On Wednesday January 11th, Tottenham Hotspur sat third in the Barclay’s Premier League, level on 45 points with, defending champions, Manchester United, having both played twenty matches; both clubs just three points behind, leaders, Manchester City. To reach that point, Harry Redknapp’s team had lost only once in their previous eighteen games, drawing on three occasions, having won a remarkable 14 out of 18.
From “genuine” title contenders in January, Tottenham Hotspur’s 2012 has seen them slip to fourth place in the league and crash out of the F.A. Cup in emphatic fashion. With many at the club, including Harry Redknapp, sought after by others, is this the end for Harry’s Spurs?
One month later, and following a 5-0 thrashing of, fellow top six candidates, Newcastle United, themselves in the midst of a remarkable season, Harry’s Hotspur were the talk of the town. With the two Manchester Clubs having swapped places at the top of the table, Tottenham sat just four behind City, and only five points off the dizzy heights of top spot, with one third of the season remaining. Spurs, after sitting in third place since defeating Fulham 1-3 at the Cottage on November 26th, relinquishing that position just once, briefly, were finally being regarded as “genuine title contenders”, a massive achievement for Harry Redknapp, who for the first time in the season, began to play down their Premier League winning credentials (the reverse psychology wouldn’t help).
From Tottenham’s point of view, there followed an untimely F.A. Cup weekend, which left Premier League matters in suspended animation for a fortnight. When battle resumed, Tottenham were to face Arsenal at the Emirates in the North London derby. The fortunes of the two teams going into the match could hardly have been more different. Although Spurs drew their F.A.Cup tie, 0-0, away at Stevenage, their league form, as stated, had been excellent. Their North London rivals, however, had had an incredibly testing league season and , although they’d won their last two league games, they were their only victories in eight games in all competitions, a run which included five defeats. The Gunners had just been knocked out of the F.A. Cup by Sunderland, after having seen their Champions’ League campaign all but ended with a 0-4 defeat in Milan.
The match was to prove a pivotal moment for both teams. It was a strange game in many ways; Tottenham raced into a 0-2 lead with goals from Luis Saha and a penalty from Adebayor, but they never looked comfortable, even with the advantage and their tactical gameplan of playing on the counter-attack handed the inititiative to the home side.
Many expected Arsenal to crumble, in much the same way as they had done the previous year, after throwing away the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City; that would not happen again. Sagna and van Persie levelled things up for the Gunners before half-time, and in the second-half, Spurs were routed. Rosicky and a brace from Walcott put Arsenal 5-2 in front with twenty minutes to go, and with Spurs lacking any sort of answer, that is how it stayed.
Since that fateful day, Tottenham’s form has nosedived. Spurs have won just once in seven league outings since that turnaround against the Gunners, and, including that game, have picked up only six points from a possible 24. Harry Redknapp has seen his side give up third place to their biggest rivals, and with Newcastle and Chelsea breathing down their necks, Spurs have got a job on to finish in the Champions’ league berths for next season; indeed, in their current form, sixth place is looking a distinct possibility.
Not only that, but last weekend, the Tottenham boss witnessed his team get dumped out of the F.A. Cup, 1-5, by another one of the “bigger” London clubs, Chelsea. Now, although Spurs had the better of the first-half, and arguably the game hinged on a terrible refereeing call by Martin Atkinson, having gotten the score back to 1-2, the manner of his team’s ultimate capitulation must have stung Harry Redknapp, and certainly would have been food for thought.
We are all aware of the vacancy at the top of the English game, we are also fully aware that Harry Redknapp is by far and away the people’s choice and the bookie’s favourite to take the job. Although Redknapp has always been clear, throughout his career, that if offered the job, he would accept the post of England Manager; when the job first came free, he must have had a lot to think about given how well his club was doing; now perhaps, the story may be different.
There is a school of thought, and I’m a member of it, that Harry has taken Tottenham as far as he can take them. He delivered them Champions’ League football, unheard of for Spurs in the Premier League era; not only that, he took them to the quarter finals. Unfortunately from a Tottenham perspective, Europe stretched their squad to the maximum, and only fifth place and a Europa league spot could be secured for the following season (this one).
Having, just about, persuaded, key midfield playmaker, Luka Modric to stay at the club in the Summer, fending off heavy interest from Chelsea amongst other big, continental clubs, Tottenham got off to a poor start this campaign. After being smashed, 1-5, at home by Manchester City in the second game of the season, it was clear that the squad was thin, and reinforcements were needed. These arrived in the signing of Scott Parker and the loan of Adebayor. The new arrivals made a big impact and Spurs’s season began.
However the steep decline of the club’s fortunes in recent times, for whatever reasons: lack of mental strength, loss of confidence, tiredness, poor tactical choices in key games or a combination of factors, must lead us, and Harry Redknapp, to wonder: has progress been made this season, and what comes next? The club currently have four points more than they had at the same point last season, they sit one place higher in the table, however, Tottenham are six points further off the top than they were last term, and the chasing pack is much closer.
Should Tottenham finish fifth or sixth, the season can’t really be regarded as progress. Given the lack of attention paid to their Europa League campaign, crashing out in the group stages, re-qualifying for that competition is hardly desirable. Redknapp likely paid the second European competition less heed, in order that his team might focus on the league and ensure Champions’ League qualification; should that not happen, Spurs and Harry will be left with nothing.
Not only that, a lack of Champions’ League football could well tempt some of Tottenham’s bigger names to leave the club this Summer. As mentioned above, Modric was only just persuaded to stay last year, there is likely to be a lot of interest in the Croatian this year, especially if he performs at Euro 2012, Spurs may struggle to keep him. Adebayor came in on-loan, the Manchester City forward is reportedly earning £200,000 a week making it very unlikely that he’ll stay at White Hart Lane. Gareth Bale is being courted by Barcelona and Inter Milan, as well as being high up on Alex Ferguson’s wish-list, he also ignored the interest last Summer, but may find it harder to do so this time.
Meanwhile Jermain Defoe’s made no secret of his frustration at being a bit part player this term, he is another that will listen to offers for his services when this season draws to a close. Add to these, Brad Friedel’s age, Ledley King’s lack of fitness/stamina (very apparent over the last two months), Michael Dawson’s long-term injury, William Gallas’s suspect temperament and you have a lot of players who may be on the move very soon.
Bearing all these facts in mind, it may be the right time, in fact, the only time, for Harry Redknapp to take the England job, should it be offered to him (which it’s bound to be). Should he do this, it will more than likely signal the break-up of the current Spurs team, unless Daniel Levy et al can move quickly to bring in a suitably respected replacement.
Even if this is achieved , the new man is bound to have his own ideas about personnel, who will have to go and who he’d like to bring in. Mind you, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing for Tottenham, as the afore mentioned players leaving would bring in an awful lot of money, leaving whoever is in charge with a large transfer kitty to enjoy, which always brings excitement for the fans. Whatever happens, this Summer is likely to see a lot of change at White Hart Lane, whether it will be for better or for worse, only time will tell.
Redknapp image by Flierfy