Jake Livermore adapts to role of ‘new Jenas’ with aplomb

Three months short of his 22nd birthday, with six unspectacular loan spells under his belt and only 75 seconds of Premier League football, Jake Livermore looked every inch the failed academy graduate destined for lesser things, albeit one that had hung on a year or two longer than most.

His inclusion in the squad for Tottenham’s first game of the 2011-12 season was a surprise, and the central midfield partnership he formed with Niko Kranjcar at Old Trafford looked the like the most short term of solutions.

With Sandro injured, Luka Modric trying to push through a move to Chelsea and Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas lacking fitness, the makeshift replacements lined up against champions Manchester United and, for an hour, matched them.

Eventually United found another gear and went on to a flattering 3-0 win, but Livermore had enhanced an almost non-existent reputation.

Scott Parker arrived a fortnight later and Modric was forced to stay, but Livermore’s job wasn’t over. Jenas’s was. He was sent to Aston Villa on loan for the season.

Jenas’s most notable attribute is his anonymity. He has blended into the White Hart Lane terrain many times, disappearing in front of 36,000 witnesses.

Jenas has a discernible impact on a football match as often as Lionel Messi doesn’t.

He is a cog. A part that taken in isolation you wonder what its function is.

He doesn’t have the range of passing of Huddlestone, or the ability to lead and inspire like Parker. He can’t unlock defences with a swivel and a touch like Modric and he doesn’t make the goal-stopping interceptions Sandro does.

What he does is run around a lot and keep the game moving. His short passing is excellent, his stamina never even comes close to running low and when he finds himself in possession he generally retains it. Relieved of the burden of being the team’s primary creative or defensive midfielder he is liberated and at his most useful. In 2010-11 he was at his best when he had Modric and Huddlestone or Sandro in the team with him. The former linked with Rafael van der Vaart and the strikers, the latter broke up opposition play and Jenas filled in in the spaces between.

Football fans are known for fickleness, but the opposite is too often the case. So steadfast are some supporters in their dislike of certain players, they won’t recognise any positive contribution (outside of a match-winning goal). Jenas, like Peter Crouch, was the subject of that blind prejudice, and even if you were of a mind to appreciate his worth it was hard to find the motivation to jump to his defence.

Against Inter last year, in the return match at White Hart Lane, Jenas’s introduction after the break gave the team an energy boost and increased stability in the middle of the pitch. He was a key component in outplaying the European champions and turning them over 3-1.

That isn’t enough, and paying the fifth best central midfielder in the squad £45,000 a week doesn’t make economical sense for a prudently run football club. Villa are playing at a different level and first team chances are easier to come by there, but an injury after less than two hours of football put him out for the season, costing them over £2 million.

Back in north London, Livermore has featured in 31 of Tottenham’s 41 games this season, a stat loaded by the manager’s blasé attitude to the Europa League. Even still, the five starts and 20 appearances on the bench in the Premier League are more than anyone expected from him and are testament to the faith the manager has shown in him.

He had another good game against Manchester United the Sunday before last and went down to another unfortunate defeat.

He’s the same height as Jenas (within half an inch), the same build and a similar skin tone. He does the same unremarkable things that occasionally tip the balance of a match. From the top of the north stand or on a particularly low resolution internet stream you might not even notice Jenas has been replaced. Add a goal here and there and the transition will be complete.

At the beginning of March headlines read ‘Redknapp backs Livermore for England’, but the truth is on being asked by a journalist if the midfielder was capable of playing international football the Spurs manager replied that ‘he could be’. It’s an aspiration rather than an expectation. If Redknapp gets the England job for the European Championship he’s unlikely to take Livermore to Poland and Ukraine ahead of Parker, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverly, Jack Wilshere, James Milner, Jack Rodwell, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Gareth Barry. Even Tom Huddlestone would be preferred if he managed to get back to fitness by June.

Jenas scored the first goal of Fabio Capello’s reign, but he’s only got four caps in the last four and a half years. Something to put on the mantlepiece rather than a significant international career. Livermore would do well to match that.

Livermore signed a new contract in December and will be at White Hart Lane next season. He will remain a decent squad player, but if Spurs stay in the top four (or even the top six) it’s almost certain he won’t be there for the full four years. He’ll want to play every week and that will be at a club in the lower two thirds of the top flight.

By then Tom Carroll will be of age. The hope is that he will be the next Modric. If he doesn’t turn out to be quite that good, at the very least, he’ll be the new Livermore, AKA the new Jenas.

Harry Redknapp must keep his mind on the job at hand

This has been a monumental season for Harry Redknapp, and the fact that he is managing the most successful team of his career is almost incidental. In November he underwent heart surgery, in January he went on trial for cheating the public revenue and on the day he was found not guilty the job he has coveted his whole life became available.

That was three and a half weeks ago. The post of England manager remains vacant, Redknapp is the overwhelming favourite for the job, but the FA characteristically are in no hurry to appoint Fabio Capello’s successor.

Last Sunday, in the post he currently occupies, Redknapp saw his team defeated 5-2 by their bitterest rivals and closest challengers.  Wherever we finish the game will leave a stain on our best season for two decades. Even in a season where everyone in the top six (bar Manchester City) has conceded at least five goals in a game the  scoreline was a shock. Broadly Tottenham’s lack of shape and sharpness and poor defending are to blame, but the score and performance was anomalous enough to look for factors beyond the players’ ability.

Not long before half-time, with Spurs two-nil up, Redknapp called for steward intervention when a fan sitting behind him in the Emirates’ West Stand shouted something abusive. (I rather enjoyed a tweet from an Arsenal fan using the hashtag #grass). The offender was not removed, but Arsenal have since announced they are reviewing CCTV footage.

When asked about the event Redknapp described it as, “Nothing really. Only someone swearing behind me.” Without knowing the specifics we can assume that Redknapp’s facial tick and/or tax discretions were probably alluded to. Whatever it was Redknapp seemed genuinely hurt. He sank into his seat and stayed there for most of the match, looking particularly glum even before Arsenal came back and trounced us. Given that Redknapp’s forte is his ability to motivate players we were hamstrung. The half-time team talk wouldn’t have been his most rousing.

Probably best to remind indignant Spurs fans at this point that thousands of our number join voice to accuse Arsene Wenger of sexually abusing children. 

In the period of Redknapp’s trial and the England speculation our form has been up and down. Against Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United we looked like the best team in the country. He missed the match against Liverpool when his late flight was cancelled and we could only manage a dour 0-0. In the FA Cup we were pitiful in our narrow win over Watford and our draw with Stevenage Borough.

Meanwhile the FA have temporarily put the England team under the charge of Stuart Pearce, a man with much experience and little discernable ability. The European Championship starts in four months and, poison chalice or not, Redknapp wants to be there with England.

This is the one and only time in 29 years of management that Redknapp has been in pole position for his dream job. He’s a 65-year-old with heart problems. Turning it down now would likely be turning it down permanently.

Whether or not Redknapp should take the England job is a question for another day. He hasn’t even been offered it yet. He has to focus on Spurs. There’s a job to do from now until May.

Win the FA Cup, qualify for the Champions League, then he can do what he likes.