At What Point Does It Become A Crisis?
So, at what point does it become a crisis, then? We are now over a quarter of the way through the season, and Spurs are in the Premier League relegation places. What’s more, they’ve been there for a while, and haven’t shown any improvement since they lost at Sunderland on the opening day of the season. They’ve only won one Premier League match and, most worryingly of all, that was against Derby County, who I’ve noted on here before are the first Premier League team in over a decade. If the gossip pages of the newspapers are to be believed, Martin Jol has had a major falling out with Dimitar Berbatov, who is now rumoured (perhaps unsurprisingly) to be stalling over a new contract. On the bright side, they are still in the League Cup and managed to swat away Cypriot opposition in the UEFA Cup but, for those of us that dared to suspect that Spurs might just be able to permeate the self-perpetuating aristocracy of the “Big Four”, all eyes are swivelling to the north-west, where Manchester City are defying everyone that thought that they were heading towards another false dawn (though there’s plenty of time yet for that to happen).
At Newcastle United on Monday night, they put in another disjointed performance, which inspired no confidence at all in anyone hoping that they will improve. Berbatov hasn’t come to life in the same way that he did last year (although the two Premier League goals that he has scored are two more than Andriy Shevchenko has managed for Chelsea so far), but Spurs’ problems haven’t come from in front of goal. They’ve scored more goals that Manchester United, Manchester City or Liverpool. At the back, though, it’s been pretty chaotic. They’ve conceded at least three goals in five of their ten matches. Paul Robinson is playing as if he has swapped his training sessions for a juggling course. Strangely, the press hasn’t given this story as much as one might expect, but if they fail to beat Blackburn Rovers at White Hart Lane on Sunday, they’ll be into November in the bottom three places. The board of directors played their part by seeming to undermine Martin Jol’s position in September, and this seems to have acted as something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Spurs fans have been here before, and more than once. Under Terry Neill (who would go on to achieve greater mediocrity at Arsenal in the 1980s), they avoided relegation on the last day of the 1974-75 season, at the end of a run of five wins in their last seven matches helped them scramble just clear of the relegation places. They were less fortunate two years later. It was always going to be a tall order, needing a nine goal win on the last day of the season at home to Leicester City, but their hopes were raised slightly when John Pratt and Jimmy Holmes put them two up inside the first ten minutes. It was a false dawn, though: the score stayed at 2-0 and Spurs were down. They came back up the next season (managing, in the process, the 9-0 win that would have saved them the previous season in front of the “Match Of The Day” cameras, against Bristol Rovers), but had close shaves again in the 1990s. In 1994, they finished just three points above the relegation places and, in 1998, the return of Jurgen Klinsmann was enough to push them free of the drop, this time by four points.
They’ll probably pull clear, of course, and such is the mediocrity of the middle of the Premier League that they could yet mount a challenge for a UEFA Cup place, if they can get their act together. One can’t help but think, however, that Jol’s position in charge at White Hart Lane has become untenable. With the money to be able to pick from amongst the best coaches in Europe at their disposal, though… Mark Hughes?