Saturday, January 14, 2012

Benoit Assou-Ekotto for Tottenham Hotspur (v Everton), 11 January 2012

We're delighted to welcome lovely fella, stand-up comedian and Spurs fan Carl Jones to Cheer Up Alan Shearer. With Spurs second in the table, here's Carl's first guest post about whether his side can actually win the league...


It’s mid-January. Tottenham Hotspur sit three points adrift of leaders Manchester City and level on points with Manchester United. The media is abuzz with title talk and Ladbrokes have cut the odds to as short as 6/1. It’s a situation that seemed entirely unthinkable following heavy defeats to United and City in our opening two games.

The fixture list didn’t look too kind when it was released last summer. An opening home game against Everton certainly looked like the best opportunity to get off the mark in August. The riots in London deemed the game unsafe to go ahead and Tottenham finished the month bottom of the Premier League. It looked like it could be a long season.

Harry Redknapp added dynamism to the midfield in Scott Parker and talismanic presence up front with Emmanuel Adebayor and since then, Tottenham have barely stuttered.

With the exception of a tepid display against Stoke, Tottenham have brushed aside Norwich, West Brom, Fulham, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves away from home and beat Liverpool and Arsenal at home. December’s draw with Chelsea extends an unbeaten home record against their London rivals to six seasons at a ground their fans used to call ‘Three Points Lane’.

On Wednesday night we beat Everton to claim three points that have long been won in the minds of every Tottenham fan. We’ve looked at the table for months thinking “If we can beat Everton…”, adding the three points to our tally in our heads. Now that we have, we actually look like we’re in with a shot at the title. Just don’t tell anyone I said that. I’d hate to be the one that jinxed it.

As a Tottenham fan since the mid-Nineties, I’ve seen some truly horrendous lows. A 7-1 defeat at St James’ Park, two points from eight games a few seasons ago, a wretched decade and a half of results against the artists formerly known as ‘the big four’ and signing Grzegorz Rasiak on transfer deadline day. I even took my fiancĂ©e for a romantic evening in Grimsby for her first ever Tottenham match in 2005. We lost 1-0.

There have been a few highs, of course. I’ve been lucky enough to witness Gareth Bale’s stunning hat-trick in the San Siro, Peter Crouch’s Champions League qualifying goal at the City of Eastlands Etihad Stadium and I nearly broke my foot celebrating Allan Nielsen’s header in the 1999 Worthington Cup Final in a pub I wasn’t old enough to be in.

Massive credit must go to Harry Redknapp for bringing the good times back to White Hart Lane. Aside from rebuilding relegation fodder and turning them into Champions League quarter finalists, he’s now taken them one step further. Tough decisions were made in the summer, trimming a bulging squad by shipping out Woodgate, Crouch, Palacios, Bentley, Hutton and Jenas. The decision to replace Gomes with Friedel would have been a difficult one but has proved to be masterstroke.

Emerging talent such as Kyle Walker and Jake Livermore have revitalised the side, improving players like Younes Kaboul have added depth and exciting youngsters gaining valuable playing time elsewhere such as Townsend, Caulker and Naughton plus several others breaking through in the Europa League suggest the future is bright. The team spirit is better than ever with the reaction to Assou-Ekotto’s screamer last night testament to that.

The steely resolve to keep Luka Modric should also be admired. There might have been a better pay packet waiting for him in West London but the benefit of hindsight would suggest he’s just as likely to win major honours wearing white as he would have been in blue this season.

Redknapp has been adamant that he won’t spend big during the transfer window and will only bring in players who can add quality. With the likes of Pienaar, Kranjcar, Dos Santos and Pavlyuchenko kicking their heels on the bench, Huddlestone to come back from injury and Dawson returning to captain the side last night in the absence of Ledley King and William Gallas, it’s hard to identify positions that require strengthening.

Chris Samba, Loic Remy, Junior Hoilett and even Rio Ferdinand have all been touted as possible signings but Redknapp continues to play his cards close to his chest. It’s hard to imagine a transfer deadline day passing without him giving an interview out of the window of a stationary BMW though.

Whether we strengthen or not, psychologically, these three points against Everton are our most important of the season, and not just because they’ve moved us within touching distance of the top of the league. The gap we now hold over our faltering rivals for automatic qualification to the Champions League could prove crucial.

Liverpool are bereft of their best player for weeks. Chelsea are in a transitional period with an ageing backbone and might well settle for continued progress in the Champions League and qualification for next season as priorities now. Arsenal are awaiting positive news in the loan market with Gilles Grimandi and Christopher Wreh hoping to join Thierry Henry on 6-week loan deals.

Above us, Manchester City’s wobble has shown a chink in the armour and United have continued to grind results out in between spectacular defeats like the ones against Blackburn and City themselves. Games against both Manchester sides in the coming weeks will truly test our ability to win the title.

There’s unlikely to be a better chance to truly establish ourselves as a Champions League team and attract the world’s best players to the Lane. Once the Premier League’s joke club, we now play some of the most attractive football in the country and have a squad of players who genuinely look ready to push for the title.

With the England job available soon, Adebayor only on loan until the end of the season, some of the world’s top clubs coveting our very best players and Friedel defying the natural ageing process, now is the time to fulfil our potential or risk the break-up of our most talented side for decades.

Can Tottenham actually win the title? Yes. Just don’t tell anyone I told you so.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Zinedine Zindane for France (vs Brazil), 12 July 1998

I spent much of the Christmas period in France, and I was delighted to see that there is plenty of TV coverage of the English Premier League. Not only was I able to watch more a less the full round of fixtures on Boxing Day, but also the rescheduled Arsenal v Wolves game the following day. Coverage was pretty good too. Canal+ has this thing they call a “multiplex”, where they show you live coverage from a game, and then if something starts to happen elsewhere, they flick their coverage to one of the other games. On Boxing Day, with a pretty full fixture list all kicking off at the same time, this worked pretty well.

I suppose it’s a little annoying when they flick games just as you’re getting your bearings or if you are interested in one game in particular, but given that we spend our time in England on days like this watching a TV programme that consists entirely of Jeff Stelling flicking between coverage of a bunch of blokes watching the games, whilst we get no live footage of matches at all, it’s a relatively good way to absorb the afternoon’s drama.

Canal+’s studio coverage is actually fronted by an Englishman; he speaks impeccable French, of course, but his accent is clearly English and he also – unusually for French TV – pronounces all of the English club names correctly and could actually tell you what Wigan or Norwich are like. Darren Tulett has apparently been working in the media in France since 1998 (when he asked Bloomburg, his employers at the time, to transfer him to Paris so he could catch some of the World Cup) and has ended up anchoring TV coverage of the football almost by accident… and he’s clearly a bit of a character. For the Boxing Day coverage, he was dressed up in black tie (the concept of Boxing Day is alien to your average Frenchman and in 2011 was a normal working day), but for the Arsenal v Wolves game he was wearing what looked like a velvet smoking jacket in burgundy. Apparently he’s always a snappy dresser, my father-in-law tells me, and has been called “the Austin Powers of French television". His studio guests for the afternoon’s coverage were the distinctly unpromising Gerrard Houllier and Jean Alain Boumsong.  Actually, from what I could gather, Boumsong is an excellent pundit and Tulett is a good enough presenter to know not to let Gerrard Houllier speak too often....

He was funny too: often, at the end of a game, we would get a pitchside interview with one of the French-speaking players – Florent Malouda at the Chelsea game, for instance – but Canal+ also took the live feeds of interviews with some of the managers. When Alex Ferguson came on, Tullet informed the viewers that he would do his best to do an off-the-cuff translation as Ferguson spoke, but did warn us that he was Scottish so….. Sure enough, although the translation initially went well, before long, as Sir Alex became more and more impenetrable, so Tullet’s translation became a bit slower until he eventually started laughing (well, chuckling... he is a pro, after all).

I thought he was great fun. He’s got a really light touch and he knew how to bring the best out of his pundits and the coverage that was flicking around games. Apparently he’s known as Darren d’Angleterre and presents other football programmes on French tv that are inspired by the likes of Fantasy Football – one is even called “Match of ze Day”. He once (so I read) persuaded David Ginola to re-live the error that cost France World Cup qualification in 1993. In the sketch, Ginola ends up trying to hitch a ride out of the stadium with his France shirt over his shoulder to the "Lonely Man" theme tune from the Incredible Hulk. Brilliant.

Until I saw him on Boxing Day, I'd never even heard of him and he could probably walk unrecognised through the Sky Sports studios.  When you think of some of the idiots we have presenting football coverage in this country, that seems remarkable.

 Darren Tulett might not have scored 48 goals for England or anything like that, but he is possessed of charm, wit, a lightness of touch and the ability to competently present coverage of the English Premier League.... all of which is more than can be said for some people we might mention.

Can we send Gary Lineker to France on an exchange deal in the January transfer window?  Please?

Although, to be fair, why would Tulett want to come back?

He's a legend, and you can follow him on Twitter too - @DarrenCanalPlus

Our loss is French television's gain.

France 1 - 0 England.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Demba Ba for Newcastle (vs Manchester Utd), 4th January 2012

On Tuesday night, a Liverpool side minus Luis Suarez and with Andy Carroll playing up front got spanked 3-0 by Manchester City.

On Wednesday night, a sparkling Newcastle side spanked Manchester Utd 3-0, with Demba Ba, their Senegalese striker, scoring an absolutely splendid goal.

With every game that goes by, Andy Carroll (£35m, 4 goals in 23 appearances) looks more and more like a white elephant and his replacement in the Newcastle number 19 shirt (£0, 15 goals in 19 appearances) looks increasingly like the steal of this or many another season.

Before we get too carried away though, let’s just wait and see if Mike Ashley lets Alan Pardew build on Newcastle’s season so far by resisting any offers he might receive for Ba or Tiote during the transfer window, eh?

It's been a funny old season, eh?  As a Wolves fan, I felt like I couldn't wholeheartedly celebrate Blackburn's win at Old Trafford as I need at least three other teams in the division to remain below us, thank you very much.

This one I'm a little more comfortable with.