People forget that as a team we are still in our infancy. Last season we took our first steps. This season a lot of people expected us to be running the 100 metres in 9 seconds flat. Well the fact is before we can do that, we need to learn to walk consistently without tripping over. Lately, we've taken a stumble and it has caused great alarm. We have gained a bloody knee but it will heal in time.
Amidst the anger and frustration of 2007 so far, I have quietly sat and contemplated the team and it's frailties. It hasn't been an easy journey. I have sat and watched as many other Spurs fans manifest their frustrations within misguided outbursts aimed at both players and coaching staff. Whilst I understand their need for catharsis, it's often too easy to blame individuals then it is too try to understand that the situation is too complex for that. There will be no single answer but rather a collection of things that the team and management need to work on.
Whilst there isn't a single problem, I think that there is one area that - if shown the necessary improvement - would give the greatest rewards and improvement to the team. I have come to the conclusion that our main weakness is the inability to keep possession of the ball. It might seem like an obvious claim but like most things in life, even the simplest things have many layers of complexity to them. This flaw poses a fundamental problem, especially in the world of modern football. It not only causes us problems in defence, but also undermines our attack. Give the opposition the ball and they will hurt you. You can have the best player in the world, but without the ball there's not a lot they can do. Clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed.
I think this problem can be associated to (and to a large degree caused by) 3 smaller problem areas:
1) Player quality. Whilst the players we have within our squad are far better then we've had for quite some time, they are still not of sufficient quality to retain the ball individually when under pressure. Berbatov is the exception to this rule. So much so that he also highlights the deficiencies in the players around him in this respect. If we had a couple of players with Berbatov's ability in midfield, we'd be well on the way
to addressing the problem. Having said that, I do think the current playing staff are capable of adapting to cope under such pressure. That is a matter of development and that takes time.
2) Movement. Whilst partially related to 1, even a team of average players can keep the ball if they maintain movement. This means that the opposing defence finds it tricky to mark and apply pressure, even in confined areas. Even basic movement can move defenders out of position allowing better penetration. We, on the other hand, are quite static. We do not create enough gaps in the opposition defence and that would still be a problem even if we got the left winger everyone is crying out for. I couldn't give a reason why we lack this movement but I would hope its not a product of Jol's training methods. I don't even think fitness is the issue. It perhaps more a case of players getting to know how each other plays and gradually making the right runs for one another.
3) Eagerness. We seem to suffer from a very English disease. That is, 'get it up there quick' syndrome. If you watch some of the better teams in the world, they are very patient and are quite happy to play it backwards if it means they retain the ball. We take a much more direct approach by getting the ball as close to the opponents goal as we can and hope something comes of it. Robbo and Dawson being the main culprits here.
I think this may be a result of Jol's obsession with playing an English way in an English league. I do hope he decides to play a Dutch way in an English league. I think the difference could be massive. Then again, this also refers to 1. Does Jol have the players to play the Dutch way?
Now whilst I have mentioned Jol a couple of times in this, I do not think he is necessarily to blame. If anything, I think he is part of the solution. I am certain he has the tools to adapt the team but I think it is more a case of him and the team growing together. It will take time and patience, and the road will not be smooth. The key thing is support through the hard times, not only through the easier times.
For those of us with our eyes on the horizon, we wait in anticipation as we see the running track in the distance. For the short-sighted fans amongst us, I would suggest putting the stop-watch away for now. You have a bloody knee that needs a plaster...