(This piece was originally posted 11th November, but following Spurs’ win in Milan thought a I would give it another chance to see some daylight…)
Bournemouth F.C. escaped dropping out of the football league in 1993, the man responsible for this was Harry Redknapp. This same squad also shocked Manchester Utd in the FA cup that season, by converting the holders into also-rans.
Tottenham were considered more a cup team before Redknapp took charge, but he instilled consistency and belief last year transforming them into genuine top four candidates. However, fighting on two demanding fronts this season may take its toll – will we see them return to that aforementioned cup-side tag?
Europe’s premier club competition is embedded into Tottenham’s fixture list this season, following last season’s 38 game scuffle with Manchester City for that much-coveted fourth place. Redknapp must have only dreamt about dizzying days such as these whilst flitting between south-coast rivals – Portsmouth and Southampton – during the mid-noughties.
In reflection of the mauling served up for last seasons all-conquering Internazionale – a treble achievement spanning European and domestic landscapes, albeit under a different manager – Spurs, must now re-assess both their season’s ambitions and priorities. Spurs will face a battle to re-gain qualification this season. The top four will be constructed out of probably six teams, so firstly, questions will be asked about genuine squad depth.
To a degree, Spurs’ domestic form has suffered at times this season. Trying to juggle a congested and intensified fixture list seems a task Redknapp does not enjoy. The defeat at Bolton, following the ruffling of the Italian champions, signifies a bittersweet obstacle this season – the players seem more fired up for European assignments.
There would be a sense of irony if Tottenham could go onto Champions League glory this year after putting one over on the last manager to do it in such unexpected fashion – Rafael Benitez. Similarities between this Spurs side and the Benitez squad of 2005 are prominent. That very year, Liverpool qualified through the back door after finishing fourth in the Premiership and entered the Champions League under no pretences.
Following epic battles against the likes of Juventus and Chelsea, Liverpool went on to break Milanese hearts in Istanbul. Redknapp take note, the best team in Europe does not always win the Champions League. Spurs’ squad is arguably stronger than the one Benitez honed to champion status. The Spaniard won the competition at the expense of their domestic campaign in ‘05 as Liverpool finished fifth, consequently bullying their way back in as holders.
The European road Spurs are travelling this season, could, at a stretch, prove to be another enchanting journey for English football. If the game was a science then beating the current holders so emphatically should mean they fear no one, Redknapp should, and probably will, rally his troops working from that premise.
Many will say, and rightly so, he does not possess the nautical nous to make massive in-roads into the Champions League, but leaving the San Siro suffering such a ‘good defeat’ – with a man down, your side must be pointing in the right direction.
This is where dream turns into complete fantasy for Redknapp. Many people, Tottenham supporters included, will laugh at the notion that follows but the old adage tells us football is a funny old game, could Spurs really win the biggest club competition?
Redknapp’s man-management skills certainly eclipse the depth of his tactical know-how – Benitez was the polar opposite, former players even criticised the latter’s’ man-management skills. Benitez won the Champions League with an over-cautious approach and a selection policy that was often as unfathomable as his recent ‘priest on mountains of sugar’ tirade. Saying that, playing on the side of caution won him big, big games.
European competition, away from home, rarely necessitates playing with the shackles off, a style that is Redknapp’s lifeblood. However, looking at the way he originally lined up at the San Siro, 4-4-1-1, the learning curve had begun – until obviously, Heurelio Gomes’ dismissal forced his hand.
If they are to make serious progress then Redknapp must balance his instinct of free-flowing football with an approach to nullify opposition, but any team who can score six goals in two games against an Internazionale side, guided by a manager whose reputation was built on tactical intricacies, is impressive.
Going further, and in Redknapp’s defence, you need more than two hands to count the number of centre-back pairings he has been forced into employing this season, continuity is missing in a vital area.
Spurs may have peaked and will not produce a performance – labelled as their best in recent times – again this season, but Redknapp’s built his side to play expansive football and this liberal setup scores goals.
A discussion of Spurs’ debut in the Champions League would be incomplete without mentioning their two superstars. Redknapp has nurtured and poached Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart respectively – both are priceless match-winners and must be used sparingly. In Europe, Bale’s input is pivotal, a hat trick coupled with pinpoint crossing, literally, shredded the Italian Champions to bits.
Far fetched it may be, but wind the clock back five years and the same deafening negativity could have been heard regarding Benitez’ European campaign – people wouldn’t have dared utter Liverpool and European champions in the same breath. Fate will have to play its part too, as it did for both the latter and Manchester United in their respective dates with destiny.
With London hosting the final, a London manager winning the Champions League, with a London club, (for the first time), may be a start. Oh, and ask any Tottenham fan what happens when the year ends in a one.
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