I want that one. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls)
Can I tell you a secret? It's pretty bad. It's something I'm ashamed of, something I've tried to keep under wraps for years, but you and I are close, right? I can count on you not to tell anyone else, right? So, okay...here it is:
I, The Sleeper's Sleep, professor of literary studies and certifiable bibliophile, don't know my grammar.
Let me clarify: I write pretty well. I use grammar correctly. That said, if you asked me to explain why I write the way I do in grammatical terms - as in, "Hey, Sleep, tell me more about your decisions to use the nominative case here," or, "Sleep, I'd love to hear about your opinion on collective nouns" - I'd do a lot of fumbling around, excuse myself, and run sweating from the room. This is a weakness, a lack I keep from my colleagues and peers. I write by feel, and I teach others to write by feel. It's not good pedagogy, and I fear it makes me a bad instructor.
But today, with your help, I will step into the breach, to face my grammatical weakness head on, because I feel that, in order to better understand Tottenham's seeming paralysis with regards to moving for a world-beating striker, we have to address the nuts and bolts of the English language. As Tottenham Hotspur pursue potential striking targets, the club seems caught midair, forever suspended between "good enough" and "great"; "serviceable" and "spectacular." Spurs have become victims of grammatical ouroboros of their own making, caught for nearly five years in a labyrinth of failed bids and halfhearted gestures, in part because of our terrible grammar with regards to two articles, little words with a Grand Canyon-sized gap between them: the space between a and the.
Reading through the comments sections of various posts here on the site, the issue becomes readily apparent. You and I and everyone we know has weighed in on the merits and downsides of every striker under the sun. Jose Solomon Rondon was a viable option, until he wasn't, which is okay, as he would have sucked anyway, or it's not okay, because he would have burned the place down, and for cheap, too. Or not. Sky Sports understands Fernando Llorente is forever locked in a Basque prison of his own design, doomed to an eternity of lower top half of the table finishes and amazing hair. We are plagued by visions of Leandro Damiao. We actually debate the merits of signing Andy Carroll. Blah blah blah Emmanuel Adebayor blah blah wages blah blah. Abel Hernandez/Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang/Jordan Rhodes/Stefan Keissling, etc. For every striker that traipses off to another club, we generate four other names to mull. I want to suggest here that the problem is not a lack of options, but rather bad grammar on the part of the club. We are drowning in a sea of indefinite articles. We can buy a striker relatively easily; there are dozens from which to choose. What Spurs are seemingly incapable of at the moment is moving from the indefinite article to the definite - that is, abandoning the pursuit of a striker, and looking instead to capture the signature of the striker, whoever that may be.
This grammatical issue has plagued the club since Dimitar Berbatov left for pastures new in the late summer of 2008. Since then, Spurs have contented themselves with stopgap measures, signing the likes of Peter Crouch, Louis Saha and bringing in Adebayor on a season-long loan. For four years the club has gone without a signature signing. The arrival of Rafael Van der Vaart seemed more a stroke of luck than a transfer actively pursued and achieved by Levy. Since then, bids for the likes of Sergio Aguero, Guissepe Rossi and others made in the waning hours of the January window have failed. To be sure, a successful bid for any one of those players would have been a major step forward for the club; that said, based on all available information, none of those high-powered targets seemed to be pursued with any of the tenacity of which we know our chairman is capable. Aguero, Rossi; both were treated like indefinite articles, possible options among many instead of the primary object of attention and affection.
I write this on the morning that Arsenal - that lot up the road - have announced the signing of Santi Cazorla from Malaga for somewhere around £16.5M. Given that Cazorla was the best player in La Liga not to wear a Barca or Real Madrid shirt, this is pretty much a coup for the Gunners. What is most impressive, though, is not the signing itself (though that's pretty damn impressive, and frankly a little scary) but the decisiveness with which Arsenal completed the move. This, of course, has not always been Arsenal's modus operandi, as the last-minute panic buys and subsequent horror-show beginning to last season can testify. (NB: I know that the Arteta signing came good, but it took a while for AFC to right themselves.) At the beginning of the transfer window Arsenal also quickly moved to bring Lucas Podolski and Olivier Giroud into the fold, mitigating the potential damage a protracted contract dispute with Robin van Persie might cause. Again, while the signings themselves are impressive, it's the decisiveness with which Arsenal has purchased its players during this window that leaves me jealous. There are no indefinite articles for Arsene Wenger; the Frenchman doesn't buy a player, he buys the player, and lives with the consequences afterward. Much as it pains me to say it, Daniel Levy and Co. might take a page out of Arsenal's book, and recognize the merits of decisiveness.
Perhaps a more palatable aspirant example (though one fraught with its own issues, not the least of which being the massive debt dogging the Vincente Calderon) is the transfer of Radamel Falcao to Atletico Madrid last summer. After Atleti lost Aguero to Manchester City, the club took two weeks to negotiate the purchase of Falcao from the notoriously hard-nosed FC Porto. The transfer was not so cut-and-dried; Atleti were also allegedly interested in Pablo Osvaldo. That said, a transfer fee of some €40M to secure the Colombian international's signature was a clear signal from the Castillan club that the Falcao was, in the opinion of the organization, the definite article, the only striker for them.
There is a key component to the Falcao transfer worth noting: despite the fact that the striker was perhaps the hottest commodity in the transfer market in the summer of 2011, Falcao chose to move from one Europa League club (Porto) to another (Atleti). The assumption we often work under here on the site is that Spurs cannot move for high-powered striking targets because we lack consistent Champions League football. It would be easy to treat Falcao as the exception that proves the rule; however, if we put that cynical view aside for a moment, it becomes clear that addressing a striker with proper grammar, using definite articles instead of indefinite ones, can make a difference. It is a signal of intent and desire. (And, of course, it often means lots of money.) Spurs have achieved much in the last four years, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the club has started a striker or two - contingent, indifferent, indefinite - in every match since Berba bolted. Imagine what might be possible for Spurs if the club got it grammar right, made a bold, decisive statement, and declared that this is the season to start with the striker leading the line.
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