Postecoglou responds to Gareth Southgate’s Tottenham concern and explains Yves Bissouma form

By Staff

Ange Postecoglou has explained Yves Bissouma’s drop in form for Tottenham Hotspur and also responded to England manager Gareth Southgate’s concern about the club’s post-season friendly in Australia.

Bissouma was one of the club’s best players at the start of the Premier League season before picking up a red card at Luton Town, who Spurs welcome on Saturday afternoon. From that point on, the midfielder’s form dipped and he was sent off again at Nottingham Forest, resulting in a four-match ban, having also been suspended for another match beforehand after collecting five yellow cards.

The 27-year-old struggled at the Africa Cup of Nations after suffering a bout of malaria just before the competition and was dropped from the most recent Mali squad with coach Eric Chelle saying there were other players who fit his diamond midfield system better than the Spurs man.

“I think it’s probably indicative of our season,” Postecoglou said of Bissouma’s drop in form. “He has been very good at times but he hasn’t really got a flow. He got suspended, he went away to the Africa Cup of Nations. It’s very, very hard for any player to maintain certain levels if you’ve not got consistency in game-time and consistency in flow.

“I think he’s been better the last few weeks. Because it was so disruptive in the middle of the year, like a lot of others, he wasn’t getting up to the levels that he showed earlier in the year. The challenge for him is to work his way through that. I still think he’s been a really important player for us this year and when he is playing at the levels I know he can play, it makes us a much more difficult team to stop.”

When asked whether Bissouma was frustrated by the way his season has gone, the Spurs boss responded: “I don’t sense that in him. Like everyone else, and like us as a club, he hasn’t really hit the consistent levels he’d want to. But that’s OK. That’s where we’re at. That’s where he’s at. That’s where a lot of the group are at. The challenge is to fight through that and make sure you come out on the other side stronger and more consistent.”

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Another player hoping to start against Luton this weekend is Radu Dragusin, who made his full debut for Tottenham with a tough night at Craven Cottage as Fulham won 3-0 before the international break. The 22-year-old Romanian had stepped in for the injured Micky van de Ven, having done so to great effect when the Dutchman went off early in the second half at Villa Park the previous weekend.

Van de Ven has returned to training in recent days and Postecoglou was asked whether Dragusin was looking to keep his own spot in the team.

“I hope so, that’s why he’s here. He didn’t come to play one game. I don’t think against Fulham he was any better or worse than anyone else. We as a team were nowhere near the competitive levels we wanted to be. It wasn’t reflective of him,” said the Australian. “But we signed Radu because we see a player who can contribute in there. He’s had to bide his time a little bit because obviously with Micky and Romero, there’s a pretty strong partnership there. He’s had to wait for his chance. We knew his chance would come and it came, whether it was at Villa the week before or at Fulham. He’s ready, he’s available. He played for Romania during the break and he’s part of our future.”

Bissouma, Dragusin and Van de Ven are all set to travel for a post-season friendly match on May 22 against Newcastle United in Melbourne. The game on the other side of the world has been criticised by some environmental groups with the PFA reportedly set to speak to the clubs about the fixture and England manager Gareth Southgate was not delighted about it either.

“I think it’s often happened in the past. It’s going to happen more and more,” said the England boss. “Why? Financial Fair Play means clubs need to generate their own money, so we’re in a bizarre world where there’s more money in the game than ever before, and yet everyone is scrambling across federations and clubs to generate more money.

“The normal way of doing that is to play more games. So is that great news for us, in terms of preparation? No. But we’re going to have players in the FA Cup [final, on May 25) probably, the Champions League final [June 1] hopefully and a chance of a few other European finals, so we are used to preparing this way in the end. We had to go to Qatar with five days prep, so we adjust to whatever it is and hope there are no injuries from that game.”

Postecoglou was asked about Southgate’s nervousness about injuries and the former Australia manager was keen to point out the two sides to the relationship between club managers and international ones.

“I’m sure Gareth will be a club coach one day and he’ll get a different perspective, as he has been in the past. I don’t think Gareth has said anything – or any other national team manager. I was a national team manager and I used to sweat over it at the weekend when the players were playing, whether that was a normal game, a friendly game, whatever game it is. The flip side of that is there were quite a few club coaches on edge with national team duty this week so it’s the world we live in mate,” said the 58-year-old.

When it was pointed out that it was a newly-created fixture, the Spurs boss shot back: “Yeah, it’s a bit like when new national team tournaments are always inserted into the fixture list isn’t it? Whether you’re a club coach or a national team coach, this is the world we live in.

“There has to be a balance. We’ve thought about it as a football club and it’s fair to say if we’d been in Europe and had a really big season, we probably would have made a different decision. We weighed everything up and felt like there was a real benefit to playing this game.

“With all these things, there’s always costs and benefits to it. You try to weigh them all up. My involvement in it is more around the footballing aspect. This is the club decision we’re making here, we take all these factors into account. We thought that with our season being so disrupted and not a lot of games, this was a unique opportunity for us.

“I wouldn’t see this as something that would happen on a regular basis unless we felt the benefits would outweigh the costs. On this occasion when we balanced everything up, we felt it was a good opportunity to take the club to the other side of the world and help us continue to grow the football club. That’s why the decision was made.”

Postecoglou confirmed how strong a Tottenham squad he will be taking to the city he grew up in for the match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

“Everyone who’s fit. Literally, we leave straight after the last game and we’ll be taking everyone who’s fit,” he said.

One of Postecoglou’s players, Richarlison, has been in the news this week after an emotional and brave interview with ESPN about his mental health struggles, during which he admitted wanting to stay at home rather than come in to training and also that he had told his father he had thoughts about giving up the game, just months after playing at the World Cup.

The Tottenham boss was asked whether he sensed at the time that the Brazilian was questioning whether to end his football career.

“I’m really reluctant to talk about details about that stuff. I think it’s better Richy tells his story. It would be unfair for me to add to that narrative because I could reveal or say something that he doesn’t want,” said the Australian. “The story is always better told by the person involved.

“From my perspective, as I’ve always said, what I try to do with all the players is provide an environment where they feel comfortable and safe enough to seek any help they do need. Whether that’s Richy or other players that have sought or needed help this year, what I’ve tried to do in my role is steer them towards that.

“Hopefully it should give them perspective around whatever the issue might be, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming where it takes over your whole life. From a football perspective anyway, my main bits of advice to him were more around get your body right because I knew he was struggling with his body at the time. When you’ve got things that become overwhelming, just chip away one at a time. It will help you rather than tackling it all at once.”

Postecoglou shot down the suggestion that Richarlison’s interview had had a massive impact within Tottenham because it was not something unusual and that very little inside a Premier League club does actually leak into the public arena.

“No, and I’ll tell you why, because it’s not that uncommon. It’s not, not in my experience. They’re human beings. But for the most part it’s always dealt with behind closed doors,” he said. “That’s why it’s always really difficult for your guys (the media) to do your job because you never have all the information and you never will.

“There is so much that goes on at football clubs… if you could just expand that out to your life and just treat a football club like any other industry, you’ll realise that in every other industry you’ve got people struggling with things. Football is no different but we’ve got to put a strong curtain up and it all gets hidden behind there.

“I guess [the interview is] striking because players or managers or people involved in football haven’t come out publicly before, but I can assure you, no greater but no lesser part of society, there are problems that players and people involved in our industry deal with. The amount of money you have in the bank balance or your fame doesn’t shield you from that.”

Much has been made of the switch in football to a more data-based approach, whether that is through recruitment – Spurs have restructured their scouting department this year with at least four scouts leaving the club including 73-year-old former chief scout Ian Broomfield – or whether it is through fitness and conditioning.

Postecoglou has always adapted to the evolving ways of modern football and he believes that the area of conditioning is where the biggest changes can be found.

“It’s changed enormously. The two biggest areas of change when I think about the 26, 27 years I’ve been managing are around the sports science and the technology available from an analytics perspective, to assist you in your role,” he said. “Again, not unusual like everything else in life, technology has taken over. It’s certainly infiltrated football as well and the sports science area, the way you prepare players, the tools we have now to measure how much they’re working, what levels they’re working at.

“That gives us great data to understand how they are as individual athletes. It’s changed enormously. There are still some basic fundamentals and a lot of it comes down to your game model, what kind of football you want to play. A lot of clubs tailor their training programme around the football you want to play at the weekend. Those are the areas of greatest development in the game.”

So what does Postecoglou trust at pitch-side in the heat of battle during a game when he is watching his players, his experienced eye or the data he receives?

“It depends on your experience, because I have been in the game a while, more often than not my eye is pretty accurate but if the data tells me something totally different I’ll go with the data, if it’s the right data,” he said. “My major function every day is to make decisions. I make good decisions if I’ve got good information so I try to get the best information I can and get good people around you. They get access to the data, they feed into me and then it’s up to me to make the right decisions.”

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