Levy Reaps the Rewards as Tottenham Rule the Roost

It’s 2001.  Tottenham are facing Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final.  New wealthy owners ENIC have installed club legend Glenn Hoddle as a new coach, replacing George Graham.  A populist, if somewhat, odd move.

The teams walk out at Old Trafford.  The atmosphere is raucous.  Expectation amongst the white half of North London, sky high.  Spurs take the lead.  Captain Campbell limps off.  Arsenal score twice and head to Cardiff.

The season rumbled on, Spurs finished mid table, Campbell never played for the club again, instead walking out the door and straight down the Seven Sisters Road.  The euphoria had well and truly died down.  A quick look at the team sheets that April day speaks volumes.  For Arsenal, Adams, Keown, Pires, Henry, Ljungberg.  Spurs?  Perry, Clemence, Doherty, Iversen.

Tottenham were well and truly in their place.  The task facing ENIC and Chief Executive at the time Daniel Levy, huge.

levy

Fast forward to 2013.  Spurs are basking in a third place spot, having beaten their rivals 2-1.  The teamsheets tell a story.  For Spurs Bale, Lennon, Lloris, Vertonghen.  Arsenal? Mertesacker, Ramsey and Giroud.  Times are a changing.

Arsenal’s longevity in the top echelon of English football is remarkable.  Arsene Wenger has presided over an era of success unmatched outside of Manchester.  He’s done it all whilst being financially responsible too.

But there is finally a sense of change in the North London air.  As bold and proactive as the Tottenham board has been, the counterparts in N5 are eyeing the bottom line rather than the league table.  Tottenham have been knocking on the door for a few seasons.  Now they look set to break it down.

Much of the credit lies with Levy.  He has made decisions.  Bold decisions.  Not always decisions that worked out, but he has been strong enough to make them.

Known as a ferocious negotiator, Levy has seen six managers come and go since he shook hands with George Graham.  He’s made errors. Santini wasn’t a fabulous idea.  And admitted his mistakes.  But when he’s decided on a course of action, he is all in. Dispensing with the popular Martin Jol was brave.  Saying no to Harry Redknapp’s demands, even braver.  But he’s done it his way.

Coaches have been given cash to spend, and licence to do things their way.  He’s ignored the press, and often his own supporters who have been vocal in their doubts.  And he is reaping the rewards.

baleChampions League qualification is no certainty this year.  There are many battles to come.  But this club is on a firm footing on and off the pitch regardless of how the remaining ten games pan out.

Tottenham have gone from a team renowned for underachieving and looking back on a glorious past, to team that may just have their best days in front of them.

Marquees in Fashion Across the Globe

For your average Joe, Brazilian club football is a bit of a mysterious beast. The name Santos will be familiar. Maybe even Flamengo. The more hardcore football fan will nod wisely at Fluminese, and Corinthians and Sao Paulo. Maybe even Palmeiras. But what of the less than glamorously named Botafogo?

Blank looks.

Ok then what if I told you they were a powerhouse 100 years ago? Jairzinho, World Cup legend, is a club hero? Garrincha and Gerson too. RIng any bells?

Probably not. You see Fogao – Great Fire – are seldom seen on the big stage these days. No Copa Lib triumphs. No recent superstars. The sole national title, achieved in 1995 thanks mainly to a swag of goals form occasional national team striker Tulio, was even overshadowed by relegation 7 years later. A fall from grace after a brief golden period.

Back in the top flight, but seen as workmanlike, modern day Fogao have lived in the shadows of the glamour boys of Rio football. Flamengo and it’s big names. Fluminese and it’s recent football, even Vasco, the boys with the cool kit, and continental trailblazers have left Botafogo behind.

But this season, something has changed. It’s a change we’re seeing here in the A-League. Botafogo have gone all marquee on us.

On the 30th of June this year, Clarence Seedorf, he of the 87 caps, 4 Champions league titles, member of the FIFA 100 and the Real Madrid Team of the Century, and owner of the deepest voice in football, put pen to paper with Botafogo and became the Club’s first genuine superstar in years.

Seedorf’s move follows the trend of the Campeonato Brasileiro being able to not only keep it’s young stars, but also attract plenty of talent to it’s shores. Alongside Seedorf, the likes of Wagner Love, Luis Fabiano, Deco and Diego Forlan have all made the move to Brazil over the past few years, with startlets like Neymar, Ganso and Leandro Damiao resisting the lure of the Euro, for the time being at least.

The booming Brazilian resources industry means the local economy is in fine fettle, with the local currency providing players with plenty of reasons to stick around, or give Serie A a go.

Seedorf’s arrival sparked hysteria amongst the Fogao faithful. In the season opener, played 2 months before Seedorf’s arrival, just over seven thousand hardy souls took to trip out the much maligned, and unloved Engenhao as the home side recorded a 4-2 win over Sao Paulo. Fast forward to Seedorf’s debut against Gremio. Same venue. Nearly thirty five thousand on hand for the Dutch debut.

Seedorf is on T-Shirts, billboards and TV ads around Rio. He is a star. An expensive one too, at a reported $65000 a week. However, and in a cautionary tale for the A-League, the novelty seems to have worn off a touch with the crowds. A few weeks later just over five thousand came to see the win over Figueirense, and in subsequent games, gates of between fifteen and twenty thousnad have been the norm, well in excess of the league average, but disappointing in the light of that opening day crowd.

I saw Seedorf first hand last week, after venturing out to Rio’s Olympic athletics venue for the match with Corinthians. The crowd was a touch below seventeen thousand, but made a noise double that, helped by a raucous travelling party from Sao Paulo. The game was entertaining, if a little scrappy at times, but Seedorf was brilliant.

He was involved in everything that was good about Fogao, popping up wide left, wide right, through the middle, in front of the back four. Despite his years, he showed energy that put many of his teammates to shame, coupled with the touch and vision that you’d expect from a player of his calibre. Two goals in the draw were his reward, plus the adoration of the home crowd, who stopped getting on the back of their coach, former Kashima boss Oswaldo de Olivieria, to lay themselves down at the feet of their hero.

But Seedorf can’t save Botafogo or the Brazilian league alone. He is one of a number who are arriving, and whilst things are bright financially, overall the footballing picture is uncertain. Crowds, for a country of Brazil’s status and population are poor. The calender is messy, the prices too high, the stadiums ill suited and the football often below par.

The local game needs a boost, and like in Australia, the big names are providing one. But it’s only one part of a much bigger jigsaw.

The Premier League: 8 Key Questions

  1. Can City go back-to-back?

The heart-stopping finale to last season may still be fresh in the minds of the City faithful, but the warm and fuzzy has well and truly gone from Roberto Mancini.  The Italian has cut a cranky figure during a surprisingly quiet pre-season at Eastlands.  When asked about the lack of transfer activity, Mancini spat out “Ask Marwood”.  Jack Rodwell is the only new face at City, and it’s hard to see him being in the first team in the immediate future.  Van Persie headed toward Salford, leaving Mancini with pretty much the same squad.  The good news? Tevez is back in the fold and looks interested, Balotelli hasn’t gone loopy and the creative core of Silva, Nasri, Aguerro will be better for another pre-season.  City deserve favouritism, but only just.

  1. Can Van Persie deliver the title back to Old Trafford?

It was a transfer saga of the summer, and a coup for United to pull it off.  The best striker in the Premier League last season leaving 3rd place to join 2nd.  It’s big money for an injury prone, 29 year old, but if Van Persie delivers as he did in 2011/12, it’s money well spent.  The problem here for United is how to fit him into the system.  Is it back to the 4-4-2?  Where does Kagawa fit in? Is Rooney up top or in the hole? What about Young, Nani, Valencia, Wellbeck?  Defensively nothing has changed either.  The anticipated move for Baines hasn’t materialised, Rio and Vidic are a year older, as are Carrick and Scholes.  Tom Cleverley, so impressive in the Olympic campaign and in England’s win over Italy, has a pivotal year ahead of him.  It looks set for a Manchester title battle.

  1. Can Di Matteo revive Chelsea?

Sounds odd to say the European Champions need reviving, but we have to be honest. Chelsea’s UCL triumph was almost achieved despite themselves.  Now the hard work really starts.  Drogba will be a huge miss, almost as much for his personality as his goals.  Torres is coming good, but in the striker stakes, the cupboard is pretty bare behind the Spaniard with Kalou, Anelka and Drogba gone.  Only Sturridge remains.  Countering that is an abundance of midfield creativity, with Marin, Oscar and Hazard all arriving to join Mata.  There’ll be the usual reliance on Lampard and Terry to go around once more, and defence could be an Achilles heel.  A title challenge is unlikely.  A tilt at the top 4 should be a given, but a bad start and who knows what could happen down the Kings Road.

  1. Are the North London clubs in transition?

It was heartening for Arsenal fans to see Wenger be proactive in the transfer market, bringing in Podolski, Giroud and Carzola all before the inevitable Van Persie exit.  But again, questions are being raised about the club’s ambition with another big name exiting the Emirates. Alex Song could be next, which would leave a hole in the defensive part of the side.  As per usual, creativity is not a problem for the Gunners, with the new boys joining Walcott, The Ox and rejuvenated Rosicky and Arteta.  But it’s the return of Jack Wilshere that may ultimately decide the fate of Arsenal this year.  His injury is career threatening, but if he returns at the same level as in 2010/11 Arsenal will have a good season.

Up the Seven Sisters Road, it’s all change. No more Arry. No more Luka. In come tactics. And a swagger. Villas-Boas has a fair bit to prove, but has probably chosen the perfect club to start his coaching comeback.  For all the pretty football in the early part of last season, Spurs collapsed under the distraction of Arry courting England, and a squad threadbare in key areas.  The latter part hasn’t changed with Defoe the only striker at the club.  This is the area in need of urgent attention now the Modric deal is concluded.  Vertonghen is a shrewd addition as is Sigurdsson, and expect a more advanced role for Gareth Bale, as AVB seeks to implement his Porto system on Spurs.  Top 4 challengers again, but no sack if he doesn’t make it this season.

  1. Can Rodgers revive The Reds?

He’s the British coach that even Craig Foster likes.  No pressure then at Liverpool for Brendan Rodgers.  The architect of Barcelona-in-South-Wales, has taken his Northern Irish Tikka Takka to Anfield, to try and revive the sleeping giant, after 2 years of Hodgson/Dalglish related misery.  It seems the majority of Liverpool fans are all for Rodgers and are prepared to give him time to succeed.  Fed up of false dawns, they want a coach, and a playing style, to stick.  The early signs are promising. Youthful signings who fit the Rodgers philosophy of pass, pass, pass, press, press, press, and the relative light use of Andy Carroll, all point to a brighter future.  They will be tough to beat at Anfield but it’ll be on the road where Liverpool’s destiny this season will be decided.  Either way, the future is certainly brighter than it was 12 months ago.

  1. Can anyone make the break into the top 4?

Newcastle got damn close last season.  Everton have been there or there abouts before, as have Villa.  The Geordies look best placed to have another crack with a settled squad and a confident coach who has delivered above expectation.  Papiss Cisse was the revelation of last year and his partnership with Demba Ba will make or break Newcastle’s season.

Everton have again had to cut their cloth.  Pienaar and Naismith come in. Rodwell leaves.  Traditionally slow starters, if they can hit the ground running, and Jelavic is amongst the goals they will on course for a good season.

For Villa just forgetting last season’s flirtation with relegation may be enough. The McLeish year was traumatic, and he’s replaced by another Scot in Paul lambert who did wonderous things at Norwich.  The football should be better, the fans should be happier and the results should improve.  Not enough to crack the big boys, but enough to be competitive again.

  1. Can Norwich and Swansea go again?

A massive challenge lies ahead for the 2 sides who impressed and delighted in equal measure last season.  Both are under new coaches, with Chris Hughton at Carrow Road, out to build on the reputation he developed at Newcastle, then Birmingham, and amazingly Michael Laudrup in charge at Swansea. Yes, Michael Laudrup.  At Swansea.  On paper the changes will be felt least at Norwich with no major departures, Grant Holt retained and Michael Turner on board.  The Swans however have lost not just Rodgers, but 2 key members of that impressive midfield in Sigurdsson and Allen.  Laudrup forged his coaching reputation with a young, exciting Getafe team, but has found recent jobs trickier.  On paper his style is similar to Rodgers, but in reality times could be much tougher this time around in South Wales.

  1. Who will go down?

A really tough call this year.  Wigan have flirted with relegation for years now, and no matter how much we respect Martinez football, they may finally run out of luck, especially if Victor Moses moves on.

The promoted teams all face a tough year with Reading perhaps the best placed to survive, with a solid, settled squad, good youth set up and a star signing in Pogrebnyak.

Southampton were League One 2 years ago, and will bank on home form in front of a parochial crowd to keep them up.

West Ham snuck in through the play-offs after faltering late on.  Big Sam will divide opinion inside and outside the club once again, but they have enough Premier league experience within the squad to survive.

QPR survived on a fraught final day, but seem set to prosper in 2012/13 after Mark Hughes latest shopping spree that brought in Park and Fabio from United plus Robert Green, Junior Hoilett and Andy Johnson.

 

Predictions

Winner: Manchester United

UCL Spots: Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham

Europa Spot: Chelsea

FA Cup: Chelsea

League Cup: Newcastle

Relegated: Swansea, Southampton, Wigan

 

 

Spurs Prepare for the Future

After taking a big gamble a few weeks ago by dumping Harry Redknapp, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has effectively gone “all in”, with Andre Villas-Boas on the verge of taking the Spurs job.

The move for AVB signals a shift in policy at The Lane. After 18 months of uncertainty over Redknapp’s future, Levy is now looking to install a young, dynamic coach for the foreseeable future. A new project. The expectations will be there. Harry set the bar pretty high in pure results terms.

Villas-Boas will be expected to, at the very least, challenge for 4th spot again. But there’ll be no ultimatums. No Chelsea like reactions to any stumbles on the way. He’ll be given the chance to implement his blueprint.

His Porto side were dynamic, easy on the eye, but ruthless. That’s what Spurs fans want. Too often in recent seasons, the football has been breathtaking, but the clinical, killer instinct was missing.

At Chelsea, he was changing the way the team played, trying to be more expansive, and a little easier on the eye. They were too, but they were also vulnerable, and once the senior players turned, he was done for.

Now Spurs aren’t exactly watertight as it is, but with a solid base of Walker, BAE, Kaboul and Parker, there’s something to work with.

How he accommodates the flair players will be telling. Where does Van der Vaart fit in? Lennon and Bale play as conventional wingers, not exactly a Villa-Boas trademark.

And what of Modric? The Portuguese coach was desperate to take him to The Bridge. Can he persuade him to stay at The Lane? It’s unlikely. A move to Real Madrid is on the cards, but with Levy renouned for his ability to play hardball, Spurs will get a good deal. Higuain and Sahin have both been mentioned as possible makeweights in any deal.

He’ll need to address the striker role with some urgency. Only Jermain Defoe and the youngster Har ry Kane remain after the cull of the last 12 months that saw Crouch, Keane, Pavyluchenko and Saha shipped out, and Adebayor return to City.

After that a long term goalkeeping option, a regular partner for Kaboul (if the Vertonghen deal falls over)and a new Modric are the areas of concern.

I believe it’s an exciting appointment. He’ll be brash and at times controversial. He may not achieve immediate success. But we’ve seen enough from AVB over the past 2 years to know that he is the real deal. The Chelsea experience will serve him well, and he will surely go about things a little differently.

It’s a new era at The Lane. A risky one, sure, but To Dare is To Do.