Do Spurs have an advantage this Saturday due to the fact they have some local lads in their side who know what this fixture means? Windy drops the passion.
This season on The Fighting Cock podcast we’ve spoken frequently about the feelings of pleasure and pride we derive from seeing young players from the Tottenham Hotspur Academy – often local lads – playing in the first team.
This morning, Ben Pearce of the Tottenham Journal published quotes from Harry Kane’s pre-match interview, illustrating just why it’s important that we have homegrown talent in the first team, especially for a match like this, the North London Derby.
“Does the derby mean more to us because we’re local and we’re Spurs fans? Yes I think so. I think we realise how much more it means to everyone.
As fans, we think we can see confidence on a football pitch, but much of it is bluster and bravado
We try to instil that in other players that maybe don’t know as much. We’ll be letting them know that it’s the biggest game of the season and we’ll be trying to get a win and really put in a performance.
It’s the biggest game for the fans, the club, the players.”
And so in the rest of this piece I will be unapologetically using the type of meaningless football twaddle that I would have probably mocked Tim Sherwood for blurting out a few months ago. Because maybe Sherwood had some sort of point.
There are so many factors on which matches are decided – so many layers between preparation and outcome that can influence the outcome at 16:45 on a Saturday afternoon (or 14:30 if Sky have got their mitts on the fixture).
There’s the team set-up: the tactics and knowledge of the opposition. If we have a man advantage in midfield, we may have to accept a numerical disadvantage in the final third. Do we need natural width or would we be better off with our wingers tucking inside to try to create overloads on the edge of the box? Do we want a striker who will run in behind to stretch a defence or one who prefers to drop deep and link play?
With the likes of Kane, Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason in the squad – to whom it means more – we have that extra drive that might bridge a quality gap should there be one
There’s sports medicine and fitness. Are Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen in peak fitness after covering so many kilometres in January? Do they need a day off training in midweek to recover? Do any players in the squad have any chronic injuries to manage? Are painkilling injections required pre-match? Have we been gorging on dodgy lasagne?
There’s the sports psychology, an element in which André Villas-Boas was a strong believer. Are the players in the right frame of mind? Are they mentally prepared? Do they believe they can win?
The first two are – to an extent – the tangibles. You can tell a player where to position himself. You can tell him what to do in various situations. You can watch him carry out orders game after game, analysing post-match to illustrate what he did well and not so well. You can test his fitness. You can perform blood tests, test heart rates. You can scan muscles.
But sports psychology is still largely reliant on a gut feeling, albeit that of an expert these days. As fans, we think we can see confidence on a football pitch, but much of it is bluster and bravado. Quiet, understated footballers like Luka Modrić have self-confidence which belies that of arrogant teammates.
But it’s not all about belief and confidence – sometimes there’s something else that can transform a football match, and this is where Sherwood was perhaps onto something. There’s character. There’s desire. There’s gut, as he called it. There’s a will to win.
We have already seen more than a few glimpses of this at our club this season. We’ve come from behind. We’ve ‘dug deep’ and held on with ten men. We’ve won games late. Just last week, Sheffield United levelled the cup tie with character, with determination. And we snatched it back again with that same drive – through Kane and through Christian Eriksen.
With the likes of Kane, Andros Townsend and Ryan Mason in the squad – to whom it means more – we have that extra drive that might bridge a quality gap should there be one. That might overcome a tactical disadvantage. That might energise tired legs.
Because Harry Kane’s extra-hard running down of a defender in this match might rush that defender into making a sloppy pass. And Ryan Mason’s desire to intercept that pass might lead to us winning the ball back. And Andros Townsend showing the heart to burst in front of his marker might lead to us getting a shot away… and it can end in a tangible. It can make a difference.
We’re not talking David vs Goliath here – the teams are already close in quality. The difference between ‘famous win’ and ‘demoralising defeat’ really can be as simple as trying that bit harder.
Ryan Mason could easily have jacked it in at Spurs and taken a free transfer to a lesser club, one where the route to the first team would be easier. Instead he chose to stay on and fight for his place well into his twenties. He did this as a Spurs fan and as tenacious young professional who wanted to prove that the required qualities – both technically and mentally.
Likewise Kane, who struggled on loan at Norwich (for various reasons) and who was sneered at in his early performances in a Spurs shirt could have easily decided to try again elsewhere with a fresh start.
When Arsenal’s players see the fire behind the eyes of our own technically accomplished, Spurs-supporting, local lads, perhaps they will have doubts
Andros Townsend was briefly released by Spurs at 14 years old. He didn’t accept the decision and two days later he was back training after staff from Spurs met with his parents.
Just by talking in training – just by explaining the importance of the fixture to their less-informed teammates, Kane, Mason and Townsend could already have done their bit to some extent.
And when Arsenal’s players – all so technically accomplished with outstanding pedigree – see the fire behind the eyes of our own technically accomplished, Spurs-supporting, local lads, perhaps they will have doubts as to who wants it more.
Get ’em, Harry. Get ’em, Ryan. Get ’em, Andros. GET THEM!