Why Tottenham FailedPosted: May 30, 2012
A brief note – these are screenshots from a thread of messages on Facebook and I’m only including them to disassociate from this article in The Telegraph, not as an attempt to show off about predicting Spurs’ collapse. You just need to see the archives from the old blog to see I have predicted plenty wrong over the course of this year (Bolton for 7th place and Swansea to be relegated are particularly embarrassing ones, with hindsight), but I wanted to assert that these have been my thoughts through the whole season, I’m not just borrowing the thoughts of Jeremy Wilson!
Failure, in itself, is subjective. One man or team’s failure can be another’s idea of success. If you were to ask anyone connected with Spurs at the start of the season what they would have considered to be a ‘successful season’ the vast majority will have replied ‘finishing in the top four’. In the end, finishing fourth was a failure, even before they had any chance of Champions League football taken from them by Chelsea’s win over Bayern Munich. At one point in the season, they were in third place, with a gap of 13 points between them and fourth place Arsenal. They finished fourth, a point behind them.
The brunt, if not all, of the blame for their collapse must rest with Harry Redknapp. He was the one who completely failed to keep Spurs’ collective feet on the ground. While they were flying high in January, he ran with the press’ line of their being title contenders; he believed the hype, and the squad followed suit. In what is by far his biggest job in his time in management, he showed his own inexperience, which only exacerbated the problem of his squad’s inexperience. In promoting them as potential champions, he gave the squad the idea that they were of similar quality to the Manchester clubs and so were far above the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea behind them. The subsequent games against City, Arsenal and United rendered no points, which had calamitous effects on the morale of the squad. Would they have been similarly damaging if the squad still believed their sole objective was to finish in the top four? The likelihood is no. Those losses destroyed their unrealistic title ambitions and so deflated their rising hot air balloon of belief. But after the loss at the Emirates, their lead was cut to 7 points – still a significant margin. They mustered just one win in their next eight league games, allowing a rejuvenated Arsenal to not only close the gap, but to leap up into third place, which they managed to hold on to for the rest of the season. In spite of the loss at the Emirates, if they still only expected a top four finish (or top three, considering their position at the time), they would probably not have collapsed as they did, and the fault for that must lie with Redknapp.
As well as his mistakes in what it supposedly his strong suit – his man management – he made just as many errors in his ‘weak area’ of tactics. He barely rotated his squad through the first half of the season and the resulting injuries in the second half of the season came as no surprise to anyone. The lack of rotation led to players like Michael Dawson (before his injury), Niko Kranjcar and Jermain Defoe, as well as Roman Pavlyuchenko and Vedran Corluka (until their departures) and becoming unhappy with their lack of playing time, creating a disharmony within the squad. This was quite easily brushed aside when their form was good, but as it began to falter, this was one of the issues that contributed to the collapse. Upon Aaron Lennon’s injury, rather than play Kranjcar on the right hand side, at which he is perfectly adept, he chose to stick him in his stronger position on the left hand side, moving Gareth Bale to the right, thus diminishing the threat of his most threatening player. Then he tried Bale through the centre when Rafael van der Vaart picked up an injury. Bale showed all the signs of a player believing his own press, playing as if he believed he had the ability of Lionel Messi and the mentality of Cristiano Ronaldo. Redknapp again failed to keep a lid on his players’ self-perception, as well as failing tactically. In terms of the transfer market, where it was plain for all to see that Spurs needed strengthening up front, he chose to bring in Louis Saha, who had scored one league goal in eighteen months before joining them and Ryan Nelsen, whose various injuries meant that he had played just one game through the season. The term ‘panic buying’ does not seem to extend far enough. With Saha’s arrival, he decided to alter the 4-2-3-1 formation that had served him well to a 4-4-2, incorporating Saha and Adebayor and compensating for the missing van der Vaart. After their defeat at home to Norwich, Redknapp chose to blame the fans, claiming that they had pressured him into switching from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. Then after the season’s end, he chose to blame the players; although in the past he had led many of us to believe that the chairman dealt with all that.
Some have chosen to attribute their collapse to the persistent rumours about Harry Redknapp taking over from Fabio Capello after the Italian resigned from the post of England manager. With this, they conveniently ignore that when the rumours were at their peak, in the week immediately following Capello’s departure, they produced arguably their best performance of the season, soundly thrashing Newcastle 5-0. While the talk remained in the following weeks, it was by no means as prominent as it had been before their game against Alan Pardew’s side. What it did give the team was an excuse, so the manager and players could be exempt from blame. Their collapse began when they lost 5-2 at the Emirates, handing the momentum back to their North London neighbours. Here, it was their inexperience that saw them lose their way. They panicked and fell apart and continued in that vein, but there was little connection with the fear of Redknapp leaving.
And it would be unfair to place all the on-pitch blame for their slump on Emmanuel Adebayor – all the players must share a portion of the blame, but anyone who has watched Adebayor will know that his moves always follow the same trajectory. There’s always an excellent six month spell, and then mediocrity. This has been evident to any who have followed him. The fact that no one at Spurs saw fit to take this into account is quite frankly baffling, especially as his importance became evident during their early run of form. He scored only four goals between March and May – two against Swansea and two against Bolton. They were games in which wins were needed, but at the true ‘crunch time’, he was conspicuous only for his absence.
Redknapp must be held largely at fault, but if one is to play the blame game, the players must also be accountable. Redknapp’s clear lack of trust in those outside his preferred first eleven hit the confidence of those fringe players, while his own tactical forays only strengthened the argument that tactics are no forté of his. Their failure was purely circumstantial, but they ran the risk of missing the Champions League despite finishing fourth when it became clear that Chelsea were in with a shot of winning it and when handed the most golden of opportunities to re-overtake Arsenal with only one game remaining, but threw it away with a draw at being terrible’s poster boys Aston Villa. Now, with the players’ egos suitably inflated, they want Champions League football or, in the cases of van der Vaart and Adebayor, they want it back. They risk an exodus this summer, and it was one which could so easily have been avoided.