Angeball can only succeed if Spurs go all in this summer – but has Postecoglou done enough?

Dave Tickner
Ange Postecoglou looks baffled during Tottenham's match against Newcastle
Ange Postecoglou looks baffled during Tottenham's match against Newcastle

Spurs have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous this season. Can they – should they – hold their nerve and go all in on Angeball this summer?


Spurs find themselves, as they so frequently do, at a summer crossroads with Big Decisions to be made.

Until very recently, it was all quite straightforward. Whether they finished fourth or fifth it was all very encouraging. It’s not even that long ago that fifth place looked like it would probably mean Champions League football anyway.

But a combination of Spurs losing their way at a crucial time through a tough fixture list, allied with Villa’s continued excellence and also some belated competence from Chelsea and Newcastle, has left things all a bit uncertain again.

Spurs are now going to hit the summer on a low. They should still probably beat Burnley and Sheffield United – for all the Spursy banter they are played six, won six so far against the bottom four – but that’s not really going to tell us all that much or lift the mood dramatically. And if they don’t win those games…

There is an element of bad luck to this. They have had a tough run of games, with Arsenal at home among trips to Newcastle, Chelsea and Liverpool. Individually, defeat in any of those games would be no cause for panic. But to lose all four, and so often in such breathtakingly naïve, guileless fashion, inevitably raises doubts about the sustainability of everything they’re trying to achieve under Ange Postecoglou.

A manager who has spent most of his debut campaign in manager of the year territory now looks absolutely ripe for a classic November sacking as Spurs write off another season a third of the way through and embark on yet another long-term project for another 18 months.

And really, despite how bad they have been – and they have often been very, very bad – it’s not really these four defeats that are the problem. It’s that in general the defeats have become far more convincing than the victories. This recent run has merely crystallised the nagging doubts that were already there.

Since Spurs imploded to what looks in hindsight (and, if we’re honest, did at the time) like truly baffling levels of praise against Chelsea in November, they really have been a mid-table team in every way.

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After that heady early run of eight wins and two draws, how many truly convincing Spurs performances come tomind? We can think of only really two. At home against Newcastle, and away at Aston Villa. Spurs were truly excellent in both those games, but they are isolated examples among a sample set now 25 games large.

And they’ve collapsed like this in what is close to the easiest possible season in terms of workload. No European football, three cup games all in, and they still look absolutely exhausted both mentally and physically.

Part of that, one imagines, is the way they are expected and required to play the game. We’ve seen plenty of recent evidence that Ange isn’t f***ing about when he says results don’t matter to him as much as the method.

It’s not glib; his view is that getting the latter right means the former will take care of itself. He has often been unimpressed after victories if he feels his players have strayed from the blueprint, and lost it completely against Chelsea not because they were losing the game but because his players kept passing the ball backwards in defiance of his by now very clear instructions.

So what do Spurs do this summer? It still seems unthinkable that they could move on from an experiment that has shown plenty of promise, but if they’re going to continue then they do need to go absolutely all in. And it’s not quite clear Postecoglou has done quite enough or delivered quite enough proof of concept to justify that.

Tricky, then. We’ve come down after some thought on the ‘all in’ side. Spurs need to go full Angeball off the pitch as well as on. At least that way we’ll know for sure. Don’t die wondering, and all that.

The first and most obvious thing that Spurs must do – whatever else they set out to achieve this summer – is get someone in to sort out the defending from set-pieces. It’s not entirely clear whose job it is currently, part of the problem in itself, but the second half of this season has been a clusterf*ck.

There is a wider concern about Angeball being ‘worked out’ and there’s no doubt teams are no longer quite so surprised and bamboozled by the unusual locations in which the full-backs are often to be found, but we do wonder how much of that working out is less about Spurs’ play in general and more the realisation that forcing a corner or three probably means you’ll get yourself a goal.

From there it becomes about the players. And the good news here is that it doesn’t necessarily require huge big-name players. What we’ve learned for sure about Angeball as a system is that some players can do it and others can’t. Postecoglou himself has spoken of the need to move some players on – even some very good ones – to get in more who are suited to the style.

The flipside here of course is that if it does all go wrong Spurs might be left with a honker of a squad for anyone else to try and rescue. But the alternative is worse; Spurs have no choice but to do this with their whole entire arse out for the world.

What Spurs did do last summer and to a lesser extent in January is make a promising start on all this. They and Postecoglou clearly have a good idea of what they want and who they need, because not many players who have come in have looked a bad fit.

And it’s worth reiterating just how quick the (necessary) rebuild has been. Six of Spurs’ first-choice XI made their debuts this season. And Pedro Porro and Pape Sarr were hardly veterans.

But Spurs must be equally bold – and equally successful – this summer. What the second half of the season has shown is that once a single square peg occupies a single round hole the whole system can quickly collapse.

There are still glimpses, even among the current gloom, of how special it can be. Still moments and passages of bravura passing football from back to front that suggest the future can still be bright. That this can absolutely still work.

But if this is to have any hope of being anything more than yet another false dawn in N17 then this summer it’s time to go all out and all in and risk leaving yourself open. It is, after all, the Angeball way.

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