Tottenham jury still out on Gallas as Arsenal derby looms
WILLIAM Gallas’ arrival at the end of August polarised opinion among Spurs fans and three months later, with a third of the season gone, little has changed.
Football fans have long memories, and there was an ironic moment to savour on Saturday as the team line-ups were announced before the clash with Blackburn Rovers.
The reaction to Gallas’ name was mixed – mostly cheers but noticeably quieter than the adulation given to the other players, and with some audible boos thrown in as well.
Moments later the Blackburn team came over the loudspeakers and Paul Robinson, the opposing goalkeeper, was given a rapturous reception.
‘You’re Spurs and you know you are’, came the chants from the home crowd midway through the first half, and they were directed at former Spurs stalwart Robinson and not the man in the heart of the Tottenham defence.
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It was a strange contradiction, but not a surprising one. Football supporters are an unforgiving bunch and Spurs fans find it hard to forget that, when they went to the Emirates in October 2008, Gallas scored against Tottenham in the north London derby as the captain of Arsenal.
Two years on things are very different. The 33-year-old was spared an early reunion with his former side in the Carling Cup in September, but there is no avoiding his collision with the Gunners this Saturday.
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With Ledley King and Michael Dawson out of action, Gallas and Younes Kaboul are Harry Redknapp’s first-choice partnership, and they have started the last six games together – with varying degrees of success.
That is arguably the problem. When he signed Gallas, Redknapp said: “If he comes in and plays rubbish then the crowd will slaughter him. If he comes in and plays great they will love him.”
At the moment the Frenchman is somewhere between the two. The numbers tell half the story – Gallas has started 10 games for Spurs, and they have conceded 18 goals in those matches.
It would be ridiculous to blame the ex-Arsenal skipper for all of that, but at the same time it is easy to list instances where Spurs’ unfortunately-numbered No13 has let the side down.
Gallas looked culpable when Samuel Eto’o scored Inter Milan’s third goal at the San Siro last month, declining to stay goalside of one of Europe’s most dangerous strikers.
Fast forward to the defeat at Bolton and, with 75 minutes gone, the former Arsenal man played a suicidal pass which was intercepted, leading immediately to a penalty and a 3-0 deficit.
Next up was Sunderland and, three minutes after Spurs had taken the lead, Gallas and Kaboul got in each other’s way and allowed a simple through ball to reach Asamoah Gyan, who converted.
That goal cost Tottenham two points at home, but Spurs’ coaching staff are still religiously praising the performances of Gallas.
“He’s a quality player and you don’t need to be a genius to see that, as the games have come and he’s got them under his belt, he’s got better and better,” said first-team coach Joe Jordan.
“There’s a guy who has come here and sweated to win games in a Spurs jersey. The commitment is total. Even if a player plays badly – and he certainly has not – if you’re making that commitment, then the supporters should get right behind you.”
Assistant manager Kevin Bond added: “He’s played in the last few games and we’ve needed him badly because of all of the games. I think he’s been excellent. I think he’s got that experience at the back and he reads the game so well.”
‘Experience’ is the buzzword when it comes to Gallas. It is certainly an important quality and, without him, Spurs would be relying on the 24-year-old pair of Kaboul and Sebastien Bassong.
That would be a fragile partnership in the Premier League, let alone the Champions League, and no-one can dispute that Gallas was imperious in the historic win over Inter Milan – his best game so far for Tottenham.
However, doubts remain that he is just a bit too ‘experienced’, hence why Arsenal offered him a lesser contract last season, and why he became a free agent in the summer.
Arsene Wenger saw an injury-prone player approaching the twilight of his career and, if Ledley King and Michael Dawson were both fit, Gallas would probably not be in Spurs’ starting line-up this weekend.
He was only supposed to be a back-up, and Tottenham’s recent defensive record only reinforces the view that the Lilywhites are missing their best centre-backs.
Gallas was only given a one-year deal. And yet, those who are biting their tongues and waiting for the ex-Arsenal skipper to disappear next summer may yet be disappointed.
“He gets another year if he starts over 30 games,” Redknapp explained in August. With a third of the season gone, Gallas has started 10 matches.
Depending on King’s condition, and Redknapp’s team selections, he could be around for a while yet. Ex-Gunner or not, Spurs fans may just have to get used to Gallas. A clean sheet or a goal in this weekend’s derby would help.