Dear Mr. Sherwood…oh who needs formality..Dear Tim,
Let me start by saying that I do understand what you are trying to do by playing Nabil Bentaleb for every minute of every single game: if you bring through a player from the youth system who proved to be a success ahead of big money, more illustrious names, you will be hailed as a genius in your early days of management. However, there is a big issue: Bentaleb is not as good as you think he is and your persistence with making him your most relied upon midfielder is proving detrimental to not only our club, but also your career.
Something I should clarify there: I referred to Tottenham as “our club”, meaning the supporters, those of us who are die-hard fans who have spent our time, money and energy following the team. I was a season ticket holder for five years, going to every home match and many away ones; and continue to watch every fixture one the edge of my seat (as I did from the Paxton Road End, Block 19, Row 11, Seat 82 from 2002/3 until 2007), willing Spurs on to victory and it ruining my mood when they lose. As you have stated before, you grew up as an Arsenal fan and not only does your Dad still have a season ticket at the Emirates, you publicly stated a couple of months ago that you still hope that they do well. Now, it is of course perfectly acceptable for you to support whoever you like – but forgive me if I will never consider you a Tottenham man because of your express desire that our chief rivals will do well. I do not have any personal issue with supporters of the Woolwich club either, I have many friends who have that failing, but I could never hope that they do well. If Arsenal had been the team playing the Nazi prison officers in Escape to Victory, I would have been rooting for the Germans, that’s what it is like being a Spurs fan – hell two times a year, I even end up rooting for Chelsea just so to see the other lot lose.
Now all of this is important not because of a tribal rivalry, but as it demonstrates that your main desire to succeed at Tottenham is self-interest: if you can take over from a more established manager and take the team to the next level, it will reflect very well on your managerial skills. Hence your obsession with playing your prodigy of Bentaleb, initially as the holding midfielder in place of the much stronger tackling Etienne Capoue. However, now you have realized the importance of having someone who is able to win the ball back, Capoue is being deployed in front of the back four, with your pet project given a freer role slightly further forward. The thing is, you already have your personal victory in the form of the re-introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor into the fray – with the Togolese striker repaying your faith by finding his goalscoring form almost immediately. While that decision as proven the be successful, Nabil Bentaleb’s ever presence in the starting lineup is proving you are not above getting too set in your ways, just as Andre Villas-Boas was with the exclusion of Adebayor. Selecting Bentaleb constantly is costing the team for four reasons:
Even though you have seemingly abandoned your initial plan of playing a 4-4-2 (by the way, admirable that you recognized that those tactics were not always ideal, especially with the misfiring Roberto Soldado as the only option to play up front with the Emmanuel Adebayor) with the youngster guaranteed a position in the team there are only four slots for all the others in the squad to fit into. With Capoue (plus the perennially injured Sandro) the only recognized ball-winner – and a player you wanted to leave during the transfer window and would have done if Napoli had offered more – playing the holding role, that leaves Paulino, Mousa Dembélé, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, Nacer Chadli, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen competing for three places. That does not even consider Lewis Holtby – currently on loan at Fulham – who is one of the best passers of the ball I have seen at Tottenham, but he could not force his way even into your consideration.
- On a similar note to the first point, but because Bentaleb is always in the team, the person who seems to be left out most is Christian Eriksen, who I consider to be the best player in this current squad. Contrary to the popular perception of the Dane, he has shown himself to be a hard-working midfielder and often picks up the ball on the edge of his own box, before orchestrating the attacks with passing that – although not 100% successful – is inventive and puts the opposition on the back foot. Not only do we miss his contribution in open play when he is not on the field, but the current crop of midfielders you have been deploying each week lacks a recognized dead-ball expert. Against Norwich, Kyle Naughton was taking corner kicks! Now Naughton is a fine reserve right-back, but the lack of a creative player who can actually put a good cross in on the pitch to take advantage of set plays, especially with the talent at your disposal, is quite frankly ridiculous.
- There is a lack of balance in the team at the moment: Capoue, Bentaleb, Paulinho and Dembélé are all central midfielders and there is not enough creativity with all of them on the field at once. Paulinho is not performing as well as he was earlier in the campaign and that seems to be because of a lack of space in the middle of the park, where he has three other players moving into the positions he would normally occupy. Our best possible system right now would be a 4-5-1 with two central midfielders (Capoue and Paulino, with the Brazilian given the license to push forward); Townsend and Lennon on the flanks, switching wings throughout the match and with Chadli available to come in for either of them; then Eriksen as the man just behind the striker, playing the fulcrum to all of the attacks. When everyone is available for selection, then I would have Sigurdsson, Dembélé and Lamela (alongside Chadli) as the players to come in to change things up as needed.
- Finally, Bentaleb may well turn out to be a great player, but he is far from the level you appear to believe him to be at the moment. My biggest question is what does he actually add to a team: he is not a tough tackling midfielder; his passing is nothing special and at times can be sloppy; he is not involved in set-plays and he is not a dynamic presence in the middle of the park that can turn attack into defence in one move. I honestly hope every game that the Algerian will prove you right, but while he is not making any positive difference – indeed against Norwich, it was him losing possession softly that cost us the only goal of the match – and is taking a spot away from the talents of Christian Eriksen, on the pitch, Bentaleb being in the team will only provide myself and other Tottenham fans with frustration, not admiration at your knowledge of the youth system at the club.
To conclude, I have to tell you that I am rooting for you to do well, because that means that Spurs are successful. If you are winning matches and propel us to a trophy win or a top four finish (preferably the former, winning the Europa League would be a bigger deal that simply qualifying for the Champions League, which we could not hope to win) then I will be delighted and the fact you were/are an Arsenal fan would be
forgotten forgiven ignored – at least until the success stopped. But if you do want to succeed and avoid the specter of Louis Van Gaal taking over in the summer, you need to send Bentaleb back to the reserves, or out on loan somewhere, and pick Christian Eriksen every match. Please, for us Tottenham supporters…and yourself.