Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What Defines a Starter?

Following France captain Hugo Lloris’ arrival at Tottenham on transfer deadline day, as well as the confirmation that Spurs have named 4 goalkeepers in their 25 man Premier League list, I’ve wondered about Lloris’ role in the team and squad as a whole this season.

Spurs’ head coach AndrĂ© Villas-Boas praised current first choice keeper Brad Friedel’s performance against Norwich City at the weekend and claimed that the American would keep his place in the starting line up for the foreseeable future. Following the 1-1 draw, Villas-Boas had this to say:

'Brad is doing extremely well and deserves to be playing and he'll continue to do so.

'He knows about the situation. We had to take this decision bearing in mind that we want to build for the future. So we decided to bring in Hugo now.

'We have to work with that and he will have to adapt to the Premier League.

'There are players who need more time, players who need less time. But when you have a keeper who gives so much confidence to the team and is doing so well, he deserves to be in goal.'

Villas-Boas’ statement is obviously an understandable one, though anyone who has watched Friedel closely since his arrival at White Hart Lane would have seen a mixture of fantastic saves coupled with a refusal to venture off his line to collect crosses. The last two goals we have conceded, against Norwich and West Brom, left me questioning Brad’s bravery, or whether it was down to him wanting to stick to the basics, therefore not making any noticeable ‘mistakes’. Both goals came as a result of a number of crosses failing to be cleared, while Brad could be criticised for being slow to get down to meet the final shots, both goals being placed under the veteran’s body.

A goalkeeper with more command of his area could have been willing to come off his line to attempt to claim one of the several crosses being floated into the Tottenham box, but that risk could just as easily have led to a mistake, resulting in a goal. One does have to wonder if a pairing of Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul would have had more success clearing the crosses that William Gallas and Jan Vertonghen failed to deal with. Food for thought.

Lloris’ international manager Didier Deschamps has added to fuel to the fire by claiming that Lloris is now having second thoughts following his move to North London, having expected to be an automatic starter. Speaking ahead of their first World Cup qualified, Deschamps said:

'Hugo has not appreciated the statements of his coach.

'I am not going to create a problem that I do not need today.

'But if it were to happen then it would need some consideration. I do not want Hugo to find himself in this situation.'

The second line amuses me, given the reaction his comments have provoked. Deschamps’ comments must surely be taken with a pinch of salt. As manager of the national team, it is in his best interests to have his captain playing first team football, even if he has to use underhand tactics to insure this is the case.

Additional reports that Lloris has been badmouthing his new boss have been unconfirmed, likely to be part of the ongoing media vendetta against our great club. While Lloris, being the fantastic goalkeeper he is, surely expects to be first choice at Spurs, I sincerely doubt he expects to walk straight into the team, especially given Friedel’s record of consecutive Premier League appearances.
Brad Friedel is playing reasonably well; he’s doing what he’s good at, if not what Villas-Boas wants from a goalkeeper. Lloris arrives with a reputation for being good with his feet, having good communication skills, and being able to use his 6’3” frame to good effect. Those three qualities are all key aspects of what Villas-Boas wants patrolling behind his high-lined defence.

It makes me wonder what qualifies a player to be an automatic choice in a first XI. Last season under Harry Redknapp there were far too many, too many players that were considered undroppable, players that were virtually unchallenged for their position. This wasn’t because there was no other player capable of playing in that position, or even players close to the current starters’ ability level.

Brad Friedel, Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul, Ledley King, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Aaron Lennon, Scott Parker, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor were the players in question. While Sandro became a more valued member of the team towards the end of the season, that was the first choice XI, and if fit, no matter what level of form the player or team was showing, they were likely to start.

Members of our squad, supposed valued members, were left kicking their heels on the bench, playing the occasional cup match. Those cup matches were often followed by wide spread levels of criticism for the players who came into the team, usually following subpar performances. Any criticism of these players was unfair and unjust, as they were expected to step straight into the team with hardly any match fitness built up, and even if they did perform well, they were straight back onto the bench for the next game.

Does a new signing deserve to start straight away? Not in most cases. If they player arrives in a struggling team, or those who are starting in his position are under performing, if they are already in good form upon arrival, then it is understandable.

Wages and transfer fee should not come into the manager’s head when he is selecting his team. It may come into the chairman’s when he selects his privately, but for Villas-Boas it should be down to form alone, and not reputation.

Andros Townsend has been an unused substitute in all three Premier League games this season, when Aaron Lennon is particular has struggled to make an impact. The arrival of Clint Dempsey is likely to further stand in the way of any minutes on the pitch for Townsend. His pace and trickery could have been an effective weapon against tired defenders in the opening few weeks of the season, but he has had to settle for U-21 Premier League ond Spurs XI outings thus far.

My hope is that as the season progresses, Villas-Boas will select players in form, not those that cost the club the most money on a weekly basis.

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