NORMAN GILLER’S SPURS ODYSSEY BLOG No 29
Submitted by Norman Giller
Trying to read anything of significance into Tottenham's North American tour is like judging an F1 race by the motoring on the warm-up lap. There are a lot of miles to go, and any assessments should be shelved until the real action kicks off in August. This is the phony war.
While there was little for most onlookers to learn from the victories in Toronto and Chicago and the draw in Seattle, the trip was invaluable as a bonding exercise for the Tottenham players and their new head honcho, Mauricio Pochettino.
I hear good noises coming from inside the camp about the team spirit, and there’s a strong, healthy and competitive edge in the battle for first-team places in virtually every position.
Pochettino has made it clear that first-team selection has to be earned, and that there will be no such thing as automatic choices. We all know that Harry and AVB had their favourites, but the Amiable Argentine is going to judge every player on his merit.
For MP, the tour was the perfect opportunity to judge the personalities as much as the performances of the players he has inherited. Quietly, he will have assessed which are the players who are prepared to give blood, sweat and tears for the team, and which are the ones who need psychological motivation.
He will have noted which like late nights and strong liquid, and the players who are fitness fanatics and those that need to be prompted and prodded in training.
Most of all, Mauricio will have formed a judgment as to which players dovetail together and are in tune with his attacking philosophy, with the good of the team rather than individual glory in mind.
We’ll get a good idea of the side with which he wants to kick off the new season in the final two warm-up games – in Helsinki for a friendly showdown with Celtic on Saturday, and then the prestige match against Schalke at White Hart Lane on August 9.
The player I’m most looking forward to being given the kick of life by Pochettino is his countryman Erik Lamela. Mauricio will know better than any of us that it was only five years ago that he was being hailed in Argentina as a budding Maradona and mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi.
I was in Buenos Aries in 2011 and watched the then 19-year-old Lamela giving a dazzling performance for River Plate. His footwork was magical Fred Astaire stuff and he danced past defenders as if the ball was tied to his boots. No wonder they nicknamed him Coco, who drove his markers loco. On my return home I was determined to try to persuade my old chum Harry Redknapp to look at him, but before I had got off the plane Roma snapped him up.
I was really excited when he was bought for Spurs with a huge £30m chunk of the Gareth Bale windfall, but so far things have not worked out for the boy from Buenos Aries, mainly because of injuries that led to a loss of confidence.
He was, I understand, on the verge of seeking pastures new until Pochettino was chosen to take over from the hard-to-please Tim Sherwood, and MP has quickly convinced him that he can be the player to spark Spurs.
Lamela impressed with this energy and enthusiasm on the North American tour, and all the signs are that he will be one to watch and wonder at in the new season. He will be expected to pick a Pochettino or two (thought I would get in with that one nice and early!).
The big question waiting to be answered is: Can Lamela and Christian Eriksen operate in the same team without taking each other’s space? We (and Mauricio) will soon find out.
For the record, Harry Kane and Aaron Lennon were the scorers against Chicago Fire in an uneventful match at Toyota Park on Saturday. Match details:
Tottenham Hotspur (4-3-2-1): Friedel (McGee 78); Walker (Naughton 46), Dawson, Veljkovic (Fredericks 80), Rose (Davies 46); Capoue, Mason; Holtby (Falque 64), Lamela (Eriksen 46), Townsend (Lennon 46); Kane (Soldado 46)
Substitutes not used: Kaboul, Ceballos
Scorers: Kane 5, Lennon 84
Pre-season tours have long been a Tottenham tradition, and those Spurs Odyssey followers of a certain age will recall the players taking the trek to Russia back in the summer of 1959 as Bill Nicholson faced his first full season in charge.
Bill was always pushing the three F’s to his players during training, and the most vital ‘f’ word in his vocabulary was Fitness ... Fitness ... Fitness.
He once told me: “D’you know which are the fittest athletes in the world? Ballet dancers! Yes, they are supreme athletes. I remember once on a pre-season club tour of Russia in 1959 we went to the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. Most of the lads grumbled when I told them what we were going to see, but they came away astonished at the fitness and stamina of those dancers. I got our interpreter to ask questions back stage and I found they did lots of controlled weight training for muscle development, and so I invited an Olympic weightlifter called Bill Watson to introduce weight training into our fitness programme. It was revolutionary and made a huge difference to our fitness levels.”
Only football-fanatic Bill could have sat watching the Bolshoi and seen athletes rather than ballet dancers!
That following season Spurs finished third, a precursor to the greatest campaign in their history and the League and FA Cup double. Let’s hope the North American tour prompts similar success for Pochettino and his Tottenham team.
Yes, we hope he picks more than a pocket or two.
My regular reader will know I am keeping count of the players the KnowItAlls on Twitter and Facebook say Mauricio Pochettino is planning to buy. Last week the count had reached 42.
It is now up to – wait for it – FORTY-NINE! Only the predicted signings from Swansea of left-back Ben Davies and goalkeeper Michel Vorm have proved correct.
I wonder if we will get apologies from those “In the know” imposters who have posted false news throughout the close-season, wasting our time with invented tittle tattle.
Let’s hope during the coming ten months it will be title tattle.
THE GILLER TEASER
Each week here in my Spurs Odyssey home I test your knowledge of Tottenham. Last week I asked: Who was a key man in the 1960-61 Double squad and later moved to Toronto for the final games of his career and settled so well he became a Canadian citizen?
Most of you got it right: Bill Brown, the reliable last line of defence in the historic Double team who played 222 League games for Spurs during a golden era. He later wound down with Northampton before moving to Toronto Falcons for his final saves. Owner of a printing company throughout his career at White Hart Lane, the quiet Scot later became a successful real estate agent. Bill (his full name William Dallas Fyfe Brown) lost a battle with cancer and passed on in his adopted Ontario on 1 December 2004. He was 73.
The first name chosen at random from the correct entries: George Scott, of Watford, who wins a signed hard-back copy of Bill Nicholson Revisited.
This week’s teaser features a Spurs golden oldie: Which Sunderland-born midfielder started and finished his career with Tottenham and also played for Chelsea?
A final signed Bill Nicholson Revisited book (the LAST remaining hardback copy) to the sender of the correct answer whose name is randomly drawn first. Email your answer please to firstname.lastname@example.org
Please note that the book is now available in paperback, with profits going to the Tottenham Tribute Trust to help our old heroes who have hit hard times: www.normangillerbooks.com I hope you will support this great cause.
Thanks for your company. COYS!
The "Giller Index" - listing all Norman's articles for Spurs Odyssey
· Read Beverley Smith's fan's-eye account of Spurs visit to Seattle
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