The festive season in football seems to have lasted for ever. I could have sworn Virgil van Dijk was sold by Southampton to Liverpool six months ago. And have not Man City already won the Prem? And next season’s as well, and the year after? They are so far ahead they are out of sight, out of mind, which makes it really exciting for the five teams following behind, tightly packed, each of whom can convince themselves that if they manage somehow to scrape second place they are THE REAL WINNERS!
Meanwhile, the also-rans are hardly running, stumbling about, petrified of relegation, their managers tight-lipped and ashen-faced, trying hard to keep their job and their dignity. There was one game over the festive period in which Mark Hughes of Stoke and Sam Allardyce of Everton stood on the touchline looking like undertakers in their black coats, black shoes, white shirts, dark ties. Whose funeral were they about to witness? Their own?
The higher up the league, the less well-dressed, the more casual the manager can be. Nowadays, Pep Guardiola, once so dapper, dresses as if he has just popped out to buy a paper in his comfy, slim-fitting slacks and fave pully. Klopp wears to games what he presumably wears on the training field. Jose has given up looking poncy and posed, too busy concentrating on frowning. Wenger does try to keep up standards and appearances, wearing the same office clobber he has worn for 20 years. Getting to 811 Prem games, beating Fergie’s record, was a fine achievement.
But Harry Kane is the gift that keeps giving. I was there at Wembley when Spurs stuffed Southampton on Boxing Day. Harry got another hat-trick, beating Shearer’s record for most goals in a calendar year, and even scoring more than Messi in 2017.
What surprised me was the silence. Wembley is like a morgue unless it’s full, and even then the crowd seems to go quiet, fall asleep. It is just too big, too spacious, the fans too far from the action.
Two days earlier, on Christmas Eve, I took my younger granddaughters to the cinema to see Paddington 2 and what surprised me most there was the noise. My ears were throbbing even though I am beginning to go a bit deaf. I have not been to the cinema for at least ten years, which could explain it. They seem to have doubled the sound effects, convinced that louder means better. The crowd could have done with turning the volume up at Wembley.
I came away from the Spurs game wondering if Harry could do better, score even more goals, in a better team. When you think how far ahead Man City are in the league, and the huge number of goals they have scored, it is surprising that a Man City player is not the Prem’s leading scorer.
Harry is playing in a poorer team, yet scoring all the goals. Perhaps that is the explanation. His team’s job is to provide opportunities for him; Spurs rely on him to finish them off.The structure has been created round him. In a better team, he would be one of several expected to score, would have to fit in with the others, rather than, as at Spurs, the team fitting in with him.
Perhaps he has been thinking about this over the New Year: “If I go to a better, richer club, such as Barça or Real Madrid, would I score as many goals ? And would I be happy? Does it suit my temperament and style of play to be Main Man at Spurs rather than One Of Many if I go elsewhere? Does environment matter?”
It happens in other walks of life – in business and in newspapers. Star columnists get poached yet some don’t shine in their new surroundings, despite feeling they are carrying on just the same. It is as if the new setting has unsettled them.
Gareth Bale was loved at Spurs, almost one of our own, despite being Welsh, but has not flourished in the same way at Real Madrid, having to take second billing Ronaldo.
Harry is more emotionally attached to Spurs than Bale was, but if I were him I’d give Spurs another season, test out the new stadium, then leave. He should look upon it as a gap year. Go off and find himself.
This article appears in the 03 Jan 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Young vs Old