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Friday, 18 January 2013

Another Disaster on the Horizon?

Broken Record Warning: I like reiterating my points, talking from as many different angles as much as I can. Change is no stranger to Tottenham Hotspur. We love it. Sometimes we embrace it - we changed from a pint of Carling, poured from a bottle left out in the warm, to an aged wine that you gleefully enjoy but know when enough is enough. Or, in Spurs terms, a Ramos to a Redknapp. I was apprehensive when we brought Redknapp in. I felt confident we'd survive but never did I expect we'd qualify for Europe's top competition. He was only ever a short-term appointment. He had a shovel big enough to dig us out the hole that Ramos had lead us into and the rope to climb us up the table.

Redknapp's time came to an abrupt end, although his era did feel like a generation and a half's worth. His head had been turned so far round by speculation that surgeons said they were unable tofix it. The consequences identified were repetitive sound bites, tourettes of the word 'triffic' and failing to use the windscreen whilst driving. To then ask for a, reportedly, increased wage and three year deal apparently sent Levy to hospital for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury; or concussion, as it is best known. Redknapp left Spurs and, with him, a squad that couldn't stop questioning 'if only'.

Mother nature will tell you Daniel Levy has balls. Appointing AVB will only add to assure this, for those in doubt. I remember apprehension was the feeling when Redknapp was appointed, I felt a different feeling when the Portugeeza came in as Head Coach at Spurs. Excitement was one. I'd put forward my case more times than I care to count as to why I felt Spurs would've been the right job for AVB. I woke up at my laptop, having put myself to sleep on one occasion.

A period of unrest saw our spine sold and, at one point, we barely had the capacity to stand on two legs. Papers had a field day of legless articles, sounding out the uncertainty and disillusionment in the Spurs camp. I'd almost pictured players refusing to eat at the same lunch table as AVB, leaving as he took a seat. A false smile hiding away the tears that were forcing their way out. In truth, AVB was up against it immensely more than most upon arrival. His passion to fight off the endless critics clinging to his ankles grew as he split Spurs supporters, this all before a ball had been kicked.

Redknapp was quoted, in June, as saying: "He's (AVB) got the players there to be a top four team every year and challenge for the Championship. That's my opinion". Whilst also emphasising that the key to this was keeping Luka at the Lane. Through the bitterness that seems apparent between the lines of this quote, Redknapp is claiming that any success would be down to 'his' team succeeding.

In truth, it's almost like a plastic surgeon's been at Spurs we look so different.

With the critics breathing heavily down AVB's back, every move he made was scrutinised. The summer didn't get any easier when the side AVB wanted was scuppered; the players he wanted didn't all arrive. Most notably was Moutinho's failure at securing a transfer from Porto. So, we were given Sigurdsson and Dempsey to fill the void. Modric and Van der Vaart were the most notable departures. Dembele was unveiled. Parker, Kaboul and Benny found themselves having an extended summer on the injury table. Ledley retired. Vertonghen came in. Lloris joined him. We finally remembered Kyle Naughton was also a player for Tottenham Hotspur football club.

This wasn't Redknapp's side anymore.

In truth we'd had more change than a busker working a Friday night in the Underground. This was inheriting a club name that finished fourth, but the spine and foundations in which it was built on was near enough an overhaul. We'd even moved training grounds. New players playing together rarely click in the short-term. This was reflected in our early results. I remember needing binoculars at Newcastle and also felt as though we were in the middle of the Sahara. We were bright, positive, we pressed well. We deserved a win and were unfortunate to lose. That's football, I was content upon returning home.

Two draws at home to seemingly more 'minute' opposition ensured we remained split upon whether to back AVB or not. I estimated, looking at external polls and running one myself, that only around 66% of Spurs fans were behind AVB. Of course, these numbers may not reflect the majority but, at the time, gave what seemed like a realistic indication. The booing at full-time cemented this for me. In truth, I remained fully behind him. Call it an intense level of stubborness and blind faith, but I appreciated the difficulty he had coming into a club like ours, the pressures and liked what he was trying to do. I felt the players we had at our disposal complimented his ideology of pressing and breaking at pace and believed, hoped, that this justice would be done.

On the morning of our trip away at United. It was reported that another 'Spurs crisis' had occurred. Players were 'unhappy', 'disillusioned' and AVB had 'three games to save his job'. Right. It brought us all closer. A 'them and us' mentality. The papers made out we were on a sinking ship. Although no one was seen fleeing it. In fact, we went away to United and won. AVB responded the best way he could've. He showed that we do have the belief in the side to achieve what seemed to be the impossible. Bale recently came out and said this victory gave the side 'belief', something, I feel, that has always fluctuated at Spurs. More and more though we seem to be integrating it into our DNA; our final league position will reflect its' level. It was obvious that this season would be a box of surprises in typical Spurs fashion - each week you didn't know what you'd get.

Last season we lost 5-2 at the Emirates and (correct me if I'm mistaken) only managed 4 league wins the rest of the season. It was evident that the defeat there was more than a blood wound and patch up job. The side were grabbed out the air and brought back to Earth - with more than a bang. Redknapp soon became unsettled and we seemed to play with trembly knees. Any mental strength was shot. We were left picking up the pieces come May of a season of what could've been. A tale of 'what if's' and 'if only's'. A record we'd heard time and time again.

We flew a similar flight this season. We found ourselves crashing at Arsenal and a forward that would miss the next three league fixtures. Inevitably, the haunting of last season returned. The pain and anguish routed its way back. The memories had never really left in all honesty. But something changed this year. The players picked up the pieces and pulled back together, and returned stronger, more brittle than last season. Since this disappointment we've gone on to lose just the 1 league game. A team of players that had only been playing together for a few months had already, seemingly, have bought into AVB's philosophy. He'd fed them on belief, building this mental toughness required to finish above strong opposition and into the top 4 positions of the Premier League. In the long run, our position in the league would tell you it was worth it.

We still have lapses in concentration, are prone to errors that lead to costly goals and, at times, look nervy. But, of late, we've pulled through. We've looked more assuring on the pitch and our game feels more natural when we play. The style and 'swag' we had last year isn't at it's peak, but we're seeing glimpses - and winning games. We've new players, new coaching staff and a fresh approach that we needed. The players (or the majority) seem to want to be there and believe we could achieve great things.

What excites me is that this is many players' first season at Spurs, with new team mates, coaching staff and Head Coach. I was/still am expecting transition. It's fair to say that our current form has been more than mind-blowing. Without being disrespectful, I was expecting our season to match Liverpool's. A slow start before slowly growing into our system and climbing the table - at a steady pace. Never did I think we'd be the one's being chased for 4th again. Or are we the one's chasing third? I've never seen a pint half full, I'm always up grabbing another round when it's half empty. That reflects my outlook.

Although, admittedly, the long-term excites me. Pre-season saw me content finishing within touching distance of 4th. I still am. We've found ourselves in a scenario in which we genuinely believe we are just that one forward short of securing another top 4 finish. A crossroads we've visited more often than we care to count. I feel we're slowly integrating this belief that we can defeat any side we're pitted against and this has been down to the players buying into AVB's philosophy.

Of course, we remain just 22 games into the season. These final 16 games could end up proving another great disaster as it proved last season. But, despite missing Modric, Vdv and Ledley, I feel more optimistic. I don't always agree with AVB's tactical changes (most notably away at Everton), but I appreciate that he tries to change it up and adapt. He'll try different things, and won't wait a season to try them. He's not as single-minded as he was made out in the past and has admitted previously this season he's open for change and he'll do it should he see fit. This has seen us revert from a more favoured 4-2-3-1 to a more (admittedly) flaccid 4-4-2.

Hopefully we can keep building, learning and remain behind Andre Villas-Boas. Both players and fans/supporters alike. We still haven't reached our peak but to be in the position we are in in AVB's first season is fantastic. The embroilment surrounding his appointment has calmed down. Feet need to stay firmly on the ground and I feel we have the right man at the top ensuring this. He bleeds class and reflects the perception that we have for Tottenham Hotspur.

Never (again) have I felt so much optimism and excitement for the train we're on. Let's hope this one doesn't derail.

Ben - Follow me on Twitter here