Modern football, so we are told, is all about the squad. And Harry Redknapp and Spurs are often praised for their strength in depth. But if you use the same group of fourteen or so players every match, it doesn’t matter if you have Lionel Messi on the bench. If you don’t play him, you may as well have Lionel Ritchie in the dugout. Not only does fatigue manifest itself within the first team, but the unused players will become disillusioned.
And the squad, as Tottenham are finding out the hard way this season, becomes particularly crucial when attempting to balance the rigours of European and domestic football. Spurs recently travelled to the San Siro, and found themselves playing against the European Champions with ten men for all of 83 minutes. Three days later, they hosted Everton in the Premier League, and Redknapp opted to make just three changes to the team, one of which was due to Van der Vaart returning from suspension. After Manchester United’s recent trek to Bursaspor, Sir Alex Ferguson made six changes for the weekend match against Wolves. The fact that such an established European powerhouse feels the need to change things round from one game to the next tells you something in itself.
The Champions League will test the squad throughout the course of the season
A lot of this can be put down to the stubbornness conveyed by Redknapp’s team selections, and his apparent reluctance to grant fringe players their chance to shine. Robbie Keane is perhaps the most high profile member of the squad whose pleas for first team action of any kind have fallen on deaf ears. The Irish captain was given the Spurs armband during pre-season, but has since made only one start in the Premier League, with Peter Crouch, who hasn’t found the net in any of his eleven league games this season, being preferred. Even a goal mere minutes after his introduction in the Carling Cup tie against rivals Arsenal wasn’t enough to move the Tottenham great up the pecking order.
The likes of Keane can only be happy to sit on the bench for so long
Giovani Dos Santos is another player who has been used sparingly to say the least, having not even been including in the match day squad for a number of weeks. Many tipped the Mexican to be given an opportunity after an impressive display in South Africa, which saw him keep Man United favourite Javier Hernandez out of the side. But even in the absence of Aaron Lennon and Rafael van der Vaart, when his pace and guile would have been an asset, his talents have still been deployed in the reserves.
Niko Kranjcar is yet another example of a quality player who has not even been given the opportunity to impress off the bench. And after declaring he may seek to leave White Hart Lane if he is not given regular first team football, it leaves one to beleive he may not be alone in those sentiments.
However, there are signs of players the Spurs boss drastically underrated and underused within the first team. Some of the side’s best performers this season were previously deemed surplus to requirements, only to be handed a chance due to injury. Gareth Bale, dubbed one of the World’s best wingers after almost single-handedly dismantling Inter Milan on two occasions, was on the verge of completing a loan move to Nottingham Forest in January, before an injury to Benoit Assou-Ekotto meant he had to be drafted into the team.
After being given a chance, Bale went on to become a key player, scoring pivotal goals against Arsenal and then Chelsea in last season’s fourth place run-in
Alan Hutton was a player who used to have to settle for a view from the stands as well. He was loaned out to Sunderland at the back end of last season, and was most likely heading for a similar fate to the likes of Kranjcar this campaign. But an injury to Corluka gifted the Scottish fullback his place, and he has proved his critics wrong with some excellent displays; becoming the club’s joint top league goalscorer this season with two to his name. Roman Pavlyuchenko was also rotting in the reserves before almost being sold last season, until the high regard in which the fans held him convinced Harry to give him his long overdue shot. He also proved his worth, scoring five goals in three matches, making the Russian almost un-droppable. So with all these instances, it raises considerable doubt as to why certain players aren’t given a similar opportunity.
But with the January transfer window always looming round the corner, surely there comes a point where Redknapp will have to either sell or use these players. The Spurs hierarchy have opted not to enter a reserve team for the second season running, which means the only football these players are getting is in the odd ‘Tottenham XI’ match against lowly opposition. And with Premier League performances being below par by last season’s high standards, it strikes me that a little rotation would go a long way.
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