Tottenham Hotspur, A Bassett Hound & An Unlikely Escape Plan
It has been a busy few days at White Hart Lane, as one might expect from a club having its worst ever start to a season. On Thursday night, they lost 2-0 to Udinese in the UEFA Cup, confirming that their slump this season isn’t the result of a sudden leap in the quality of the Premier League. Meanwhile, two hundred-odd miles from London, at the AGM of FC United of Manchester, it was mentioned that Spurs supporters had been in contact with the club’s general manager Andy Walsh to seek information on how they could form a breakaway club of their own, with the support of Spurs’ longest-serving player, Steve Perryman. Whether this information becoming (relatively) common knowledge had any influence on subsequent events will probably never be known.
Late on Saturday afternoon, they sacked Juande Ramos, along with sporting director Damien Comolli and first-team coaches Gus Poyet and Marcos Alvarez. To top off a bizarre few days, arguably the strangest event of the last few days came yesterday afternoon at White Hart Lane, as Spurs finally picked up their first Premier League win of the season against Bolton Wanderers. They remain bottom of the Premier League table, but the first, tentative green shoots of recovery have shown. Whether they last beyond Wednesday night, when they travel across north London to play Arsenal at The Emirates Stadium, is another matter altogether. For now, though, such is the nature of the bottom of the table that just one victory has proved to be enough for the places just above the trap door to appear on the horizon again. They have, however, a long way still to go if they wish to secure their position in the Premier League this season.
Where, then, to begin? Well, Spurs didn’t play badly in Udine on Thursday night. Were it not for another horrible mistake by Heurelho Gomes, who gave the ball away for the penalty that led to the opening goal, the result might have been quite different. Harry Redknapp was only appointed late on Saturday night, so it would be a stretch to give him much credit for their improvement against Bolton Wanderers. Indeed Bolton, sitting one above the relegation places, were ideal opponents for such a match. Spurs started nervily, and even Pavlyuchenkco’s early goal didn’t seem to settle their nerves, with Gomes almost costing them an equalising goal on a couple of occasions with ill-advised charges from his goal. Gavin McCann’s sending off for two ill-timed tackles should have ended the match as a contest, but Bolton still posed an occasional threat before Darren Bent converted a needlessly conceded penalty to kill them off once and for all.
The details regarding a breakaway club remain sketchy, though the story was reported in this week’s “Non-League Paper”. Tottenham’s Supporters Trust has its AGM this week, so more details may become public at that point. It is not, however, inconceivable that the complete overhaul that the club has undertaken over the last few days may have killed any plans that they have had before they even got off the ground. The irony of this news is that Spurs are, in the strictest financial terms, one of the better run clubs in the Premier League. Whether dissident voices have found a voice solely because of the club’s performances on the pitch isn’t known, but the now familiar issue of the extent to which Premier League football is alienating its core support is again rearing its head. If the contact that was made with Andy Walsh at FC United was borne out of frustration with the club’s performance on the pitch this season alone, it’s difficult to see how there will be much stomach to break away on a permanent basis. If the dissatisfaction is at a more fundamental level than this, however, it is just possible that another new club could be born.
Harry Redknapp’s appointment at White Hart Lane proves, if nothing else, that Redknapp’s capacity to surprise remains undiminished. He is, if nothing else, a master at manipulating the media. Unsurprisingly, there has been much talk in the media of this being Redknapp’s last crack at taking control of a big club. There has also been talk of Redknapp’s success at Portsmouth in becoming the first English manager since Joe Royle in 1995 to coach a team to an FA Cup win, but Redknapp’s record over the last few seasons has been patchier than some may remember. His move from Portsmouth to Southampton was a disaster which resulted in the Saints’ relegation. His return to Fratton Park the following season ended in a scrap against relegation and you could even make a case for saying that there was more than element of fortune in Portsmouth’s FA Cup win last season. Ultimately, though, Redknapp has been lucky throughout much of his managerial career, and Spurs could certainly do with some of that luck at the moment. More troubling is his tendency to leave clubs in a considerably worse financial state than they were in when they arrived. Bournemouth, West Ham United, Southampton and Portsmouth have all ended up with more figures written in red ballpoint pen in the annual accounts after his departure, although it should be added that Spurs are better suited than most to weather such proclivity.
Portsmouth’s reaction to his departure was relatively positive – a 1-1 draw against Fulham in a match that they really should have won. With a wage bill reportedly running at 90% of their turnover at the moment, however, there will be little scope for their new manager to shape the squad in the way that he would like to, even with the £5m in compensation that they will receive from Spurs. At White Hart Lane, the jury will remain out on whether a corner has been turned until Spurs can put in a win against a team that is stronger than the turgid opposition that they faced in the form of Bolton Wanderers. It should go without saying that the confidence of both the players and the supporters will remain brittle for the time being. The test that they will face at The Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night will probably prove to be too much, too soon for Harry Redknapp. The question marks surrounding Spurs’ preparedness to be able to claw their way to safety seem likely to remain for the next few weeks, at the very least.