Not all of us in life make for such good travellers. For every seasoned flyer that ooze both air miles and smugness in equal measure, there are those who struggle to keep their lunch down on a short coach trip. And for as long as the mind can remember, Tottenham Hotspur seem to have forgotten to pack the Kwells and succumbed to a pretty bad dose of travel sickness on the road.
Is away-day flakiness a habitual requirement of playing for Spurs? It certainly shouldn’t be, but life on the road for the Lilywhite’s in recent Premier League times, has been a real mirth of inconsistency.
At fear of stating the obvious, football is something of a results based business. The dust is now settling on Harry Redknapp’s reign as Tottenham manager, but for all the hope and future emphasis that chairman Daniel Levy has applied by appointing Andre Villas Boas, he will be judged upon where Spurs finish. The task has to be to at least match, if not improve, on the work Redknapp has done.
Of course, Spurs fans will be more than optimistic that Villas Boas can go one up on Redknapp – after all, despite the reasons for sacking Redknapp being seemingly unrelated to events on pitch, the premise is that the Portuguese can succeed where Redknapp had failed.
And if we look at the away results of last year, one of the most glaringly obvious issues was Spurs’ failure to pick up points at any of the teams around them in the table. Spurs took only three points against the other teams in the eventual top eight away from home. For a team that was supposedly dubbed title challengers at one point in the season, that is a pretty miserable turn out to say the least. And it is something they must rectify next season.
Still, as poor as that record is, it can be more easily forgiven if the team are picking the points up that they are expected to away from home. Yet of course, in typical Tottenham fashion, that task in particular seemed to evade them once more. A failure to pick up wins in games they dominated, such as Sunderland and Aston Villa were compounded by defeats at the hands of QPR and Stoke. Even if we take away the controversy at the Britannia, you can’t ignore the away day blues.
But this was well and truly one of Harry Redknapp’s most uncomfortable truths. It is naïve to dub the 65-year-old as tactically inept as such. He certainly managed to get Tottenham Hotspur playing a wonderfully entertaining brand of football. Yet strip away the England speculation, strip away the court case and strip away the health issues – on purely footballing terms, there is no way Spurs should have finished a point below Arsenal. And that is in a large part down to their fallibility under Redknapp away from home.
Redknapp has often talked with more than a hint of disdain for what he liked to call, ‘the numbers game.’ In one his more famous nuggets of wisdom, the now ex-Spurs boss quipped: “You can argue about formations, tactics and systems forever, but to me football is fundamentally about players.” Indeed, Rafael van der Vaart gave an interesting look into the pre match routine at White Hart Lane, stating: “There is a clipboard in our dressing room, but Harry doesn’t write anything on it. It’s not that we do nothing – but it’s close to that.”
Redknapp’s approach worked superbly at home. Go out and get great players playing great football. Unfortunately, against some of the best-organised teams in the Premier League, the same tactic didn’t work too well away.
Going with a 4-4-2 at the Emirates, against a side as good in possession as Arsenal, was a really quite poor decision and Tottenham were bulldozed as a result. The same formation worked better against, with all respect, a lesser team in Everton. But David Moyes was no mug and after nullifying Spurs centrally, Redknapp had no answer. Games against the two Manchester clubs away may have come under completely different circumstances. But tactically, Spurs were left far too open against two of the best teams in the league and paid for it as a result.
If you switch the emphasis from tactical preparation to trying to change the game mid way through proceedings, Redknapp’s lack of reactivity seemed even more apparent. The token gesture of whacking on Jermain Defoe for Rafael van der Vaart was always taken in the dying embers of matches and in some cases (a la the now infamous Villa away fixture) it didn’t come at all.
And this is what Villas Boas is going to be expected to rectify. It’s easy to sit here and put a magnifying glass over every away fixture that Spurs failed to get three points under Harry Redknapp. Of course they’re not going to win every game on their travels and we can’t forget the resolute performances that came away against teams like Fulham and West Brom.
But it’s against the so called ‘bus-parkers’ that Spurs need to pick the points up. AVB won’t have a magic wand during his half time team talk, but he’ll be expected to do more than tell the boys to ‘f****** run about a bit’. And if Spurs are to progress, they simply have to start taking points off the bigger teams away from home. Hopefully, between Villas Boas and new chief opposition scout Daniel Sousa, they can prove more reactive in their preparations than Redknapp.
Tottenham bestow an array of extremely talented footballers who, when they play to their core attacking strengths and fluid best, are a match for anyone. But teams will, as what happened last year, find a way to counter that and some will simply be better suited to play against it. Harry Redknapp’s inability to evolve his team when needed, played a bigger part than any in their inability to finish third.
Andre Villas Boas will have to be seen to make the big calls away from home and develop the sacred ‘Plan B’ that evaded Spurs under Redknapp. Daniel Levy said that Villas Boas has an “outstanding reputation for his technical knowledge of the game.” Supporters will expect to see that next season.
Can Villas Boas develop a Plan B at Spurs? Or do you fear that Tottenham are still going to remain so infamously flaky away from White Hart Lane? Tell me what you think and what you’d do on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus