The winter break is here to stay

When I was a player it wasn’t uncommon to play two games in two days at Christmas time. In 1980 Brighton played Leicester away on Christmas Day and won 1-0, on Boxing Day we were at home to Crystal Pace and we won that one 3-2.

I can remember coming into the Goldstone Ground in the morning before the Palace game and the manager Alan Mullery, his assistant Ken Craggs, the kitman Glen Wilson and the physio, Mike Yaxley, were all giving the players a soap massage on the treatment tables to try and get some blood into the muscles and get rid of the stiffness so you could play that afternoon.

Back then the squads were much smaller and there was only one sub. So a manager might use the same 11 players two days in a row, but there’s absolutely no way a player can perform at 100% for 90 minutes and then do the same thing again the following day.

It was difficult back then but it would be impossible today. Everyone is finding ways to improve performance, players are covering more ground, doing it at faster paces and being pushed to the absolute limit and the game is much faster now then it was in my day.

The winter break hasn’t exactly gone to plan with Liverpool ending up with an FA Cup replay while they were supposed to be on holiday and Man City’s game with West Ham getting called off, although you can’t legislate for the weather. But the important thing is that almost all the teams got a two week holiday.

The Bundesliga took a break from December 23rd to January 18th. But they only have 18 teams and there is only one domestic cup competition. Cup competitions and a busy Christmas calendar are traditional in England and I wouldn’t like to see either scrapped.

Scrapping replays and extra time for the cups is one solution to fixture congestion. Just play 90 minutes and then go straight to penalties if a match is drawn, that way there can’t be any unexpected surprises on the calendar like Liverpool and Shrewsbury going to a replay.

The winter break was brought in so that the top players would be fresher for the international tournaments in the summer. Nearly everyone in the England squad plays in the Premier League so it will be interesting to see if there is any obvious benefit when Euro 2020 comes around.

Even if England don’t do well we won’t know conclusively whether it was due to fatigue or other factors. So I think the winter break is here to stay, and staggering it means the Premier League can still put on a handful of matches every weekend for the broadcasters.

In 1982 I was in the Brighton team that lost 1-0 at home to Southampton on December 26th and then were beaten 2-0 by Spurs in an away game the following day. 1983 wasn’t much better, I was in the Spurs side that got beat 4-2 by Arsenal at White Hart Lane on Boxing Day and then drew 0-0 away to Aston Villa 24 hour’s later.

Today’s players don’t have to deal with that sort of a schedule and neither should they. The Premier League is watched by millions of people all over the world in the modern era and it is only right that the people on the pitch should get a bit of protection to ensure they can perform to the right level come match day.

What Tottenham need to do this summer

The most important thing for Spurs is to keep the manager but I think that is the easiest of all the jobs that Spurs have this summer because Mauricio Pochettino has a contract which he extended not long ago. I think he really does love the club, there’s a real affinity there and he gets on really well with Daniel Levy. Of course he is ambitious but the relationship between the manager and the club seems pretty solid.

Players, as we know, are a little bit more difficult to deal with at times and Christian Eriksen has suggested that he wants to try something different. I think deep down he really would love to stay but he wants to earn the type of money that he could earn if he were to move to a big, or bigger, club.

What Spurs need to do in my opinion is loosen the money belt a little bit because as far as what they have facility wise (the stadium, the training ground) they are already a big club but they don’t pay big club wages. I’m not suggesting that will guarantee success, spending big money doesn’t necessarily guarantee you success, but to keep the real talent that they have at the club like Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld, who I believe has a £25M release clause in his current contract, they have got to pay bigger salaries.

Their recruitment generally speaking has been decent. Lucas Moura has started to deliver, Juan Foyth will ultimately be a good player but they need a bit more depth in the squad. So they’ve got to buy some players but I don’t think the policy is to buy superstars, it’s to buy players that Pochettinho can develop and improve.

Having not spent any money in the last two transfer windows and still qualified for the Champion’s League next season, I think Spurs are in the perfect position to attract players because the best players want to play in the Champion’s League. 

I believe Spurs made the biggest profit of any club in the world in the most recent financial year so they’ve made money. Of course they’ve borrowed huge amounts to do the stadium but, despite the spend on the stadium, they are in an amazingly strong position to buy players.

Spurs under Levy will not spend over the odds and I think this is right. I have to balance my books as an individual and football clubs should be responsible enough to do that too. 

Levy is definitely not irresponsible when it comes to spending but for me now is the perfect time for Spurs to strengthen and doing so will hopefully take them that next step. The current model has worked extremely well and its just a case of possibly increasing the budget a little bit.

As far as blowing the whole budget on one or two ‘superstars’, like a Paul Pogba, I don’t think that fits the Spurs model and I don’t think Pochettino wants to do that either.

For me you don’t go and buy Pogba for Tottenham, even if the deal was doable, because actually the way Tottenham work is very much team orientated and even the stars within the spurs side like Kane, Eriksen , Alli they are all very level headed, grounded people and the way Pogba operates at times is almost like a one man show.

I’m not spending hours watching the Bundesliga, the Eredevisie, Ligue 1 and other competitions all over the world like the Spurs scouts are so it’s difficult for me to suggest names of the sort of prospects that the club has consistently done a good job of bringing in over the years.

But you can’t help but get drawn towards players who have done well very recently and if you look at the Ajax side there’s two or three there who are very much Tottenham players for me. In particular De Jong in midfield, but he’s gone to Barcelona and De Ligt at the back but again he’s likely to go elsewhere. 

I don’t think there are many more attractive clubs to join than Spurs. Yes of course there’s Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and then in England there’s Man City and Liverpool but I would probably put Tottenham in the top eight clubs in the world that players would like to come and join at the moment.

So De Jong and De Ligt might be out of reach but those are the type of calibre signings I would like to see Spurs going for. In terms of trying to sign a ‘superstar’ it depends on the character and the personality of that player. A Pogba wouldn’t fit in for me but a De Jong would have been perfect and I’d like to see Spurs show that type of ambition in the transfer market. 

In terms of outgoing the general feeling is that Trippier hasn’t had a very good season. He did great in the World Cup and really came to prominence but hasn’t had a good season at Spurs and I don’t think it would be a huge loss if he went.

Maybe it makes sense to sell Eriksen just because of the sort of the transfer fee he could command. Liverpool did it with Coutinho, with the £130 million they got for him they bought in Van Dyk and Alisson and its made them. But the Spurs squad hasn’t got a great deal of depth so if Eriksen leaves they need to sign another player of that ilk for sure.

There might also be internal options. What happens is when a big player goes it gives the opportunity to a younger player to fill the void but until that big player goes and the young player has the opportunity to fill the void you never really know if he’s going to be able to make the step up or not. 

I look at the Spurs squad and I think if they can keep everybody and add to it that would be the ideal way. There’s a couple of peripheral players who could be moved on but certainly Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Eriksen are players in my opinion they need to keep and add to. Having said that, if you can get £100 million or more for Eriksen and bring in quality replacements then that’s always an option to consider.

It’s going to be very difficult for any of the other clubs to close the gap on Liverpool and Man City. If you look at their squads, they are much deeper, you need that depth.

So Tottenham will definitely need to recruit this summer, and selling a player like Eriksen might even be the best way to do that. But it’s about getting quality not quantity, otherwise Spurs just have to go with a thin squad. That’s what happened last season, and it didn’t work out too badly!

England are moving in the right direction under Gareth Southgate

After England lost to Holland at the Nation’s League Gareth Southgate’s side came in for a lot of criticism for building from the back and making mistakes. But that’s whats got them to the semi final of the World Cup a year ago, and I think they must stick with it because all the top sides play that way .

You get people who say ‘we overplay at the back’ or ‘we aren’t good enough’ well if we aren’t good enough the way to get good is to stick at it and I think Gareth Southgate will do that.

John Stones has made a big mistake for Holland’s second goal in the semi final but that doesn’t mean the entire philosophy should change.

Every single player makes mistakes. England scored from the penalty spot because Matthijs de Ligt, the Dutch defender who is already regarded as one of the best central defenders in the world as a 19 year old, made a mistake.

I remember my first North London derby when I joined Spurs. It was at home against Arsenal in the League Cup. I was the last defender and instead of just clearing the ball I tried to retain possession and I lost it and we went 1-0 down.

The balls been knocked over the top and I’ve come out and instead of playing it back up the pitch I’ve tried a dummy so I could turn out and pass to Ray Clemence and Tony Woodcock has read that and nicked the ball. We ended up losing 2-1 and getting knocked out of the cup and I got a lot of stick.

One of the biggest problems with today’s game is that people rush to judgments. If a player makes a mistake he’s worthless and if a player scores a goal he’s worth a fortune.

People judge and make decisions on one game or one incident within a game but the best decision makers, in terms of recruiting players, make their decisions based on a long period of assessment. Anyone can have a bad game or a good game.

My advice to John Stones would be to continue playing with belief in his ability because every player makes mistakes but the best players will always bounce back. It took de Ligt less than an hour to bounce back from his defensive error against England by heading in the equalizer.

It took me nearly five months to make up for my mistake in the North London Derby. I came in for a lot of criticism during my first season with Spurs and that was one of the mistakes that really encouraged the fans to get on my back.

We finished 8th so it was a poor season league wise but what got me out of jail was that we won the UEFA Cup and that’s what people remember. Clubs obviously have more opportunities to win trophies than countries do but I’m sure John Stones will turn his England career around too.

I think Gareth Southgate has done a fantastic job, we are looking much better on the pitch and we got to the semi final of the World Cup. We didn’t perform that well in that match but now it’s about getting to the next semi final and hopefully doing better so I think everybody just needs to be a bit more level and calm and not rush to negative judgments based on a single result.

One positive thing that came out of the Nation’s League was that we ended up in a very competitive penalty shoot out and we won it. Historically we lose penalty shoot outs but the last two we have won them so there’s always positives.

I think the biggest positive is the number of young English players who are coming through. The average age of the team that played in the semi final against Holland was just over 24.

Winning the World Cup or European Championships is very difficult to do, but England are definitely moving in the right direction under Southgate and everyone needs to get behind him and understand that England might not always get the right result and players might not always make the right decisions but that doesn’t mean that the entire process is wrong.

How to score in a penalty shoot out

I was in the Tottenham team that won the UEFA Cup Final 35 years ago with a penalty shoot out, and I scored one myself. So a lot of people have been asking me about penalties and what the current crop of Spurs players should do if Saturday’s final comes down to penalties.

My advice would be decide what you are going to do with it, practise it in advance and stick to it. That’s my method and it worked for me, other players may have different methods that they are comfortable with but the important thing is that you are taking it with total belief in your method and your style.

It is very much a mind game when it gets to that situation because it’s you against the goalkeeper, a who’s going to blink first kind of scenario. I believe you are better off taking that doubt out of it by making the decision yourself.  As the penalty taker I’m in control, I’m the one who decides where it’s going to go, I’m in charge and if you wait for the keeper to move you lose that control.

It was different in those days because the keeper had to be on the line and could not move along the line. Nowadays the keeper has to be on the line until it’s struck but he can move right and left, but this business of players stepping up to the ball and waiting for the keeper to go one way or the other before they strike it is quite high risk. I still believe that if you strike the ball firmly enough and put it tight enough to either post the keeper has got to go a hell of a long way to stop it and he’s only got a split second to get there.

During our successful UEFA Cup campaign we practised penalties before the second leg of every round. The first round we played Drogheda from Ireland and won about 14-0 on aggregate so after the first leg it was never going to go to penalties but we still prepared. We had a team meeting before the second leg and Keith Burkinshaw, the manager, said ‘if it goes to penalties…’ and we almost started laughing because we were 6-0 up from the first leg.

He said ‘who’s going to take one’ and we had regular penalty takers. Graham Roberts was one, Steve Archibald was another one, and Mark Falco was a penalty taker and then it all went quiet and Keith Burkinshaw looked at me and said ‘Gary you strike a ball well you should take one’ and I agreed.

Of course it didn’t go to penalties and then every round I agreed to take a penalty but it never goes to penalties. And then guess what, it gets to the final and we are 1-1 from the first leg away and we play the second leg at home and it finishes 1-1. We go to extra time and we are into extra time and I’m thinking ‘I hope we score a goal because if not I’m going to have to take a penalty’.

The final whistle went and I’m still on the pitch, we’d already decided who was going to take them so I’m down for a penalty. For me there was only one thing that was important because I couldn’t affect Graham Roberts, Mark Falco, Steve Archibald or Danny Thomas, who was the 5th penalty taker.

I said ‘I’ll go third’ and from that moment I didn’t want to have a conversation with anybody, some of our players were shaking hands with some of our players and I’m thinking ‘it’s not over yet, what are we shaking hands for?’ so I just focused. 

I knew exactly what i was going to do, i practised that morning at the training ground and I stuck to exactly what I was going to do. I knew that if I struck it hard enough and accurately enough there was no way in the world the keeper could get to it.

I decided to put it in the bottom corner, low down and that’s what I did. I tried to make sure the keeper saw me looking at his left hand post because it was almost like me saying to him ‘that’s where I’m going to put it’ when I was actually going to drill it low to his right. That’s what I did and he barely moved.

I had a little routine and my routine stood up, I stood the test of the pressure and my technical ability stood the test. The rules are different now and the pressure in Saturday’s Champion’s League Final will be huge, but if one of today’s Tottenham players asked my advice this is what I would tell them.

Cup finals and pressure

The other day someone asked me how I coped with the pressure ahead of the 1984 UEFA Cup Final, and whether I had any advice for the Tottenham team who are going to play in an even bigger European final later this month.

This business about pressure, it’s down to the individual. People talk about footballers being under pressure but I would suggest that if you’re out of work and struggling to pay your mortgage and feed your family you’re under far more pressure than any professional footballer.

As a sportsman it’s about how you deal with any given situation psychologically. I took the third penalty for Tottenham in the 1984 UEFA Cup Final against Anderlecht and I simply decided that I was a competent penalty taker and therefore it wasn’t going to be a problem, and it wasn’t.

If I had decided that taking a penalty in a UEFA cup final is a major problem for me then it immediately becomes a major problem but I knew what I was doing. I’m a believer that pressure is the individual’s decision, and I had already decided that this was something I could do.

I think i was probably more nervous playing for Bury North End, a youth team in Suffolk, in an Under 15 cup final than I was playing for Spurs in the UEFA cup final because, actually, as a young kid I wasn’t totally sure of what I was doing. But when we played Anderlecht I was 22 and I’ve played for England Under 21s and I’m knocking on the door of the international team and I’ve played in an FA Cup Final, I’m well and truly in there.

It’s your job, it’s your business and the Spurs players who are going to be in the squad for this year’s final know that they have reached the peak of their profession and are getting well rewarded for it. I guess it is down to individuals but nerves never really got the better of me.

If anything, the bigger the game the more I liked it. I just had more energy, I thrived on the big occasions and it was much easier for me to motivate myself for an FA Cup Final against Man Utd, or a UEFA Cup Final against Anderlecht than an away game against Oxford Utd (no offence to Oxford Utd!).

My advice to the Spurs players would be to focus on the performance, not the result. If we perform right; we defend well, we attack well, we pass well, we close down, we’ve got energy and we do all the technical stuff right then there’s a good chance we will win the game.

Winning a European final with Spurs

The last time Tottenham won a European final I was there. I played the whole 120 minutes in the second leg against Anderlecht and scored in the penalty shoot out.

With Tottenham set to play in the Champion’s League final for the first time in their history I have been thinking about that night at White Hart Lane in 1984. A lot has changed in football since then, but some things will always be the same.

Football wasn’t as big back then as it is now but both legs were live on ITV. Brian Moore was the commentator and Brian Clough was the pundit and in those days there were only four channels so I would think the viewing figures would have been absolutely huge.

Of course there will be far more people watching the 2019 Champion’s League Final. But there are other similarities to 1984 because we nearly ended up with an all English final that year too.

It was Nottingham Forest against Anderlecht in the other semi final so once we got past Hadjuk Split in our game the last thing I wanted was for us to be playing Forest in a European final. It was a European tournament and I wanted to play European sides.

For me personally it was the first time I’d played European football. I’d played internationally at Under 21 level for England but I’d never played club European football. For me it felt like an adventure, I had a difficult season  domestically in my first season with Spurs, I found it hard to adapt and it was like a breath of fresh air playing European football.

It was different, we were going to play at Feyenoord, Bayern Munich, Austria Vienna… but leading up to the final I think there was just a real belief in the club that it was our year, we were going to win it.

I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like the 95th minute winner against Ajax which took Spurs through to the final because when I used to play if you had 1 or 2 minutes of additional time it was exceptional. You played 45 minutes and the whistle went and that was it so I never played in games like that with 5, 6, 7 minutes of stoppage time.

When you win as dramatically as that I think it does start to positively affect you and you think ‘it could be our year’. You look at the things that have gone your way, at one stage it looked like Spurs weren’t even going to get out of the group and then they drew Man City, Man City were the team no-one really wanted to draw at that stage but Aguero missed a penalty and Spurs got through it. Deep down inside you start to think ‘it could just be’.

My advice to the Spurs players would be to focus on the performance, not the result. Go out and enjoy it because if you enjoy it it will almost certainly mean you have played close to your full potential, and if you do that you’ve got a good chance of being victorious.