Why Redknapp joining England could be in everyone’s best interests

Joy turned to despair for Tottenham fans as shortly after Harry Redknapp was cleared of tax evasion, the one man standing between him and the England job handed in his resignation. Redknapp has courted the position for a number of years, and with widespread media, fan and player backing, his appointment is surely all but a formality. Followers of Spurs were largely shrouded in gloom, fearing the worst and treating the developments with contempt. But, there is life after Redknapp, and his departure for England may well be in everyone’s best interests.

Why Redknapp suits England, and vice versa.

Fabio Capello’s outstanding win percentage of 67% wasn’t enough to stave off criticism of his media demeanour and stylistic approach. The Italian was pragmatic, and stressed the importance of patience and ball retention. He asked his team to play a more continental brand of football, to play with their heads, rather than their hearts.

Of course, that’s not very British. What England fans want is passion, pace, power, gusto, grit and an indomitable spirit. We want to see blood pouring out of Terry Butcher’s head, a roaring Stuart Pearce, performances that echo the greatest moments in our history, the Churchill spirit. More than anything, England fans want, nay demand, an English manager. The England national team under Capello, despite an impressive win ratio, lacked an identity that we could claim as “British”. Rather, we have a faceless, soulless team that has become increasingly hard to relate to and even harder to root for.

Redknapp is better placed than any current manager to change that. In front the cameras he’s largely an affable, jovial individual, like a grizzly Frank Spencer (“Ooh Sandra, Rosie’s done a whoopsie on my tax return”). He’s as British as Fish & Chips, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, Pearly Kings, moaning, queuing, Bruce Forsyth ad infinitum Continue reading

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In defence of Spurs’ summer transfer window

With two markedly different approaches to player acquisitions, manager Harry Redknapp and Chairman Daniel Levy were always likely to struggle to agree on potential transfer targets. Yet, somewhere between Levy’s preference for young players with high re-sale potential and Redknapp’s penchant for seasoned, experienced Premier League veterans, Spurs stumbled upon a middle ground that has the potential to greatly improve the squad and performances.

With just £5.5m spent on three senior first team players (Scott Parker for the full £5.5m, Brad Friedel on a free transfer and Emmanuel Adebayor on loan), you might think that Spurs’ transfer window was something of a failure. However, in Adebayor and Parker, Spurs have found themselves two very good players who could dramatically alter Spurs’ fortunes on the pitch.

Emmanuel Adebayor

Adebayor brings a blend of two philosophies of football. The first is the robust and physical, typically English, dimension. He’s strong, powerful, direct, great in the air (so should be effective at converting Bale/Lennon/Assou-Ekotto/Walker’s crosses), and has a burst of speed that you have to have in the Premier League to be a top striker. He’s also more than capable of contesting the very many speculative long balls Messrs Dawson, Assou-Ekotto and Huddlestone like to play. The second is the more continental, on the deck style. He integrated well into the Real Madrid team, and he spent several successful years at Arsenal who play a possession based (more European) style. With both teams he showed an effectiveness with the ball at his feet, intelligence, great close control, smart movement, good use of the ball, and an ability to link up play (and pass and move). So as well as being able to mix it physically with the likes of Vidic, Terry and the plethora of other no-nonsense, powerful centre-backs in the Premier League, he can also combine to great effect with Spurs’ foreign craftsmen, like Modric and van der Vaart. Continue reading

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Why Harry Redknapp is no longer the manager to take Spurs forward

Let me preface this by saying that this blog post is not knee-jerk, it is not based purely off the back of two heavy defeats to the best two teams the English Premier League has to offer. These concerns have lingered and grown across the course of the last year, and this blog post is born out of the frustration that the issues I will discuss are rarely reported or deliberated in mainstream media. While one North London manager is pilloried in the press, another – whose team sits bottom of the league – sees his managerial ability remain unquestioned. Arsene Wenger has been heavily criticised in the wake of Arsenal’s 8-2 loss to Manchester United, and there have been calls for the “humiliated” manager’s head. But Harry Redknapp, who has guided his side to an 8-1 aggregate loss against the Manchester clubs, has received no such treatment. And that is perhaps understandable, given that Redknapp is generally an affable, jovial soul, only too happy to regale anecdotes about Paolo Di Canio, provide the media with a year’s worth of sound bites from a single press conference and make humorous quips about Darren “Sandra” Bent, or Samassi “He don’t speak the English too good” Abou. So here begins my Redknapp roast, and where better to start than ‘Arry’s relationship with the media.

Got time for a quick chat ‘Arry?

Ah, Harry and the press. It’s perhaps this issue which has driven the greatest wedge between Redknapp and the fans. Redknapp, it is perceived, uses the media for two purposes: self-preservation and self-promotion. Since February, Spurs’ form has been nothing short of disastrous (more to come on that later), but with every loss against bottom half opposition or humbling home draw came an excuse from the manager: “Well, that’s football.” “It was just one of those days.” “It’s a funny old game.” But Spurs enjoyed “one of those days” with greater frequency than any other side with top four aspirations did last season, and there was a worrying lack of willingness from Redknapp to take responsibility for defeat or even accept that there was a problem (instead listing the sums of money spent by Spurs’ top four rivals). Every conceded goal or dropped point(s) was accompanied by a defence that deflected blame away from Redknapp, whether it be injuries, fixture congestion, a refereeing error, luck or a stroke of genius from the opposition. When questioned after Spurs’ 2-2 draw against West Brom at home (having conceded a late equaliser), Redknapp said, “Everyone has results like that […] We had the game in the bag and then the kid hit a worldy [shot]. It was unreal. He could try that every day for the next six years and he would not be able to do that again.” Redknapp opted not to mention how open the game had obviously been before West Brom equalised (a problem he could have rectified with his one remaining substitution), and failed to note that this was not the first time a lower half, relegation fighting side had matched Spurs. A manager who cannot accept that there is a problem will never find a solution, and two weeks later Spurs were held to a draw at home to Blackpool. Continue reading

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Assou-Ekotto’s role in how Spurs conceded the first goal against Manchester United

Had a bit of spare time so decided to analyse how Spurs conceded their first goal against Manchester United last Monday at Old Trafford. Specifically, I wanted to highlight the role Benoit Assou-Ekotto played in the conceding of the goal. Benny, as he’s affectionately known, is a bit of a cult figure, which can occasionally blinker fans to some of his shortcomings, namely his distribution and positioning:

Rooney attempts a long crossfield pass aimed at Nani. Our defence is set up pretty well, with both Nani and Welbeck marked by Assou-Ekotto and Kaboul respectively. Continue reading

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Van der Vaart, FC Twente and the Toils of Creativity*

For 61 minutes against FC Twente, Rafael van der Vaart gave a virtuoso performance of the highest calibre. He was both the conductor and the orchestra, encouraging, dictating and executing every attack. He instigated most of Tottenham’s offensive manoeuvres, often from deep in his own half, before bursting forward to test Twente goalkeeper Nikolay Mihaylov (son of Borislav) whenever possible. Van der Vaart was the very soul of Tottenham’s attacking impetus, and could have scored a hat-trick in the first half but for an inspired Mihaylov.

Van der Vaart had more shots than any other player, stinging the hands of Mihaylov on numerous occasions: a crafty bicycle kick, a powerful half volley and a well struck (and well saved) penalty – a penalty, incidentally, that van der Vaart created. In the 46th minute, he cunningly controlled a Peter Crouch knock down with his chest before swivelling and volleying past Mihaylov. Fifteen minutes later he would be sent off, but it would not prevent Tottenham winning the game, or effect how his purposeful, attacking and technically astute performance would be perceived post-match.

Off the ball, van der Vaart shuffles around the pitch with all the grace of a wounded woodland creature. That’s no great surprise given that he had his entire meniscus removed in 2002. Against Twente, van der Vaart also displayed an appetite to harass the opposition, epitomised by a heroic first half block to extinguish the not insignificant threat posed by Theo Janssen’s powerful left foot. This zealous work ethic and desire to win back possession, combined with the frustration of missing a penalty, led to his first yellow card. His second yellow once again stemmed from a feverish voracity to reclaim the ball.

With the ball at his feet, van der Vaart is an elegant artisan. He weaves between opponents, manipulating pockets of space others do not notice, let alone exploit. His (unfavoured) starting position on the right of midfield did little to constrain him. Freeing himself of the fetters imposed by Harry Redknapp’s preferred 4-4-2, van der Vaart roamed and meandered around the pitch. He was often deeper than the defence-minded central midfield duo of Tom Huddlestone and Luka Modric, receiving the ball from his centre-backs before a quick interchanging of passes coupled with intelligent movement saw him stroll (generally unmarked) into dangerous areas. How can you mark someone whose movement is so varied and unpredictable? (The answer is that you don’t, rather you stop them from playing by other means – van der Vaart suffered more fouls than any other player, despite playing half an hour less) Continue reading

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Time for a Punditry Purge

Another article I wrote for The Cynical Challenge (this time on ITV and BBC’s World Cup coverage), which seems rather relevent in the wake of Stan Collymore’s (and various other media outlets) recent rebuke of Match of the Day. Sensibly, TCC censored my (sometimes) explicit musings, so consider this the “X Rated Director’s Cut”.

What do vuvuzelas, Louie Spence and getting your foreskin caught in your flies all have in common? All are significantly less painful and annoying than the World Cup coverage.

Football is a game of opinions. Watching a game of football is like reading a novel or watching a film: they are all open to interpretation. Ideally, coverage should be like a York Notes for football, offering in-depth analysis that would make even tactics blogger @Zonal_Marking purr. Instead, the World Cup coverage provided by BBC and ITV is the equivalent of having the finer nuances of The Brothers Karamazov explained by Miss South Carolina. I feel as though I’ve spent the last month being bludgeoned to death by clubs made out of chicken wire, tired clichés and human faeces.

The anchors of both stations are largely inoffensive, though Adrian Chiles’ pre USA versus England anti-America tirade was a miscalculation to say the least. It is not even the multitude of errors (most notably ITV HD opting to cut to an advertisement as Steven Gerrard opened the scoring against the USA) that riles me. Rather, it is the complete lack of intelligent discussion from the “expert” pundits.

Alan Shearer, whose hairline has receded further than a Shaolin Monks’ testes, is less insightful than a cephalopod mollusc – although Paul the psychic octopus has been particularly acute with his recent predictions. Shearer is as intelligent as his goal scoring celebration was creative and when commenting on Pele’s assertion that an African team would win the World Cup before 2000, he muttered: “I think it’s going to be longer”. Really, Alan? Are you sure?

Shearer presumably graduated from the same school of “stating the obvious” as Andy Townsend (who shares the same facial features as a bull terrier), with both offering pearls of wisdom that have included: “This is a game neither side will want to lose” and “A goal now will change the game”. Shearer’s use of droll, outdated clichés, and his lack of tactical knowledge, makes his four point haul (and subsequent relegation) as manager of Newcastle seem an achievement in retrospect, rather than the failure one might have originally considered it. Continue reading

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Does Patriotism Exist in Modern Football?

A while back I wrote an article for the brilliant Cynical Challenge about nationality and patriotism at the World Cup. Are players sacrificing national pride in favour of personal glory? Interestingly, eventual winners Spain had few, if any, players eligible for other nations, while Germany (the tournament’s entertainers and bronze medallists) had the most.

“The Germans are at it again”, cried ITV commentator Peter Drury as Cacau added a fourth goal and Germany cruised past Australia. Ironically, Cacau is as German as Drury – although I have it on good authority that Drury looks rather dashing in lederhosen. Born and bred in Brazil, Cacau only became eligible for Germany last year through citizenship, at the age of 27.

Three of Germany’s four goals were scored by players who were eligible for other nations – Cacau (Brazil), Lucas Podolski (Poland) and Miroslav Klose (Poland) – while their star player, Mesut Özil, chose to represent Germany instead of Turkey. Additionally, Mario Gomez (Spain), Marko Marin (Bosnia), Andreas Beck (Russia), Sami Khedira (Tunisia), Piotr Trochowski (Poland), Serdar Tasci (Turkey), Jerome Boateng (Ghana) and Dennis Aogo (Nigeria) could have opted to play for a nation other than Germany. Nearly half Germany’s squad have foreign roots. In fact, Poland and Turkey are better represented than the former East Germany, whose sole flag bearer is Tony Kroos.

Welcome to the 21st Century of football – an age of cultural diversity and national mobility, or success hungry mercenaries?

Certainly the German squad is an accurate reflection of an increasingly diverse country. Cacau believes he represents the multicultural nature of German society – and with 1,278,424 foreigners taking German citizenship between 1995 and 2004, it is hard to argue with him. The legitimacy of Germany’s “foreign” talent is not in question, but the patriotism of some players is. Do players owe a duty of responsibility to the lesser nations from which they originate? Continue reading

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