It’s the transfer we’ve all been waiting for, and it’s been drawn out longer than anything anyone’s ever seen in recent memory. Harry Kane’s wanted out of Tottenham for years now, and who could blame him? Now, with Bayern having apparently offered £86m plus add-ons for a thirty-year old striker who can leave for free a year from now, it’s up to Daniel Levy to do us all a solid and accept the bid. While it’s true that Bayern could come back in January with a reduced bid, it’s all too possible that Kane could pull a van Persie a year from now, and none of us want that.Continue reading
Apparently, Daniel Levy didn’t read my letter. Tsk. It was chock-full of useful, pragmatic, and, above all, objective advice on the necessity of keeping Conte at any cost. Sadly, that polite but firm letter to Levy or at least his underlings who, with some cajolilng, would pass it along to him or at least give him the gist of it never arrived. Now, here we are with Conte cast aside—oh, I’m sorry, he’s left by “mutual consent”, a club’s version of “it’s not you, it’s me”. Conte joins the ranks of Nuno, Mourinho, Pochettino, Sherwood, Villas-Boas, and, well just about every manager of the last 15 years in getting sacked.Continue reading
Dear Daniel (may I address you as Daniel? Good.)—
I come to you in a spirit of camarederie, sympathy, and, yes, even respect. Set aside any suspicions you may have about this being a blog dedicated to your club’s biggest rival (our club is quite a bit larger than yours, you must admit). Oh—I’m being told that “biggest” in this sense usually refers to the importance of the rivalry, not the relative size of the two clubs involved. Hm. Be that as it may, I hope you will be open to my entreaty.
As of this writing, the ball that Harry Kane blazed over the crossbar to consign England to a 2-1 defeat to France has been found in near-Earth orbit, having forced the International Space Station to adjust its own orbit in order to avoid the ball. For as high as it sails, the trajectory of Kane’s career threatens to follow an opposite course. This had the makings of a make-or-break moment for Kane, and its outcome may just break him. It could do the opposite, but the circumstances do not bode well for the 29 year old, who is facing the very bleak and very likely end of a career bereft of silverware of any kind.
First, a bit of context and comparison. It was 1998 when a 29 year old Dennis Bergkamp missed a penalty in a shootout against Brazil. He suffered a season-long slump that may or may not have cost Arsenal a chance at a treble. We lost in the FA Cup and League Cup finals and finished second in the Prem. By then, though, Bergkamp had won numerous honours for club and country, thereby removing most of the pressure that Kane must now feel having failed to secure England’s place in the semifinal and fumbling a chance at overtaking Wayne Rooney to become England’s top scorer.
By contrast, Spurs fans might say, our own Bukayo Saka flubbed his penalty against Italy at Euro 2020. This is true, but the contrast couldn’t be starker. That Saka was a 19 year old ingenue pressed into service at a moment’s notice, not the captain of club and country as Kane has been. What’s more, Saka at least forced a save from Donnarumma, which, had it been a pen like Kane’s, would have at least offered a second chance. Beyond that, Saka has come back with a vengeance, insisting on taking—and converting—all three penalties since that miss. He’s now a 21 year old whose future looks so bright that you have to look away for fear of blindness. He’s won a trophy already, most likely the first of many, and doesn’t suffer the burden of a barren career. He’s playing a for a club atop the Premier League with room to grow. It’s possible, maybe even probable, that his current season will end with one trophy…and that would be two more than Kane has ever won.
At a broader level, Spurs are in bad shape. Key players, like Kane (29), Lloris (35), and Son (30), are ageing, the rest of the squad are decent but not world-beaters, and their youth pipeline is nonexistent. Oh—and they’re saddled by stadium debt and run by a manager who specialises in short-term results, exactly the kind of results that this squad will find almost impossible to achieve. Their best chance was that gilt-edged 2018-19 season when they made it to the Champions League final only to succumb to Liverpool. They had it all: a young, dynamic squad; a progressive, determined manager, and, it seemed, ambition. However, that’s where it all fell apart. They made no transfers that summer and then wasted more than a million pounds on Ndombele, Bergwjin, and Sessegnon in the following window. In fact, it’s hard to point to any signings they’ve made in the last three or four years that have been unqualified successes.
By contrast, we seem to have a plan and a manager with the vision and determination to implement. Of our major signings of the last few years, we have one flop—Nicolas Pepe—and numerous successes: Ødegaard, Magalhães, Partey, Saliba, Tierney, White, Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, Jesus, Zinchenko. No, not all of them were under Arteta, but we’ve at least avoided the panic-buys and flops that have characterized Tottenham. We’ve also cleared out enough deadwood to build a log cabin.
And that brings us back to Kane. He reminds me a bit of Robin van Persie. He must be looking atround at his teammates and assessing his own age and wondering how many chances he’ll have left. Like van Persie, he has to realise that he’s running out of chances, and his supporting cast is not up to snuff. Unlike van Persie, his conttract lasts another full year, limiting his leverage. He can’t really force his way out, and his list of suitors is getting shorter by the day. Man City have Haaland. Barca have Lewandowski. Man U just parted ways with an ageing, slow striker. Would PSG take him? They have become a sort of senior circuit of late. Wherever he goes, it’s past the point at which Tottenham can get a massive fee for him.
If he stays, he runs the risk of follwoing Ronaldo’s path, saddling the squad with a past-it would-be galactico to whom others in the squad will defer, consciously or otherwise. He’d still score goals; he’s too good not to, but the squad would stagnate.
There is a chance, of course, that Kane will rebound from his mistake in a manner similar to how Saka rebounded from his. Saka, though, could see his entire professional career unfolding before him, door after door after door opening.. Kane, on the other hand, might have seen doors slamming shut. Even going into this World Cup, he looked weary and jaded. He logged heavy minutes at this World Cup to no avail. Worse, he’ll now carry the burden of feeling that he failed his country. I don’t wish misery on anyone regardless of who they play for, but this is the kind of misery that is more likely to crush than it is to inspire.Spurs are out of the League Cup already, face a tricky Champions League knockout with AC Milan, and sit eight points behind us (and we have a game in hand).
Long story short, I don’t see Kane rishing phoenix-like from the ashes of this debacle. Do you?
As for the Monaco debacle, let’s admit that we had more than our fair share of chances which we either squandered or were flabbergasted to see get denied in the weirdest of ways. Kondogbia’s goal was just as unlucky as Walcott’s block of Welbeck’s shot, and that changed the game (in ways that we exacerbated in our own ways). What’s more, we do still have the second leg to play, and we’ve shown a remarkable ability to almost achieve the impossible against more intimidating clubs. It ain’t over ’til it’s over, and it’s far from over.
Sadly, however, let’s put our hands over our hearts and observe a moment of silence our our misbegotten brethren at White Hart Lane and Anfield, as each of them has been ousted from the Europa League. Fiorentina won 2-0 on Wednesday to oust Tottenham, and Beşiktaş (remember them?) overcame Liverpool through penalties. We may have made a meal of our first leg, but we can still cling to a glimmer of hope that we can conjure some of the ol’ second-leg magic to resurrect our Champions League dreams. Tottenham and Liverpool, however, will have to trudge back morosely from Italy and Turkey, knowing that they’d each squandered a chance at winning a bit of silverware, even if it shines a bit less than those we’re still vying for. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of schadenfreude,especially when it comes to close on the heels of our own setback.
Then again, two of our chief rivals can now focus almost exclusively on the Prem. Both Tottenham and Liverpool, who might have otherwise had to face unpleasant trips to Russian pitches in March or beyond, are now spared the expense, wear and tear, and distraction. For Tottenham, they now have only the League Cup final against Chelsea to worry about; Liverpool, like us, are still alive and kicking in the FA Cup and will host Blackburn. In each case, the removal of the Europa League fixtures, while gleeful to us in the short term, may very well complicate things in the longer term. They’re now spared the bother of at two more fixtures, if not more, in a competition that neither might have been all that excited for in the first place. Each club sent out a fair number of squad players, indicating a certain willingness to let the chips fall where they may against sides for whom this competition seems to inspire much more motivation.
At our end, the gloom and doom that pervades the atmosphere seems to portend our own departure, but that’s a bit premature. We’ve made a habit of botching the first leg in almost-comical fashion only to rebound just as heroically. If a side that sported Jenkinson in the starting XI and threw on Gervinho in the second half can best Bayern 0-2 at Allianz Arena, then surely a side that includes Özil and Alexis can find a way to beat Monaco 0-3 at the Stade Louis. The question that arises, though, is “is this what we want?” After all, considering how tight the race for third and fourth in the Prem currently is, can we sustain two more fixtures (in which we might very well get pummeled by Barcelona, Real Madrid, or PSG, among others)?
With Tottenham and Liverpool essentially free to focus on fourth place in the Prem, the better part of valour for us might be to let the Champions League go by the wayside. We already face an almost insurmountable challenge in that second leg, and the effort we might have to commit to overcoming that might undermine our efforts against West Ham and Newcastle, whom we face either side of that second leg. Dropping points against either of them might cripple us more than being dumped from the Champions League.
There are some who would claim that this is precisely what Arsenal needs: to miss out on Champions League qualification. This setback, they claim, would prove such a shock to the manager and the board that they would be forced to act decisively to strengthen the squad in ways we’ve never seen, whether it be the shock-signings of players we’ve only dreamed of or the sacking of a manager who’s brought to this club such exquisite achievements and has it poised on the brink of tantalizing success.
While I do believe in the idea that a short-term setback can inspire longer term achievements, the idea that we might have to fall to fifth in the Prem in order to prompt some kind of monumental overhaul of our club leaves me completely gobsmacked. I’m not saying that Arsène deserves to stay at the helm in deference to what he achieved a decade or more ago; that reeks of emperors wearing no clothes.
Instead, let’s remember that on Wednesday, it was the players on the pitch who let us down, not the manager, and that each time we’ve seen those players founder on the shoals, they’ve risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their own reported demises. So Giroud, Welbeck, Walcott, and Alexis missed chances. Özil was worse than invisible. Good. Each of them, as well as the squad and manager, will likely respond with the same kind of defiance and determination we’ve seen after almost every other setback. That may not be enough to see us through to the Champions League quarterfinal, but I’m willing to bet that it’s more than enough to see us finish fourth or higher in the Prem.
If such a finish doesn’t satisfy you, well, go find a club that’s willing to spend so much on players that it makes drunken sailors embarrassed.