Sunday, October 26, 2008

Here Juande, gone the next: Levy and Spurs left with Hamburg-er all over their faces

If you thought that the now low-burning Newcastle crisis two months ago bordered on farce, the black comedy of Tottenham Hotspurs' season continues apace this weekend (which is lightened only slightly by my atrocious puns in the headline). In an astonishing move made all the more ruthless by the instantaneous appointment of Harry Redknapp, the Spurs board took the decision to remove Juande Ramos after one year in charge following the club's worst ever start to a Premier League season.

Daniel Levy is clearly, then, a man who doesn't agonise over delicate decisions. Subtlety may even be an alien concept to the Spurs chairman. Just 12 months ago, the protracted but very public seduction of Juande Ramos from Sevilla to replace Martin Jol dominated the headlines, causing outrage and disgust in many circles at the embarrassing treatment of Martin Jol's at the hands of his employers. On a side note, the irony of Levy complaining about Manchester United's courting of Dimitar Berbatov this summer, when much the same had occurred in Spurs' capture of Ramos, appeared to be lost on him. Anyway, Jol's crime was to oversee a poor start to a season after two consecutive fifth place finishes - the best any team outside of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool can realistically expect. While Jol's Spurs' bad form was not to be denied, that Levy judged succeeding the Dutchman with a new face as an instant solution now looks to be an obvious mistake.

Spurs had had two very successful domestic seasons in a row, playing exciting football, albeit resulting in often dramatic scenes at both ends of the pitch. Jol was well-liked by his squad and the fans, and while their form then might have been poor, it is positively flying by comparison to this season's start. Many questioned quite rightly the legitimacy of Levy's ousting of Martin Jol, in favour of giving him time to turn around the successful team he had managed for the previous two seasons.

And this weekend, many of those ugly elements have again darkened White Hart Lane's doors. Following two points from a possible 24, Juande Ramos, his two coaches and sporting director Damien Commoli were all shown the door, and another replacement instantly lined up in the (unmistakable) shape of Harry Redknapp. Less than a quarter of the way through the season, Levy's cherry-picked manager was removed, again without being given any time to rectify the situation, again without remorse, and again without Levy displaying any sort of awareness as to the hypocrisy of his decisions. You can't help but feel sorry for Ramos: as the object of Levy's affections just over a year ago, he can hardly be blamed for feeling stabbed in the back somewhat by the amount of faith shown in him by his former suitor.

What rankles particularly, though, is Levy's subsequent statements. While he explained away the sacking of Commoli as being a move back to a traditional footballing structure (fair enough - though many Premiership clubs currently work very well with sporting directors or directors of football) his quote that, "We are delighted to have secured the services of someone we have long since admired" is pretty outrageous. Levy was purported to have wanted the services of Redknapp at the time of Jol's dismissal: how long, then, has Redknapp been in his thoughts? Was Ramos doomed from day one? This is little short of an admittance that Ramos was the wrong man to replace Jol a year ago.

Levy goes on to say about Redknapp, "With his great knowledge of the game and his excellent motivational skills, Harry has inspired his teams to consistently over-perform". Levy clearly recognises these qualities; why, then does he not admit to Ramos's appointment being a mistake of his own in this respect? Redknapp gets results in English football, there's no denying, but Ramos was brought in to do the same but playing a certain way; see below.

The final dagger, in my opinion, is this highly hypocritical comment: "His [Redknapp's] preferred attacking style of playing the game sits comfortably with our club's history, heritage and the type of entertaining football our fans want and expect to see." That Redknapp's preferred style of football is attacking is certainly debatable. But either way, there can be no denying that 'entertaining football' is what Spurs were playing under Martin Jol. 'Entertaining football' is what attracted Levy, and many clubs in Europe, to Juande Ramos in the summer of 2007, following Sevilla's flamboyance and flair in winning back to back UEFA Cups with the likes of Freddie Kanoute, Luis Fabiano and Daniel Alves. While Spurs have won for the first time this season today, the substance to Levy's 'official statement' is left badly wanting, and so, perhaps, is the credibility behind Levy's position at the helm of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

The Hamburger, incidentally, comes from Martin Jol's new position. Currently employed by Hamburg, the team were last week top of the German Bundesliga, a long way ahead of teams like Bayern Munich, Werder Bremen and Leverkusen. There it looks like Jol had the last laugh, and one can only hope for Juande Ramos to do much the same in his next role as well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Lisbon Blog. The Lisblog.

As my Facebook status might suggest, my first proper holiday in four years is at an end and the inevitable return to England, from very warm climes to temperatures in single digits, is pretty hard to swallow. Lisbon was a fantastic city to experience and made a great destination for a late 'summer holiday'. Allow me, then, to recount the best bits of Lisbon and wallow in a bit of pining for Portugal.

The Lisbon Lounge Hostel was our home for six nights, a modern, comfortable and lively hostel aimed at the young, exploring traveller. Having landed, taxied to the hostel, dumped suitcases, showered, changed and headed out into Lisbon, we endeared ourselves to the overnight reception staff by returning at 4:30am, making a drunken racket and knocking over a locker, setting off an anti-theft alarm. The quote from the girl who came up to see what the hell was going on was, 'Are you going to be like this every night?' No, we assured her, and passed out in the bunk beds.

Friday, with the temperature at around 25, and having done a quick fix on the locker door, we hit Caiscas, known for its golden coves and vibrant centre. (We actually spent most of Friday at this very beach). However in the morning, I was ridiculously excited about riding one of these, which I did for 15 minutes around the local square. At seven euros, it was surely the bargain of the holiday. The traditional piri piri chicken sufficed for dinner that night, and we headed back into central Lisbon for more alcohol and late night hedonism.

A word here about the drug sellers. Clearly, according to the local dealers, a group of eight lads are going to want drugs when on holiday, as we were offered them every 100 yards, every day, as soon as we stepped out of the hostel until we went back to bed. Adopting a Portuguese accent, 'Hashiche? Marajuana? Coke?' was the quote of the holiday. Every fucking two minutes a moustachioed, tanned bloke often about 50-years old would approach us and, in faux-hushed tones, offer us the goods straight out of their pockets. Their relentless and indefatigable attempts to sell us drugs were amazing, then laughable, then boring, then finally irritating. Most of us were pretty close to 'chinning' the bastards by the end of the holiday.

Anyway, the Saturday dawned clear, blue and hot, and we spent the day here. With incredible panoramic views across the entire city of Lisbon, dizzyingly high - and unsafe - walls, it was a fabulous icon of Lisbon which brought great tans as well as photos.

That night, however, was the only real down point of the holiday. Suited and booted, sort of, we went off to visit Lux in two taxis, a famous Lisbon club part-owned by John Malkovich and known for its glamorous clientele and generally being the centrepoint of Lisbon's nightlife. Despite the entrance - a pair of female legs with the doors being right in between - the club was a total let down. In short, the first taxi party got in for 12 euros each. Those of us in the second taxi had a slightly outcome. We were told that the entry was 240 euros to get in. Each. The main reason was because we were tourists, and as it was Saturday, they had enough of them inside. 'Fuck off' doesn't even begin...

That low point aside, the rest of the holiday carried on in much the same glorious, sunny way. Sunday morning was spent talking football with a Sporting Lisbon youth coach in the nearby square, before a torrential downpour - and I mean monsoon proportions; the splashes were rebounding about a foot in the air off the concrete - dampened the day, but not spirits. The previous three nights having taken their toll, we dried off and took a nap before staying in for a meal put on for by the hostel for its residents. They actually did this each night, and at eight euros each, a home-cooked fresh three course meal with red wine was a total bargain. The trouble was, being in a group of eight, we basically filled the roster: the chef was only really catering for 14, and with anything up to 48 or so people in the hostel over the weekend, we counted ourselves lucky to get even one meal in during our stay.

The Sunday was spent relaxing, chatting, drinking and playing an ill-fated few games of cards in the company of some of the other people staying, including a charming Canadian couple called Audrey (competitive) and Rob (easy-going), two American girls Beth and Claire, and an Ozzie journalist called Amanda. In my wisdom, I'd bought myself a bottle of Port to drink when staying in, which the Portuguese drink like wine and I attempted to follow suit. At 19.5% abv, I of course failed miserably, and, barely able to see, put myself to bed at about 3:30am with some mumbled garbage of goodbyes at the American girls. Smooth.

It turned out that my travelling buddies had ended up in bed around two hours after me, and therefore Monday morning was largely a total write off. In fact, I didn't make a single breakfast (9:00am - 10:30am daily) during the holiday, and only a couple of our group made one or two at most. Two of the group managed to get up to entertain the American girls during the morning, and with the temperatures at 25 degrees or so again, we all regrouped to enjoy lunch in Alacantara, overlooking a faux-Monaco marina under clear blue skies again. Although it had now reached about 4pm, we ferried across the port to go and visit the Cristo Rei. You could pay to go up and stand on the platform below Christ's feet, which we duly did, and got awe-inspiring views across the main part of Lisbon, and over the 25th of April Bridge. Considering the day's start, Monday turned out to be a successful bout of proper sightseeing.

Tuesday, being the last full day in Lisbon (already!) was spent on the beach at Estoril (this casino featured in the original 'Casino Royale' James Bond novel), thanks to the late 20s temperatures and alluring sandy beach and clear waters. Another night on the tiles followed a meal in a restaurant specialising in live and expensive lobster and seafood, and suddenly, depressingly, Lisbon was almost over.

The Wednesday, despite great weather again, meant packing and leaving. Being men though, some of us managed to squeeze in a trip to the Benfica stadium, a spectacular sight the like of which English teams rarely get to play in. After I carelessly spent 80 euros on a Benfica shirt, we headed back to hostel to pick up our bags and hit the 'aeroporto'. With heavy hearts, amid a pretty irritable crowd of English people (why is our conduct abroad always so embarrassing, so...colonial?), we boarded the EasyJet flight home. Landing at 10:30pm, it was dark, about 9 degrees, and promised nothing.

So there it is. How I miss it so, already. In all seriousness, though, I would thoroughly recommend going to Lisbon at any point between April and October, eating the fish there, going to the beach, seeing the sights, and above all riding a segway, to anyone thinking of having a holiday or travelling around Europe. It's a must-visit.

Thank you, Lisbon.