Football's fine line between love, hate and sarcasm

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Sometimes you have to be careful what you write. Football journalism in particular is so reactionary, realities have a habit of shifting; one month’s fool is next month’s genius.  Just this season, Steven Gerrard was the toast of the town in March, but by June, he was the man who had cost Liverpool their presumed title win, and England their presumed last 16 spot at the World Cup. Some leeway has to be granted for being wrong when out of nowhere the narrative can evolve to resemble something else.

That said, sometimes you can be so wrong. You can draw all your conclusions from such illusions and falsehoods that there can be no defence even when allowing context. This happened to Mirror journalist Darren Lewis on February 22nd 2012, when, prior to the North London Derby, he wrote a piece entitled “Derby Dreamland! Why Spurs now have bigger fish to fry than Arsenal.” And why not? They had two world-class midfielders in Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, a 10-point cushion over the Gunners, and eyes were focused more on a title challenge than a Champions League spot. Alas, the rest, as they say, is history. Spurs lost that Derby 5-2, choked the 10-point lead and finished the year without Champions League football.

After that crushing disappointment, proving themselves to be what their local rivals had cruelly labelled them, the following couple of years were crucial; the top of the Premier League was in flux, with Chelsea’s Champions League spot looking less secure, Liverpool out of the picture, with Arsenal selling Robin van Persie and looking vulnerable, and Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United coming to an end. The changing of the guard doesn’t last forever and Spurs had to seize the moment. Instead, that summer they sold Luka Modric and entrusted this pivotal moment in their history on André Villas-Boas.

The emergence of Bale as a genuine world-class talent hid a lot of Spurs’ and, in particular, AVB’s flaws in the 2013 season. With glorious goals being scored in seemingly impossible ways, Bale set the league alight and carried Spurs to a fifth-place finish they arguably didn’t deserve. Keeping him was absolutely vital for their right to be called an ambitious club. That summer, Daniel Levy sold Bale to Real Madrid and reinvested the fee on a who’s who of promising young talent (also, and perhaps vitally for their upcoming season, unproven), each one bought for £20-30million.

The following season was a big, messy disaster. Levy’s young guns misfired on a scale of slightly-to-entirely and an overall team dynamic was unidentifiable. They had signed without rhyme or reason, getting whoever they could get and not thinking about where or how they could be played. Levy can consider himself lucky this happened in the same year a certain Mr David Moyes brought ridicule upon himself at Old Trafford, otherwise his team and particularly his transfer policies would have come under a much greater microscope. By viewing players the same as stocks or bonds, Levy ruined Spurs’ chance to join the elite, and now, even a top four spot looks so far away, let alone the title charge Lewis thought was possible in 2012.

You can have a regime like Venky’s at Blackburn that can fail due to cluelessness. You can have regimes such as Peter Ridsdale’s at Leeds, that fail because they’re writing cheques they can’t cash. But Spurs have failed by trying to break the game in theory, by trying to win games on paper and not on the pitch. AVB didn’t much get on with Mr Levy, but in a way, he was the man’s perfect counterpart. Isn’t playing Michael Dawson in a high line the same as signing Erik Lamela for £30million spiritually compatible? It’s discarding the human element, things such as character, mental strength, and compatibility.

Now this summer, Spurs must perform surgery on themselves, amend for the mistakes of the past couple of seasons and try and get back into the elite. But it looks hard; Chelsea don’t look so vulnerable anymore, Liverpool are back in the mix, as will United be under Louis van Gaal, and Arsenal are seriously strengthening for the first time in years. Spurs can’t afford any more missteps, yet somehow under Levy, I think they will make them. For this is not the future Darren Lewis envisioned.





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