Tag Archives: Football

They Follow the Beck of a Bale-ful Star, Their Paths Are Dream Beguiled

Well, Tottenham Hotspur’s season just got interesting, at least potentially.

I’d been anticipating a rough year (that is, if the season isn’t ended prematurely by a new national lockdown, which seems likely). An early exit from the Europa League, an early exit from the League Cup, an early exit from the FA Cup, and a tedious scrap for sixth place in the league, as part of Jose Mourinho’s seemingly wilful campaign to turn Spurs from a team that reached the Champions League final and was, albeit briefly, part of the European elite, into domestic also-rans. That will probably still be how it goes. But with Gareth Bale’s return to Spurs on loan from Real Madrid, you just never know. Bale is, if nothing else, a wild card.

I wasn’t that gutted when Bale left in 2013, in all honesty. My favourite player of that era was Luka Modric, and I was much more frustrated when he went; the good thing about Bale’s departure was that, while they management wasted a lot of the enormous windfall, they managed to sign Christian Eriksen – as close to a like-for-like Modric replacement as was available at the time, and Eriksen was the best thing about Spurs during his tenure at the club.

Bale was a very different kind of player to the guileful Eriksen and Modric. They both possessed a vision, technique and range of pass that Bale never shared. Bale, by contrast, was explosive. His approach has always been to get within shooting range as quickly as possible, then let fly. He seemingly doubled his bodyweight in the gym in his last year or so at Spurs, losing nothing in terms of acceleration, and his left-foot thunderbolts were breathtaking in their sheer ferocity. Modric and Eriksen would leave opponents dizzy as they passed round them; Bale would bulldoze straight through them. There was something bracingly unrefined about Bale’s approach to the game; he played like the kid in school too fast, too strong and too damn intent on winning to let anyone stand in his way. From what I’ve seen of his contributions to Real’s successes in the intervening years, there’s still something of that in his game.

After Modric left, the team were dangerously reliant on Bale to do everything for them, the Andre Villas Boas gameplan – give it to Gareth and get out of way – making Spurs predictable and easier for the best sides to deal with. The defection of Bale and recruitment of Eriksen restored patience, intelligence and craft to the Tottenham midfield. I was, as I say, not overly traumatised by Bale’s leaving, the more so as he wasn’t leaving for one of our domestic rivals.

But with Spurs once again becalmed after a run of excellent seasons (the loss of Eriksen; the replacement of Mauricio Pochettino as manager when his record should have made him unsackable), the team is in need of something – anything – to give them a spark. The returning Bale might just provide it. How he’ll play with Harry Kane is yet to be seen; in his last seasons at Spurs, Bale seemed to be coveting the Cristiano Ronaldo role, in which he was both creator and goalscorer. But the horrifyingly stodgy Tottenham midfield needed a boost. Even if all he does is follow his old boss Harry Redknapp’s strategy – “fucking run about a bit”, for those of you who have forgotten – that might make a difference.

Spurs reach the Champions League final

Please forgive me one of my very infrequent football-related blogs.

To say that I’ve been waiting a long time for my team, Tottenham Hotspur, to reach the Champions League Final (the European football equivalent of the Super Bowl) is at once a vast understatement and an enormous untruth. Yes, I’ve dreamed about Spurs reaching the final of the major European cup competition it since I began following football 29 years ago, the season English teams were allowed back into European competition after the five-year ban. But saying that I’ve “waited for it” implies that I thought it might actually happen.

I didn’t.

For most of the 29 years I’ve followed Spurs, we’ve been a punchline for a certain type of football supporter (usually the type who support Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or – for different reasons they’d not want to admit to – West Ham). Not because we were terrible, but because we were either mediocre or good but not quite good enough. We had a habit of losing games that were winnable, and of being just threatening enough to consistently provoke good performances from the teams above us in the league but not good enough to ever actually beat them.

Rival fans have had a lot of fun at our expense down the years when we’ve lost big games, crowing about St Totteringham’s Day and Spursiness, and quoting Alex Ferguson’s “Lads, it’s Tottenham” team talk. I’m sure many will find the joy of Tottenham fans today laughable, and mock us for not acting like we’ve been there.

But we haven’t.

Under Chairman Daniel Levy, Spurs (while wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of lower-league football teams), have operated on a much lower budget than the Liverpools and Uniteds of this world, refusing to change our wage structure, scrapping hard to keep our best players but knowing that ultimately they’d move on to a club that would pay them more and offer them a chance to compete for the league and Europe’s big prize. As well as losing our best players because they wanted to get paid and win things, we seldom attracted top managerial talent, for the exact same reasons; as recently as five years ago we were managed by “Tactical” Tim Sherwood, who had no more qualification to be coaching Spurs than I did.

So for any passing Chelsea, Arsenal or United fan, this is why it means something to those of us who’ve been following Spurs for more than the last few years. Because we remember when Spurs Monthly ran the cover story “The Big Catch!” because we’d signed Newcastle winger Ruel Fox. Because for a couple of years we played Gary Doherty every week. Because we always knew we’d one day lose Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick, Sol Campbell and Gareth Bale to teams with more money and more on-the-field prospects than us.

Getting Spurs to this point has taken roughly 15 years, since the start of the Martin Jol era, with many setbacks along the way (the aforementioned Tim Sherwood). It would be disingenuous to say we’ve done it on no money, but our rise has been a very different story to Chelsea’s and Manchester City’s. It’s been a gradual process, one that involved making Spurs European regulars via the UEFA Cup/Europa League, then top-four contenders, then Champions League regulars. Slow and steady, a little more every year. As such, you have to credit not just Daniel Levy and the brilliant Mauricio Pochettino, but also Jol and Harry Redknapp, and players such as Ledley King and Jermain Defoe, who endured the ups and downs along with the fans.

Right now – a brand-new stadium and a Champions League final – this might be as good as it ever gets for Spurs. We might lose the final, our brilliant manager Mauricio Pochettino might go elsewhere, Christian Eriksen might refuse a new contract, Harry Kane might one day snap his ankle ligaments beyond repair. You have to enjoy the moment while you’re in it. So that’s what we’ll do. And those of us who recall 1991-2004 will enjoy it all the more.

Come on you Spurs!

Image result for mauricio pochettino
It means this much.