By Ewan Roberts
Were Tottenham to beat Manchester City on Sunday, the club would move to within just two points of the reigning Premier League champions, not that the Spurs crowd’s moans of discontent and anger would suggest that the north London side were so competitive.
Boos cascaded down the terraces after a 1-0 loss at home to Wigan, a side that have beaten Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in 2012. But the vitriol was present even during Spurs’ first home match of the season, a score draw against West Brom.
Many fans are still riled by the decision to replace the popular Harry Redknapp, while there’s also an undercurrent that some fans feel they could do a better job than his replacement: the inexperienced, schoolboyish head coach Andre Villas-Boas, who has never played the game at a professional level and flopped at local rivals Chelsea.
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And so the people boo. They argue they have paid their money (and it is worth noting that Tottenham’s cheapest season ticket is the second most expensive in England), so they can express their displeasure however they like, even if it feeds only negativity and hampers the performance of the team they are there to support.
Support being the imperative word, rather than spectate. Football is a sport first and entertainment second (merely an occasional, much-welcomed by-product), where backing and motivating the team must supersede suppositions of getting one’s money’s worth.
There is also a bemusing paradox at play whereby an ugly, Neolithic, monosyllabic grunt of disparagement is used to bemoan an absence of (the modern, prawn sandwich-munching expectation for) sophisticated, aesthetically pleasing football.
A base-level form of expression, booing is a throwback to the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome where the audience - taking time out from their busy schedules of incest, slave-trading and buggery - hissed, booed and jeered competitors.
But White Hart Lane is not a Colosseum, the players doing battle are not faceless slaves or helmeted gladiators; they are human beings who perform best when 36,000 fans cheers them, rally them, intimidate the opposition, excuse mistakes and acknowledge that the side is in a period of transition.
And that is what Tottenham have become: a work in progress. The club lost Luka Modric to La Liga champions Real Madrid, Rafael van der Vaart to Hamburger SV, and club captain Ledley King to retirement (sadly before his time), while Villas-Boas has been in charge for just four months.
Injuries have beset a squad struggling to cope with the loss of two extraordinary attacking weapons, and the new signings - Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey especially - have taken time to settle. Yet Spurs have coped, and won, with only goal difference separating them from fourth spot.
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The fans chastise the club’s revolving managerial door, yet afford the numerous head coaches (of which there have been 11 different permanent managers since the Premier League began, plus seven caretaker spells) little time to build a future or establish a legacy. But long-term stability, which the 35-year old Villas-Boas offers, requires patience and faith.
There was a brilliant high-tempo chaos to the Redknapp era, missing so far under the Portuguese manager, but the lack of a fixed, drilled system meant Spurs were often inconsistent, unorganised and open, bereft of a fall-back plan, and injuries to key players - and the absence of their individual, match-winning genius - had a crippling effect.
But Villas-Boas is creating a construct that can function even when key cogs are removed or the team’s greatest weapons neutralised, a side that is greater than the sum of its parts; one based on teamwork and shape rather than individuality.
And Spurs’ league placing, in spite of their summer outgoings (also offloading a significant number of useful squad players) and despite an outbreak of injuries that has seen the Portuguese field more players (25) than any other side in the league, suggests the reliance on key personnel has been reduced successfully.
Tottenham are considerably more conservative now than last season’s Redknapp-helmed gung-ho style - a shift in emphasis that has been accused of betraying the club’s attacking, Arthur Rowe-inspired pass-and-move football roots - but they are more solid, harder to break down, smarter, less exposed.
Creativity, especially at home, has suffered as a result, while the absence of Mousa Dembele and Sandro - a robust, physical, ball-winning foundation - has left Spurs rather timid and pedestrian in midfield. But they travel to the Etihad in sparkling away form courtesy of a more durable shape and confident of repeating their Old Trafford heroics.
Progress is being made and there should be cause for optimism at White Hart Lane, not guttural, pantomime hissing. Tottenham are a responsible, well-run club with a bright future under a progressive manager. Save the outrage for genuine dysfunction and turmoil, for example if the Mayans were right and Venky’s launch a takeover; now that might justify booing.
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