THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

2 March ~ With the orange glow of Blackpool receding into the distance, Tottenham headed to Dubai for a spot of warm-weather training and the chance to think about three points dropped to a team that had only managed four from the previous 27 available. They return with yet another crocked star in their midst as Jermain Defoe checked himself onto the injury list with a knackered ankle, his chances of taking on Wolves this weekend and Milan next Wednesday slim at best.

When Defoe pulled up for England last September, his loss was felt keenly at Spurs. Fast-forward six months, and the main man has failed to find the net once in the league, his woeful finishing at Bloomfield Road a key reason why last season’s fourth-placed team failed to pick up at least a point. And yet, for all the bitter complaints, Spurs still sat fourth before Chelsea’s victory over Manchester United last night. That’s the same Spurs that lost at home to Wigan Athletic, fell to one of West Ham’s worst sides in recent memory and offered a truly insipid display against Liverpool at the Lane, before hitting back to win in the 92nd minute.

This is a Spurs side whose goal difference is a measly plus seven. That’s substantially less than Manchester City and Chelsea, not to mention Arsenal and Manchester United. And yet still, it’s the fifth best in the entire league. As a Spurs fan, I revel in the idea of us qualifying for the Champions League for the second year running. But if we do pip Chelsea to the post, it won’t be down to stellar performances.

It’ll be down to the fact that the 2010-11 season has been the worst Premier League for years. The media’s insistence that Spurs have turned in pulsating performances week in, week out is simply not true. My trips to the Lane this season have seen us smash four past Blackburn, before shipping two pathetic goals. The Wigan fiasco was undoubtedly a nadir. And while we battered City, they left with a point thanks to Joe Hart.

There’s no denying Spurs have now got some backbone which has led to a slew of last minute goals, efforts against Liverpool and Bolton Wanderers really standing out. But the quality of opposition this season has been utterly woeful. Freak results throughout the league have proved that defences are nowhere near as tight as they should be, Spurs included.

From my perspective, while excitement at a weekend of 43 goals was understandable, it just showed how far things have slipped. Mistakes were as much a key factor as class. Arsenal and Newcastle epitomised this. Sure, it’s entertaining, but if the specious claims of this being “the best league in the world” are to continue, then surely it’s about time throwing caution to the wind was also backed up with some defensive nous.

And so we come back to Spurs’ injuries. With Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart, Tom Huddlestone and Defoe all missing, there’s no way we should still be near the top. But thanks to a continuing slip across the league, our chances of making it into the Champions League once again are pretty high. The Premier League may have been the best league in the world once. But in 2011, it would be ludicrous to claim that it’s number one. Joe Minihane joeminihane.com

Comments (10)
Comment by bearlion 2011-03-02 11:10:37

If you want openness and competition all the way down the league, then this certainly isn't a bad season. Even Ray Wilkins said as much last night, so it must be true. I hope one Champions League finish hasn't made you think you have a divine right to be there every year. Look what that did for Newcastle and Leeds.

Comment by Etienne 2011-03-02 11:31:17

he last paragraph is, frankly, silly. The fact that a Spurs side with all the flaws that are correctly identified in the article are still able to move comfortably towards the last 8 in the Champions League demonstrates that the Premier League still is significantly stronger than any other league. Serie A is in freefall, with none of their teams likely to make the next round of the CL, and all their UEFA representatives eliminated. La Liga's competitiveness has been all but destroyed by Real Madrid and Barcelona's financial dominance - if you look at the flaws at Spurs, they pale into insignificance if you looked at the flaws of Espanyol, 5th place in La Liga.

The Bundesliga is steadily closing the gap, and with financial fair play could well be the strongest league within 5 years, but it's not there yet.

Comment by robccfc 2011-03-02 11:44:21

Was about to comment and saw that Etienne above had beaten me to it. Basically you would still expect most Premiership clubs to beat their equivalents in the other big European leagues, with the possible exception of Barcelona (although not as we saw last week!) When they don't it's deemed a surprise (e.g. Bayern beating Man Utd last season) and rightly so. The English league has greater strength in depth, and it'll probably stay like that for a little while longer.

Comment by Beadle 2011-03-02 13:30:14

A few weeks ago, Spurs played Sunderland away and won. On the face of it, this was a creditable result. Sunderland are one of the teams battling for 6th place, and a spot in the Europa League next season, so for Spurs to go to their backyard and take all three points would seem to be very impressive. But then you take a look at the team that Spurs put out.

You could put an argument that, despite Dawson's warrior-like qualities, and Gallas' consistency, the first-choice centre-back pairing for Tottenham is King & Woodgate. You could certainly also argue that for most of the season, Hutton has been more the first choice right-back than Corluka has. And virtually nobody would argue that Spurs' regular front six when everyone's available is Bale, Van Der Vaart, Modric, Huddlestone, Lennon and Crouch. And yet none of those players were playing at Sunderland (at least until Lennon appeared in the 78th minute). Of their first-choice eleven players, it could be said that Spurs started with precisely two of them that day. Gomes & Assou-Ekotto - neither of which, as much as they're loved by the Spurs faithful, are immune to the odd lapse in concentration.

You can make all the arguments you like about how other European Leagues are faring, but that game is a microcosm that illustrates an enormous amount about the quality of the Premiership this year. Even in years past, when United and Chelsea were more commanding and devastating than they have been this season, if one of the old Top 4 had travelled to play a team in 6th or 7th place with nine of their first-team missing, you'd have expected them to lose. That's too much of a hit for any team to take against a side in the top-half of the table.

Spurs have not been incredible this year. They have had moments of utter brilliance, amid games peppered with mediocrity. Their defence has been a shadow of the last two seasons, and their three strikers have only JUST scraped double-figures in the league between them. And yet until last night's Chelsea victory they sat in 4th place, and within a sniff of 3rd.

Would I take the Top 5 (or even 6 - I'll include Liverpool since Kenny re-took the reigns) over the Top 5/6 from any other League? Yes, absolutely. But from there on down, and no offence intended to the clubs in question, would I pick Bolton and Sunderland ahead of the 7th and 8th place teams in Spain or Germany? No, I'm afraid I would not. Because the league really isn't that great when you scratch below the surface.

The fact that there have been so many surprise results this season is not indicative of a strong league from top to bottom. Because watching those matches, it's been clear that the top teams have just played badly a lot more regularly than in recent years. Even United have not been great this season. They've just been more consistent than the rest.

Comment by jameswba 2011-03-02 14:29:38

I'm no lover of the Premier League or anything it stands for and its 'biggest' clubs, Spurs as much as any, annoy the hell out of me. But it sometimes seems that any evidence can be used to defend any argument. If the top four were streets clear of everyone else and there were no surprise results, we'd all be saying the rest of the league is crap. Yet Wolves beat Man Utd, Blackpool beat Spurs etc and we're saying Man Utd and Spurs must be crap. Crap, but still at or near the top, ergo the rest of the league must be crap too, or 'utterly woeful' to cherry-pick one of the author's phrases.

I don't think we can have it all ways.

Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-03-02 16:53:47

Which one is it then? Is the Premier League "poor"? Or, on the other hand, is the Premier League "the strongest league in the world"? It can't be both, can it?

Well, yes - actually, it can. The Premier League is poor, and getting poorer - mainly due to the demands we are making on the players. They don't get a sufficient break between seasons, they are playing through injuries, they are distracted by too many promotional, marketing and other money-making activities etc etc etc. Basically, except for the really big games, they are not properly prepared. They're physically and mentally tired from too much football and too many peripheral distractions. That's why it's so poor.

But it is still the best in the world. The money makes sure of that. The wages on offer in the Premier League makes sure that all but the most idealistic of international footballers is coining it over here. If you don't mind compromising your art, playing your football at break-need speed and having lumps kicked out of you by Ryan Shawcross, then come to England. Its a gold mine! Very few are able to resist the temptation. Zidane did. Ronaldinho did. Messi has resisted it, so far. But most of the best players in the world are over here. Mind you, they're not playing very well over here because they're either knackered injured homesick or a combination of all three - but at least they're not playing in any of the other leagues. That's why the other leagues are even poorer than the Premier League - all their best players have hopped it over to England.

Woefully poor - but still the best. That's my view. Not a patch on the Premier League of 10-15 years ago, when the likes of Juninho Ginola Cantona Zola LeTiss Klinsmann Bergkamp Henry diCanio etc etc regualrly served up something really special, for partisans and neutrals alike.

Comment by manandvans 2011-03-02 17:12:21

"But most of the best players in the world are over here."

Not true. There were only 3 Premier League players in the 23 man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or. One of which (Gyan) had only been here a few weeks.

Comment by Lincoln 2011-03-02 18:15:29

Ah the old classic, the big four have lost more games than they normally have done and it is rolling back to how it was in years gone by. Either other clubs have made use of the massive amount of money now available to them to strengthen or the big four have got weaker. Well we don't want to praise our own league because it is not very becoming to gloat, so it must be that everyone is poorer. Yet by some minor miracle all 4 teams remain in the latter stages of the Champion's league unlike the "better leagues". In all 4 cases they have a strong chance of going through. So basically then all football the world over has got poorer, it cannot possibly be that teams like Blackpool are not actually that bad.


"The Premier League is poor, and getting poorer - mainly due to the demands we are making on the players." Which is why they are losing out to those leagues who play less games and make less money in Europe. Oh hang on...

Comment by potts4 2011-03-03 01:21:45

I will argue a couple of things. First, Spurs should be in the top 4, even with all these injuries.

Sure you may have lost Woodgate and King, but they have the most cover in there due to the inabilities off the former being able to stay fit. Gallas, Dawson, Kaboul, Corluka and Bassong, can cover there, while Huddlestone can also tuck in if you are down to Redkanpp's favorite saying, "bare bones".

Also, how many other teams can call on the likes of Kranjcar (earner of six points), when he is probably considered around fifth or sixth choice. Ok, central midfield may lack a little, but otherwise, Spurs have the kind of squad that others can only dream off, possibly overall better than Chelsea's. In fact, the only real weakness is left-back.

Spurs are reaping the benefits of bulk buying and also cashing in on players that though talented (Berbatov and Carrick), were certainly replaceable. I think the fact that the Premier League appears worse is that teams now go for it more, shown by Wolves defeating Man United recently with a ultra pressing style and Sunderland going two up top against Chelsea away from home.

Last i think your wrong regarding Spain's top 8, it is certainly worse than ours. Don't let the fact that Athletico are down the table fool you, because despite excellent individual talent, they are an abysmal unit, and would struggle even more in the Premier League. I feel Bolton and Sunderland in the Spanish league would push for Champions League spots easily. Mainly because the lack of money the lower teams have. Though still unbalanced in places, the TV money over here is far more fair than the Spanish league will ever be.

The real interesting time will be if the current trend of rich men buying into Spanish clubs will show benefits and improve their strength in depth. That is when the English league may struggle.

Comment by ian.64 2011-03-03 13:28:40

"It’ll be down to the fact that the 2010-11 season has been the worst Premier League for years."

No, it actually hasn't, just the most unexpected and intriguing. The above article sounded less like a pointed essay on the character of the league and more like a correspondent who, just because his side have what can be called erratic form, doesn't think everybody should get off likely either. Misery loves company. Nearly every week has brought some sort of headline-grabbing surprise, due to the unpredictable nature of the division which has raised more than a few neutral eyebrows. Minihane should concentrate on Spurs's awry journey through the Premiership season, most specifically the flaws and mistakes they themselves make, rather than rope in the travails of every other Premiership side to give the impression that they had something to do with Redknapp's ride through bumpy waters.

Sorry if I've got the wrong end of the stick here, but someone's playing Mr. Grumpy Boots and thinks that if he's not having fun then neither should everyone else. I'm not convinced in the least by the article shown.

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