Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spurs Existential Crisis, or Lack Thereof

photo by Zweif├╝sslervia PhotoRee

James is back, in a piece dripping with passion for his beloved Spurs:

It's a wretchededly warm August evening in the Deep South, USA as I weep into my Victory Helios Saison (8.5% ABV - just what the Doctor ordered) and contemplate the even more wretched second half display by Super Super Tottenham of the Lane (which I just watched for the second time, thanks to the glories of digital video recorders and self flagellation). And my thoughts wander, inevitably, to that magical, small, elf-like creature with mystical powers of crossovers, pinpoints and - most wonderfully - "holding," that we Spurs fans have affectionately referred to as "Modds" and "Lesbian Rat Boy," depending on whether it was before or after July. I refer, of course, to little Luka Modric himself.

It was very easy for all of us long-suffering inferiority-complexed Yids to see in the Modric saga an existential drama playing out in full form, with the despised Chelsea (of all clubs) the latest personification of Big Three Axis of Evil, to reinforce noted ESPN humorist and Gooner David Herschey's description of Spurs as "The World's Most Glamorous Feeder Club." And then there was our Chairman, David Levy, who, in no uncertain terms, responded to Roman Abramovich's overtures with a loud and unambiguous "Not On My Watch!" We will no longer be The World's Most Glamorous Feeder Club, we will not repeat the humiliation of Berbatov, Carrick, etc., we will not cower against the economic behemoths of the EPL, be they Russian mobsters, middle eastern oil barons, or - worst of all - over leveraged American private equity profiteers....

It was in that brief, three paragraph letter, posted on Spurs' website, in which Levy essentially told the Chavs to piss off, that most of us were able to clasp a point of pride well beyond the implications of a central midfielder's status with the club for the 2011 - 2012 season. For a club that had at times flirted - at times floundered well away from - "Big Club" status for the better part of 40 years, this was a resounding retort that YES by God, last year's Champion's League run was not an anomaly, that Spurs are not the World's Most Glamorous Feeder Club! We are a "Big Club!" And we will hold on to our magical elf!! It must be so because the Chairman just told Chelsea to piss off, and we won't be selling Modric, and we will grab Aguero, Damaio, or any of the other numerous strikers to whom we were linked.

And then....nothing happened. Oh, we got a 40 year old goalie. And 'Arry said we'd have to sell the likes of Crouch, Jenas, Bentley, Palacios, etc. before we could bring anyone in. And, well, the Chairman drives a hard bargain and no one's going, so no one's comin' in.

And the season starts, we go to Old Trafford and, well, we know the rest. Luka has a "hamstring." Our best character player from last year Gallas (free transfer, ex Gooner) is out, we've got Defoe who looks like he's about 4'8" matching up against United's young but gargantuan center defense, and we play valiantly before running out of legs and getting hammered in the second half of the second half.

The less than swift Niko proves a poor substitute for Luka against a top Premiership midfield, VDV runs himself into fatigue as usual, Lennon's head was God knows where as usual, and Spurs get hammered. And one realizes that Harry, for all his limitations tactically, just doesn't have a lot of options. His two best center halves are either crippled, old or both; his best player is not "mentally prepared" to play, while his other midfield options are either injured, brand new or natural - and slow - wing players; and, as even a trained monkey would now clearly realize, WE DON'T HAVE A DECENT STRIKER. And that's not even going into Van der Vaart, who plays valiantly most of the time, but is on a team completely ill-suited for his skill set. And you are looking at squad with all these needs, up and down the pitch, and yet the Chairman, after he says F-off Chelsea, says we have to sell before we buy....and you realize it all comes down to what it always comes down to: money.

Of course it always comes down to money, which is the only thing that separates the "Big Clubs" from the not big clubs. It ain't tradition, it ain't the Busby Babes, it sure ain't Bill Nicholson. Is Man City a big club? They are now and it damn sure is not because of their 'tradition.' And that is why the Chairman has it wrong and why we Spurs supporters, at least many of us, have it wrong, too. We're not a big club. Not with a small stadium and a wage cap and gaps all across our current roster (maybe someday we'll have a big stadium and no wage cap, but if it's outside of N17 then you've got an existential crisis). We're not going to win the league - not going to consistently finish fourth, even - until we get the big stadium and the revenue. Do the math - United, Chavs, City, Gooners, Liverpool - all with more, appreciably more, revenue.

So, forget obsessing over being a "Big Club." No - more than that - REVEL in it. Because there is only one White Hart Lane. There is only one group of supporters who call themselves Yids and out shout everyone in the PL and beyond. There is only one first English European Cup / double winning club. There is only one Nicholson, Blanchflower, Hoddle, Linekar, Gascoigne - the list goes on and on. And because if becoming a "Big Club" means abandoning your historic ground, or selling out to mobsters or oil barrons, well, then "Small Club" for me.

So where does that leave us? It should leave us as a prudently managed small stadium club, with ardent followers, compelling tradition, exciting style of play, building a nascent global brand in a league that is ascendant all over the world that appeals to new followers such as myself who fall in love with the tradition, the players, but most of all the culture and passion of the supporters (thank you Twitter). It leaves us building this "Audere Est Facere" brand (which also equates to revenue, but is a slow process) and adding to these followers by staying true to our tradition of wide open football. (As an aside, I saw a guy last year in Columbia, SC, of all places, wearing a Van Der Vaart Spurs shirt.  He said he was pissed off and bored of American pro sports, started watching the PL, and fell in love with Spurs. I said, "Me too!").

Spurs can do this. They can stay true to this massively appealing tradition, build their brand and - paradoxically - not obsess over top four finishes and Champion's League revenue but, rather, on winning trophies. There's a reason why even Gooners such as Hirschey insert the world "glamorous" before the words "feeder club." There are many, including myself, who had no idea the difference between the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Europa Cup or even Champions League the last time Spurs won any hardware (2007-2008 League Cup). But, we can win hardware. We can win the FA Cup with our resources. We can have European glory in the Europa League.

That's why we need to sell Luka. Sell him and get Daniel Sturridge and go and get Lasanna Diarra and Emanuel Adebayor and buy one or two others. And invest some more money in the youth program and in scouting young players. If you're going to have a wage cap, then be more like, dare I say, Arsenal (better to get run off the pitch at OT with a predominantly young squad). And if you want to stick to your wage cap until you get the stadium, then sell a player or two to keep the good times rolling.

Go on longer preseason tours.  Focus more on the Far East and the States.  And every now and then, you can finish fourth and make an awesomely entertaining run in the Champions League.  And more and more people will fall in love, and buy your shirts and convince their sons and daughters to do the same.  More and more EPL neophytes will be bored with their friends supporting the same three and four teams over and over again.  The brand will be bulding, your supporters will be increasing.

And go and win some trophies. There are new fans all over the world waiting to fall in love. Waiting to witness "To Dare Is To Do." Win a trophy. We will be watching. The brand will be building.

This is farlieonfootoe for August 24.

And when you build your big stadium in N17 we will be ready.

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