By Tony Attwood
It cannot have escaped your attention, unless you really have no interaction with the media whatsoever (other than Untold, obviously) that Tottenham Hotspur have been getting a good press just as much as Arsenal have been getting a bad press, this season, last season, and indeed most seasons.
We know why – because if the media runs a negative piece about Arsenal, all the world and half the world’s dogs pour in with commentaries. Do the same about other clubs, and the reaction is a lot less intense.
So we get praise for the Tottenham players, praise for the vision of the new ground and its innovations, praise for their transfer policy, praise for their style of play… it goes on. And let’s not be churlish – they are having a good season by their standards.
It’s been a difficult few years for Tottenham fans, well a difficult 21 years in fact. Or to put it another way, since Tottenham last won the League, they have won 8 European Cup/Champions League games. Which as Google has just told me is eight in 55 years. Arsenal have won eight Champions League games in the last two years.
But still Tottenham get a better press than Arsenal in relation to every single thing. Arsenal built its new ground first, but Tottenham’s ground is already being lauded. Which is a bit surprising given that Arsenal’s ground was based on a proven design that had been used elsewhere, and Tottenham’s is a totally new design (as it has to be because of space issues and the desire to accommodate American football) is being seen as a bonus to Tottenham.
As my few acquaintances in architecture tell me, your best bet with building is to copy as much as possible from what has been got right before rather than go for mass innovation. You never really know what might happen. (But then since football correspondents of most media outlets seem to know bugger all about football, it is perhaps a bit much to expect them to know something about architecture).
Of course we all know that the media has its favourites, and the media can also be fickle. George Graham’s acceptance of illicit payments – something which caused his downfall – can still be found getting an occasional mention when his achievements are discussed, while David Pleat’s contract termination in October 1987 due to “disclosures about his private life” which showed he had been cautioned by police three times for kerb-crawling, made the headlines and then faded away far more quickly after the end of his contract with the club. He has since become a “respected commentator on the game”. (I am told he now works for Al Jazeera).
As for now, maybe this is the season Tottenham will finish above Arsenal – just as we thought could happen last season. Obviously it is going to happen sometime or other, and the press seem to be very much on their side over this. Arsenal as we know are utterly useless, have 28 members of their “25” first team players injured, and haven’t won a home match since the foundation of the English state in 1017.
But setting the media aside it is interesting to think about Tottenham in Europe. This season they played eight games and won just two, both against CSKA Moscow. But when it came to playing Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and Gent they have not done very well.
I’m reminded of Arsene Wenger’s early travails in Europe, before the days when it became normal and expected for the club to get into the group stages of the Champions League every single season, and the thought just struck me, if Tottenham are a good team (and let’s not be too tribal here, Tottenham have a team good enough to be above us in the league at the moment on goal difference) they can’t hack it in Europe.
Now of course the naysayers will instantly point out that the Munich game shows the same for Arsenal – but we did actually get through the group stages by coming top. But we should not get too carried away in praising Tottenham, as the Independent’s always amusing Jack Pitt-Brooke has done in a current article which say of Tottenham “they could have won the Premier League last season.” I am not sure about that one.
Tottenham are a comparatively successful team in the league but they are even worse in Europe than we are – and reading all the media stuff about them, I wondered why.
I think their problem is that you need to play in different ways in different competitions. You need to play one way to get results against mid-table and relegation threatened Premier League bus parking time wasters, another way against fellow top-four challengers, and another way against against small teams from not so competitive leagues across Europe for whom every Euro game is a cup final plus plus plus (but who don’t have to slog it out week after week in a tough league).
The difference between Europe and domestic games might seem very obvious and easy to adapt to – after all these are professional footballers who are supposed to have footballing brains – but it seems not. It took Arsenal several years to get this right, and now it seems it is taking Tottenham the same amount of time.
And perhaps much more importantly it means that when the time does come for choosing a successor to Mr Wenger, we absolutely do need a manager who has a wide range of experience in European football.
Now I see that the Sun has been touting the notion that “Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino [is] ‘in line to replace Luis Enrique as Barcelona manager’.”
But I wonder about that. He has been at Espanyol (their third coach in one year when he came in) Southampton and Tottenham, which means he doesn’t have the experience of European football – as his results this season perhaps reveal.
In an interview in the Guardian last year the Tottenham manager was quoted as saying, ““Where did I get the idea we had to (press)? It’s about your personality, who you are. You show on the pitch who you are. If you are brave in your life, you cannot behave in a different way on the pitch. I don’t understand how to play in a different way. Always, be brave. I like to be brave.”
And maybe that is the problem when it comes to Europe. Actually, you don’t always have to press, at least as far as I can see from the benefit of my sofa, and my seat at the Ems. Sometimes other tactics work.
But it is not just Tottenham who have had difficulties in Europe. In the last seven years the record of Manchester United (England’s most successful team this century) in Europe reads:
- Runners up, once
- Quarter final, twice
- Exit at round of 16, once
- Exit at group stage, once
- Didn’t participate, twice
And that is with a team as widely praised by the media as Tottenham. (Although that is not tough. All teams are widely praised when it comes to comparisons with Arsenal.)
I am not sure Tottenham could have won the league last season, as the Indy suggests, but I do think that as their record in Europe shows, getting in the top four is once thing (and not always that easy) but getting on well in Europe is another, not just for Arsenal, but for most clubs that don’t have the backing of an oil or gas rich state. (And come to think of it, even that backing doesn’t always make it easy, as Man City have found).
Arsenal History Books on Kindle
The novel “Making the Arsenal” by Tony Attwood which describes the events of 1910, which created the modern Arsenal FC, is now available for the first time on Kindle. Full details are here.
Also available on Kindle, “Woolwich Arsenal: the club that changed football” the only comprehensive history of the rise of Arsenal as a league club, and the attempts to destroy the club, from within and without. For full details please see here.