In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably point out that I don’t really like Melbourne. And based on past experience, I don’t think Melbourne really likes me much either. So if you are coming into this expecting some form of Lonely Planet-esque homage to Melbourne and it’s quirky, hipster filled laneways then you my friend, are shit out of luck. Maybe I am just being overly cynical but if I wanted to live in a cold and rainy climate, full of coffee shops and pretentious creative types, I never would have left Europe in the first place! But I suppose that it’s horses for courses. If you like dilapidated old transport networks and inferiority complexes, Melbourne and its schizophrenic weather may be just your cup of tea. I'm only kidding.....kind of. For more information please go to www.visitmelbourne.com or just do yourself a favour and come to Sydney instead. Anyway, despite all of this, when Tottenham announced that they would be participating in the International Champions Trophy against both Juventus and Atletico Madrid back in December, I was over the moon. Predominantly because Tottenham's visit to Sydney last year ranked as probably the best weekend of my life, narrowly edging out both my wedding and the time I lost my virginity (thankfully these were two separate weekends). More importantly though, was the timing of the visit. I couldn’t have known this when the dates were initially announced but after the absolute clusterfuck of a summer we have all had to endure, I was relying on Spurs to make me smile again.
Generally, I don’t like to dwell on the past, but lets just recap as to how bad of a summer this really was. Firstly, after an absolute belter of a season, Tottenham managed to deliver the Spursiest of Spursy performances by losing 5-1 to an already relegated Newcastle United on the last day of the season. After an exhausting year, both physically and mentally, I could only watch on in horror as our boys hobbled around the pitch like Oscar Pistorius in a courtroom, not only losing the game but also handing 2nd place to Arsenal in the process. Much as I hate to say it, only Spurs could contrive to finish third in a two horse race. This was swiftly followed up by the veritable carnival of anti-football that was the European Championships, as Portugal managed to defend their way to the trophy, whilst simultaneously reminding us all why no one cares about International football anymore. Of course this was compounded by England’s predictably calamitous showing and the fact that our Spurs contingent seem to have taken the blame for what I can only assume is the early onset of Roy Hodgson’s inevitable descent into dementia. I genuinely think that I saw Harry Kane take more corners in the Russia game than he has taken in his entire career to date. You know you must be really bad at your job when you not only walk around with a pre-prepared resignation speech in your breast pocket but even more so when the FA regards the appointment of perennial relegation dodger and poster boy for Coronary Heart Disease, Sam Allardyce as a sign of progress.
And lastly, as if England wasn’t already suffering enough, my homeland also decided to commit social and economic suicide by Brexiting the EU. To make matters worse, it appeared that no one took the time to inform the England defenders of the outcome, as they were allowing total freedom of movement to a whole host of European nationals throughout the tournament, particularly in and around the six-yard box. And much as I hate to discuss politics in this blog, I genuinely don’t think that the “Leave” campaign have given any serious thought as to how hard this is going to make it to sign foreign players on Football Manager from now on. This may sound crazy but I don’t think Nigel Farage even plays Football Manager! And once you factor in the now seemingly bi-weekly terrorist attacks in France/Germany/Turkey, you can see why this will undoubtedly go down as one of the most depressing and eventful summers in European history since the Archduke Franz Ferdinand decided to take a leisurely stroll through downtown Sarajevo.
Anyway, enough doom and gloom. Back to the Melbourne trip. I travelled down with two of my best friends, one of whom is a Juventus fan (and is often mistaken for my grandfather) and the other, for his sins, is a dirty Gooner with a stupid beard. But seeing as it is currently pre-season, he was able to take a break from his usual pastime of voting in Sky Sports polls, to join us and witness first-hand what a real football club looks like. After confirming that we had the right travel visas and that all of our inoculations were up to date, we reluctantly ventured into deepest, darkest Melbourne. As luck would have it, we ended up staying in the same hotel as the Juventus team, which may sound exciting but it was actually very uneventful. Having roamed the halls for hours in search of unsuspecting players, all we managed to achieve was a distant sighting of some seemingly inebriated Juventus backroom staff (maybe the very same staff who thought it was a good idea to pay €130m for Napoli forward and part-time competitive eater, Gonzalo Higuain) and to be ejected from the restaurant for wearing football shirts and generally looking a little bit stalky. It later transpired that all of the players were locked away on an entire floor of the hotel, probably just eating pizza and talking about their mothers, whilst using overly exaggerated and flamboyant hand gestures. Not to be deterred, we headed over to the Grand Hyatt in search of Spurs players instead, which proved to be equally fruitless. However, I did manage to take a slightly blurred picture of Mauricio Pochettino getting on to a bus and Christian Eriksen mistakenly looked in my direction when someone yelled his name. So not a totally unproductive evening after all. Resigned to the fact that we appeared to repel professional footballers in much the same way that my friends beard repels women, we made our way to the stadium.
Although we were initially expecting to see Tottenham vs Juventus at the world famous MCG, what we really got was Tottenham Reserves vs Juventus Reserves in a half empty stadium. Which wasn't a huge surprise, as most of our squad had been involved at the Euros and to be fair, it was actually a nice change of pace....except for the empty stadium bit. But at least that made my Gooner mate feel more at home! It was great to finally watch some of the youngsters that have come through the Academy and what we saw, despite narrowly losing both games, was very exciting indeed. I can remember when the future of our great club was in the hands of the likes of Neale Fenn, Alton Thelwell, Rohan Ricketts and Gary "The Ginger Pele" Doherty. Oh how times have changed. Thankfully, those days are long gone and the significant investment that we have put into youth development in recent years finally looks to be paying dividends. But I will get to that later. Unfortunately, two early defensive errors cost us the Juventus game and we were 2-0 down inside of 15 minutes. Although we looked much better in the second half, after a raft of changes, we could only manage a solitary goal in reply. Erik Lamela came off the bench to score that goal and was easily our best player on the night, whilst Josh Onomah, WIll Miller and Marcus Edwards all impressed with brief cameos.
However, it was the second game against Atletico Madrid where we really came into our own. Against a very strong side full of experienced players, we dominated from start to finish, hit the woodwork twice and were only denied by an inspired performance from Jan Oblak in the Atleti goal. Predictably, the Spaniards scored from a set piece and we somehow managed to lose but the performance was more important (and more encouraging) than the result. Victor Wanyama, fuelled by his new high-carb, spaghetti only diet was an absolute beast in both games and promises to be a very astute signing. Cameron Carter-Vickers looked very assured against a lively Fernando Torres, whilst Harry Winks was industrious and composed in midfield. Josh Onomah and Marcus Edwards once again looked to be a real handful with the ball at their feet whilst DeAndre Yedlin looked excellent at left back. I was also impressed with the adaptability of 19 year old Anton Walkes, normally an attacking midfielder by trade, who played most of the game at centre-back and was rarely troubled by his more experienced opponents. All in all, a strong performance by a very young team with plenty of positives.
So there you have it. We went to Melbourne and lived to tell the tale. But this blog is not really about my hatred of Melbourne…..well not entirely anyway. It is more about the impressive number of top quality youngsters who may well be making the step up this year, bearing in mind the congested fixture list that we are likely to have, coupled with the financial constraints of building a new stadium. And who knows, any one of them could turn out to be the next Harry Kane or Dele Alli under the expert guidance of Mauricio Pochettino. Although the whole trip was significantly more low-key than last years event, it will still help to boost the clubs profile in the Southern Hemisphere, whilst also giving the aforementioned youngsters some valuable first team experience in the process. And to be fair, if I have learnt anything from my time in Australia, it is that everything is bigger and better in Sydney anyway! Also, just in case anyone is feeling a little underwhelmed by our transfer dealings this summer, it is always important to remember that under Pochettino, we no longer purchase superstars…..we create them! And whilst the majority of our current superstars didn’t manage to make the trip Down Under this time around, from my perspective it was very reassuring to see that the future of the club isn’t just bright….it is positively Lilywhite!