Thursday, 23 December 2010

Is it really just a pipedream?

Tottenham Hotspur F.C has long been regarded as everyone’s second team. Outside of the London rivalries, it seems no one has a bad word to speak and wants them to succeed. A team which has had such a talented squad for many years had never reached the heights they should have. However the introduction of Harry Redknapp to the White Hart Lane dugout has given the men in white the added spice they needed to fulfil the ambitions of a dedicated following. So the question has to be asked; can Tottenham win the Champions League?
Taking over a decimated squad lying bottom of the table with just 2 points from 8 games, Redknapp set about stamping his authority on the club and this had an immediate effect with Spurs, as they are affectionately known, winning 10 out of the next 12 points, including a spectacular 4-4 draw with North London rivals Arsenal. This outstanding turnaround continued to an eventual 8th place finish in the league and defeat in the League Cup final, and a 4th place finish the following season.
Redknapp has been instrumental in leading Tottenham away from Championship football and into the bright lights of the Champions League. His qualities have shown through in the surge up the table the team has gone through in his tenure. Morale, which was at an all time low under Juande Ramos, has increased massively, epitomised by the soaking David Bentley gave out to Redknapp during a post-match interview. Redknapp is highly regarded amongst his peers and rightly so given his record not just at Tottenham but his previous clubs as well. With him at the helm, there is a real chance Tottenham could progress further in this season competition.
Another key reason for progression is the squad Tottenham currently possess and the depth in quality therein. Players such as Jermaine Jenas, Carlo Cudicini, and Niko Kranjcar are struggling to get a look in this season which shows the talent at the disposal of the management. Comparing the squad with other sides at the top of the Premier League, it is hard to say a Manchester United or an Arsenal have better options, showing once again the shrewd eye Redknapp has for a player with Bassong, Defoe and Palacios being just some of the terrific buys he has made so far. Although he definitely isn’t a wheeler-dealer as was foolishly suggested by a reporter.

Key men for the Tottenham challenge.

A man who could be vital to the future of Tottenham is a certain Gareth Bale. While not being on the winning side in his first 24 appearances wasn’t the start he may have hoped for, Bale has bounced back to become one of the leading lights in the 2010/2011 season so far. While on the back of his incredible performance against Inter Milan it was wrongly suggested he was up with the greatest players in the world, he still has a great future ahead and i ts would not be out with his ability to perform once again on the biggest stage of them all, well being Welsh the World Cup may be out of the question for the foreseeable future. However Bale has all the necessary skills to be an integral part of a Spurs side for years to come and under the tutelage of the coaching staff may well reach the level many have mistakenly given him already.

Big obstacle
Tottenham proved many doubters wrong with their performance in the group stage of this season’s competition. Finishing top of the group ahead of the holders Inter Milan, and very strong Werder Bremen and FC Twente outfits, Tottenham showed the style of play and an unnerving lack of fear which gives substance to the argument they could go far. With players such as King, Modric, Defoe and Lennon, amongst many others, available for the next stage, Spurs have the quality to trouble even the most talented teams across Europe, doing their chances of success no harm. While Redknapp has dismissed talk of going defensive in order to go through, this could be to their detriment when coming up against experienced campaigners in the shape of AC Milan. The 7-time European cup winners will provide stern opposition to the inexperienced Londoners, and could be a bridge too far for their gung-ho attacking style. The likes of Andrea Pirlo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Robinho have the flair and capability of making any team look ridiculous and therefore Spurs must be wary of the threat the Italian’s provide.

Injuries to key players could curtail Tottenham’s challenge for glory further. The likes of Gomes, King and Crouch have the experience to guide this side through and the loss of them would make it far more difficult. The spine of the side is crucial, however if Ledley’s knees can hold up and Tottenham stay clear of suspensions then their know-how will be vital for progression.
Overall though there is no reason why Spurs cannot go forward and challenge for the Champions league. The squad they have at their disposal, the manager in charge and the naive way they have approached their attempt at the silverware may just provide the perfect formula for a trip to Wembley next May. And with Capello’s upcoming departure from the England job, it could be a perfect send-off for Harry as he takes the logical step into leading the national side.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Put away the goals, football’s finished.

When the time comes that a player earning in excess of £200,000 a week, captaining a team that had the chance to be top of the league at Christmas, can no longer cope then surely it is time to burst the old ball and start again.

Happier times for 'homesick' Tevez

Carlos Tevez, hardly a stranger to controversy, dropped a bombshell over the Eastland’s recently by handing in a transfer request to his boss. He has cited missing his family and the less than tropical conditions of Manchester as reasons for his reluctance to honour that piece of paper he signed not too long ago. Whether this will wash with Mancini, who if I’m not mistaken is not a born and bred Mancunian, I’m not sure as he tightens his trademark scarf to keep out the cold.
Of course compassion can be shown as being away from your family for a considerable period of time is tough for everyone; however when the dotted line was presented, the alluring number of noughts seem to have taken greater significance. This enhanced by the news that when given a week of at the start of December, ‘homesick’ Tevez decided to stay in sunny Tenerife, rather than make the trip home to see his family. The fact it has taken until now for these grievances to appear surely shows his life isn’t that much of a struggle and he should throw on the snood, a pair of gloves and get out on the training pitch to prepare for the next game.
Questions have to be asked over his state of mind and whether he should be continuing as captain of a highly ambitious side. While Sheikh Mansour begins to check down the back of the couch for a January spending spree in order to strengthen their title bid, their captain seems not to want to get to the top and this cannot reflect well within the squad. Having your leader contemplating retirement surely doesn’t inspire his teammates to put the extra in on the park to win that elusive title if their skipper is going to jump ship at the first opportunity.
The situation is given a little clarity with the return to the footballing scene of Kia Joorabchian. The footballing Grinch had been quiet for far too long and came out swinging, at the board, the media and anyone who would listen frankly. While he remains the organ grinder, then Tevez will remain the monkey and this won’t end with happily for Manchester City fans. Agents are having far too big an influence on the lives of players, a certain Mr Rooney across the city being a prime example, and this story is going to crop up time and again if the relevant authorities don’t address it. However with Sepp Batter still the man in power, it may be a while before anything of benefit to football turns up.
This festive period was yet to have a pantomime villain and Carlos Tevez was the man to step up. With Joorabchian conveniently behind him, it proved a difficult issue for the board to negotiate but all seems settled now. That is until the January window opens where I would not be surprised to see Mr Tevez off to sunnier climes to join some Argentinean teammates across Europe in Spain.
If this does turn out to be the case, then Tevez, and his bulldog-like approach, will be missed in the Premier League.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Over-reaction or right on the money?

Why, in this day in age, would you consider becoming a referee? Abuse, threats and questions over your integrity are thrown about carelessly by those who have never experienced the role for themselves. Sitting in your armchair with the remote control at your side, those 10 different replays prove nothing over your ability to make that split second decision. Finally it has all became too much for Scotland’s officials, having announced a strike for this weekend’s matches.
 In my opinion, they have every right to do so and, if anything, it has come later than it could have. Those supporters who sit in their local proclaiming they are over-reacting should consider how they would feel in the same situation. If you received dog’s abuse during your working day would you be saying it’s alright, this is what I get paid to do? I realise there are differences, but referee’s are paid to officiate a game however this has recently become a thankless task, as their honour is brought into question every time a throw-in goes the wrong way.

Scapegoat Dougie McDonald

The crunch point of this issue is that the strike has stemmed from a correct decision. When Dougie McDonald conferred with his assistant on a cold afternoon at Tannadice, little did he know the furore he would be causing by giving the right decision. As a young footballer you are told the referee won’t change his mind, play on. Why? Why, if that referee realises he is wrong should he not reverse the decision. After all that is what every football fan wants isn’t it, the correct decision to be made. Mr Blatter has introduced 5th and 6th referees;

fans want technology, the point being to get the decision right. So how has it got to the stage where we have our officials refusing to go to games in fear of their safety off the pitch?
I think even the most staunch Celtic fan would agree that it was not a penalty, which makes the reaction it has caused even more baffling. I realise that the white lies that were told are unforgivable and has brought some of the criticism on themselves, but surely this shows the fear which the match officials currently have. Afraid to look as if they are favouring one team over another, this is going to leave Scotland with no up-and coming referees as they don’t want the hassle that comes with the job.
Scottish MP Pete Wishart has come out publicly and said "I seriously do think it would be in the interests of the game if they did declare which team they support. Yes, referees are entitled to support a team. They may support one of the two big teams. But when Rangers or Celtic come to McDiarmid Park I would like to know what teams these referees are supporting”. With all due respect, go back to making a mess of our country from your publically funded property than weighing into a debate that politics has no place in. Coming out with these comments just heaps more pressure on officials, and has contributed hugely to the upcoming strike.

Now being from the blue half of Glasgow I may be biased, in fact I am biased, but the handling of this by Neil Lennon has been inexcusable. As a relatively new manager, he should be learning his trade and going about his business quietly until he establishes himself as a manager. Sprinting 25 yards down the touchline is fine if you are Jose Mourinho taking Porto to Old Trafford, but a last minute winner against a team you should be beating, does that merit the celebrations? Dundee United manager Peter Houston called it “embarrassing”, and this is exactly my point. Lennon should have his players in the dressing room telling them, well done we got the 3 points, but the performance wasn't good enough. But no, he is running around for everyone to see like a child on Christmas morning after getting the toy he was after. All in all a little respect for the men in black wouldn’t go a miss, and taking a step back, maybe following the standards set by the aforementioned Houston and other senior managers like Craig Brown, Walter Smith, Jim Jefferies etc wouldn’t go a miss either.

Lennon’s behaviour has clearly rubbed off on his players as new Celtic signing Gary Hooper commented "We are one of the biggest teams in the world and everyone wants to beat us, all the teams. The referee wants to give a decision against us so he can say something after the game. I think all the big teams get it." Wait a minute Gary; you have been in the SPL a couple of months, is that long enough to make a judgement? Stick to doing what you do best which is scoring goals, rather than giving your two cents. This is exactly the kind of thing which has caused this eruption over the issue recently. Instead of a casual “I don’t think I can comment on that”, everyone wants their say and it has finally came to a head and referee’s have had enough.

I think everyone has at some point given a referee their, point of view shall we say. But change is needed before our game is tarnished forever. While not every decision will be correct, the referees are trying their best so before you are so quick to jump out of that armchair or plastic seat at the stadium, have a second thought and get behind your side rather than on the officials back. That Saturday afternoon you enjoy so much watching your team won’t be so enjoyable if the dreaded postponed announcement comes because the referee’s have finally had enough. Fortunately foreign officials will make sure that this weekend’s games go ahead.

Let’s just hope that an Israeli official isn’t a closet Rangers fan or our recent favourite word ‘conspiracy’ will be out in force again in Sunday’s papers.