he defence of the realm. Another week and another terrorist attack in London. The people bleed into each other as surely as the incidents themselves do. Such is the frequency of the attacks that it gets harder to just shrug and immerse ourselves in the things that help us forget, things like football.
At Wembley on Saturday, I didn’t lose my life. Just 90 minutes of it. Swansea attacked Tottenham with wave after wave of anti- football until Tottenham, so tired on their feet after
Wednesday’s toil against Dortmund, found they had no choice but to surrender. The old powers struggle to invent ways to dismantle this new, radical form of combat.
Swansea were as diligent defensively as they were boring with the ball. Defending, so they tell me, is an art to be respected. Certainly any one of the great Italian past masters would have headed away to paint a chapel ceiing in celebration of divine defensiveness.
Tottenham fans, all 60,000 of us, are a little more shallow. We checked our phones and relayed scores down the very British queue for the train home.
“City stuck six past Watford.” Where was it?
“At Watford.” Fuck.
“Aguero got a hat-trick apparently.”
If only the mores of society allowed us to pick a new team every September. What a boost to mental health. Quietly we boarded the train with our carry-on luggage of glum fatalism. Another bloody long year ahead.
Back before global warming was a thing I played some football. Naively, we tried to win every game. We soldiered on knowing that our survival did not hinge on beating an entire army, there were some battles that we would always lose. We turned up and played, though. Maybe using all our pluck and cunning we could win but those days took an awful toll on us. So generally we picked on people our own size or smaller. We hunted down the strays, the hesitant and the struggling. We knew the laws of the food chain. So gobbled the cute furry types some days and fought like belly-up cats on others.
We got devoured sometimes but we could scare people too. Ruthless was the word in the changing room. Everything we inflicted on those we could do it to was inflicted ruthlessly. There were sufficient days of happy hunting to keep us alive if not fat.
Teams didn’t lurk in the lower table. They loitered. Most of them hapless. They didn’t score enough and they conceded too many. And that was football 101. You don’t score you don’t win, son.
Now even Swansea know how to make life unpleasant for their hosts when they come to visit.
There are no reliable scorelines. Cheetahs 2 Wildebeests 0. Of course, Pep Guardiola said on Saturday that he can give his players all the tactics and help in the world but he has to rely on having players at his disposal that are the world’s best. The romance of football is dead and gone.
Guardiola is telling us that his world-class players rely on the fact that Watford do not have world-class players. They are coach-proofed. It is that difference, the ability to accumulate, not tactics, that wins football matches.
That’s depressing for Watford of course. They can match Swansea any day when it comes to eking out scoreless draws but this is something they can’t deal with. They are not built for fending off waves of world-class players.
It’s depressing for the Watfords and Swanseas. It’s also pretty grim for Spurs!
Ask Mauricio Pochettino. With the reliable exception of Moussa Sissoko, Spurs have a sprinkling of great players. Swansea do not. What Spurs are also lacking is the ability to replace their best players with the truly great players. The key upgrade. Spurs can shop in Waitrose. Pep sends his man to Harrods with a list. On Saturday when Spurs were huffing and puffing after 75 minutes, the bench could only offer Llorente.
Lethal on occasion but powerless to hold off Swansea’s back five and create anything meaningful. Somebody Swansea let go, for goodness sake.
Six goals without reply did not flatter City. Of course, we all understand that as a Watford player it is game over at 3-0. Everything else is letting the big cat playfully paw your carcass till it all goes dark.
At Wembley, meanwhile, Spurs were being reminded that big names mean nothing if they are not 100% fit. A team growing ever more exhausted playing on their big front room carpet were not helped by Swansea’s growing conviction that they could win this with a resounding 0-0. Kane had a couple of chances, he hit the bar and should have scored. We thought of
Llorente, the solid first responder from the bench in these emergencies and wondered what it would be like to have the gaudy riches of Sterling, Aguero and Jesus competing with each other.
Guardiola’s times at Man City has shown him to be unfinished as a coach. On Saturday he seemed to concede that money could cure all that. Money could insulate this latest project against his own failings.
City will take huge encouragement from such a comfortable win. Your strikers scoring goals is
always a happy thing. It helps to cow the opposition. Aguero, who Guardiola didn’t much fancy until recently, has learned like a US presidential candidate to embrace Jesus. It’s working. They look
forward to two fixtures now against West Brom away and Crystal Palace at home. Nice games when you’ve just scored a hat-trick as Aguero has done. Great days if you are building a striking partnership that is already riffing sweet harmonies.
Spurs, one imagines, are living the reality endured by much of the Premier League. Hoping to hang in there till Waitrose opens again in January. Maybe there will be bargains. Short-term theyregroup for games against West Ham, Huddersfield and Bournemouth. There should be a gimpy wildebeest on the menu there but even the wildebeest have personal trainers and big notions now.
Last season, such a run of games might well have yielded nine handy points. Now, with a League Cup match and two Champions League nights sandwiched in, (one away to Real Madrid) it looks pretty scary. Spurs have won two of their past 11 games at Wembley. People look at Spurs and smell dinner.
Watford’s next game after they patch themselves up? Swansea away. That’s the real world for anybody not stockpiling world class players.
When Leicester won the league and everybody cried at the romance of it all, the gimlet eyed men in the plushest boardrooms vowed never again. No matter that it costs, never again. There are no safe and carefree days for the rest of us now.