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Saturday, Aug. 30, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Strange transfers have Spurs in trouble just two games into season


LONDON — Tottenham made a dodgy start to last season and manager Martin Jol was shown the door.

Christopher Davies

Two unexpected defeats away to Middlesbrough and at home to Sunderland this time around has left Spurs propping up the Premier League. If they lose against Chelsea on Sunday it will be their worst start to a season for 29 years.

Juande Ramos' job is safe, but questions are being asked about Spurs' transfer policy which has seen England's Jermain Defoe, the Republic of Ireland's Robbie Keane and probably Bulgaria captain Dimitar Berbatov leave White Hart Lane.

Pavlyuchenko of Spartak Moscow looks to be on his way to Tottenham which would facilitate Berbatov's departure to Manchester United.

Expectations were high for Spurs at the start of the season, rated the best bet to break into the top four, but perhaps once again they will flatter to deceive.

They have allowed the Berbatov saga to drag on all summer, hoping (dream on) to get £30 million from United.

The transfer market is a buyers' market and Spurs should have been cute enough to realize that a disaffected player can have a negative knock-on effect on the club.

Berbatov was not even in the squad for the game against Sunderland last Saturday because he wasn't in the right frame of mind — the same Berbatov who scored twice for Bulgaria three days earlier.

Such is Berbatov's sultry attitude that his Tottenham teammates have barely spoken to him, a situation Spurs should have foreseen.

To lose three proven international strikers and bring in an untried Russian is a huge gamble by Ramos.

Another problem is Pavlyuchenko's work load. The Russian season started in March, so Pavlyuchenko will have played non-stop football for 14 months come the end of the Premier League season.

Ramos has still not adequately strengthened a defense that was one of the most generous last season and even after two matches the Spaniard is already under pressure to ensure Spurs are Premier League contenders and not pretenders again.

* * * * *

ARSENE WENGER has done enough during his 12 years as manager of Arsenal to be given the benefit of the doubt, yet few can understand why he has not significantly added to what most observers believe is a squad lacking the strength in depth to mount a sustained bid for honors this season.

Wenger seems almost allergic to paying the sort of transfer fees his rivals do. Arsenal's record transfer is Sylvain Wiltord, who cost £11 million from Bordeaux eight years ago, a remarkable statistic in this day and age.

"I believe we have a strong squad," Wenger said recently. "I believe in the players I have instead of always looking at who might come in. I believe we have enough players of stature. We lost only three [Premier League] games last year with the same players so why should we not be capable of repeating that?

Because Arsenal has offloaded Alexandr Hleb (Barcelona), Gilberto (Panathinaikos) and Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan) while the new recruits are Mikael Silvestre (Manchester United) and Samir Nasri (Marseille).

Chelsea has added Deco and probably Real Madrid's Robinho to the strongest squad in the Premier League, and when Arsenal's substitutes include Jack Wilshire, Alexander Song, Amaury Bischoff and Carlos Vela, it is understandable that Gunners fans should reach for their worry beads.

* * * * *

UNKIND JOKE. The reason AC Milan signed Philippe Senderos was to improve Andriy Shevchenko's confidence in training.

* * * * *

ACCORDING TO Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan, Joey Barton is a changed character. The midfielder, Keegan said, has turned a corner and is presumably no longer the violent thug who attacks teammates and innocent members of the public.

Others may want more evidence than the word of a manager whose enthusiasm can make him blind to the misgivings of those close to him.

Barton has been convicted twice on charges of violence. In May 2008 he was sentenced to six months imprisonment for common assault and affray after an incident outside a fast-food restaurant in

Liverpool. Barton served 77 days of this prison term, being released on July 28, 2008.

On July 1 Barton was also given a four-month suspended sentence after admitting actual bodily harm on former Manchester City teammate Ousmane Dabo during a training ground dispute.

Three days after Barton's release, he was charged with violent conduct by the F.A. for the assault on Dabo. Keegan will speak on Barton's behalf at the disciplinary hearing on Sept 5.

In December 2004 Barton stubbed out a lit cigar in youth player Jamie Tandy's eye. His legal representatives have confirmed that Tandy, 23, is pursuing a civil claim for damages against Barton, claiming he suffered a "major psychiatric deterioration" following the cigar incident, which he said ultimately forced him out of the game at the top level.

Yet a month after coming out of jail, Keegan called Barton "a model professional" — which puts the Newcastle midfielder alongside players such as Ryan Giggs and David James.

Newcastle fans have written to Keegan urging him to sack Barton. When Barton returns to the Newcastle team he will become one of the few players to be booed by both sets of supporters.

There may be a fine dividing line between blind loyalty and reality, but Keegan has leaped over it like an Olympic gold medal-winning long-jumper.

Christopher Davies is the author of the recently released book "Behind The Back Page."


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