almost symbolic, as it came at the very height of Thatcherism in 1983. The FA at that time had in place a 19th-century regulation called Rule 34, which at least acknowledged clubs were a social institution. Rule 34 prohibited directors from being paid and restricted dividends to shareholders.

Seeking to become the first club to float on the stock market, Tottenham Hotspur and their advisors asked if they could form a holding company to evade the restrictions of Rule 34. The FA did not object. Instead they waved it through. This was accompanied by the mid-80s change to gate-money distribution, which saw home teams receive bigger proportions, inherently loading more towards the biggest clubs.

“The fact football associations – with pretty much the exception of the Germans – have waved all of this through has been a huge factor,” Goldblatt says.

By then, though, financial influence was moving from the stands to somewhere without fences or potentially any limits at all. Broadcasting.

Silvio Berlusconi’s takeover of AC Milan in 1986 gave him the entry-point to bring his private broadcasting ideas to football, which revolutionised the way TV was thought about in the sport. The Italian mogul saw the game as a potential “world-wide television spectacular”, with that potential wasted on parochial ideas. He felt it absurd that the biggest clubs were not regularly meeting in glamorously lucrative matches.

Berlusconi sought to force the issue through a commission for the first European super league.

Uefa rejected the idea, but the die had been cast. The first Champions League, in 1992-93, incorporated many of the same ideas, right down to branding and an anthem.

It is no coincidence the Premier League was launched at the same time, influenced by the same ideas and driven by the same motivation: money.

“People think there must be a lot of thinking in this Premier League,” the late Graham Taylor said at the time. “There is none … I think a lot of this is based on greed.”

It should not be overlooked that the decrepit nature of football in the 1980s – which ultimately descending into real-life tragedies such as Heysel and Hillsborough – made so much of this necessary. The game badly needed updating and badly needed the funding to do so, as well as ways to raise that funding.

Better broadcasting deals through glossy competitions therefore never had a more persuasive argument. The problem is how far it went the other way. The ruinously decrepit gave way to the gleamingly decadent.

“Once the Premier League and Champions League set their model, everybody else is following one way,” Goldblatt says. “These competitions began life when nearly all the economic safeguards and regulations have been dismantled.”

Just as internal protections were stripped away, meanwhile, the game was further opened up by external forces.

Among the greatest was the fall of Communism, which meant Eastern Bloc nations such as Poland and Ukraine were unable to keep star players within their borders. There was then the influence of the European Court of Justice, and the 1995 Bosman ruling. This immediately made players free agents once their contract ended and also prohibited EU member states and Uefa from imposing quotas on foreign players. Soriano said it “shook the market”. In reality it created a new one: a massive labour market that – according to Goldblatt – is more “global than banking”.

“Even Serie A still only allowed three foreigners per squad. Three Dutchmen at Milan was considered unbelievably cosmopolitan. Now, that’s nowhere near as cosmopolitan as Bournemouth.

“Bosman and the creation of a global labour market has been incredibly important. It also generated the creation of a global network and system of agents and scouts.”

One key factor was that its very globality made it impossible to regulate.

“Look at agent regulation,” football finance expert Kieran Maguire explains to The Independent. “Fifa said in 2016 we can’t monitor what’s happening in 200 countries so we’re just going to abandon the whole project. They’ve effectively done that in terms of the democratisation of the game.”

It created yet another mechanism of self-perpetuation. One that was to eventually be driven by the biggest mechanism of all: the Champions League.

It is this tournament that has perhaps more than anything created this minimum financial threshold.

The competition has become so popular that its prize money is simply immense: life-changing for many clubs and game-changing for the sport as a whole. It is so drastic that it distorts football.

Merely turning up in the group stage this season earned clubs €15.25m. Getting to the Istanbul final will be worth €62.25m – and that’s before you factor in many related rewards. The near £100m Spurs earned last season was enough to launch them past Chelsea into the top 10 of the Deloitte Football Money League.

“The Champions League has been a closed shop for the majority of the last decade,” Maguire says. “A figure like £100m allows you to buy an awful lot of wages, to invest. So, all of a sudden, if you want to challenge them, you’ve got to find £100m and that’s just for one season.”

That, by coincidence, is the figure Jack Walker pumped into Blackburn Rovers to make his club Premier League champions in 1994-95 by financial brute force. It would now barely make a dent.

“This is the big difference,” Goldblatt says. “Nottingham Forest didn’t turn into an economic powerhouse by winning it twice, whereas now it catapults you into a completely different economic zone. We’ve seen this with smaller European nations, where one club manages every year to get to the qualifying stages – not even the group stages – and that’s enough to give them an unbeatable head start.”

It is a source of so many of these spells of domination: from Austria to Andorra.

“The impact on smaller leagues has been absolutely dramatic,” one Uefa source says. “It also makes them less attractive to domestic audiences, turning more and more people to the biggest leagues.”

The result? Another layer of self-perpetuation.

________________________________

The ‘Everton problem’ 

The Champions League does much more, however, than creating this huge financial capital. It also creates a football capital – and what you might call the ‘Everton problem’.

It is just another way the game is so conditioned towards the richest. The massively free player market makes it a race to the top, where the richest are able to accumulate the best in a way never seen before. Every player obviously wants to be in such a competition.

This means that even if clubs like Everton have the money to pay competitive wages, they are still mostly getting cast-offs, a level of player short of the true elite. And when they do have a player who can perform at Champions League level, like Romelu Lukaku, he is quickly picked off.

The forces of the game just don’t allow clubs outside the elite the time and space to get to that level. There are too many ceilings to smash through, with so many layers of money on top. The excellent Swiss Ramble Twitter account has calculated that England’s big six have benefited from 93% of European TV money in the last eight years.

Some clubs – like Valencia and Leeds United – have attempted to break through this with huge investment, only to bring themselves close to ruin.

The introduction of Financial Fair Play (FFP) attempted to prevent this. But the legislation came too late. Rather than creating a necessary competitive balance in European football, it reinforced the pre-existing levels.

“Had Uefa introduced regulations like FFP 20 years earlier, I think it would have made a notable difference,” Goldblatt says. “And I think it would have been a deterrent to more egregious foreign owners who have lots of money and political aims.”

It was the glamour of the Champions League, after all, that first attracted Roman Abramovich to football. That set the trend for another factor that has transformed the finances of the game: takeovers from the mega-rich.

One potential solution to this would be revenue redistribution, in the form of “solidarity” payments. Discussions are ongoing at the start of 2020 to determine Uefa money towards clubs not participating in European competition for the 2021-24 cycle, so as to level the playing field.

But these discussions again involve the tension between those who generate the most interest, and the financial disparity that generates.

And it’s that same threat that has hung over any discussions: the prospect of a European super league. The result in the last discussion over solidarity payments? They actually decreased: from 8.5% to 7.3%.

“Solidarity for the non-participating clubs is the sole mechanism we have to protect competitive balance, and compensate for huge money,” one source says. “The big clubs are always pushing. Uefa is in a difficult position, as they need to find a balance, but it’s not easy.

“It usually ends up that they say we have to listen to the top clubs and give them something, to stop them going in the direction of a super league.”

This is the cycle the game is now in. The cycle that binds it. With every step of negotiation, a little more is ceded to the big clubs, which earns them even more revenue.

So it is with results. They shift a bit more towards the super-wealthy with every cycle. And so the differences between clubs become imperceptible and thrashings become so commonplace.

It is also why Uefa’s description of “global clubs” is so apt.

In this almost completely unregulated world-wide football market, there are only a few that traverse the planet in terms of supporter base and appeal. It allows them to grow to financial sizes that no other club can reach.

“For a club like Southampton, it was always difficult to attract top sponsors,” Cortese explains. “They are not going to go to a team who’s not playing international football. They want to put their money – and pay a lot of money – for the biggest audience.”

It was of course Manchester United who were the innovators in this regard, in two stages. There was first of all the carpet-bombing merchandising of the early 90s. That created what Soriano referred to as the “virtuous circle” in terms of how much money it allowed them to pump back into the team.

There was then the more sophisticated second stage under the Glazers, which involved dividing the globe into separate, distinct markets. This has been a huge influence for the top Spanish clubs, who willingly took on United’s model.

This is also the source of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ pushing for a greater proportion of the international broadcast rights. And, in another landmark moment in 2018, they got their wish.

That is their platform: the entire planet.

Only a handful of clubs – Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Arsenal, Juventus, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Internazionale – are capable of truly benefiting from it. They just have a distinctive global fan base, and thereby a ready-made market, that is impossible for anyone else to replicate. Anyone else – such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain – needs a takeover.

It is why, in imploring John Henry to buy Liverpool in an email in 2010, Boston Red Sox employee Joe Januszewski wrote that Liverpool would represent “the deal of the century” and are “just begging to be properly marketed and leveraged globally among the soccer-mad masses”.

That has now happened.

All of these factors began to properly coalesce around 2010 to just put this distinctive group of clubs on another level, that was only going higher. It fundamentally changed what they are.

“The growth of the third source of income culminates in a fundamental change of model, which converts the football club business into a global entertainment business,” Soriano wrote. “This is the point where the big football club ceases to resemble a local circus and becomes more of a Walt Disney.”

They are no longer just football clubs. They are glamorous content providers.

This is why “more Leicester Citys” simply are not appealing to them. It’s not good for their own content. Soriano effectively admitted this view in his book.

“A well-known American sports manager once said to me: ‘I don’t understand why you don’t see that what you should be doing is boosting teams like Seville FC and Villarreal FC to make the Spanish league more exciting and maximise income’. While I was listening to him, I found it very difficult to think about maximising any income of any kind, because all I wanted and cared for was for FC Barcelona to win all the matches and always win, independently of the ‘tournament overall income’ or suchlike concepts.”

Calderon put it in more basic terms for The Independent, when he was asked whether football has embraced capitalism more than any other industry.

“Well, maybe, maybe. I think that it’s something you can’t avoid. Football has become show business. The stadiums are big TV sets, where 22 performers are performing. It’s show business, in some ways, more than sport.”

But show business doesn’t really care for the smaller theatres.

Calderon also set out the rather naked view of the big clubs. “That’s life,” he simply said.

But need it be?

This is the tension at the heart of the game, the big question. And this is the contradiction between self-interest and collaboration in professional sport.

“I look at the big clubs and their endless desire for money and I just think… what’s the point?” Goldblatt laments. “It’s not like you’re making much of a profit here. So what are you doing it for? What is the point of this death spiral of an ever-smaller number of clubs fighting it out?

“I really do think that these people running the clubs are locked into a way of thinking that is sort of self-destructive and they justify themselves by saying we must have more money so we can have better teams so we can have better product… but for what?

“In every other economic sector, people try and take their competitors over, but obviously that doesn’t happen in football.

“People think the unit of analysis is the club, but actually the game as a whole should be the unit of economic analysis. It’s the mad dynamic of capital accumulation, and it’s ultimately very odd that a very small number of people should be driving what is a collective experience for millions of people.”

One exasperated source goes even further.

“We cannot allow the football eco-system to be destroyed in the interests of a small group of clubs. It is much more than money at stake here. We should all recall the social value of football, the role it plays in communities.

“We have a super-rich, but we are destroying the base. The top clubs are not really understanding what is at stake.”

It all means that, right now, it feels like there’s less at stake in many games. They’re decided far too early. Their outcomes are far too predictable.

The wonder is what can be done about it?

 

 

THST statement on investigations into allegations made at our home game against Chelsea

All for One, And One for All..

Tuesday night’s humbling result, was I have to say, not entirely unexpected. Ok, maybe not conceding seven goals at home, but a heavy defeat none the less has felt in the offing for quite sometime.

Analysing the defeat to Bayern Munich would in my opinion be akin to a magic trick, relying on misdirection to give the observer the illusion that they are witnessing seemingly impossible feats, when in fact it is no more than simple trick. Losing by such a large score line in the manner the team did, was not simple misfortune, but a culmination of pre-existing issues.

 

In the last five years under Pochettino we have been privileged to witness some of the best football a lot of us can recall for many a year. During this time we have finally dared to believe we could once again be champions of England, and that we could now compete against the best teams Europe has to offer. We won’t forget these games, beating Real Madrid at home 3-1, giving Juventus a footballing lesson in Turin, and achieving what I suspect no fan had truly believed could be possible, reaching the Champions League final.

Reaching the final in Madrid was a momentous achievement that no one can take away, but even at the time I felt it merely papered over the cracks that had become evident some time before. For me this was the magician’s trick, an illusion that served to avert our eyes from the reality that the team hadn’t actually been in great form for some considerable time.

 

Some have said the defeat to Burnley last season was the start of our troubles, maybe, I’m not so sure, I confess I was already starting to query the teams form during the 2017/18 season.

Ironically it was the Burnley game at Wembley the season before, a dour 1-1 draw, where we struggled to break down a resolute Burnley defence that I first started to question if everything was as it had been the season before. Sadly my answer has to be no.

During both the 15/16 and 16/17 seasons we saw a Pochettino team in it’s pomp, overwhelming teams, pressing high, moving the ball at pace, and with purpose, to me these attributes have been missing since we dispatched both Leicester (6-1) and Hull (7-1).

The reality is, what we have witnessed since has been a team that seems to have lost it’s verve, where the tempo has steadily slowed, retaining possession without purpose, culminating in subdued performances where the team seem bereft of ideas and creativity (Newcastle at home this season).

Naturally this is just my opinion, some may say we were in contention for the league last season until ‘that’ Burnley game, but I would argue we had been winning games up until that point with guts and determination rather than sparkling football, often having to come from behind in games, scoring late winners to get all three points. This was never going to last, a reason why I never thought we were real contenders for the title last season. To me the cracks were only getting wider.

 

 

I do not profess to know what’s changed since the 16/17 season, but the common denominator throughout the last 5 years is the man himself, Pochettino.

I am not going to call for his head as others are doing on twiter, #pochout, really? For me he has more than earned the right to be given time to turn our fortunes around. What is troubling me though, is the change in his demeanour.

When he first arrived everything was about respect, the collective, as seen by the many column inches we read, praising how he had managed to restore a club that for many years had lost it’s way and identity.

However, what is becoming more concerning are his blunt and increasingly frequent comments, highlighting inadequacies with the club or the squad.

Some previous comments I’ve not taken issue with, demanding the club back him in the transfer market, this to me was just a case of cajolling Levy into loosening the purse strings, nothing wrong with that. If that were the end of his forthright views, then it would be fine, but that hasn’t been the case, and I have to say it’s made me feel rather uneasy at times.

There have been several times now where Pochettino has been heavily linked with other clubs, Real Madrid and Man Utd, If his plans are to stay and take Spurs on to another level, then why not simply put an end to the speculation by reaffirming his loyalty to the club? I can’t imagine how not doing so, is in any way good in terms of maintaining the ‘collective’ spirit he’s worked so hard to foster within club.

In recent weeks his comments have focused on the team, but again the tone comes across as negative, calling out players, claims of difficulties within the squad, pointing out player agendas within the squad (presumably players likely to be leaving next summer), but at a time where (to me) unity would be the order of the day, it feels like we are seeing the clubs dirty laundry being aired in public. At a time where we are not in the greatest of form, is this a wise course of action to take?

Whether Pochettino is unhappy with certain things within the club at present, it seems to me the longer these public outbursts continues, the harder it will be for him to either maintain, or rebuild his philosophy centred around collective respect.

 

There are going to be more bumps in the road, that’s inevitable, we are approaching a situation (probably next summer) where the team will need more than it’s fair share of new signings.

None of us can foresee the future, and that includes Levy, but in hindsight no signings for 18 months appears to have created quite a dilemma.

With some players likely to leave next summer, and other positions in need of improvement, we seem to have a situation where overhauling the team could resemble more, the chaotic upheaval of revolution, rather than one of natural evolution. With this in mind, I would suggest presenting a united front is more important than ever. The club needs to move forward, preferably as one, with all singing from the same (positive) hymn sheet.

 

These are just my personal observations, I am not trying to paint the club in a poor light, far from it, we are in a much better position than we were before Pochettino arrived, I just hope the club returns to presenting a positive unified front sooner rather than later.

COYS!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cards have been reshuffled.

Tottenham Hotspur has refinanced more than £600m of loans taken out to build its new stadium, with the English Premier League club tapping US investors through private bond markets to secure its financial future.

The team moved into its £1.2bn arena, one of the most expensive in Europe, in April. To support construction, it borrowed £637m from Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and HSBC. Those loans were due to be paid back by April 2022, creating a potential financial cliff edge.

The club completed a private placement in the US this week that converted roughly £525m of its debt into bonds, with staggered maturities of between 15 and 30 years.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Daniel Levy, Tottenham Hotspur chairman, said the move to limit the club’s debt-servicing costs, along with revenues from the new stadium, would provide the financial headroom to compete with Europe’s top clubs.

But he insisted there would be no change to the frugal business plan and player transfer strategy instituted during his nearly two decades running the club.

We could have easily spent more money on players. Who knows if that would have bought us more success or not . . . The right approach is to build from the bottom up. There is no quick fix to becoming a much more significant global club

Daniel Levy

© Bloomberg
“I understand, as I am a fan, clearly you want to win on the pitch,” he said. “But we have been trying to look at this slightly differently, in that we want to make sure we ensure an infrastructure here to stand the test of time.”

The message won over US private investors for the bond issue but may be seen as provocative by fans who want a spending spree to reinforce a team that has fallen agonisingly short of the sport’s top prizes in recent seasons.

“We could have easily spent more money on players,” said Mr Levy. “Who knows if that would have bought us more success or not . . . The right approach is to build from the bottom up. There is no quick fix to becoming a much more significant global club.”

Tottenham has firmly established itself among the “Big Six” in English football’s top tier, which also includes Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Each is among the world’s 10 highest-earning football clubs, due in part to their share in the Premier League’s multiyear broadcasting rights, currently worth £9.2bn.

Under head coach Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham has qualified four times in a row for the Champions League, Europe’s most prestigious club tournament that distributes roughly €2bn among participating teams.

That success is particularly striking because the English club’s wage bill has been the lowest among the Big Six. Academic research has shown the best predictor of a team’s league position is how much it spends on player salaries.

Although Tottenham has outperformed, it has won no major trophy in many years, finishing second in the Premier League in 2016-17 and losing in the Champions League final last season.

To complete the refinancing of its stadium loans, BofA, which acted as bookrunner on the bond issue, has also provided a £112m loan, while HSBC has provided a revolving credit facility. Goldman, which took a leading role in Tottenham’s previous transaction, did not participate. Rothschild acted as financial adviser. The average annual interest rate on this new debt is just over 2.6 per cent, according to people briefed on the transaction.

Private placements in the US were particularly popular with English clubs in the 1990s and early 2000s, with Manchester United, Arsenal and Newcastle United among those to issue long-term bonds.

US private placements typically carry investment-grade ratings, in contrast to the recent rush of bond issuance from Italian football clubs. Inter Milan and AS Roma have tapped the high-yield bond market in the past two years, while Juventus raised a bond this year without a credit rating.

Mr Levy said the Tottenham bond issue was “significantly oversubscribed”, reflecting a strong credit rating from investment agencies and confidence from US investors that the club is a relatively sure bet in the volatile world of football.

Asked if the deal would free up more money for player transfers or new deals for current stars — some of whom have held off on contract renewals unless they are offered significant pay rises — Mr Levy insisted the refinancing “will have no bearing on how we run the club . . . and no bearing on those types of short-term movements [like transfers].”

The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London © Action Images via Reuters
Still, there are signs the club has begun to loosen its purse strings. Over the 2017-18 season, it achieved record revenues of £380.7m and pre-tax profit of £138.9m — the largest annual profit ever recorded by a football club. This summer its net transfer fee spending was about £120m, according to the club, among the highest in the Premier League.

To increase revenues further, Mr Levy wants to transform Tottenham Hotspur Stadium into a “Madison Square Garden in London” — referring to the New York indoor arena that hosts sports, concerts and other events. The club has already secured deals to host two NFL American football matches a year for a decade, and an annual Saracens rugby union match for five years.

“Clearly, if you have a stadium of this magnitude and quality, to only have 25 to 30 games a year being played by Tottenham Hotspur, it’s not making use of the capital we have invested,” said Mr Levy.

This article has been amended since publication to use a net transfer fee spending figure provided by the company

Times They VAR a Changing..

An article blatantly stolen from the THST…

Trials have been held for the last two years and there is a real belief that VAR in the Premier League will not slow down the tempo or intensity of matches.

The system used by PL officials will differ greatly from the VAR approach taken by UEFA in the Champions League or FIFA during the 2018 World Cup.

We will clearly go through the differences in this article.

Premier League Clubs voted unanimously to introduce VAR from 2019/20.

The PL is committed to the consistent use of VAR as set out in International Football Association Board protocol. The IFAB VAR philosophy is “minimum interference – maximum benefit”.

As it currently stands, VAR will be introduced for good although this can be overturned at annual PL meetings. The PL believes VAR will positively influence decision-making and lead to more correct and fairer judgements.

From August 9th VAR will be used in the PL for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents”.

This will be applied in four match-changing situations:

  • Goals
  • Direct red cards
  • Penalties
  • Mistaken identity

VAR will automatically check these situations as a matter of course – no signal is needed by the referee. However, the final decision will always be taken by the referee who has been told to maintain the pace and tempo of Premier League matches.
The PL accepts it will not achieve 100 per cent accuracy but believes it will increase Key Match Incident accuracy which is currently at 82 per cent.

One of the biggest changes to what has previously been seen with VAR will be offsides. For example, with some offside decisions you will see the flag raised but play allowed to continue. This will be an obvious change from UEFA/Fifa where officials were advised to keep their flags down until a decision had been made. (See Video 1 below showing Harry Kane versus Chelsea and the discussions between the officials).

For clear immediate goalscoring chances an assistant referee will raise the flag as normal, the referee will delay the whistle until the match outcome and VAR will then check.

VAR will use 3D lines to determine offside positions. We were given a demonstration of this and it is accurate to the point that it would be hard to argue against. Players have been told they must play to the whistle.

With regards to how far back VAR will go – there is no time limit. However, the PL wants to minimise the amount of time used on VAR so the term ‘attacking phase of play’ is important here.

There are a number of factors to consider:

  • The attacking phase of play is a move that leads directly to a goal
  • The defending team gaining possession is important in these terms
  • The ability of the defence to ‘re-set’ is taken into consideration
  • Immediate, not multiple phases, are checked

​So for example, Naby Keita’s goal away against Southampton would not be overturned by VAR. In the build-up to that goal Mo Salah is clearly offside and this is missed by the assistant referee. The game continues and a cross is cleared by the home side. Liverpool regain possession and it is at this point it is believed Southampton’s defence has re-set. Liverpool score from the next cross. Therefore, when the ball eventually hits the back of the net, it is agreed the Mo Salah offside did not directly lead to the goal, the defending team had cleared the ball and re-set and Liverpool had then scored.

With penalties, VAR intervention will be used for:

  • Clear errors on goalkeeper movement by on-field officials – by clear they mean excessive early movement before the kick has been taken
  • Double touch by players taking the kick
  • Feigning at the point of the kick
  • Encroachment that has a direct impact on the outcome of the kick – the example given here was Jan Vertonghen’s goal-line clearance versus Arsenal after Aubameyang had missed the penalty. After further questioning by the THST rep, it was agreed that the penalty would have been overturned anyway with the player booked for diving and a freekick given to Spurs.
The handballs seen in the Champions League, particularly the Tottenham – Manchester City game (Danny Rose), the PSG – Manchester United game (Presnel Kimpembe), and Tottenham – Liverpool game (Moussa Sissoko) would not be deemed by the PL VAR as handball!. The PL uses a different interpretation of the handball rule to UEFA. We woz fakin robbed..

The rule to be introduced in the Premier League states that a player should not be penalised if they are believed to be using their arms for balance or in this case, where the player is gesticulating to team-mates to cover a rival player.

As Mike Riley, General Manager of PGMOL, said at the time of the Sissoko handball: “That’s not a deliberate act of extending the arm away from the body. You also see the ball deflects off the chest on to the arm, and if you put everything together and apply the philosophy we do here, we wouldn’t say that was handball.”

For ‘not seen’ incidents (off the ball elbows, punches etc) there will be a VAR window to intervene. When the ball is in play, this will be at the next re-start and when the ball is out of play, this will be the second re-start. (See video 2 below for an example of how the game will continue as officials discuss the best course of action).

Referees will also be less likely to view the pitch-side monitor to make a decision as their Video Assistant Referee will also be a Premier League official who will advise on what they have seen via the slow motion and many angled replays.

For match-attending fans, overturned VAR decisions will be shown on in-stadium screens with the exception of Old Trafford (Manchester United) and Anfield (Liverpool) where there are no screens. At these stadiums the scoreboards and electronic advertising boards can be used to advise fans that a VAR check is underway, when a conclusion has been reached and what that decision is.(See video 3 below for an example of how match-attending fans will be informed of a decision via VAR).

Every goal scored in the Premier League will be automatically checked as a matter of course with a view that the process will be completed before the celebrations have been concluded.

Players will not be booked for simply requesting that VAR checks an incident, but unique incidents may see players cautioned.  For example, if a player politely requests that an incident is viewed a referee can explain the situation to him. However, if a player runs half the length of the pitch gesticulating that VAR should investigate, this will likely lead to a yellow card. Clubs have been told.

Players will be booked if they attempt to enter a Referee Review Area on their own or for interfering with referee communication.

The PL has set a high bar for clear and obvious error before a change has been made to the original decision. It says VAR will not completely remove controversy over subjective decisions. The tackle by Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany on Liverpool’s Mo Salah at the Eithad Stadium was given as an example of this. Many felt Kompany should have been sent off but VAR would have allowed the yellow card to stand. ​

For the full article with additional examples with video can be found here:

 

Scrap prices aint wot they used to be..

 

Yesterday the club announced a new ticketing system for the new season, whereas before there were 19 opportunities (sales windows) to purchase a ticket for each Premier League game, now there will be only 7. The new system now means tickets for 2/3 games will go on sale at the same time. Will this system work better than the previous one? Only time will tell.

The announcement by the club of a change to the way match tickets can be purchased would normally go unnoticed by the majority of people, but as the details were scrutinised one thing became clear, namely a certain fixture that has rightly been reclassified as a cat B game. Yes you got it pop pickers, the spamorrhoids cup final has been downgraded to the equivalent of the Checkatrade trophy. My only concern at this point is whether it even merits a category B rating?

However important spams annual cup final is to them, I’m sure it’s clear to all of us that it was inappropriate for such a fixture to merit a cat A listing along with the likes of Utd, Citeh, Pooh, Arse or the racists. Personally I feel the club decision to put Spam on the same level as Brighton, Wolves, Everton, or Southampton is a magnanimous one, perhaps cat C would have been more appropriate? I suppose the club can review this decision for the 20/21 season, fingers crossed.

Let’s face it, does a club who are willing to perform such deplorable acts on the pitch (see picture above) really deserve an ‘A’ rating? Perhaps ‘X’ rated would be more appropriate… 

 

 

It’s all a matter of…

With tensions rising, heart beats racing, and sweaty palms aplenty, we again find ourselves in limbo, waiting patiently in the salubrious surroundings of the doctors pre season waiting room, waiting to find out what the diagnosis will be for the new season ahead.

Thankfully (or otherwise..) the summer pantomime season is upon us, the transfer window, what would we do without it? He’s said he want’s to join.. Oh no he didn’t! Oh yes he did!

This though, is merely a cunning plan to distract us from the real issues at hand, what will the new 2019/20 kit look like. In recent years we’ve had interesting creations, from the ‘mayoral’ sash of 2015,

Opps, sorry wrong pic, I mean this one..

 

to last years ‘does my bum look big in this’ number.

One thing is certain, not everyone will view the new kit favourably but, what we do (most likely) have in common is, a fondness for a particular kit.

So whilst we all wait with baited breath for the big reveal, what is your all time favourite Spurs strip?

 

 

 

Say, have you seen a wabbit wun by here?

 

So here we are chaps, silly season is upon us once again. It’s hunting season and as usual a plethora of Elmer Fudd’s are out in search of that elusive catch. Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits!, He-e-e-e-e!

In truth our modern day Elmer Fudd’s are nothing more than a rag tag bunch of keyboard hacks, who twice a year go out en masse in search of the most tenuous transfer links (Say, have you seen a wabbit wun by here?).

Like all good hacks, the majority care little about the truth, why would they, heaven forbid they would let the facts get in the way of a good story (Oh boy! Rabbit tracks! There’s something screwy around here.).

Lettuce not forget, these fine chaps are tasked with providing an essential public service, feeding the insatiable appetite of the greater spotted football fan, otherwise how would we all survive?

Thankfully this years bounty is as plentiful as ever, no gruel for us, we shall feast like never before. So with no further ado my lovely Oeufers, here’s this summers menu.
Bon appetit…

Nick Pope: Burnley
Matthias Ginter: Borussia Monchengladbach
Nicolas Tagliafico: Ajax
Milan Skriniar: Inter Milan
Harry Maguire: Leicester City
James Tarkowski: Burnley
Dayot Upamecano: RB Leipzig
Kieran Tierney: Celtic
Raphael Varane: Real Madrid
Alex Telles: Free agent
Kostas Manolas: Roma
Aaron Wan-Bissaka: Crystal Palace
Matthijs de Ligt: Ajax
Ben Chilwell: Leicester City
Thomas Meunier: Paris Saint-Germain
David Brooks: Bournemouth
Jack Grealish: Aston Villa
James Maddison: Leicester City
Toni Kroos: Real Madrid
James Rodriguez: Bayern Munich
Adrien Rabiot: Paris Saint-Germain
Ruben Neves: Wolves
Nicolo Barella: Cagliari
Andre Gomes: Barcelona
Youri Tielemans: Monaco
Donny van de Beek: Ajax
Sean Longstaff: Newcastle United
Tanguy Ndombele: Lyon
Giovani Lo Celso: Real Betis
Bruno Fernandes: Sporting CP
Diogo Jota: Wolves
Che Adams: Birmingham City
Aleksander Mitrovic: Fulham
Ryan Sessegnon: Fulham
Steven Bergwijn: PSV Eindhoven
Nicolas Pepe: Lille
Gareth Bale: Real Madrid
Wilfried Zaha: Crystal Palace
Lorenzo Insigne: Napoli
Ivan Perisic: Inter Milan
Mauro Icardi: Inter Milan
Cengiz Under: Roma
Joao Felix: Benfica
Maxi Gomez: Celta Vigo
Douglas Costa: Juventus
Nabil Fekir: Lyon
Paulo Dybala: Juventus
Antoine Griezmann: Atletico Madrid
Callum Wilson: Bournemouth
David Neres: Ajax
Hakim Ziyech: Ajax
Jack Clarke: Leeds United
Marko Arnautovic: West Ham United
Ryan Fraser: Bournemouth
Julian Draxler: Paris Saint-Germain

The Incredible Journey

 

Well well well, So here we are, with just three days to go before the mighty Spurs play what is arguably the most important match in the clubs history, I have to make a little confession, I didn’t see this coming.

Oh what a journey it’s been, starting in mid September we got the ball rolling with a visit to the San Siro to face Inter Milan. Although we played well enough to win, we eventually succumbed to a defeat in our opening game in the group stages, this was then echoed by a loss to Barca at home, then a draw in Eindhoven, leaving us with one point from three games. Let’s face it, things weren’t looking too good at this point, especially as the heroics of the previous seasons CL campaign was still fresh in the mind.

So the start of November arrived, and unbeknownst to us, this was to be the beginning of an incredible journey that has yet to reach it’s conclusion. PSV were the opponents and after a poultry two minutes our hopes and dreams seemed further away than ever, one nil down and needing all three points to keep our hopes alive, it took until the 79th minute to level the score (still not enough), and another agonising ten minutes before our ‘one season wonder’ popped up with a priceless 89th minute winner, woohoo! We still had something to fight for.

With just two games remaining in the group stages, little did we know we had just seen a glimpse of the indomitable never say die spirit that would see us go all the way to Madrid. Inter indoors was next and nothing but a win would suffice, on the night it soon became clear Inter had one sole objective, stop us from scoring and get the hell out with a point.

Yet again with the clock ticking down we were again left biting our nails, chances came and went but to no avail, having run out of fingernails to chew I began to look for a substitute, maybe my shoe would do? Thankfully there was no need, cometh the 80th minute cometh the man! Clearly the allotted time had arrived and Eriksen had worked it out, get mysterious white orb in the old onion bag, he duly obliged and victory was ours, yay my shoe was saved! Little did we or Inter know at the time how important that goal would be, but it was a BIGGY.

Our last game of the great (group) escape was to be away at Barca, all we needed to do was match the result between Inter and PSV and we were through. As the game got underway it soon became apparent that it would be a tad rash to change a winning formula at this stage, so with no further ado KWP (deliberately) handed possession to Barca so they could go one nil up in the 7th minute. Naturally this was all part of Poch’s dastardly masterplan, shirley by now we all knew what was afoot, didn’t we? In the other game PSV had taken an unexpected lead, so it was decided, we would wait until Inter to score an equaliser, the least we could do was give them ten minutes rapturous joy celebrating their qualification from the group, anything else just wouldn’t be cricket. So one nil down at the Camp Nou and with Inter’s ten minutes up, we set about getting the oh so inevitable late goal that would see us leapfrog Inter into second in the group, so right on cue, up popped Moura with a goal in the 85th minute, nice! As we now know, there would be Moura that to come later. Yay we had qualified for the next round, it was at this point we all realised what how important Eriksen’s goal was, level on points, we had pipped Inter by scoring one more goal in the head to head, we were second not them.

Time for a break, Christmas and new year came and went and before we knew it the first knockout round was upon us, we had granted the pleasure of a rematch with Dortmund, this time though they were the inform team in Germany. Was I concerned? Nah, we had this. Thankfully for the ‘dodgy ticker posse’ this proved to be fairly sedate affair, winning three nil indoors (with two more routine late goals), and one nil away, there was going to be no nail biting or defibrillators needed on this occasion.

After seeing off the top team in Germany we were to go where no Spurs team had gone before, well since 2011 to be exact, the quarterfinals! For our magnificent swatting of those bundesliga bugs, we were rewarded in suitable Spursy fashion with the prospect of facing the tournament favourites, citeh. We’ve got this.. After a week of checking for tickets for this momentous game, our first in the new Stadium, and the only place to watch Champions league football in London (sorry I couldn’t resist), I finally struck gold, I had a ticket for best game in town. So began a frantic ten minutes. Work you damn printer! Where are my bloody keys? With my check list complete I was orf. Wherever people were that night, at home, in the pub, or at the game, it was one helluva night. The noise from the crowd was bloomin immense, and the south stand in full cry was, I’m sure what did for Aguero as he spuffed his penalty in the tenth minute. I know, I know, Lloris saved the penalty, but we all know it was just a fluke from Monsieur crisp hands, and that he actually meant to dive the other way if hadn’t got his left and right muddled up. Half time came and went without any goals, this was a good thing, the players were back on script, sticking fastidiously to Poch’s plan (you know the drill). Early into the second half and rice cake ankles did it again, he was out, that surely was last we would see of him in this campaign. Was this a set back for the lads? Nah, they were used to it by now, so after little tweak and a shuffle we set about the job in hand. So came the moment, Eriksen played the ball through to Son in the box, spuffing his first touch he found himself on the byline, no bother, he cut back in sold Delph-inium the dummy to smash it past the keeper, which was nice. With the final whistle blown, it was off to the Emptihad with a one nil lead.

Oh. My. God! I never envisaged what was about to happen as I met up with some Oeufly nice chaps at our CL watering hole up in town. This is the game that I believe doctors first became concerned about our Cavey, I mean crikey, I needed a check up after this game. Within four minutes of the start our one nil lead had lead had been cancelled out, dammit, bugger, we just needed to frustrate them in the early stages, or so we thought. Nah, that’s not how we roll! Before we had time to catch our breath and reappraise the situation three minutes later the ball was in the back of the net again. Dammit! Oh bother! Wailed the citeh fans, they were behind again courtesy of our Korean assassin Son. Ok, back to plan A, keep things tight, frustrate citeh and quieten the fans, yeah right, no such luck. Again, a mere three minutes had elapsed when the lads disobeyed orders, with Son firing us in front from the edge of the box to put us three one up on aggregate. Pfft! Just when you thought it was safe to have a sip of beer (other beverages were available), and only a minute later it was our turn again to sigh in disbelief, two fakin all! This was insane, four goals in eleven minutes! This was more akin to a 20-20 cricket game and it wasn’t over (see what I did there) yet, ten minutes later and we were behind. With nerves jangling I spotted r’Andy frantically purveying the establishment, ah, he was caught in the open, with no so sofa to take cover behind, he was going to have to tough it out like the rest of us. Then came the lull, a whopping thirty eight minutes had passed without incident, then it happened, Aguero scored and we were no longer in the box seat, we needed to reply in kind. On seventy three minutes, with a figure rose above all other with a prodigious leap of balletic grace. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the most valuable hip to ever grace the beautiful game, Llorente!! Cue uncontrolled joy and the odd manly hug, our prayers had been answered, now let’s see this game out, please. Fat chance of that! With nerves at this point more than a little frayed, and with ten minutes to go, I made my escape, and headed outside, peering back in through the pub door whilst talking to a couple of complete strangers (who I found out were gooners) in a bid to distract myself from proceedings, and then it happened. Into injury time we went, and with less than a minute to go the hammer blow that shattered all our hopes and dreams, an ecstatic Stirling wheeling towards the corner flag, Pep running down the touchline, and citeh supporters going mad, thinking they’d dunnit, they were through, or so they thought. A few moments later, and a couple of confused glances it slowly dawned on us, VAR, was there an infringement, as we watched the replays hope was reborn, c’mon ref please. Then came the moment, with the ref putting the whistle to his mouth, he blew it and pointed to the spot where Aguero had been deemed offside, IT’S NOT A GOAL, WE’VE STILL GOT THIS!!! Elated, exhausted, and somewhat inebriated we were through to the semi final for the first time in 57 years. Gettin!  

With the end of the season nearing, somehow we were still in Europe and Ajax awaited us in the semi final, on the evidence of how Ajax had dispatched Juve in the previous round, they were clearly not a team to be taken lightly. Looking for any advantage, I came to the conclusion that maintaining our routine of previous rounds and playing at home first was going to be to our advantage. The game itself was shall we put it, underwhelming, Ajax were soon on the from foot as we struggled to contain their passing game, as they always seemed to have a man available for a pass. It wasn’t long before Ajax were creating chances, and in the nineteenth minute we were opened up as easily as Fatty opening a bag of Monster Munch crisps. With the help of ‘he who shall remain nameless’ playing Van de Beek onside the rest was fairly straight forward, we were now one nil down. Later in the first half, we suffered a further setback, Vertonghen inexplicably thought Tobes head was the ball, and after trying to head his teammates head into the top corner, came off second best. Returning to the pitch after treatment, it soon became apparent Super Jan’s race had been run, damn it, we’re dropping like flies, who would be next I wondered. Once Poch had tweaked the formation we started to compete, we were back in the game, sadly though I think there must have been a spuffage virus doing the rounds, as the chances we did create failed to register on the old onion bag totaliser. So that was that, full time came and we knew, one nil down at half time, we had to go to Amsterdam and win the away leg to go through.

One week later and the second leg was upon us, our destiny awaited, win this one and we will go where no Spurs team has gone before, the Champions League Final! Keep it simple chaps, get a foothold in the game, and give the home fans nothing to cheer about. Oafer farquesakes! Barely five minutes gone, our liquid refreshments still fresh, and we found ourselves one nil down on the night, and two nil down overall, little did we know at the time that Poch’s plan was taking shape nicely. This game wasn’t over yet, we had more of the ball than in the first game, and were creating some decent chances, if only someone had remembered to pack their shooting boots. As the game crept towards the thirty-fifth minute, we were still fairly calm, ok maybe not calm, but we weren’t yet quite at DEFCON 5, probably more like DEFCON 3, then all of a sudden alarms start ringing, lights start flashing (ok that part may have just been in my head). From that moment everything appeared to be in slow motion, ball down the line, space to cross it in, and there was Ziyech to ping in a first time shot into the corner. At this point I confess, there may have been a collective slumpage around our table, ok, we we’re now officially at DEFCON 4, but we still had this. Haltime came with no further incident, it was time to calm the collective and go again, so naturally more refreshments would be needed. Out the lads came for the second half, no decent in the ranks, just a purposeful glint of determination in their eyes. With ten minutes gone in the second half, Poch’s best laid plan was about to be sprung, with a lovely nutmeg from Rose in his own half, he found Moura with a great pass, who laid it off first time for Deli Alli to run on to, as Alli cut inside on the edge of the box there was Moura, one touch to take the ball, the second to finish with aplomb with his left peg. With thirty-five left, now all we only needed was two more. Four minutes later and the candle of hope had been well and truly lit, After a cross that found Llorente barely a yard out, how the fak was that saved? If only Trippier had found Lorente’s hip. No matter, in the ensuing melee our maestro for the evening samba king Moura somehow bedazzled their defenders before finding the corner of the net. Oh how we jolly fellows delighted in the turn of events, this was indeed a most stupendous moment, and we still had a good half our to find the crucial third, was it ever in doubt? Time ticked by, this time a lot faster than the last fifteen minutes at the Emptihad. Shirley we wouldn’t have to wait too long for the next goal, Ajax were clearly rattled, composure gone, we were swarming all over them, yet we couldn’t find that elusive final ball. Son blazed over from a tight angle, and then here was the chance, Super Jan had a free header, surely this was the moment, nope. Just as all decorum was about to be lost, the damn crossbar got in the way of what should have been a perfectly good goal, was the moment lost? Time kept accelerating, and before we knew it we were in to injury time we went, where was this elusive third goal, we had been sure it was going to come. With a minute left we had one last corner, if ever there was a time surely this was it, to our increasing dismay and the candle of hope reaching it’s final embers Llorente could only head it over the bar. The next minute will live with me forever, watching the Ajax keeper try everything in the book to waste time (eventually getting booked for his efforts) he dispatched his kick up field, could there be a last faint flicker of hope? With the ball seemingly ricocheting around midfield, Son managed to find Sissoko who promptly dispatched a perfectly aimed 40 yard lob to find Llorente, with a cunning flick of his left foot he found Deli Alli who somehow whilst looking in the opposite direction knew where to find the hero of hour Moura. Bang, in it went, Ajax players laying distraught on the pitch, we had done it, we were going to Madrid!! Like everyone else I’m sure, at that moment there was total and utter unabated pandemonium, tears, man hugs, more tears, some more man hugs with complete strangers. This moment wasn’t just stored in the memory under brilliant, fabulous, it was etched into the memory under incredible, unbelievable, breathtaking, astounding.

This has been our incredible journey to the final, we don’t do drama, we do super fantastic late M&S drama!

Thank you Moura. 😘

COYS!!