Monthly Archives: February 2012

Everything’s coming up ‘Arry

What a week it’s been for Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp. Last Monday he was staring prison in the face, only to neatly dodge that dicey prospect when he was acquitted on tax evasion charges on Wednesday morning. And before the day was done, things got even better, with Fabio Capello’s hasty departure as England boss bumping ‘Arry up to being the hot favourite to take over the Three Lions. As I wrote in my latest Toro Magazine column, Capello’s exit might not be the worst thing for the England, creating an opportunity to turn crisis into a moment of communicative clarity, and ridding the team of a gaffer whose most oft-worn expression was that of the grumpy old man from the movie ‘Up.’

Still, while it’s been a great few days for ‘Arry, the immediate prospects aren’t necessarily so good for Spurs, who face losing their manager at or before the end of a Premier League season of unparalleled success. His England candidacy comes at a crucial time for Tottenham: this weekend’s match against Newcastle kicks off a stretch that includes matches against the Gooners, United and Chelsea before the end of March, as well as the next rounds of FA Cup encounters. The team persevered throughout the sideshow of ‘Arry’s trial, but watching their wheeler-dealer of a manager dip his toes into the England pool could prove vastly more of a distraction to the Spurs squad.

But Reknapp appears to be in a no-lose situation, much as he was when he first took over at Tottenham. How many times did we hear old ‘Arry give that ‘two points from eight games’ speech about how he brought Spurs back from the brink after a woeful start under Juande Ramos? Now the England opportunity amounts to about the same thing: ‘Arry the White Knight rides in to take over from an unloved foreigner, calms everyone down and, because he’s apparently not the type to give long, boring speeches, just lets the lads go out and play football. Whatever happens on the pitch this summer (and I’m not convinced England will have an easy time with any of Group D opponents France, Sweden and tournament co-hosts Ukraine), Redknapp can say he stepped into the breach when times were tough and did his level best to make things right. Win or lose, he’ll be hailed for his service and can choose whether to step away and go back to Spurs, or stick around and try to lead the charge towards Brazil 2014.

How much has the bar been lowered by the results of his predecessors? Steve McLaren’s squad failed to secure passage to Euro 2008, while Capello’s lethargic Lions wasted no time going south after squeaking into the knockout round in South Africa. Lead England into a semi-final even, and ‘Arry could come home to a parade. Just not down the Tottenham High Road.

Ever the type to play down his profile, all the while talking about himself just a little bit more, ‘Arry claimed he celebrated his acquittal by heading home to spend the evening with his wife and dogs, popped a dose of cold medication, and was in bed by 8:30. He says he’d just as happily ‘head down to Cornwall and never be sighted again.’ Classic ‘Arry that, but I can’t believe he’d turn down a call inviting him to sit front row centre on the England bench against France in their Euro opener on June 11.

It may not be signed, sealed and delivered just yet, but everything is on the table right now for ‘Arry and the FA, and nothing’s off it. They have a need, and he’s got the momentum of a tsunami behind him. ‘Arry’s no wheeler dealer, of course, so he’d probably tell you he’s not the type to put a tenner on his chances. Too bad. Right now, he looks about as sure a bet as could possibly be.

Ian Harrison

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Liverpool on the Edge

Kenny welcomes back his prodigal hijo..

Two-thirds into the season, the jury is still out on Liverpool. Has the storied club moved one step closer to its former exalted position? Or does Kenny Dalglish have his team running to stand still while other clubs leapfrog over the fallen giants?

One of the clubs on the rise is Tottenham Hotspur.  “Wheeler-Dealer” ‘Arry Redknapp has built a team that sits in third place, and — along with Manchester City — has displaced long-time Top 4 residents Chelsea and Arsenal.   It is hard not to see them in the group stages of the Champions League come September, but there are no guarantees.  Meanwhile, five points separate four teams for the last CL spot.  So today’s game at Anfield may be rich with meaning and consequence for both sides.

But where are the Reds exactly? They have reached one cup final, and have bested a mighty rival to progress in another.  The club has stated that its goal is Champions League football… but they have to go through the aforementioned Chelsea and Arsenal, as well as fight off the football renaissance going on in the country’s Northeast.  Newcastle were supposed to collapse after the £35 million sale of Andy Carroll to the Reds, and the defection of Kevin Nolan to play for his old boss, Sam Allardyce.  But in a case of addition through subtraction (and the smart pickup of Demba Ba), the Magpies are keeping pace.  Meanwhile, Martin O’Neill is weaving that Ol’ Black Magic with the Black Cats: Sunderland are 8-2-3 under the Irishman.

In hope of making sense of  Liverpool’s season, let’s look at the numbers.

– Liverpool have six more points than this time last year.  But in comparable games played, they are -1.  In other words, when you take all the matches they’ve played this year and compared them to the games from last year against the same teams, they are behind.

– The Reds’ record against Top 10 teams is trending to be about the same (just better than 50%), but they have improved against the lower half.

– Their away record has improved significantly, while their home record is worse.  Liverpool have yet to lose at Anfield this year, but they have frustrated fans by drawing a league-leading seven times at home.

– Liverpool’s goal difference is +7 compared to 0 at this time last year.  But they have scored three fewer goals.  A year ago the ranked fifth in offence, sixth in defence.  This year, they are one of the stingiest sides in the Prem, but are 12th in goals scored.  Fulham, Villa and Blackburn have all scored more than the Reds.

And therein lies the problem.   After spending over £100m on players like Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Luis Suarez, the offence has gone backwards.  Carroll and Henderson are young players wilting under the pressure and excessive price tags. Charlie Adam seems to have been a big fish in Blackpool’s small pond.  And Suarez has been dubious in both play and disposition, letting shots go errant while embroiling himself in several controversies.

However, there appear to be several lights in the fog.  A player who is no stranger to discipline problems himself, Craig Bellamy seems to have been settled down by Dalglish, his boyhood idol. He now leads the team in scoring… not bad for a player who’s started half the games on the bench.  Jose Enrique — another wantaway from St. James’ Park — has admirably filled the long-time void at left back, and may be the team’s Player of the Year.

Is it enough?  Spurs have amassed a midfield and defence that are as good as any in the league, and snapping up Brad Friedel in the supposed twilight of his career looks like a stroke of genius.  But Liverpool have yet to lose at Anfield this season.  The talismanic Steven Gerrard will be in the line-up, and Suarez returns after his long stay in the corner, hopefully with something to prove.

If they win the Carling Cup (likely), win the FA Cup (maybe) but don’t reach the Champions League, will this have been a successful season? Or will Kenny have to take a long, hard look in the mirror and decide whether he’s the man to lead his team back to the promised land?  Tonight’s game may go a long way to answering those questions.

My prediction: 2-2.

Brent Lanthier

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