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Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Caught Knapping

Redknapp: making like-for-like changes since 1983

Unless you were drunk, buried or temporarily without a head this weekend, you’ll know that the only scoreline anyone wants to talk about is Manchester 13-3 North London. More specifically, topics on lips principally include Manchester United’s youth-driven greatness, Manchester City’s money-driven potential greatness and Arsene Wenger’s selling-driven former greatness.

If Manchester United have taught the Premier League one thing so far this season, it’s that ideally you get your transfer business concluded as quickly and as proactively as possible. Sagas a la Fabregas, Nasri and Modric might be inevitable – you can’t force clubs to bid when they’re not ready – but playing those who do not want to play is unsettling and (leaves you) pointless.

The dangers of standing still while all around you are moving, particularly in an investment-heavy market such as the Premier League, are all too clear. Certainly Spurs, and maybe even Arsenal, have fallen behind Liverpool. Or at least if not, they are going to be playing catch up for the rest of the season.

Quick-fix, last-minute buying won’t necessarily rectify this. Even (and especially) professional footballers need time to settle in a new working environment, less so perhaps if you’re someone of Samir Nasri’s capabilities moving to play alongside David Silva, but certainly if you’re a player moving to a team with a different style or 'project' – compare Edin Dzeko last season with the player blossoming from a full pre-season this campaign, for example.

Arsenal and Wenger will recover – we’ll deal with that later in the week. The cheap, but rather dangerous laser pen of queries and criticism points far less favourably at England manager-in-waiting Harry Redknapp, given his unusually cautious forays into the transfer market thus far and Tottenham’s continued inability to formulate a plan B (or a plan B dressed so inexplicably as plan A as to be interchangeable).

It is disingenuous to say that Redknapp and Spurs are doing their best Juande Ramos impression (*smirks wryly*), bottom of the league after only two matches with no points and one goal. But while the identity and quality of their opponents might take some of the strain, the manner of the performances were far from encouraging, as was Redknapp’s opinion that a sub-par, disaffected Modric and the accompanying effect on the team dynamic was better than no Modric at all.

Progress in the Europa League (courtesy of a 5-0 win at Hearts – more strong evidence that the ‘P’ in SPL might stand for ‘pub’) is scant consolation and one would be fairly sure that Redknapp regards it as emphatically the wrong European competition to be involved in, certainly if Champions League football is to return to White Hart Lane any time soon. A long season stretches ahead for ‘Arry and while he isn’t displaying a similar weariness to the Italian he hopes to replace, every question about Modric or potential replacements seems to make him even more hangdog than before.

Signing the combustible Adebayor is something of a gamble when your other goal sources are all staying and short of form and fitness, though Brad Friedel is as safe a pair of hands as is available. The problems, however, aren’t only in personnel. Redknapp is addicted to 4-4-2 the same as we here at Magic Spongers are addicted to outlandish metaphor.

Basically, it’s like trying to persistently push onions through apple-sized holes, brazenly ignoring the fact that your rivals in the ‘pushing fruit and veg through holes’ contest realised long ago that while onions are fine for the onion-shaped openings, you might have to rethink when things get a bit tighter. And not replace the onion that didn’t fit the first four times with a BIGGER ONION.

Rafael van der Vaart’s position ‘just off the front man’ so far this season isn’t so much a tactical decision as an indictment of his disinclination to either attack the box when the wingers have the ball – as they invariably must when a 4-4-2 attacks – or to get back and join the midfield when they are not in possession. Ledley King is a fine player in anyone’s estimation but he cannot play more than one game a week. Does this disrupt the side? Is there any other club that would indulge the situation enough to find out while shipping out Jonathan Woodgate?

The last changes that made any real difference on the sidelines at White Hart Lane were the swapping of the dugouts for those bucket seats everyone seems so fond of. Redknapp doesn’t appear to have a back-up plan for those times when his wide players run up against brick walls, as they are increasingly doing these days. Perhaps full-backs have them sussed, but there is no response from the bench, aside from slinging Pavlyuchenko on up front.

This is not to say, of course, that Spurs will have a poor season. They still boast a squad that can be the ‘best of the rest’ and may yet finish above Arsenal. If Aaron Lennon can learn to run and look at the same time and Gareth Bale can play well for more than approximately 100 minutes a season, they will still have too much for most sides in the Premier League. The loss of Modric might hurt, but as Ledley King has said today, at least they’ll be able to finally get down to business. Where in the table they conduct that business depends on Redknapp’s ability to integrate his late signings and refine his approach.

The evidence so far is compelling. This season, Tottenham played a 4-4-2 against a better 4-4-2 (United) and a 4-4-2 against a better 4-3-3 (City). United’s superior fluidity in turning defence to attack did for them at Old Trafford and they were overrun by City in the midfield at White Hart Lane. Not season-ending fixtures in themselves, but in both games, Redknapp’s subs changed a struggling 4-4-2 into a... 4-4-2. Possibly an even worse one. We couldn’t help but feel we were witnessing a prototype England set up for those inevitable chastening efforts against Spain, Germany or the Netherlands in the years to come. And they, like Spurs, will be in danger of being left behind.


  1. As a Pompey fan, I can attest to Redknapp's great powers of motivation, poor tactical decisions and amazing self-promotional ability (helped ably by the press).

    Your final paragraph is an almost word-by-word account of what I described to a friend would happen when/if Redknapp gets hold of the England team.

    We would handsomly beat many lower teams (which we already do) causing Redknapp and the press to lap it up as "keeping it simple for the lads to understand" and then suffer regular defeat at knockout stages (which we already do) when up against better teams and tactics. Changing the manager is not the answer to England's failings as a national team.

  2. fancy writing for who ate all the pies?

    psorene -- AT --- anorak.co.uk