Harry Kane, Gary Doherty, Delle Ali, underachievement and Daniel Levy’s todger: Tottenham fan and journalist Sam Collins tells Dan Brigham everything you need to know about Spurs, and what Norwich need to do to beat them
Dan: Hi Sam. In the last 10 seasons Tottenham have finished 4th, 5th, or 6th eight times. Eight! Are Spurs the very embodiment of the glass ceiling in the Premier League, or have Leicester shown this season that Spurs have perhaps underachieved over the last decade?
Sam: I like what you've done there, cut straight into the existential nothingness of supporting a team that have nothing to play for each season.
We pay the 5th or 6th highest amount of wages, and generally that's where we finish. Our chairman's ego and penis size appear to be directly correlated, so we sabotage ourselves each season by refusing to do any transfer deals until August 31, and when we do do them we tend to sign Clint Dempsey. It's been clear to anyone watching Spurs since the Berbatov/ Keane love-in we've basically lacked the sort of striker who could win you things. You know all about Peter Crouch, everyone knows about Adebayor, Soldado, well… Now we've stumbled across Harry Kane (another ex-Canary), and we’re so happy flogging him to death that we've decided we don't need another striker. Which brings me onto the main point, and inadvertently to Leicester.
Kane is our 'make a difference' player. Without him scoring every third touch last season, we would have finished 15th and I'm not sure Mauricio Pochettino would still be in a job. With globalisation/ better scouting/ more spinach/ who knows, the Premier League (slightly like international football) seems to have somehow condensed in quality, despite the huge financial inequalities. What I mean by that is that while the shit teams are still reassuringly shit, there seems to be less difference in general team strength between 15th place and 1st this season than ever before.
The title-chasing teams tend to do that because they've got more 'make a difference' players who consistently affect games. Maybe this is bloody obvious, I don't know, but Leicester are top because they've freakishly stumbled onto Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez who both have 13-15 goals, at exactly the moment the bigger teams’ key players have fallen off a cliff. United are struggling because Wayne Rooney is rubbish and Anthony Martial is about 7, likewise Chelsea with Eden Hazard and Diego Costa disappearing into the ether. Man City have looked good when Kevin De Bruyne scores, but Sergio Agüero is injured too often so they can't get it together, and Daniel Sturridge is a disaster and Philippe Coutinho still flaky so Liverpool are stuffed.
Spurs have Kane, Christian Eriksen is too lightweight still, and our stubborn refusal to sign that one other top-quality player means we won't take advantage. But still, at least it's not Cameron Jerome and Wes Hoolahan. But YES, a long answer to your short question, we have underachieved.
Dan: You were doing so well. A dig at Cameron Jerome, fine. But then you went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid about Wes.
Interesting you say Pochettino may have been sacked without Kane last season. But that isn't a reflection on Poch, is it? All good managers need good strikers, and he's only got the one... So it's more a reflection on Daniel Levy's small todger isn't it? You must be happy with the job Poch is doing - from the outside he looks like he's knitting together a very impressive side. Compared with Roberto Martinez, who arguably has a better squad than Poch – certainly in attack – he's doing great, is he not?
Sam: You bit! How could anyone slag off Wes?
Not really a reflection on Poch, but there were times last season when it looked like he wasn't sure how to assert himself on the lazy-overpaid-shite-foreign-past-it selection of also-rans assembled by André Villas-Boas (a tragi-comic zeitgeist fraud whose only assets were a beard and a suit and didn't have the ability or the personality to do the job). It was clear from the start that Pochettino was different; the question was how would he get to the point the team was his without Levy and/or some severely disaffected fans losing patience? We started brilliantly with the old guard trying to press, then got stuffed a few times, went to sitting deep, got stuffed again, and the football was turgid. Inverted wingers at its worst.
The season only got going when Kane fluked a free kick against Villa and then he discovered the Mason/Bentaleb partnership against Everton, and suddenly we had something resembling a style and a plan. (Reminds me of the 'Wow' moment when Sheringham/Anderton/Barmby suddenly came good in an FA Cup tie against you guys in 1993 weirdly).
The current team is an improvement on last season – Toby Alderweireld is awesome and Dele Alli the best we've had since Bale – but we won't really kick on until our three behind Kane start consistently scoring goals. The great thing about a Pochettino team is that at least everyone in it knows what they are trying to do, and he has the gift of making average players excel in that team framework. The worry is it still looks like they are too regimented sometimes, and there is very little in the way of a Plan B (save lumping it at Alli's head) – it’s as though Pochettino doesn't want it to enter the players' heads that there might be another way of playing.
The main worry with Pochettino is that given his Spanish background and burgeoning reputation, if he doesn't get the investment we need then someone bigger and more exotic may come and pinch him in the summer.
Dan: That FA Cup game was in the middle of Norwich's poorest patch of that season, and the two teams actually played on Boxing Day that season too – drawing 0-0. Norwich have only had one 0-0 in 2015, so let's just say that, with our defence, that scoreline is highly unlikely to be repeated on Saturday.
Now then. You mentioned Ryan Mason. Is he… any good? Every time I saw him play last season he was really, really bad, and then I'd get pundit-rage when they started inexplicably praising him. It seems that running around a lot, without really doing anything particularly effective while doing that running, gets you praised by the experts and picked by Roy Hodgson, who allowed him to run around while doing feck-all for England. Alli is a big step up in central midfield, isn't he? Where do you think he'll end up, positionally? Holding, attacking, bit of both, or mainly on the bench when all of the hype starts to crush him?
Sam: Ha. Don't underestimate what Spurs are capable of at WHL, this season we've put four past City and only one past Newcastle. We've also had three 0-0 draw there already, admittedly against Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea.
I'm a big Ryan Mason fan actually. He's got guts, a quick brain and moves the ball quickly and aggressively. I can see where your pundit-rage comes from – you're probably trying to come to terms with the fact that you find him weirdly attractive, but I'd urge you to focus on the football. That he takes risks means he is liable for more criticism than he deserves, and he's been unlucky that this season his old injury problems have returned just when he was putting together some match-effecting performances against Everton (almost) and Sunderland. Those injuries mean he's much younger career-wise than 24, and there are areas that need to improve quickly, his positional discipline needs work if he is going to play in an orthodox midfield two, and he needs to score more if he is going to play further forward, but he's got the important quality of being prepared to try (as opposed to passing it sideways), and could be a really valuable asset for club and country if he gets an injury-free run and things go for him at the right moments.
Alli is obviously a class apart, probably England's most naturally talented CM since Steven Gerrard. I like him in the deeper position, as he arrives late as well as Lamps/Scholes/ Gerrard – as 15 goals from CM last season shows. He can tackle and has vision, but there are clearly some dips to come, he's been playing further forward and hasn't quite been at his best over the last few weeks, but if anyone can handle him Pochettino can. Of course, neither of them are Bradley Johnson (I know he doesn't play for you any more). Tell me about Youssouf Mulumbu, he was class for a bit at WBA, what happened?
Dan: Now I feel a bit mean about slagging off Mason. Although saying his positional discipline 'needs more work' is like saying Bobby Charlton went bald with dignity. You're right, though. He is weirdly attractive, like Adam Lallana after a couple of night sleeping under a bridge.
I thought Mulumbu would be a terrific signing. Always thought he should be playing at a bigger club than West Brom (and now he is, arf arf) but their fans say he went stale in the last couple of seasons. He was injured in pre-season and hasn't been able to force his way past Alex Tettey and - wait for this - Gary O'Neil, who is quickly overtaking Spurs old boy Gary Doherty as the best Gary to have ever played for Norwich. In the few matches he's featured in Mulumbu has looked full of energy but his distribution has been poor. Having said that, he was great when he came on against Manchester United at the weekend – calm, intelligent and powerful when going forward. Did I mention we won at Old Trafford?
Ok, what with this being Christmas Eve and both of us having eggnog to guzzle, two last questions: what's the best way to set up against Tottenham (and Alex Neil will be looking for a win - he won't be going for the draw) and what's your score prediction?
Sam: How has it taken six emails to mention Gary Doherty...?
So you won at Old Trafford eh? Well I don't think you're going to win at Spurs if you come to attack. That's what City and West Ham did and we put four past them. Much better to defend deep and in numbers, wait for the nerves to set in and the crowd to start to fret – too many memories of patchy Spurs performances and angry crowds for Spurs players to feel comfortable at home yet. Keep some firepower on the bench (Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani perhaps) and then let them loose in the last 30 mins. If there's only a goal or two in it at that stage you've got a chance (See Spurs vs Stoke and Newcastle this season).
Let's pray for my Boxing Day that it’s not another 0-0. So let’s say 5-0 to Spurs…
Dan: Cheers Sam! I always worried more about this game – the Gary Doherty Cup – than the trip to Old Trafford. But whether it’s the Christmas cheer or simply delusion, I’m going for a 1-1 draw. Norwich have played well against the better sides this season, and I reckon that might just continue.
Sam Collins is a journalist and filmmaker. His documentary Death of a Gentleman – about greed, corruption and scandal in cricket (and is brilliant, by the way) – is available on DVD. You can order it from deathofagentlemanfilm.com