Has Harry taken Spurs as far as he can? Read why Tottenham should welcome the inevitable end-of-season approach from the FA for their manager.
The speculation surrounding the vacant England managerial position still seems to point to Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp being the favourite to be approached for the job. I believe the Tottenham hierarchy should accept any FA approach to speak with Harry Redknapp as it could be the key to turning the North London club from a team challenging the top four of the Premier League into to a club challenging to win the Premier League.
At one point this season Tottenham were within touching distance of the two Manchester clubs and were in a position where you could genuinely count them as title contenders. But then they stuttered, going on a run of 5 games without a win including defeats against Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton. I put the collapse of Tottenham's season down to several factors:
- Injuries to Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon
- Moving Modric out of the centre
- Transfer activity in January
- Lack of strength in depth
- No 'Plan B'
The injuries to Bale and Lennon at different times gave Tottenham a major problem. They are two key players in Tottenham's pacey attacking style and they didn't really have any like-for-like replacements of anywhere near similar quality to replace them with. That said, it was a mistake to move the pivotal figure of his team (Modric) out of the centre of his midfield. All this did was disrupt another position in the team, forcing a further change to the line-up, whilst also restricting the influence Modric was able to have on games from a wider starting position. Kranjcar or Rose coming in for Lennon or Bale would have been a better option and would have caused less disruption to a side that was previously in good form. With Rose replacing Bale on the left, the side could have retained the 4-4-1-1 shape and Rose's pace could have even maintained the way in which they attacked down that flank. Similarly on the right, putting Kranjcar in for Lennon would have meant only one change to the team and would have seen a clever player in a position that he has played many times during his time in England.
You could point to the transfer activity in January as key to the failure to deal with the injuries and lack of squad depth. Spurs allowed Steven Pienaar to sign for Everton on loan late on transfer deadline day and failed to ensure they signed a replacement. As it turned out, Pienaar would undoubtedly have been the first name in Harry Redknapp's thoughts when Lennon, and later Bale, were injured. There could also have been raised eyebrows over the decision to allow Vedran Corluka to leave on loan whilst not bringing in a replacement who could provide back-up for Kyle Walker at right back. Kaboul has deputised at right back when necessary but hasn't looked entirely comfortable with his positioning in this role.
The lack of strength in depth at Tottenham is well documented and I've already hinted at two instances of this when they suffered injuries in wide areas. You could look at the manager for not looking to bring in reinforcements in the right areas. You could suggest it is down to the manager to rotate the side slightly and give game-time to fringe players to keep them at a level where they could step into the team at any moment and perform to the required standard. You could counter that with the argument that that back-up players just aren't good enough, but then you're back to the initial failings of the manager's transfer activity.
All of the above points have contributed to Redknapp being exposed as not having a successful 'Plan B' to turn to when his thin-on-quality squad was stretched in key areas. In some games Redknapp has adopted a 4-3-3 formation with Bale and van der Vaart in floating attacking roles behind a main striker. This is not a formation Redknapp has used before and should not be confused with the 4-4-1-1 regularly used with van der Vaart behind Adebayor in attack. This change to 4-3-3 was only implemented because Aaron Lennon was still out injured Redknapp didn't trust anyone else to step into his boots on the right of midfield without continuing to waste Luka Modric in this position. When the difficult run of fixtures began, Rafael van der Vaart was also unfit and struggling with injury. Against Manchester United and Everton, Redknapp went with a 4-4-2 formation and lost both in the absence of the Dutch creator.
As well as the injuries to Tottenham players forcing changes to their own team, there is also the suggestion that other teams had found a way to play against them. That they had found a way to counteract Spurs' quick attacking style and attack them when the time was right. Chelsea demonstrated at Wembley in the FA Cup Semi-Final how to absorb Tottenham's attacking play, limit them to just a few shots on target, and exploit frailties in a tired defence. Even during this game, Redknapp's choice of substitution and tactical alteration in the second half directly led to Chelsea ceasing the initiative in the final 15 minutes and running our comfortable winners.
Tottenham need to capitalise on their improvement in the last few years and take this opportunity to develop themselves so that they can become title contendors. But to take the next step it is vital that they have a manager who is as tactically aware as they come. Someone who could mastermind victories in high-pressure games, implement suitable tactics for different opponents and positively change games with substitutions and tactical tweaks. There's no doubting Harry Redknapp is a good manager. But as Kevin Keegan showed with Newcastle in 1996 - man management and motivational skills will get you so far, but you need that extra tactical awareness to implement a 'Plan B' or even a 'Plan C' when things aren't going well or when teams find a way to play against you. I would suggest Redknapp has taken Tottenham as far as he can, and that they need a manager of the tactical astuteness of someone like Rafa Benitez to take them forward and compete with the best teams in England and Europe.
So whilst the uncertainty around the England job remains, Daniel Levy and the Tottenham Board would be wise to accept any approach from the FA to speak to their current manager.
Pictures courtesy of watchmeruletheworld.com and ladbrokes.com.