Tottenham confident of signing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Southampton

David Hytner, The Guardian

Wed 22 Jul 2020 16.10 BST

Tottenham are confident that they will close a deal for Southampton’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, even though Everton have had a bid of £25m accepted for the midfielder.

Højbjerg, who has one year to run on his Southampton contract, is determined to move to Spurs, where José Mourinho wants to play him in front of the back four, and he has made that desire plain.

With the will of the player in their favour, Spurs will look to conclude negotiations with Southampton, having thus far frustrated them with their valuation of Højbjerg. Southampton will use Everton’s £25m offer as the benchmark, although Spurs will try to drive the midfielder’s price down.

Højbjerg was stripped of the Southampton captaincy after making it clear that he would not extend his deal with them and the 24-year-old has lost his regular place in the team since the Premier League’s restart from shutdown.

Southampton want to sign Kyle Walker-Peters on a permanent basis from Tottenham, the 23-year-old right-back having been on loan with them since January.

But in the interests of clarity, they are treating that and the Højbjerg deal as separate entities; the success or failure of one need not determine that of the other.

A Trophy, A Trophy, My Kingdom For a…

Our penultimate game, then, and it’s nice that CL football is still to be fought for by at least one participant.

Personally, I’d rather Leicester and Chelsea were the two teams who secured it:  We’ve already seen with Chelsea through Ziyech and Werner that they’re going to spend money no matter what, and we’ve seen with Leicester through the sale of Kante after their title-winning season, Maguire last summer, and talk of Chilwell heading off this time around, that they’re likely to lose players to ‘elite’ clubs no matter what. Continue reading “A Trophy, A Trophy, My Kingdom For a…”

The making of the next Tottenham legend.

This is the contents of Alasdair Gold’s latest email. To receive regularly you need to subscribe.

Hello everyone,

Today I want to talk about that feeling of following a talented young Tottenham Hotspur footballer through the youth ranks, all the way through to the first team and then on to even bigger things.

For me that player is Oliver Skipp. 

In my previous life at a local newspaper sports reporter, he was a young pupil at one of the schools in my patch.

Now known as Skippy around Spurs, back then at Richard Hale School in Hertford, he was ‘Ollie’ and he was one of the shining lights at a school that has produced a lot of talented youngsters.

At the Hertfordshire Mercury, we were made of his appearances as a young player not only in Spurs’ academy and before that playing for local side Bengeo Tigers, but then for England’s youth sides as he worked his way up the ladder, catching the eye of Tottenham’s then academy head John McDermott and those within the national set-up.

Then when I began at football.london I was presented with the brief to cover not only the Tottenham first team matches, but the U18 and U23 games.

That meant I got to see Skipp in action in the environment he was born for.

It was clear from the off that he was a level above many of those he was playing against and alongside, despite playing well up the age groups.

He was a 16-year-old taking on 18-year-olds and in the development squad matches, he’d be up against some players in their early 20s.

Skipp more than held his own with his technical ability and work rate. 

Perhaps the greatest mark of his standing in the north London club’s academy was that while some Spurs staff would joke about the rarity of Marcus Edwards passing to a younger player stepping up into the U23s, Skipp would always be given the ball. 

The teenager made that step up look easy, operating as either a holding midfielder or a box to box one, occasionally even playing at centre-back to expand his understanding of defensive duties, and he did not look out of place in the EFL Trophy games against experienced Football League players. 

Two moments stood out for me from Skipp’s academy years and neither would have made any headlines, but for me they showed the difference sides of him.

The first was a beautiful flighted chip during a UEFA Youth League match against European opposition, taken from just inside the half which bounced off the crossbar. It did not result in a goal but the delicacy of it and sheer audacity showcased the technical qualities and awareness of the youngster.

It was awareness in another sense that caught my eye another time. 

After a match in the same competition, but away in Dortmund, I was waiting for my taxi to head on to the first team’s Champions League game.

All of the Spurs academy players had got on to the team coach after the game except for Skipp. He had been walking towards it when he noticed one female member of staff bringing out various, big heavy holdalls, seemingly full of kit, from the changing room. 

He turned back and very politely asked if she needed help taking the bags to the coach. She did. It was the simplest of things, but it highlighted a well brought up young man and it gave a little glimpse into the leadership qualities that would continue to develop in him over the ensuing years.

Mauricio Pochettino was well aware of him, McDermott often extolling his virtues when the Argentine would hide from the daily stresses of Spurs on the sofa in the academy head’s office, situated on the other side of Hotspur Way’s main building.

At just 17-years-old, Skipp got the call up from Pochettino to go on the summer tour in 2018 to Los Angeles and the USA and he was instantly taken in by the first team group, Christian Eriksen in particular quickly becoming a fan of his ability and demeanour.

Spurs have always had a crowded midfield so Skipp has had to bide his time and take whatever chances have come his way in the two years since. He’s rarely let the side down whenever he’s started or come on in the Premier League or cup competitions.

My affinity with Skipp was only strengthened when I was invited to sit down with him for his first ever media interview. 

We spoke for almost half an hour, after he’d spent his 19th birthday helping to teach Maths and PE to Year 4 pupils at Ferry Lane Primary School in Tottenham as part of a community initiative.

He spoke about the man who made a mark on him in the academy, his former U18s manager Scott Parker, and you can see some of the former Spurs and Chelsea midfielder’s style in the way he plays.

Most of all, the teenager came across as polite, insightful and growing in confidence as he began to feel a deserving member of the first team. You can find that long interview right here.

Tottenham have always had high hopes for him and it’s no coincidence that Jose Mourinho has already set his sights on Skipp as a key man for the future. 
Like Pochettino, he has had no hesitation into throwing him into important, tight matches, most recently in the north London derby.

The young midfielder signed a new four-year deal on Friday and has told Mourinho that he wants to head out on loan next season to get regular game time in order to return better prepared to claim a spot in the busy centre of the pitch for Spurs.

I asked Mourinho just how good Skipp could become on Friday, not long after the new contract was made public, and he made it clear just how important the teenager could become for Tottenham.

“I’m really happy [he’s signed a new deal]. Everybody in the club is, his team-mates are, I am and Skippy is or not he wouldn’t sign the contract. I think he’s genuinely Tottenham’s future,” said Mourinho.

“He’s one of these players by human quality, by personality, he is one of these kids that I have no doubt he will be an important player for Tottenham. 

“Sometimes coaches are selfish and I told him that. I never told him I want him to go on loan, I always told him I wanted him to stay here, because that’s the selfish perspective of a coach who wants the best possible squad. 

“In his mind he wants to go on loan, six months, the whole season. He feels that he needs that, I also feel that would be good for his evolution, so maybe that is the direction we go. 

“I think he can be more than a player, he can be a future captain here. Hugo, Harry. I see this kid being one day a future captain here by his character, by his personality. I feel really happy that he signed.”

I have to admit I found myself inadvertently smiling as the Portuguese responded to me. 

In this line of work we get to see so many young players develop and work so hard but often fall away and sometimes out of the game completely.

There’s still plenty for Oliver Skipp to do and a long road ahead, but it’s genuinely been a pleasure to see how he’s grown as a person and a player over the years.

If one day he becomes the captain of Tottenham Hotspur then he won’t be the only one grinning from ear to ear.

Catch you next week,

Alasdair

Explained: The ‘terrible’ state of Premier League clubs’ finances

By Matt Slater, The Athletic 7th Apr 2020

Famed investor Warren Buffett once said it was “only when the tide goes out that you learn who has been swimming naked” and the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic has dragged football’s tide way out beyond the pier, forcing lots of embarrassed bathers to scurry back to their beach huts.

Since the Premier League was suspended in March, the news cycle has been dominated by talk of bail-outs, pay-cuts and potential lawsuits. The professional game has struggled with the greatest financial threat it has faced in peacetime.

Football is far from alone in this regard: construction, retail, travel… any sector that depends on people being able to go out, congregate and spend freely is in a fight for survival.

Getting through this will depend on a combination of luck, nimble management and what state you were in when it started. To paraphrase former British prime minister David Cameron’s favourite criticism of his predecessor, did you fix the roof while the sun was shining?

The Athletic has analysed all the Premier League club accounts filed at Companies House over the last few months and the answer for the majority of them would appear to be there has been very little DIY done ahead of this storm.

“The accounts are awful,” says John Purcell, the co-founder of financial analysis firm Vysyble. “The numbers had fallen off a cliff for some of the clubs long before this crisis.”

While Dr Dan Plumley, a sports finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University, says the financial shock of COVID-19 has “brought to light just how stretched the industry is and how many clubs live from hand to mouth”.

Most clubs published their accounts in April but Crystal Palace and Newcastle United took advantage of an emergency measure that gave businesses three extra months to publish their year-end figures. This article has been updated to reflect the impact the 2018-19 season had on their books.

The league’s total income last season was £4.8 billion, with most clubs reporting rises, albeit mainly small ones, in all three revenue streams: broadcast, commercial and match-day. Unfortunately, as that other great business sage and former Tottenham owner Alan Sugar memorably pointed out, this money goes through clubs like prune juice.

Only Watford reduced their wage bill year-on-year. The league’s overall staff costs topped £3 billion. This means they spent 64 per cent of their income on wages.

But that is the average. Bournemouth, Everton and Leicester all spent more than 80 per cent of their turnover on staff. Exactly half the league spent more than 70 per cent of their income on wages, a level that automatically raises red flags for European football’s governing body UEFA.

According to Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance last May, the wage/turnover ratio was rising across Europe’s “big five” leagues — England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — with the Premier League’s figure rising from 55 per cent in 2016-17 to 59 per cent 12 months later.

premier league accounts turnover

The wage/turnover figures for three promoted teams, Aston Villa, Norwich City and Sheffield United, are even worse at 175 per cent, 161 per cent and 195 per cent, respectively, but that is par for the course in the Championship, which is a disaster zone for those who like balanced books and tidy profits. Just to underline what those figures mean, Sheffield United spend £1.95p on wages for every £1 that came in.

Travel costs, utility bills, repairs, insurance, paper clips… they all add up and pretty soon they started nibbling into the overdraft.

“Lots of the clubs are in a terrible state,” says Purcell. “I’m not picking on them but I was not surprised to see reports this week that West Ham are looking for extra financing of £30 million. It’s so predictable.”

The use of averages and totals also irons out perhaps the most obvious point to make about the state of the industry before the pandemic struck: the Premier League is not a collection of equals.

The six richest clubs account for nearly £3 billion, or 62 per cent, of that total turnover. Arsenal, who have slid in recent seasons to sixth in the big-six mini-league, earned £367.5 million in 2017-18 — £176.8 million more than West Ham’s best-of-the-rest total of £190.7 million. That deficit is about the same as Bournemouth and Aston Villa brought in between them, as you can see below.

Manchester United, the league’s biggest earner, turns over more than three times as much as West Ham and four times as much as Southampton. Manchester City and Liverpool, second and third in the money list and as competitive off the pitch as they were on the pitch that season, earn four times the amount Bournemouth bring in.

The only way the clubs further down the economic ladder can even hope to compete with the big-earners on the pitch is to spend a higher percentage of their income on salaries and ask their owners to keep topping up the shortfalls. These clubs also tend to be more reliant on the league’s main source of income: broadcast rights.

If there was one economic marker that tells the story of English football’s rise from the ignominies and tragedies of the Bradford City fire and Heysel Stadium disaster in 1985 and Hillsborough in 1989, it would be the incredible amount of money companies around the world have been willing to pay to televise it.

When the Premier League split from the English Football League (EFL) in 1992, the top flight’s domestic rights were worth less than £40 million a season. Nobody even noticed what the international rights were worth.

This season, the clubs will share about £2.5 billion in broadcasting rights between them, with the rest going in parachute and solidarity payments to the EFL, assorted good causes and central costs. These rights deals have been negotiated centrally, usually on a three-year basis, and distributed more evenly than any other big league in Europe. The best clubs still get more than the worst but the margin is tighter than in France, Germany, Italy or Spain, creating the idea the Premier League is more competitive.

The key landmarks are the back-to-back increases of 70 per cent the Premier League managed to persuade domestic rivals BT and Sky Sports to cough up in 2012 and 2015. The two broadcasters declared a truce before the 2018 rights auction, resulting in a slightly reduced return for the league, but nobody minded as the appetite for English football abroad means the international rights are now nearly as valuable as the domestic ones. With a 30 per cent increase from overseas deals, the overall 2019-22 broadcast pot is 8 per cent up on 2016-19.

Before the current crisis, Deloitte estimated that Premier League clubs would earn £5.25 billion this season, £2 billion clear of the totals in the Bundesliga and La Liga. But English clubs spend twice as much on wages as German clubs do and 50 per cent more than Spanish sides.

Kieran Maguire, a lecturer on football finance at the University of Liverpool and the man behind the “Price of Football” blog, sees an industry that did not believe the cheques would ever stop arriving.

“Broadcast income accounts for about 60 per cent of Premier League clubs’ turnover but if you are that reliant on a single income source and don’t have contingency plans, you will always be at risk,” he says.

“Football is a part of the entertainment industry. Like all other businesses in this sector, it will be hit hard by the lockdown. The difference is football has higher fixed costs than most and these are the wages and transfer instalments.

“As of last June, the clubs owed £1.6 billion in instalments and had £700 million coming in. Some of this money is circulating within the division and some will be flowing downwards to the EFL, but there is a £900 million deficit. The concern is that financial problems in one league could spread throughout the industry just like the pandemic.”

The fees clubs pay for players are spread across the length of those players’ contracts in their annual accounts, a process known as amortisation. Maguire points out that if you take amortisation and staff costs together, they amount to 86 per cent of Premier League turnover.

“That does not leave much over for anything else and the number will be much worse for the Championship, where this crisis will cause havoc,” he adds.

A good example of how these fixed costs can cause an explosion of red ink at even the richest of clubs can be seen in Chelsea’s accounts for 2018-19. A high wage bill, a net transfer spend and a season outside the Champions League left them with a £101.8 million pre-tax loss. They can point, at least, to the Europa League trophy in their cabinet and the return of Champions League cash to their accounts this season. Everton, on the other hand, only have an eighth-place finish in the league to show for their record £107 million loss, as you can see below.

And for proof of Maguire’s point about the reliance on broadcast money, look no further than the response of every major league and governing body to the suspension of play: all possible avenues for completing the season must be explored to honour the various contracts associated to that season.

The Premier League has already spelt this out to its clubs, saying that broadcast partners would demand £762 million back if they were unable to show any Premier League football for the rest of the season. With football now set to resume on June 17, that doomsday scenario looks unlikely. However, at a Premier League meeting at the end of May, top-flight sides were informed they will lose a minimum of £330 million to broadcasters, even if the season was completed. The shock of that figure was offset slightly once Sky agreed that £170 million would not need to be paid until the 2021-22 season.

premier league tv revenue

The good news for the Premier League, however, is the final year of a three-year broadcast cycle usually results in losses, and most clubs return to profit when the cycle starts again. Crystal Palace also turned a £36 million loss in 2017-18 into a £5 million profit last time around.

“We’ve been tracking the data since 2009 and you can see these three-year cycles in the accounts are tied to the new TV deals,” says Purcell. “So, in 2014 and 2017, there are these walls of money that arrive in year one but by year three, most of them are losing lots of money again.”

The bad news is that there has been a deterioration over time.

“This set of accounts is a real shocker,” explains Purcell. “The tail-off over the previous two cycles wasn’t as bad as this time.”

Unlike most other analysts, Purcell’s firm uses a measure called economic profit, which is all the usual things analysts measure plus the cost of equity or, in other words, the cost of investing in this particular business as opposed to any other.

“We think it is a better reflection of how much money the owners are putting into these clubs every year to keep them afloat,” he says. “If we look at the previous three-year cycle, from 2013-14 to 2015-16, there was a league-wide deficit of £380 million. Before Palace and Newcastle had submitted their accounts, the deficit from 2016-17 to 2018-19 was £624 million. We’d never seen anything like that before.

“Since 2009, we believe the Premier League has made an economic loss of £2.74 billion.”

Sheffield Hallam’s Plumley also ties the league’s cost-control issues to the revolving door of bumper broadcast deals and the players’ demands for their fair share of that booty.

“Costs have been the issue for football for more than 20 years: you can trace it right back to the start of the Premier League era,” he says. “Whenever a new broadcast deal has been announced, most of the clubs have immediately pushed the envelope in terms of what they can afford.”

Ramon Vega enjoyed a 13-year career as a professional footballer in his native Switzerland, Italy, England, Scotland and France, playing for sides such as Celtic, Spurs and Watford, before retiring in 2003 and becoming an asset manager and sports business consultant.

“Ten years ago, many of the Premier League clubs were bankrupt from a balance sheet point of view but then they got those two big TV deals in a row and it lifted them all out of the red,” says Vega.

“Those huge increases saved them. OK, nearly all of that money has gone to the players but, as an ex-player myself, I don’t blame them at all. If you’re offered it, you take it. You’d do it, too, that’s human nature. But as a businessman, I’d worry about the wage to turnover ratio. Were the clubs prepared for this crisis? No. Was any other industry? No.

“The strange thing is most of these guys are very good businessmen away from football but very few of them run their clubs like their other businesses. I think Mike Ashley at Newcastle is the exception but even he does haven’t lots of money in reserve.”

Purcell agrees. “Who signs these contracts on behalf of the clubs? It’s not the players or their agents. It’s the owners,” he says.

“You’ll never find a bricklayer who refuses a wage because it’s morally reprehensible. This isn’t the players’ fault. Good luck to them. This about the ambitions and agendas of the owners.

“Of course, nobody predicted this particular crisis but good businesses can and do predict a crisis. Football should have been able to model some kind of shock to the system that would have an impact on broadcast income because they’re all on such a fine tightrope. Any shock would see some of them fall off that tightrope.”

Dr Dan Parnell is a senior lecturer in sports business at the University of Liverpool’s management school and the chief executive of the Association of Sporting Directors. For him, football’s cost-control problems could be sorted out at a stroke if the big calls were left to the experts.

“There are lots of good, well-intentioned people in the game who desperately want to make good decisions for their clubs but all too often those people are either not making the final decisions or those intentions go out of the window when the owners get involved,” Parnell explains.

“You can see it in the Sunderland ‘Til I Die documentary (on Netflix), where you have the manager and head of recruitment saying, ‘don’t pay any more than this for that player’ but then go ahead and do it anyway. It’s like they’re playing with a new toy.

“This is where a really good sporting director can help. Look at Stuart Webber at Norwich. OK, it looks like they’re going down but nobody can say they are not in better shape as a club than when he started.

“He’s overseen the new training ground, he’s changed the way they recruit and develop players and he’s got them on a secure footing financially. Any player he will have signed this season will have been signed with the thought that they might go down and his contract will have to work in the Championship. It’s a more honest and sensible approach than lots of other clubs.”

Maguire, Parnell, Plumley and Purcell all told The Athletic they hope the Premier League will learn something from the current crisis, either bringing in a salary cap, increasing the amount it shares with the EFL or simply persuading the owners to let their staff get on with it.

But Vega is not so sure this will be the “enormous wake-up call” the industry needs. “I don’t think football people ever learn,” he says. “The game is so geared up around today. Nobody thinks about tomorrow.

“That’s why they’re panicking now. You can see that they’re not thinking straight with these decisions to furlough non-playing staff. How much money is that really saving them? But with no Champions League income, no match-day income, maybe they have to repay some of the broadcast money… they’re thinking, ‘Shit, what do I do?’”

Not everyone is quite so sure football has arrived at this point in such terrible shape. Not compared to any business sector, anyway.

Dr Stefan Szymanski teaches sports management at the University of Michigan and is the author of the best-seller Soccernomics.

In an exchange with The Athletic, he said: “The problem is that all this analysis is in a vacuum. If you’re going to say that everything that ever goes wrong is due to incompetence without considering any other benchmarks or comparators, then there’s no defence.

“The Premier League is not perfect. But why are they held to a standard of perfection? Who else are we holding to that standard? Is there any business not in a state of panic right now? What other sport is faring better in this crisis than the Premier League?

“This is one of the most successful organisations in the world, measured by year-on-year growth over 30 years. They deliver an outstanding product for consumers. Who cares if they can’t control their costs?”

Szymanski is right. The Premier League has been giving people around the world what they want for nearly 30 years. But now, for reasons beyond its control, it cannot. And because it has perhaps been a little too generous with its players (and their representatives), it is not in as robust a position as a business of its stature should be.

You do not need to be an accountant to know that Bournemouth, who get 88 per cent of their revenue from broadcasters and spend almost all of that on wages, are in a tough spot. Even frugal Burnley, with their balanced books, lean very heavily on the league’s biggest backers. Getting football back on fans’ screens is of paramount importance to them.

But nobody is immune. Manchester City, perhaps, with the almost limitless wealth of Abu Dhabi behind them, will emerge relatively unscathed and Manchester United’s many mattress and noodles partners do not look so stupid now everyone is looking for other sources of income. But they, and the other big clubs, need the exposure the Premier League and Champions League give them to make their numbers add up.

There is a link to the article which has some lovely graphs for your delectation if you’re interested

It’s The Woolwich…

 

The stats make dispiriting reading:  62% possession but zero shots on target away to lowly Bournemouth; despite the heroics of this squad nearly achieving so very much last season, this sort of performance really doesn’t bode well for Jose Mourinho Mauricio Pochettino or suggest Spurs will achieve anything special ever again through the rest of 16/17. Continue reading “It’s The Woolwich…”

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 legend Les Allen in 1961 Double talk

Found this article in April’s edition of Ham & High. The venerable Ronwol kindly provided the accompanying picture above from his recent travels.

Les Allen spoke to Lee Power about the historic Double winning season for an article which first featured in ‘Marching On’ – a magazine to celebrate the club’s move from White Hart Lane to their new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Here is that piece once more:

Les Allen scored arguably the greatest goal in Tottenham’s history but could hardly be more modest or humble about it.

Allen netted the winner in a 2-1 success against Sheffield Wednesday at White Hart Lane on April 17, 1961 to clinch the league title and first half of the famous ‘Double’.

Yet, given the chance to hark back to that glorious, glorious night, the Dagenham-born 81-year-old said: “It was nice to get that under our belts and then enjoy the last few games of the season.

“I didn’t have any favourite goals really. It didn’t sink in until later on. We were pretty successful and got used to it.

“But then it was a case of ‘Bloody hell, we’ve won it!”

Allen was in his first full season at the club, having signed for Bill Nicholson from Chelsea – who took Johnny Brooks in a swap deal – in December 1959 at the age of 21.

But he had made an instant impact, scoring twice on his debut against Newcastle and then give times in an eye-boggling 13-2 FA Cup win over Crewe Alexandra.

He said: “When leaving school I was tempted to be a professional and was given a trial by West Ham but nothing came of it. I wasn’t quite up to the standard they said.

“I went to get an apprenticeship as a model maker and started playing for Briggs Sports. We lost to Bishop Auckland in the semi-final of the Amateur Cup, who were a very good team, but it was quite an achievement.”

That was in 1954 and the semi-final was played at Newcastle’s St James’ Prk in front of 54,000.

Chelsea were also watching the young Allen and he signed for them at 17.

“My dad was in charge. West Ham came back in and dad told them what to do!” added the boyhood Arsenal fan.

“I was doing a five-year apprenticeship, so was only part-time, training in the evenings and played weekends when I could.

“I went full-time after finishing my apprenticeship and played some first-team games and was decent against Spurs and Bill Nic followed me up after that.

“I’d only been a full-time pro for three months at Chelsea and Ted Drake called me in and said ‘I’ve had a call from Tottenham, would you be interested?’. I said ‘of course I would’. I was pleased it was an upgrade.”

Allen hit the ground running with his debut brace and nap hand against Crewe – “I held the record until George Best broke it!” he says – but revealed it wasn’t until the following summer when he began to feel truly settled in his new surroundings.

“It took quite a while, most of that first (half) season. But the pre-season after that, we got together as a team and took off from there,” he said.

“I didn’t realise how good a team we had really. It was a terrific side. Bill Nic, being a very good manager as he was, had a lot of good players in reserve and if you were not doing the business, he’d have us out and another one in.

“I played 60-odd games that year and did quite well with scoring.”

Spurs raced out of the blocks in the autumn of 1960, winning their first 11 matches and, after being held to a 1-1 draw by Manchester City, adding four more successive wins.

But nobody was talking about a potential title bid, apparently.

“We didn’t get carried away. We just kept digging and getting results,” said Allen.

“It was such a good side and the one-touch football was exceptional. We’d do it in training and it would come out in matches.

“We’d score goals, going from one end of the pitch to the other, without the other team getting a touch.”

Allen finished with 27 goals in all copmetitions, striking up a great partnership with Bobby Smith as Spurs safely navigated their way through the FA Cup, beating Sunderland 5-0 in a quarter-final replay after a 1-1 draw at Roker Park, then Burnley 3-0 in the semi-finals to book a final date with Leicester.

But not many were thinking of becoming the first side since Aston Villa in 1897 to complete a Double.

“Bobby Smith would unsettle a few. He was a very good player, a strong guy who didn’t stand any nonsence,” added Allen.

“Like all cup games you can get knocked out, but we went through quite easy. But it never got to that stage. If I’d known, I’d have put a few bob on it!”

With their league winner’s medals already secured, the grand day out at Wembley Stadium was almost one game too many for the champions.

But goals in the final quarter of the match from Smith and Terry Dyson secured a 2-0 win and a place in Tottenham folklore forever.

“The final was one of the only games we never played well in,” said Allen.

“It wasn’t a great game to watch we were told, compared to how we’d played. But they can’t take that away.

“It was a big thing and I was fortunate to play there again with QPR and win the League Cup.”

All great teams need great managers and the 1960-61 Tottenham vintage certainly had one in the legendary Nicholson.

A league champion in 1951, he would enjoy a 36-year association with the Lilywhites, winning eight trophies in 16 years as manager, and this was his finest hour.

“He was more advanced in management than others,” said Allen.

“Training was always interesting and different. Others tried to follow him in the following years. He varied it a lot which was nice.

“They were the best bunch of lads for joking. One or two of them smoked and we’d take the mick out of them. It was 100 per cent a group. We were a team with good players.

“He’d tell you what he thought, always picking you up on what you didn’t do and what you did do.

“He was hard at times and kept you on your toes, but he did well. I think the night we won the league was the only time he really enjoyed himself.

“I couldn’t have been in a better team and the results proved it. Bill Nic, when I left to join QPR, we played Spurs at home and he was chatting to me after the game and said ‘I only made one mistake with you and that was I got rid of you two years too early!”

Allen, who saw son Clive and nephew Paul go on to represent the club in their own distinguished ways, was invited back to say goodbye to the old ground, along with many other former greats and legends, and is excited by what the club’s new home might hold in store.

“I managed to get there and had a good day. There’s only a few of us left unfortunately,” he said, referring to the fact only seven of the 17 players useds in the Double season survive to this day.

“I went to see the new stadium when it was half up. It’s quite outstanwding and will be great for them in the future.”

Les Allen certainly played a great part in Tottenham’s past.

Sticky Toffee Puddings

Although there were a multitude of factors that caused Thursday’s performance to be ultimately abysmal, had we defended even close to the minimum expected of a supposedly top-six side, we’d have won that match at least 0-1:  As tempting as it is to wag a furious finger at VAR, it wasn’t PGMOL’s favourite new toy that stuck the ball in the back of our net three times.  Continue reading “Sticky Toffee Puddings”

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.

How much longer will Harry Kane tolerate a career without trophies?

Barry Glendenning, The Guardian

A penny for the thoughts of Harry Kane as he witnessed scenes of jubilation unfold outside Anfield, perhaps pondering the notion that, seven seasons into his career as a senior professional with Tottenham, the team he represents has yet to win even one of domestic football’s far less coveted baubles.

The often-ridiculed phrase “This Means More” was coined by Liverpool long before it applied to an inevitable increase in local Covid-19 cases caused by socially irresponsible public celebrations. The unbridled delight of fans who have seen their team win the Champions League, Premier League and Club World Cup in little over a year is unlikely to have been lost on a player who, for all the individual plaudits he has earned, remains resolutely a footballing bridesmaid rather than bride in terms of major honours won. Playing for Tottenham obviously matters a great deal to Kane, but at 26 he has reached a point in his career where lining up for a team more likely to win silverware would surely mean more.

How much would it mean to him to see fans in the colours of a team for whom he plays celebrate a title win in such a fashion? To be part of a squad of garlanded footballers who have hoisted more trophies skywards at home and abroad in the past 13 months than any in Tottenham shirts have lifted in the past 34 years? To ply his trade under the supervision and instruction of a charming, almost universally popular manager whose most successful years look to be ahead of, not behind, him? To win things? He wouldn’t be human if he didn’t wonder.

Despite having 137 top-flight goals to his name – 64 more than Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah – Kane looks no closer to winning a Premier League title or Champions League title than he did during his days on loan at Leyton Orient. His CV is punctuated with prestigious individual gongs, but the team successes he craves remain notable by their glaring absence. Considering most teams at Europe’s top table would be glad to have him and the goals he brings, he could be excused for weighing up his options.

“I’ll always love Spurs, but it’s one of them things,” he said when quizzed about his future plans by Jamie Redknapp in March. “I’ve always said if I don’t feel like we’re progressing as a team or going in the right direction, I’m not someone to stay there just for the sake of it.”

In common with many sit-downs footballers conduct with fellow professionals in whose company they tend to feel less wary, Kane’s comments were delivered with raw honesty and highlighted the naked ambition that burns beneath his largely equable exterior.

At the time of his chat with Redknapp, Kane was recuperating from injury and Tottenham’s most recent result had been a pre-lockdown Champions League thrashing at the hands of RB Leipzig. On José Mourinho’s relatively brief watch they have won 12, lost 10 and drawn six of their matches, during which time the manager also appears to have alienated the club’s record signing, Tanguy Ndombele. Even the Tories at their most delusional and duplicitous would struggle to spin such outcomes as reasons to be particularly cheerful.

It was unsurprising, when recently dismissing the notion Kane may struggle to maintain his proficiency in front of goal under a tactical style many consider to be moribund, Mourinho elected to discuss his past achievements rather than future plans. Unprompted, he listed five big-name strikers and how they had thrived in collaboration with him, deftly sidestepping the specific recent criticism of his current team’s style of play by Paul Merson. A pundit whose fondness for a laugh and occasional lack of articulacy belies a keen tactical mind, the former Arsenal midfielder had suggested that perhaps getting Toby Alderweireld or Davinson Sánchez to lump it long and hope for the best is perhaps not the best way to maximise Kane’s particular skill set.

“No one with any understanding of the art of centre-forward play would doubt the ability of Harry Kane,” wrote Gary Lineker on social media last week, adding his two cents to a handwringing tweet from the popular American podcasters Men In Blazers that stated “few human beings have been written off, discounted, derided more times” than the Spurs striker. It was quite the big call from citizens of a country whose president has been written off, discounted and derided even more often than the many folk he habitually writes off, discounts and derides on an almost hourly basis.

Meanwhile, back in reality, most were just pleased to see Kane lying exhausted on the turf, arms spread wide and his torso visibly heaving as he hungrily gulped down the evening air in celebration following his goal in Tottenham’s home victory over West Ham.

In much the same way that few people whose opinions matter think Liverpool’s latest title should be accompanied by an asterisk, those who have repeatedly traduced the striker and his ability seem very few and far between. Fitness permitting, he will continue to score goals and lots of them, even if the matter of who for remains far from certain.

Last week, Mourinho insisted the striker is not for sale and dismissed as ridiculous the notion that he, the Tottenham chairman, Daniel Levy, and the club’s owner, Joe Lewis, will have a job on their hands to convince their most prized asset not to agitate for a move, despite the four years remaining on his contract. “The club doesn’t need to do anything,” Mourinho said. “He doesn’t want anything different from what Mr Levy wants, Mr Lewis wants and I want. He doesn’t want anything different than us.”

Of that there can be little doubt, even if Kane could be forgiven for deciding those needs will be more readily met at a club with trophy-winning pedigree to match his ambition.

Tottenham offer new contract to Mauricio Pochettino’s son Maurizio

By Dan Kilpatrick, Evening Standard

Tottenham have offered a new contract to Mauricio Pochettino’s son, Maurizio.

The 19-year-old joined the club’s academy in summer 2017 when his dad was the manager and his current contract is up on June 30.

Despite his dad’s dismissal in November, Tottenham’s list of retained players for 2019-20 revealed they have offered Pochettino Jnr. a new deal.

The youngster is yet to make a first team appearance for the club and has not always been a regular for the U-23s.

Pochettino’s other son, Sebastiano, worked as a first-team conditioning coach at Spurs but left the club when his dad was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho.

Shortly after succeeding the Argentine, Mourinho revealed he had sent a message to Pochettino through Maurizio.

“I spoke with his son, who is a player in our youth categories, and I think through his boy he can understand my feelings too,” the Portuguese said.

Ndombele and Jose Mourinho, Kane’s struggles and Eric Dier’s future

By Alasdair Gold, Football.London

Here are five talking points from Tottenham Hotspur’s 1-1 draw against Manchester United as they returned to Premier League football

Mourinho’s tactics and reasoning

The logic was there in what Jose Mourinho said after the draw against Manchester United about his tactical set-up but it didn’t make what had occurred over the 90 minutes any easier on the eye.

The Portuguese’s style is the antithesis of his predecessor at Tottenham.

Mauricio Pochettino would always say it was about his team’s strengths and their philosophy rather than the opposition’s weaknesses.

Mourinho seems to believe the opposite and while that can result in frustrating football for the fans, there’s no denying it has brought him trophies galore over the past 20 years.

“I think we gave them what they’re not very good at, which was to give them the opportunity to have the ball and play in an organised attack,” said Mourinho about United after the draw.

“I think they’re much more dangerous in counter attack situations, they have fast people in attack and they can be really dangerous, but we managed to control that in an amazing way.”

“In the end, when Rashford had a long ball in the space and in this kind of action, we controlled him very very well. We wanted to be dangerous in counter attack but we knew it would be difficult for 90 minutes. The Lucas injury and Dele suspension took from us that power.”

Playing counter-attacking football at home pretty much admits that you’re not able to beat your visitors in a straight fight.

It wasn’t pretty and it fed into the narrative of negative, ‘anti-football’ that follows Mourinho.

The Spurs boss made a big deal about his inability to use attacking players from the bench in those final 20 minutes to replace those who hadn’t played in five or six months due to injury.

However, he did not have to put all of his attacking players on the pitch to start the game. He could have given himself options later in the match to negate the loss of Lucas Moura and Dele Alli.

It was widely predicted among those at the game that having taken a swipe at the five substitute rule and claiming it was something pushed through by the ‘powerful clubs’ with their bountiful bench options, Mourinho would not use his five subs as a point of principle.

So it proved to be although nobody expected him to only introduce two players with fresh legs.

His gripes pre-lockdown were fair. He had lost so many key attacking players due to to injury that his options and tactics were severely limited.

This is not then. The Spurs head coach had more than enough attacking midfielders to work out a game plan that lasted the full 90 minutes, not just the 70 he was pleased with before players tired.

It also would not have done much for the confidence of Ryan Sessegnon, who Mourinho claimed last season is not ready to be a left-back yet so surely is still considered to be a talented and fast winger.

“I feel with all the options, we’re a strong team, like we showed today in special circumstances in a game of five changes,” he said.

“The five changes of course was a request by the powerful squads, a request made by a top team with top options on the bench and was followed by some teams in the same circumstances. It’s very, very importance at this moment for teams.

“I think against West Ham in the next match if everything goes well, I expect to have two attacking players on the bench that can give me the opportunity to change the intensity when the intensity goes down.”

This was not a time to prove a point though. It was a time to take all three points and while a draw is not a disaster, it felt like a defeat.

The latest tale of Tanguy Ndombele and Jose Mourinho

Much of that substitution decision centres around Tanguy Ndombele.

Mourinho has made big noises about being pleased with the Frenchman’s application in recent months and his desire to work hard to improve and even breached government guidelines to visit him during lockdown.

His reward for his improvement? Not even getting on the pitch on Friday evening.

One of Spurs’ biggest problems on the night was that they struggled to keep possession and there was little space for the attacking players because nobody was driving through United’s lines. The one time that did happen, it resulted in the goal for Steven Bergwijn.

If only there was a player who could have maintained possession of the ball, dribbled and dragged United players out of position and played through balls to those attacking players who were starved of service. Oh, hello Tanguy.

The rushed nature of the virtual post-match press conference, with almost 40 reporters involved – many not at the match – and those participating given just one question, meant the Ndombele topic went unanswered and will likely get an airing instead ahead of the West Ham match.

Don’t be surprised if noises suddenly emerge in France again about the midfielder being unhappy at his lack of game time if he doesn’t start against the Hammers.

Those around the 23-year-old are very quick to voice their/his displeasure to the media back home but that would only result in Mourinho kicking his heels in further.

Ndombele looked to be playing in a more advanced role in the in-house friendly two weeks ago, a move that led to a fine goal from the young France international.

Starting Ndombele against United in such a role would have allowed Mourinho to have one of his attacking options on the bench to use later and probably given Spurs more of the ball, even if that went against his thinking of letting United force the play.

Erik Lamela worked hard and was a pest throughout to United, much of Tottenham’s better play coming through him in the first half, but his downfall came when he had to make decisions in the final third and he lost the ball on a couple of key occasions.

The other option would have been to bring on Ndombele later in the game to add fresh legs and an outlet to retain possession as United grew stronger with their multiple changes.

Spurs found themselves under pressure in those final 20 minutes and Ndombele and Lo Celso in tandem, with someone sitting behind them, would have ensured the home side held more of the ball and could have potentially added to their lead.

The idea of giving nine players 90 minutes of football should serve them well going forward but you would imagine Mourinho will make changes for the West Ham game as it comes so soon after United following months without competitive games.

If Ndombele gets a chance he’s going to have to take it. It’s worth remembering that Lo Celso had to convince Mourinho of his place in the team and the young Frenchman is going to have to do the same.

Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez – a partnership that almost worked

One of the successes for Mourinho on the night – that penalty incident aside – was the pairing of Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez.

That spot kick decision – albeit a soft one and one Mourinho felt should have also been ruled out by VAR – was the only blot on what was an otherwise faultless performance from Dier.

Spurs have struggled with that left-sided centre-back role with the struggles of Jan Vertonghen this season.

Neither Toby Alderweireld nor Sanchez look comfortable in the role, but Dier, with his versatility, has slotted well into the position in Tottenham’s last few fixtures.

Yes, he was beaten very easily by Paul Pogba in the build-up to the penalty and as soon as he placed his hands on the Frenchman you knew what would happen next, but Dier had been imperious until then.

He’s committed his future to playing at the back now and with Vertonghen’s future unclear, it looks like he could become the first choice in the role and in the near empty stadium you could hear his instructions and leadership clearly from the back.

His inch-perfect tackle to deny Anthony Martial in Spurs’ box in the second half was right out of the top drawer. The Frenchman was mostly nullified during the encounter.

Sanchez started the game nervously, an early misguided header setting up Rashford for a chance and then deflecting a cross towards his own goal, with Hugo Lloris bailing him out on both occasions.

However, the Colombian grew into the game and his pace was what Mourinho had required to combat United’s attack and that was proved perfectly when he sprinted back to stop Rashford late on superbly.

“Eric was perfect,” said Mourinho after the game. “I think he had a very strong performance and he was imposing his leadership, physicality, he won absolutely every ball in the air, and won absolutely ever duel.

“It was a difficult match for Martial, we know he’s a very good player.

“I think Davinson for the 90 minutes made one technical mistake, not tactical mistake, which handed them the only chance they had in the first half with Rashford’s shot.

“I’m really happy with them, but really happy with Toby and Jan. So at the moment we have four central defenders and no problems.”

This might just be a partnership we see more of over the weeks ahead as Dier and Alderweireld together would be exposed by faster attacks and it will be interesting to see what that means for the Belgian, who only recently signed a new deal.

Kane, Bergwijn and the returning quartet

There were differing fortunes for the four players who returned from injury for their first match in a long time.

It was perhaps surprising that Mourinho chose to use all four of them – three returning after surgery – particularly when you heard his belief that Spurs tired in the final 20 minutes, but you could also see why he chose to get them back in the team.

The irony is that the one man in the quartet who shone brightest – Steven Bergwijn – might not have started the game had Lucas not picked up a knock in training.

“Imagine Bergwijn on the bench and Lucas playing and coming out minute 60 to 65 and Bergwijn coming for the last period, I can imagine the impact that we could have,” Mourinho said after the final whistle.

“So a bit of frustration but at the same time really happy with the players.

“Really happy to see people like Harry, Sonny, Moussa four months without playing, Harry six months without playing, and then giving us 90 minutes, I think from the boys I can only be really happy with them.”

Bergwijn is still adapting to the Premier League and his input comes in bursts but when he does hit his rhythm he’s something to behold.

Spurs have a real gem on their hands and the more he adapts to what Mourinho and England game demands of him the better he will become.

It’s telling that in the drinks break before his goal, the Tottenham boss was giving the Dutchman a detailed set of instructions and moments later he drove through the centre, left Harry Maguire in the wind and fired a shot powerfully home off David De Gea.

The more he takes instructions on the more he will contribute and at just 22, he’s got so much more to give and Lucas will have a real battle on his hands.

Bergwijn occupying defences on one side will create space for Son Heung-min on the other side – as shown when the Dutchman set up his South Korean team-mate for a great headed chance that brought the best out of De Gea.

However, Son needs to get fitter. Despite that military training back home while others were in lockdown, he still tired among others in the second half, not least his poor set pieces.

He will get stronger though and the thought of the Kane, Son and Bergwijn trident is mouthwatering going forward.

Harry Kane looked like a player who hadn’t played a competitive match for six and a half months, his hamstring injury coming on New Year’s Day at Southampton.

He barely touched the ball, his 36 touches of the ball less than any other player on the pitch and he never touched it in the opposition box in the whole game. He did more in his own box with defensive headers.

When he did get the ball he struggled, just 60 per cent passing accuracy, and of course the service into him was not great either.

Being used as a Drogba-like battering ram to compete for long kicks from Lloris does not suit Kane.

He’s better than that, but we also know the striker needs time to warm up after returning. It can’t be a coincidence that for so long he failed to score in August each season until finally breaking that hoodoo and he usually takes a while after an injury to find his sharpness again, but he will.

This was another example of Spurs not having an alternative to him to take Kane out of the firing line when he’s having a tough time.

The final member of the quartet, Moussa Sissoko, brought his usual drive to the party with some trademark interceptions but you could tell he also has plenty of work to do and getting 90 minutes in his legs will help him enormously.

What comes next

While it felt like a defeat, the draw did prevent United from pulling away in that fifth place spot.

There is a growing belief among many that Manchester City’s appeal will not end in their Champions League ban for next season being rescinded.

Fourth place could be out of reach if Chelsea win at Aston Villa this weekend as nine points between the Blues and Spurs is likely to be too much to bridge.

However, the top five race is going to be hotly-contested. There are so many teams involved, with United, Sheffield United, Wolves, Spurs and potentially even Arsenal, Burnley and Crystal Palace able to catch Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men if they were to go on a run.

First up for Spurs to get back to winning ways and clamber up the table is the visit of West Ham.

For once, the north London side will have a fixture advantage in that the Hammers play a day later with the visit of Wolves on Saturday evening.

Spurs will of course miss out on having their fans behind them for a derby but it’s worth pointing out – and the Hammers’ fans no doubt will – that West Ham were the first visiting team to win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, even with 60,043 fans in attendance on the day.

This game will simply come down to tactics and after making a big deal about how this will be a different encounter to the one against United, you would expect Mourinho to make his team a stronger force with their offensive football.

Return of the Prodigal Spurs

Had I got around to writing the bloeug for tonight’s game back on 13th March when the PL was officially suspended, I’m sure I would have looked back at recent defeats to Leipzig, Chelsea, Wolves, Norwich – that solitary draw against Burnley – and, of course, that right proper Red Bulling in the return leg to Leipzig – and opened with something like ‘injuries, blah, bad luck, blah, more random excuses, blah’, and then closed with something like ‘blah-blah-blah but at least it can’t get any worse’.  Continue reading “Return of the Prodigal Spurs”

How football is adapting after its longest ever break

Vithushan Ehantharajah The Independant Sports Feature Writer @Vitu_E


How football is adapting after its longest ever break
From possession to finishing, from fitness to tactics, the return of football has ushered in a ‘new normal’. So where will the Premier League fit in?

By now some of us have been lucky enough to have met up with friends in an open space or used the side-gate for a socially-distanced barbecue with our parents. This week we will reacquaint ourselves with another loved one.

With the return of the Premier League comes a cavalcade of our favourite players, narratives and either a welcome distraction from the existential dread or, well, more dread. The Bundesliga and La Liga have filled the void, but the attachment for most has been superficial. Anyway, here it comes: fast-paced, flashy, headline-a-minute and – crucially – ours.

Nevertheless there are some elements from Germany and Spain that we know will be true over here.

Much of the data collated suggests trends that can be attributed to the lack of fans. Some as simple as home advantage no longer being a factor, with away teams in the Bundesliga winning a greater proportion of the matches played than before lockdown.

Crystal Palace, for example, whose home support is a particular driver, might be inordinately affected. Then again, just three of their seven remaining games are at home, and actually their away form before the hiatus is better.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect has been the increase in time that the ball is in play. Across the board that seems down to factors such as players spending less time remonstrating with referees or acting up with opposition – something evidently done to play up to the crowds. Only in the behaviour’s absence are we seeing it for the unnecessary theatre it is.

The result of more playing time is energy levels sapping quicker than normal, and conditioning coaches across the other leagues that have returned have noted elongated recovery times when it comes to getting players back to match readiness. Teams that abide by a possession game, such as Manchester City, will largely be fine. Liverpool might rely less on their wave upon wave of attacks.

Naturally, those two clubs and others with more robust squads will be fine, especially so with the five permitted substitutes. Pep Guardiola could effectively rotate his five most attacking positions to ensure no door remains bolted.

Stylistically, the expectation is that play will be slower than normal. And for that reason it could well be the case that the technical deficiencies that are often cloaked by the Premier League’s fast transitions may be all the more stark. At the same time, teams might have used this period to improve other sides to their game.

Football consultant Kevin Nicholson observed that some of the top Bundesliga sides have improved their post-lockdown finishing, with the top four all showing dramatic improvement in efficiency in front of goal.

Of course, these restart sample sizes are too small for us to come to any worthwhile conclusions. And in some cases, such as the second tier of German football, the advantage has remained with the hosts. But the starkest adaptations football has made in a coronavirus world will be more tangible.

A leaner, meaner Diego Costa for Atletico Madrid at the weekend was another indicator of how advantageous this delay has been. As far as injury concerns go, the high profile beneficiaries are Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford – once doubts for Euro 2020, now integral to the run-in. Similarly, teams with smaller squads near the bottom of the table have had a chance to rest up for relegation battles.

There’s also a question to ask about how we all plan on consuming this, with Project Restart’s death-by-chocolate servings of Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday. Competitive eaters say they never enter a competition on an empty stomach, and you wonder what effect all this football pumped directly into our systems will do to us. Sure, we’ve never craved it more – but are we ready for this much of it all at once?

There’s another aspect to all this – what happens when the remaining issues to be decided are decided? Liverpool could win the league in two games, relegation could all but sort itself out in a fortnight. A slosh of dead rubbers and second-string XIs would await us.

Teams could end up saving their main players from further harm, especially given the grey areas around sustaining injuries at this time, and similarly, those players looking to move on might want to take themselves out of harm’s way in case they scupper a future deal elsewhere. It may not be long until we’re all pining for the start of the 2020/21 season having only just gotten 2019/20 back. And that will come with no guarantees of football being what it was.

Even familiar surroundings will carry reminders of just how different things will be. And it is the fans that will bear the brunt of this.

So much of British football culture is about companionship, groups, family, just mum or dad. These are routines ingrained within us from an early age that pass down as all traditions do. Just as much of it centres on attending matches as it is about watching them at home.

Though we may mourn what we might have done on a derby day and who we might have done it with, after a point we will all just simply get on with it. The speed at which we get to that stage is very much on the individual.

Some of us have locked down well. Some of us not so well. And the acceptance that whichever way we did it was the right way will soon move to wonder if this is how we will be from now on. There’s a real sense that behavioural change will be beyond temporary, and the Premier League may be no different.

As intriguing as it will be to see English football’s “new normal”, you wonder how long it will take for it to be just, well, normal – and at what cost.

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.
Pinterest
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.
Pinterest
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.
Pinterest
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.

Best Elevenses

Promises

 

When we went into lock-down I treated myself to a subscription of The Athletic as I feared I would have a lot more time on my hands to read and the usual staples of whatever Flat Oeufers are falling out about, the comments section of just about any article on Daily Mail Online, Football365 or the dark place where many of us on here first met would not be enough to keep me going.

Not being furloughed, though, and not being self-aware enough to realise I do most of my browsing while travelling to and from work on public transport or in the toilet while ‘at’ work, I’ve been pretty amazed at what an almost complete waste of about thirty quid it’s been so far, given I’ve spent most of my football-less time rushed off my feet working, drinking or queuing to get into Sainsbury’s in order to buy my mother-in-law obscure food items such as pickled beetroot and something called self-raising flour (?). Continue reading “Best Elevenses”