daniel clay's column


author (of "broken") daniel clay writes on all things tottenham hotspur as our latest columnist.
12.05.2010        So What's Around The Corner For Spurs
10.08.2010        New Season News
13.10.2010        The Way Forward
27.12.2010        Belief





“I feel we could contend for the title; we have got the players here.”

So said Harry Redknapp way back in July.  And, of course, he reiterated this belief after the storming comeback against Arsenal at The Emirates:

“We can achieve anything. Anybody can win it. You've got to aim for the top. If the players believe in themselves as much as I believe in them they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.”

Since that game, ignoring the Champions League, we’ve beaten Liverpool at home, drawn away with Birmingham, at home against Chelsea, and now beaten Villa away.  As I write this, the morning after a great performance against Aston Villa, we sit:

  • Five points off the top of the table, with the leaders having two games in hand;
  • Five points off second, with us having a game in hand over City;
  • And two points from leapfrogging Arsenal and Chelsea into third, with the game in hand these teams enjoy over us occurring tonight, when they face each other at The Emirates. 

Can we win the league?

It should be a case where the brave heart says yes, the smart head says no.  Manchester United are unbeaten so far in the league and, potentially, eleven points better off than we are with the same number of games played.  Man City have their bottomless pockets.  Arsenal and Chelsea have recent history on their side.  

And, in all probability, we won’t.  Chances are, we’re going to struggle to retain our place in the top four.  The run of games in October and November, where we drew at home against Everton and Sunderland and lost away to Man United and Bolton, account for the bulk of the points that make the difference between us and United, and put us slightly behind the three teams that keep us in fifth.

And yet... and yet...

I keep looking at United and wondering just how they are unbeaten in the league.  When we went to Old Trafford at the end of October I genuinely felt we went there with a fantastic chance of coming away with one or all three of the points – I didn’t have us down as favourites, but I definitely viewed us as equals.  Putting Spurs to one side, I feel United have one of the weakest first elevens – and squads – that they’ve had in years now, and they’re likely to have a bad patch at some stage this season.  When it comes, that potential eleven point lead over us might actually materialise into little more than a three or five point lead, and they still have to visit The Lane, The Emirates and Stamford Bridge.  They’re not as far away or unreachable as they seem.   

Of the others, Man City are capable of winning the league or finishing fifth.  There’s something unstable about them that seems to make them unlikely to achieve what the money and talent available to them means they really should be about to achieve.  Their recent home defeat to Everton highlights this perfectly – we’re just an away win at Blackpool away from being two points behind them with a game at Eastlands to come, meaning our fate, where they are concerned, is still in our own hands. 

As for Chelsea and Arsenal, thanks to injuries and a lack of recent investment, both squads can look as vulnerable as they often look capable.  To level the playing field further, when it comes to our return fixtures against them, we’ve enjoyed back to back league wins over Arsenal in 2010 and a home win and home draw against Chelsea:  Now the team have proved they are capable of going to The Emirates and winning, they should be able to go to The Bridge thinking anything can happen.  Hopefully the same will be true when Man United come to The Lane – the team should be eyeing that fixture knowing Man U are a team we can beat.       

As no Spurs fan is ever likely to forget, we already know we can get a result at Eastlands when circumstances demand that we must. 

In short, this team should fear no-one.  Other than Man United, we’ve enjoyed recent victories over all those who stand above us as the calendar year draws to an end, and the game at Old Trafford suggests the gap is as narrow as it’s been in a number of years.    

As ever, with Spurs, though, the real test isn’t against the teams we’re looking to catch up with.  The fact the teams above us constantly – except Arsenal, of course – take points off each other means we can afford to drop points against them and still remain there-abouts.  The real test is to eradicate results such as West Ham away and Wigan at home.  Of this seasons ‘also-rans’ in terms of the clubs likely to make up 2011’s top five, we have to face Newcastle and Blackpool home and away, Fulham at home, Everton away, Blackburn away, Bolton at home, Sunderland away, Wolves away, West Ham at home, Wigan away, Stoke at home, West Brom at home, Liverpool away and Birmingham at home. 

That’s forty-eight points up for grabs, and taking them will put us on seventy-eight.  That’s eight more points than we amassed last season, but eight short of Chelsea’s championship winning haul of eight-six.  However, this year’s league leaders, Man U, are five points worse off than Chelsea were this time last year and Chelsea themselves are eleven points worse off.  Chances are 2011’s champions aren’t going to amass the points 2010’s did. 

So can we do it?  Personally, both my heart and my head say probably not.  Recent history suggests we won’t beat Liverpool at Anfield, will struggle against Sunderland away, will drop at least two points in games against Blackpool and may struggle to break down one of West Brom and Birmingham at home.  On top of that, last season, we lost at Molineux as well. 

Repeating these not so distant failures will mean we can kiss the top four, let alone a shot at the league, goodbye.  

But, for the first time in a long time, none of the other four teams in the mix are performing as champions-elect either:  All of them are capable of dropping points – and already have – against the teams in the above list.    

And, more than ever, we have a squad capable of winning all the above games while still taking points off our rivals.

Harry Redknapp believes we can do it.  Watching the team walk off the pitch against Villa, I had the sense they believe they can do it as well. 

As 2010 – surely, for consistency and excitement, the best calendar year to have been a Spurs fan since the early eighties – draws to a close, the fact we go into the second half of the season with a manager and team who believe we’re in with an outside shout of the title shows just how far we have come since 2008, when a relegation scrap was all we could realistically anticipate.   For all of us who remember some of the mid-table/relegation years of Gross, Graham, Francis, the unfulfilled promise of teams put together by Venables, Hoddle and Jol – not to mention the short-lived tenures of Pleat, Ramos, Santini, Ardiles and Shreeves – 2011 could just be the year we’ve been waiting for all of our lives.  However this league campaign turns out, it’s a great time to be a Spurs fan.  Let’s hope it gets better yet.  


daniel clay



The Way Forward

Even before Dawson and Defoe were injured playing for England, I’ve always hated international breaks.  They just bring the domestic season to a juddering halt, and, although I’m a huge England fan, watching the national team rarely gives me the same sense of excitement watching Spurs does.

This break has, though, at least allowed a little breathing space to look back on what’s been a hectic start to our league, Carling Cup and Champions’ League campaigns.  

First off, I thought we had a great first half against Man City.  I had a real sense of trepidation before the game, but the fact we had a largely unchanged team compared to City’s hugely expensive bunch of strangers, really helped.  Even though City came back into it in the second-half, a win for Spurs would have been a hugely deserved result, and it wasn’t as if we didn’t create enough chances:  Some of our first half play was sublime. 

One word of warning, though:  Never agree to watch a game with a couple who’ve recently been for the first scan of their first pregnancy unless you’ve had ample time to talk to them about it before kick-off.  No matter how you word it, there’s just no polite way of telling them you don’t want to look at the picture of their foetus until after the game, and will they please shut up about it for the next ninety minutes.  Sometimes, though, it really does have to be said.

After such a strong performance against City, and such a disciplined end to last season, it was typical Spurs to threaten to implode against Young Boys.  The plastic pitch, no Ledders, no Hud, Dawson and Bassong looking like they were playing on ice... Redknapp looking shell-shocked on the touchline... I don’t think I’ve seen such an awful first half performance since we lost to Port Vale in the FA Cup in ’88, and I’m not sure we’ll ever see such an important goal as Bassong’s header, as the difference between 3-0 and 3-1 at half-time was probably immeasurable to what happened over the rest of the tie. 

Although the second-half was better, Young Boys still created more than we did, and we were lucky to come out of that with a 3-2 result rather than 4-1 or worse.  I also felt, with Pav and Keane looking utterly clueless for the majority of the time they were on the pitch together, then linking so perfectly for Pav’s goal,  the whole game was a microcosm for the attacking problems we’re likely to face with the squad this season:  the potential is definitely there, it’s finding the way to unlock it when the squad is blessed/cursed with so many options all over the park that’s the problem.  

After a result like that, I thought the fact the team went to Stoke and won – with Bale possibly already wrapping up the goal of the season – is what marks this team as different to so many Spurs’ teams that have gone before:  the following week’s win over Young Boys, given the way the first leg had unexpectedly swung our way, plus the fact the game was on grass, was possibly expected, though by no means a conclusion, but to go away to Stoke, come back from losing an early lead, then get a dodgy decision right at the end, probably gave us all an insight in how it must have been to follow Arsenal for the past twenty years:  If we’d gone there and lost and then failed to overturn the deficit against Young Boys, our season would have read, league wise, played 2, 1 point, playing Europa League football.  The word disaster would not have come close.

So then on to Wigan at home, and back to being a proper Spurs team again. 

That result, coupled with aspects of the Young Boy game, the Arsenal CC performance, and the result at West Ham, are what’s made this season seem such a roller-coaster ride already, but if you look at our overall league performance compared to last season’s – swapping the draw at promoted West Brom for the defeat at relegated Burnley – we’re only two points worse off than we were after playing the same teams.  That doesn’t take away from how frustrating the result against Wigan was, but the fact we’ve since had VDV help us come from behind to beat both Wolves and Villa – two teams we failed to beat home and away last season – plus the fact West Ham see us as their main derby game, does give me some sense of optimism we can challenge for fourth again.  The draw at West Brom, given they’ve taken points from away games at Liverpool and Arsenal, suddenly doesn’t look so bad either. 

Something else to feel optimistic about is how poor some of Man U’s and Arsenal’s results have been, not to mention the chaos at Anfield.  Man City haven’t been perfect either, despite beating Chelsea and holding second, suggesting this season could see a fight between several teams for second downwards, rather than the usual tussle for first/second, with one plucky outsider having a bit of a go at stealing fourth from the weakest of the Sky Four.  We may not get what we hope for from the coming league campaign, but it’s definitely shaping up to be one of the most exciting we’ve been involved in for quite some time – especially if VDV carries on the way he’s begun, Defoe and Dawson come back strong, and Harry can figure out the best way to structure the team to get the most out of the riches he now has at his disposal.

As for the Carling Cup game against Arsenal, I share the view of one of the comments posted beneath MEHSTG’s match review.  We’ve progressed over the past few years while they’ve regressed.  That may seem strange after a comprehensive defeat, but here’s why I think this is: 

Under Jol, not so many seasons ago, the strongest team we could put out threw away a 2-0 lead at the Lane against a pretty weak Arsenal side in the first leg of a CC semi then got a lucky last minute goal at their place to take the tie into extra-time, when we promptly got beaten.  This time around, Wenger knew he’d get taken apart if he tried similar, even though we were putting out a mixture of expensive underperformers, new signings, and promising reserves – the team may have cost £80 million, but only Benoit could be classed as first choice in his position.  Yes, Arsenal dominated.  Yes, they should have gone through in normal time.  But the respect Wenger had to show in his team selection, plus the fact some of our more promising reserves – Bostock and Rose, for instance – were on loan, not only means we’re closing the gap, but also that the game was meaningless in terms of judging the respective depths of the two squads.

Maybe it did show Harry still has much to learn, though:  Once Wenger’s team-sheet was out, it was obvious our squad was weaker, so why no Kranjcar – one of our best players last term, I thought – in the starting line-up, and then why wasn’t he used until so late in the game?  (Not just in that game, virtually full-stop?).  Why so many defensive midfielders for a home-game the crowd were so desperate for us to do well in?  And why does it seem an Arsenal team, no matter who it’s made up of, plays like any Arsenal team tends to under Wenger, yet we looked like total strangers even though many of the players had been at the club for good chunks of time? 

These were the things I worried about after the game, not the fact the Scum progressed in a competition they’ve done so much to devalue since Wenger appeared on the scene (can’t wait to see his selection for Newcastle, and let’s hope Hughton’s team rip them a new one).  

As for the CL, what an experience so far.  Young Boys was mad with the right outcome; Bremen was mad with the wrong outcome; Twente was just brilliantly, brilliantly mad.  Have we ever been awarded three penalties in one game before? I can’t remember it in my lifetime.  And didn’t Pav finally look the real deal in the second half, holding the ball up like a proper striker for a change...

But, again, in the Bremen game, with Corluka being pressed back in the second half and Benoit having his mad ten seconds to let them back in when they’d previously offered absolutely nothing, another indicator of where potential problems will lie in the coming months:  None of our full-backs are very good full-backs.  I’m not blind to their strengths – both Corluka and Benoit provide something going forwards, as do Hutton, Bale and, to a lesser extent, Kaboul when he plays there – but all of them are capable of costing us goals on a regular basis, which, given how many teams will be coming to WHL looking to park the bus and nick a crafty goal on the break, could really undo our chances of progressing from where we are right now to where we’re all so desperate for Spurs to be. 

Now we’ve added VDV at what looks like a bargain basement price, I really get the feeling we’re just two great full-backs (and, being greedy, one more striker with Keane moving on) away from being a team capable of challenging for things on a regular basis, and I’m not talking the Carling and FA Cups, but the PL title and the latter stages of the CL over the next three or four years. 

So come on, Levy.  Two very good full-backs for Christmas please. And, from the team, wins that shouldn’t be beyond them against Fulham, Everton, Bolton, Sunderland, Blackburn, plus at least one positive result in our double header against Inter (maybe a harder ask!), and the rest of the season will really start to take on a look of huge promise...  

Come On You Spurs!  

daniel clay




New season news

It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic, but this is probably the season I’ve looked forward to least since... well, since the last time we had to follow up a strong league campaign, coming fifth under Jol after being in the top four for most of the run-in the season before. 

I’ve thought a lot about why this is, but there isn’t really an obvious answer. My fears at the end of last season were along the lines of Man U coming in for Modric or Bale as they did for Carrick at the end of Jol’s one campaign where he looked capable of guiding us to the position we find ourselves in now; top four.  Although the transfer window still has plenty of time to run, the club acted quickly at the end of last season to offer both players lucrative new deals.  The fact both signed suggests they’re as committed to the cause as any professional footballer is in this day and age. 

Given that losing Carrick weakened us much more than it strengthened United (though they went on to win the league three times on the trot with him in the squad, he’s never really been an automatic pick and doesn’t seem valued by their fans), and given the disruption their courting of Berbatov caused us over two consecutive pre-seasons, the fact none of the so called big boys seem to be sniffing around our star names at the moment really should bode well for the coming campaign.

So why so glum?  We’ve got a great (on last season’s form) keeper, plus Cudicini is available again.  We’ve got adequate full-backs (could be better, but we’ve had much worse).  We’ve got two potentially world-class (but perennially injured) centre-backs in Woodgate and King, plus the under-rated (outside of The Lane, anyway – I mean, on last season’s form, how did Upson get the England nod ahead of him?) Dawson and the reliable Bassong.  We’ve got Lennon, Kranjcar and Bentley capable of playing right-wing, Huddlestone and Palacios and Modric capable of playing centre-mid, Bale plus several of the above capable of playing down the left, and fringe players such as Jenas and O’Hara more than capable of doing a job, plus the potential of Walker, Naughton, and Rose pushing through.  Into that mix, the unknown quantity of Sandro and any other new signings who might come in.  It would have been nice to see Joe Cole in a Spurs shirt, but part of me worried he’d come in at the expense of Bale, and I don’t think I’ve been as excited by a young Spurs player since Stephen Carr first started to come good:  He scares the hell out of me when he plays left-back, but he’s always exciting to watch.

The situation up-front concerns me, but it’s still a long cry from the days when we had the creaking Ferdinand and willing but limited Iversen as our star-turns, and I even think we’re in a stronger position now than when we started a recent season with Berbatov, Keane, Bent and Defoe fronting the line:  On paper, that looked untouchable, but it always seemed clear Berbatov had his eyes on a move to United, didn’t like partnering Defoe and thought even less of partnering Bent; what part in Jol’s downfall captain Keane’s finger jabbing arm waving histrionics played when subbed at Fulham with a two-goal lead that soon turned to a three-two reverse we’ll never know, but the four we have at the moment – with Keane’s wings clipped following recent experiences – seem more willing to play the squad game than the big I-am game, and that’s something to be glad about, at least. 

Going through them, I like Crouch.  There, I said it.  I do like him, and I don’t see how he can be blamed if our full-backs start lumping the ball forwards each time he’s on the pitch – that’s a problem for the full-backs and Redknapp to sort out.  All Crouch can do is deal with what’s thrown at him (and, perhaps, stay away from prostitutes, if the News of the World are actually telling the truth).  I think his link-up play is usually good, he always puts in a good shift, and he’s a good alternative to anyone else in the squad, either as a starter or sub.  To be an automatic pick he needs to score more and refs need to stop awarding free-kicks against him each time a defender jumps on his back, but even with those two weaknesses, I hope he hangs around for a little while yet. 

I hope Defoe does as well.  Frustrating when it’s not his day, sometimes unplayable when it is, he seems to have a genuine love for the club and a genuine thirst for the game.  The fact Capello dragged him off against Germany while sticking with the inexplicably toothless Rooney – for the un-scoring Heskey of all people – summed up how much the Italian seemed to have lost the plot over the summer, especially when it came to the Spurs contingent in his squad (King crocked, Dawson ignored, Lennon nullified and then dropped for Wright-Phillips, Defoe un-trusted, Crouch hardly tried):  My main concern with Defoe is the fact he seems to score a lot of goals in bursts and then go quiet for a number of matches.  Also – and I’ve not checked any statistics to back this up, it’s just my feeling – he’s not the sole scorer who makes the difference between a nil-nil and a win often enough:  if only his hatful against Wigan had been evenly spread across Wolves, Hull and Stoke last season we wouldn’t be facing a Champions League Qualifier now; we’d be looking down on Arsenal while they got ready for theirs.

Our last two strikers I’m not so sure about.  I think Keane’s a great player – or was, anyway – but is his temperament right to be a great squad player?  And does he still have it at this level to be anything more?  He hasn’t done much in the last two seasons to allay doubts on either point, and scoring goals in Scotland isn’t the test it once was, though it could have been just the boost his confidence needed:  Redknapp seems unsure as well, on the one hand being quoted as how great Robbie’s been in pre-season, on the other hand saying he’ll consider moving him on if the right offer comes in.  Experience tells us you can’t trust much Redknapp says in the press, but, reading between the lines, the impression is that if Keane’s still at Tottenham when the window closes it’ll be because nobody else came in with a decent offer and a good enough replacement couldn’t be convinced to sign up.  It could well be the same with Pav.  Redknapp’s quoted as saying he’s the best finisher at the club, and he certainly enjoyed a brief purple spell last season, but is he consistent enough and determined enough?  Coming in to his third season at Tottenham, the jury is probably still out on that one, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make himself un-droppable alongside Defoe or disappear back to Russia.  His future really does seem as open as that.

As for Gudjohnsen – who I believe we’ve signed on loan again – he’s a squad player at best, though a great player to have on the bench. 

In summary then, we’re not in bad shape.  With the excellent Kranjcar added and the improved form of Gomes, Bale and, to a lesser extent, Assou-Ekotto, we’re in better shape than we were at the start of last season, which is the first thing any football fan should hope for, I guess.  I don’t know enough about Sandro to be able to say whether he’ll improve the team, but I know enough about Redknapp to think the majority of his signings seem to come off (with the odd truly spectacular exception).  If further signings are to happen, I think they need to be through the core – a solid back-up or challenger to Gomes; a top-class centre-back to replace one of King and Woodgate so, when and if available, they become the cover alongside Bassong rather than automatic picks; a truly dynamic central midfielder to challenge Palacios and keep Huddlestone striving to improve (though maybe we already have that in Sandro); and someone up front who’s an improvement on what we already have. 

Being really greedy, a couple of really solid full-backs to put pressure on Corluka and Assou-Ekotto would be nice; though I’m hoping Walker or Naughton may prove to be at least one of those.  And, on the subject of those on the fringes, wouldn’t it have been nice if the club had offered Bostock back to Crystal Palace rather than Hull given the sour taste we created when we took him from them on the cheap; given their subsequent brush with extinction and the fact we helped rob Simon Jordan of his will to carry on in football (from what he said in the press at the time of the Bostock transfer, anyway), it would be some sort of gesture, at least, if a few of our youngsters were offered on loan to Palace.     

Of the players we’ve been linked with – and stand a realistic chance of getting – only Parker really seems to fit the bill as something slightly different and, in terms of fringe players at least, better than what we presently have, though midfielders such as him do somehow seem to fade out on the bigger stage:  Bellamy, at thirty-one and disruptive, might cause more trouble than he’s worth; plus he tends to hog the left channel rather than play through the middle, and Modric and Bale serve us brilliantly there.  I can’t see us getting Fabiano with our wage structure, and I’m not sure he’ll do us much good if we do.  There’s rumours of Huntelaar being swapped for Dos Santos, and that might be an interesting deal (not to mention risky given Dos Santos was arguably our best performer at the world cup).   But, all in all, if we start the season with what we have, I expect us to see off Young Boys and qualify for the Champions League proper, have a go in the FA Cup, progress with a strong reserve side in the League Cup, and challenge the top six of the Premiership again, causing real problems to the Sky Four when on home-soil:  If only we could guarantee doing the same to the bottom four, we may even make top four for the second time in a row: 

And, if we do, at whose expense?  I’d say, if we’re going to do it, much depends on how City do.  If they play to their potential, we might have to get ourselves above both Arsenal and Liverpool to have any chance.  That may well be beyond us.

If City underperform, and if Liverpool don’t get extra funding and go through another season of injuries to Torres and Gerrard, then it might be as it was for the teams who made up the top four last season.  The truth is, though, each time we had a chance to open a gap between ourselves, City, Liverpool and Villa last season, we failed to do it, and if we keep choking again next season, coming top four again is going to be a tall order.  Not impossible, but harder than it was last year.      

For me, though, being top four isn’t the be-all and end-all.  Improving, playing entertaining football, seeing flair players like Modric, Kranjcar, Bale and Lennon complemented by the commitment of players like Dawson and Palacios, makes me remember the teams of Hoddle, Crooks, Hazard and Roberts, Waddle and Gough, Lineker, Gazza, Anderton, Mabbutt and Ruddock, while forgetting the days of George Graham, Christian Goss and Gerry Francis (or, at least, the manager Francis became half-way through his first full-season), not to mention the various second-comings of David Pleat.    

So, again, why so glum?  Because this is Tottenham, and we’re never more dangerous to ourselves than when we have something to defend.  Although I’ve got hope for the season, I’ve also got the fear that, by the time I write my next column, we’ll be in the Europa League following a two-leg spanking at the hands of the European equivalent of Pompey, Liverpool will have been bought by that Chinese billionaire and will be spending money like Chelsea and City before them (probably on Bale and Modric), an immediately clicking City will spank us at the Lane, and Redknapp, following some sort of further mad implosion by Capello’s England over their next two games, will be in charge of the national side, leaving us to turn to the only manager with European experience still out of work – David O’Leary (late amendment – Martin O’Neil, with Dreary as his assistant?). 

If any of that does happen, I apologise that you heard it here first.

Come On You Spurs!                     

daniel clay




So What’s Around The Corner For Spurs?

The hangover’s over - almost - the throat’s not as raw as it was after our performance at Eastlands, and even the heartbeat’s reverting to normal (mainly helped by the final day’s insipid collapse at Burnley) so, for Spurs fans, although it should be time to sit back and reflect on our best league finish since the long gone days of El Tel, it is really the time to ask: what happens next?  

Fans of other clubs haven’t been slow to point out we haven’t qualified for the CL, we’ve qualified for a two-legged qualifier which - like Everton and Newcastle before us – we’ll most likely lose, causing next season’s early form to implode and lead us into crisis.

Columnists have been split two ways - there are those who think we’ll follow the above route, but others who think, along with big-spending Manchester City, we’re going to use this as a springboard to consistently challenge the established order of the so called Sky Four.        

Following Spurs as I do, I’d put more hope than money on the latter, but I also think, with Redknapp at the helm, whatever else is around the corner, we’ll at least avoid repeating the mistakes of recent pre-seasons – too many new players on over-inflated fees in areas we were already strong in (Bent and Bentley) and too many of our top players tempted away by the Sky Four against the club’s wishes (Sheringham, Campbell, Carrick, Berbatov, Keane – even Frank Arnesen, to a lesser degree):  In this regard, at least temporarily, things really should start getting better:  Financially, we have little need to sell; professionally, for next season at least, players have little need to move on (even if we do fail in the qualifiers, most of our squad will be CL cup-tied for at least part of the season, reducing their appeal to other teams who manage to make it into the groups).  

There’s still no guarantee a few won’t jump ship, of course - rumours suggest the Glazers are going to get their debt-book out for Modric (and, until he signed his new contract, Bale) - but beating City means the major excuse used by players of old to find a more lucrative badge to kiss is temporarily out of the way:  Next season, the present squad know they’ll have a crack at qualifying for the Champions League and, with a touch more mental strength and a couple of extra signings, they also ought to be telling themselves - no matter what happens in the CL qualifiers – there’s no reason why Spurs can’t finish top four again, or, even (stop sniggering at the back, there), have a go at the title itself. 

If that seems like a fanciful statement to make, pause to consider the following:  Today, we sit sixteen points adrift of champions Chelsea, but if you reverse single goal losses to Stoke at home and Wolves (home and away), plus turn our goalless home-draw against Hull into a victory, we would have gone into the last day of the season two points short of the top and well established in third.  Instead we found ourselves five adrift of a goalkeeper-less Arsenal despite having only failed to take points from two teams – United and, somewhat bizarrely, Wolves. 

Before the back-to-back home victories against Arsenal and Chelsea made people (myself included) sit up and start to believe Spurs weren’t going to blow their chance of making the top four again, Redknapp was ridiculed in some quarters for saying Spurs, given our strength in depth, should have been at least level-pegging with Arsenal and giving the two teams above them some sort of fight, but the fact is these three teams left us behind at a canter because we failed to beat teams our other performances proved we were  capable of beating: and, to a lesser extent, because we didn’t turn up when we faced the Sky Four away. 

This isn’t an attempt to take anything away from the teams we failed to beat or use fanciful ‘what if’ scenarios to claim Spurs were better than their final league placing suggests, more an attempt to think about whether we over-achieved this season or if we should be looking to kick on next year and achieve more than just try to hold fourth. 

With that in mind, during pre-season, these are the three areas I feel Redknapp needs to address:

  • evolution not revolution in any team-building that takes place over the summer.

  • a way of addressing the psyche – or formation – of the team when it comes to playing teams who display a lack of ambition against us.

  • a change in the attitude – or tactics – that makes us whipping boys against the Sky Four in their own back-yards.

These aren’t new problems for Spurs, but they are a narrower pack of problems than we’ve had to face in our recent past.  As ever, though, the signals – just from the last few weeks of the season – are conflicting: 

  • The fact we’ve just signed Bale to a new contract – and the fact he was willing to sign it with overtures from United being bandied about in the press – suggests the first one is being addressed

  • but the fact Redknapp has often come out and said what a fantastic player Ferguson thinks Modric is suggests we’re again being primed to lose a key talent to one of the Sky Four.  

  • The fact we were able to break down an awkward and resolute Bolton suggests the second problem might have been sorted

  • but the fact we lost away to Sunderland and then, on the last day, to Burnley – having been two-nil up and coasting (not to mention the FA Cup semi-final against Pompey) – suggests, again, it hasn’t. 

  • The fact we went to Manchester City needing a draw to keep control of our own fate and came back with a well deserved win suggests, in the back-yards of the big boys (they did beat Arsenal and Chelsea at Eastlands, after all), we’ve finally learned how to grow some

  • but the fact we capitulated 3-1 to a Rooney-less Man U having pegged them back to one-all with fifteen minutes remaining suggests, again, that not all that much has changed.

As ever, with Tottenham, there really is no way of knowing what lies around the corner.  It’s just nice to reach the end of a satisfying – if frustrating – league campaign and feel as if there’s some sort of corner ahead to be turned. 

daniel clay


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