Tottenham Tired

David Runciman

England played against Russia like a team that could win this tournament, but also like a team that almost certainly won’t. It’s the usual story: you worry about them getting tired. In the first half they looked at times like world-beaters – Euro-beaters anyway – but the second half wasn’t so good (it very rarely is for England at big tournaments) and in the end they couldn’t hang on. So far, so familiar. However, it’s more specific than that. This time you worry about them getting Tottenham tired.

Five of the starting eleven against Russia are Spurs players and they were among the best performers on the pitch. Walker, Rose, Dier and Alli all looked sharp and eager (we’ll come back to Kane later). But they have all come off a grueling and ultimately disappointing domestic season. They also play week in, week out for a manager who drives his teams hard and expects them to outlast their opponents. For most of the season Spurs did this but in the end they ran out of puff. Pochettino has form here: at Southampton he also produced a hard-running team that couldn’t stay the course of an entire league campaign. Relying on the current Tottenham side to carry England to glory is like hoping you can get through the whole day without taking your phone charger with you. Maybe you can, but not if you plan to spend much time using it.

All great club managers drive their teams hard and eventually tire them out. Wenger seems to leave his Arsenal sides mentally exhausted by about February every year. Mourinho eventually runs every side he manages into the ground, though he is careful not to do it until they have won a few trophies first. He leaves his players broken, but his personal reputation enhanced: nice work if you can get it. Ferguson made sure his teams came on strong in the second half of the season, even if that meant going easy on them in the first.

What none of them do is think about what it means for the national teams who have to drag themselves through yet another tournament once the regular season is over. That’s the job of the national managers. But they rarely seem to factor in how their players have been used and abused over the previous ten months. Kane had a great season for Spurs, so Hodgson starts him up front. But Kane already looks exhausted.

Between them, Kane, Alli and Dier played 147 games for Spurs last season, which is a lot. Kane is a better and more versatile player than Vardy, other things being equal, but other things are not equal. Vardy only had to play 38 times for Leicester, compared to Kane’s 50 for Tottenham. The biggest reason Leicester finished ahead of Spurs is that their players spent a lot less time on the pitch (since the team had fewer commitments in other competitions) and so were able to hold their form to the very end. It’s not romantic, but it’s the truth: by the time you get to April and May, miles on the clock count for just as much as tactics and talent. And by the time you get to June and July, maybe for even more.

That’s why being a national team manager must be such a thankless job. Fans want to see the best players on the pitch. They also want some romance – this is England, after all. Beginning the tournament with Vardy in the starting line-up in place of Kane would have looked like an admission of defeat: he doesn’t really have the pedigree to be the figurehead of a serious assault on the trophy. Even now, dropping Kane might look like cowardice. Hodgson will probably do what he always does and hope that class will out. It would be lovely if he were proved right. But history suggests that class will simply run out of steam instead.


  • 13 June 2016 at 8:07am
    ejh says:
    Beginning the tournament with Vardy in the starting line-up in place of Kane would have looked like an admission of defeat: he doesn’t really have the pedigree to be the figurehead of a serious assault on the trophy

    What does this mean? Vardy scored 24 league goals last season, Kane scored 25. Vardy played for the league champions, Kane for the team who finished third. What "pedigree" has Kane got that Vardy does not?

  • 13 June 2016 at 9:24am
    Simon Wood says:
    I think this is a plainly worded, sensible assessment, I do. David Runciman writes like people talk of racehorses and cars - every outing knackers the asset.

    One thinks of the Somme. Being England means up and at 'em, do the right thing, don't look a fool in front of your mates, decency before winning.

  • 13 June 2016 at 2:16pm
    kadinsky says:
    Bit knee-jerky this. I saw nothing awry in any of the Spurs' boys performances; Kane has been wearing that exhausted demeanour since the spring of 2015 but keeps on delivering.

    The only glaring inadequacies were Sterling's final ball and Hodgson's failure to sub him for Vardy. Overall, it was a good display - they just got sucker-punched at the death is all.

    • 13 June 2016 at 5:07pm
      Simon Wood says: @ kadinsky
      When they score, I think, "Oh, no, now they're going to lose."

  • 14 June 2016 at 6:31am
    cufflink says:
    It was not tiredness that sapped the Spurs last three league games it was the lack of necessary points to win against a team already with token ribbons on the trophy. As professional high earning agent-tied hired legs the primary concern was with an appearance at Euro 2016 and no injuries.
    Harry Kane is nursing a vulnerable nose injury hence he's taking the corners and keeping matters at his feet so is not full game.
    Since the Russian match we have seen two more Spurs players unable to dominate to their abilities in the Belgium side, which also shows why talent will not always succeed over the DNA of ingrained cultural footie expression - the Azurri are masters of tactics.
    Ranieri gives to Leicester the nous and verve of manly success.

  • 14 June 2016 at 8:05pm
    jomellon says:
    > In the first half they looked at times like world-beaters – Euro-beaters anyway – but the second half wasn’t so good (it very rarely is for England at big tournaments) and in the end they couldn’t hang on.

    I can't agree that England looked like Euro-beaters:
    1) Pacing yourself over 90 minutes is a key skill as well as forcing the other team to run more than you do. Class teams tend to look quite immobile: only 3-4 players are working at any one time unless they spurt to action for 20-30 seconds. They are either holding the ball and passing, or moving to close the free room.
    England just ran about like madmen, then collapsed as they got tired.
    2) Part of the economy of movement comes from very exact passing, and control of the ball with minimal contact. Only Rooney and Sterling have the same skill level as almost all of the Spanish, German or Italian teams.
    3) England has no great tactical range: they don't flexibly change the tactical arrangement of the players depending on the opponents strengths and weaknesses. They play one (or two) ways and that's it. If the opponent 'cracks' their defensive system they are in trouble. If their offensive system doesn't crack the opponents defense, they are relying on a lucky shot from the second row.

  • 15 June 2016 at 8:57pm
    Mat Snow says:
    Spurs fan here, and I am in full agreement with this piece. Pochettino is a disciple of the Argentine manager and tactical innovator Marcelo Bielsa, whose preference is for an intense, high-pressing game to blitz opponents and break their powers of resistance with relentless attack, denying them the time on the ball to build any momentum of their own. To make this work you need super-fit players; even so, wear and tear and exhaustion arrives at some point.

    The Argentine top division has only 15 teams so the league season lasts only 28 games, and Bielsa's style is successfully sustainable over the course of a season. But with 38 in games in our Premier League, the demands on the players are likely to exhaust them before the end of the season.Hence Spurs managing to finish third in a two-horse race last season and the evident lag in the legs and mind of Harry Kane today, the focal point of both Spurs and England against Russia.

    Yes, I would play Vardy and rest Kane. Apart from anything else, I wouldn't want him starting our next league season suffering a Euro hangover. I am pretty confident that Pochettino has the guile to modify his post-Bielsa thinking to stretch our successful style of play right to the finishing line next time.

    • 23 June 2016 at 11:14am
      Gibbon says: @ Mat Snow
      Hmmm. Not sure. Look at Kyle... He certainly hasn't run out of steam?! Ditto Danny Rose. I think Alli has energy too, but looks out of form.

      The thing we need to remember about Kane is he played all the way through last summer too. He has played more games than any English footballer in the last two seasons. He needs a break, for sure. But that doesn't mean that the Biesla/Pochettino (and Klopp?) approach is not fit for the Premier League.

      Either way, a bigger squad would help Spurs. The obvious comeback re: Rose and Walker is that they have been the only part of Spurs starting XI that has been reliably rotated.

  • 16 June 2016 at 2:52pm
    Simon Wood says:
    More running around like madmen, with diving, wrestling and argy-bargy thrown in. Compare the economy of Iceland.

    • 17 June 2016 at 6:39pm
      gary morgan says: @ Simon Wood
      Simon your comment made me instantly think of "Reykjavik on the Liffey" and quite a different sort of economy. Quite enlightening by accident, actually.
      A game against Wales was always going to be like this. There's a definite English masochism at work in football analysis.
      Best wishes.

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