Tainio: A very tactical player

Teemu Tainio got some rare praise from Patrick Barclay in the Telegraph today. He’s been out of the side and struggling for form when playing with the national team (he’s been fresh, so full of running, but lacking a bit of sharpness), so it’s good to see him starting to play a key role for Spurs in their cup games this week. He seems to have tempted fate though, and Tottenham got panned at Old Trafford today.

Tainio is a ‘front sweeper’

Not for the first time, we are talking – yes, you’ve guessed it – holding midfielders. For me, there was no brighter star of last week’s show than Teemu Tainio. Not even King or the indefatigably brilliant Robbie Keane, whose instant short pass to set up Lennon’s goal came from the very soul of football (you could envisage Ron Greenwood, say, beaming at its deft selflessness). Or Jermaine Jenas, who not only scored but helped Tainio to seal the fringes of Spurs’ penalty area. The Finn, acting as what used to be called a “front sweeper”, was fundamental in the frustration of an Arsenal side enhanced (though they did not wish it thus) by the appearance of Cesc Fabregas as an early substitute for the injured Denilson. This was tactically clever and you wonder what Ramos will have in store for Sir Alex Ferguson today as he seeks to preserve a personal record of no defeats in cup ties for the best part of two years.

Poyet paid tribute to Tainio when the Uruguayan, a very different type in that almost all his efforts were concerned with attack when he bestrode the midfields of Chelsea and Tottenham, spoke to the press on Friday. “He’s very clever,” said Poyet. “He understands what the manager wants and the needs of the team. Positionally he is different class. He knows when to play it simple – and when to make a foul sometimes! All these ingredients make for a very tactical player. He is very important for us.”

Now I know we are not supposed to condone tactical fouling – and, for what it is worth, I thought almost all of Tainio’s interventions against Arsenal were clean anyway – but it can be a vital part of the holding role in the modern game and there could be no complaints from Wenger because, in this respect, he is no purist, as scrutiny of the habits of, say, Gilberto Silva, or before him Patrick Vieira would confirm. Even at Arsenal, no one mistakes football for a beauty contest and you can be sure that their great rivals’ more glamorous players, led by Dimitar Berbatov, will not want to go to Wembley without Tainio.

Pekka Hämelainen has announced that SPL’s preferred candidate to be national team manager is Stuart Baxter. Another Svecophile (is that a word?) Englishman, Baxter has managed Basel and South Africa, as well as England Under 19s and a variety of Scandinavian clubs. He has a good reputation in Sweden and has managed to emerge unscathed from Helsingborg’s travails, which were caused by more senior people than coaches.

It’ll be interesting to see how much confidence the prevaricating old fellas have in this appointment (if indeed it is confirmed, although I doubt they’d announce it like this unless they were confident). Litmanen and Hyypiä are still to decide what to do, with Kaven and Nurmela already having retired from the national team. The latter two played bit parts at best, but Litti and Hyypiä could make a big difference – even if it’s only to improve morale.

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