Think back to Sunday 26th September 2021; Tottenham had just lost 3-1 away at the Emirates against the Woolwich Wanderers, and the board were gearing up to sharpen their knives again in Nuno Espírito Santo’s direction..
Whilst any defeat against ‘that lot’ is hard to swallow at the best of times, it was a performance that highlighted our team’s complete lack of discipline, fight, and commitment. Individual errors galore littered our game once again, whilst our midfield was nothing more than a welcome mat for the opposition to wipe their boots on.
It took another miserable performance against Man United at home before the plug was finally pulled on Nuno but make no mistake, the irreversible damage was done against the scum. After a hopeless, embarrassing summer in pursuit of a successor to Jose Mourinho, who on Earth would, or could, we turn to next to try and restore some desperately needed dignity to the club!?
Fast forward 1 year on, and amazingly we find ourselves in the last 16 of the Champions League and averaging 2 point per game (CL qualification form) under the formidable transformation of Antonio Conte. A team that now plays with the discipline, fight and commitment we all demand. All of this has been achieved with a handful of key players played into the ground, and whilst the injuries have slowly been mounting up, I think we have survived well up to this point considering the gruelling schedule and intensity of games played. It’s been an Herculean effort of physical stamina and endurance, as well and one that should surely be roundly applauded!?
All this cause for optimism under a proven winner is proving too much for some though. Some punters are not happy and demand some ‘flair’. Gaining success on the pitch in 2 of the toughest competitions in Europe with players falling to bits, flogging their guts out in every game is just not good enough it seems. I know some performances have been a tough watch this season, but can we not put it into some kind of context!? It’s been a crazy season of non stop football with much more to come! This kind of attitude puts me in mind of a parent having to forgo buying themselves a bottle of lager at the end of a long, hard week with the last couple of quid they have left, opting instead of buying their child a bag of sweets to be told by said child, “I don’t like that flavour” and chucking them straight in the bin! I’m of the opinion that if it wasn’t ‘them’ sitting at the top of the table at the moment, this tiny undercurrent of discontent might be a little less inaudible than it is at the moment. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course, but I’d rather support a successful coach rather than get on his back. Moan yes – we all do, but moan in the right direction.
As ever, context is our friend, and comparing and contrasting with clubs in and around us can be helpful…
COMPARISON OF MINUTES PLAYED BY THE TOP SIX MOST IMPORTANT PLAYERS AT TOTTENHAM, ARSENAL & MAN CITY
Lloris – 1,710
Romero – 1,091
Hojbjerg – 1,600
Bentancur – 1,512
Son – 1,489
Kane – 1,698
Ramsdale – 1,170 (-540, 6 games)
Saliba – 1,246 (+155, 1.72 games)
Xhaka – 1,423 (-177, 1.96 games)
Partey – 843 (-669, 7.43 games)
Saka – 1,228 (-261, 2.9 games)
Jesus – 1,192 (-506, 5.58 games)
Ederson – 1,530 (-180, 2 games)
Ruben Dias – 1,378 (+285, 3.16 games)
Cancelo – 1,476 (-124, 1.37 games)
Rodri – 1,428 (-84, 0.93 games)
De Bruyne – 1,295 (-194, 2.15 games)
Haaland – 1,264 (-434, 4.82 games)
The stats above are pretty telling – Arsenal’s amazing league run up to this point is in no small part due to the fact that they’ve been given the license to rest key players in the Ropey League. Even though City’s key players minutes are more comparable to our own, it would take an idiot not to realise that they are far better equipped to make rotations without the wheels falling off, performance-wise. Amazingly, we are currently just 3 points behind City having played 1 game more but as far as squads are concerned, it really is ‘us and them’ to a vast degree. The current financial constraints under ENIC have made it so.
Unlike many supporters, I am pleased that Conte is unwilling to sign a new contract for the moment. By doing this, he is not allowing Levy to pin him down and weaken his position at the negotiating table with regard to transfers. Having a manager with power over his chairman should largely be considered a good thing where supporters are concerned. This should hopefully see football take precedence over finance, or at the very least, tip the odds in a more favourable direction. Antonio is very much on the side of ‘us’ – the fans.
If Pochettino was a magician, then Conte is a wizard to be where we are at the moment, both on and off the pitch. However, we have been squeezing the pips out of these same players for far too long, and the squad will be in desperate need of a boost post-World Cup if we want to have any chance of competing with the likes of City for the top honours this season.
The enforced break in the season is a golden opportunity to get our ducks in a row and plan a route to success, this season and beyond. If the manager is shown ambition and commitment from those upstairs, I’m convinced he’ll achieve great things with us. I was frustrated that we didn’t sign Bastoni this summer as I felt this would have finally symbolised a changing of the guard – A player brought into the fold by Conte at Inter and proven under his stewardship, as opposed to someone we’ve been linked with countless times before, under countless managers. There were also ITK rumblings that he didn’t fancy Leicester’s James Maddison; a player that contributed 18 goals and 12 assists last season, a player that can dictate a game from midfield, a player capable of scoring a direct free kick or goal from distance. Now we all know old Antonio can be a bit of a tactical stickler, but he’s not stupid. I don’t buy that one, and nor was Daniel Levy who may see him in a better light once his contract has a bit less time to run in a few months time..
So, next time you feel narked about us not playing free-flowing football but winning the game under Conte, think back to that dark day at the Emirates. Buying better players will ultimately buy us better performances as well – it’s all part of the dreaded ‘process’.
Conte always talks about everyone staying together and that is so important. Don’t let those tiny murmurings start to groundswell and give him a reason to move back to Juventus. Stick together (that includes you, Daniel) and success can follow. I think Arsenal will falter, but that’s up to ‘them’ and has nothing to do with ‘us’.
Don’t let this ‘us and them’ mentality cloud your judgement – we’re better than that.