Following the 1-0 win against Manchester City that secured Champions League football for the club for the first time in their penultimate match of last season, Tottenham Hotspur players celebrated as if they had just won the Premier League itself. In some respects, this was understandable – consider, for example, what this must have been worth to them in bonuses alone – but in others, it was the end of one battle and the beginning of another. As Arsenal supporters have not tired of reminding them over the summer months, finishing in fourth place in the Premier League didn’t actually guarantee Spurs place in the Champions League proper. Rather, it granted them a place in the final qualifying round for a place in the Champions League.
As such, their forthcoming match against BSC Young Boys of Bern could not only be regarded as effectively the last game of last season, but also as one of the most important cup ties in the recent history of the club. A win over Young Boys will guarantee them millions of pounds in Champions League revenue (money that would come in most useful if deposits are required towards the construction of the proposed new ground that they plan for their current White Hart Lane site), but will also restore another chunk of pride for a club whose supporters have come to hope for the best but expect somewhat less than this in recent years. The draw was a fortunate one – there were considerably more difficult opponents than Youngs Boys lying in wait in that particular draw – but it remains, especially with the away leg to be played on an artificial surface, a tie that could be lost, and that would hurt. A lot.
Harry Redknapp, of course, remains bullish. He claimed a couple of weeks ago that Spurs could be genuine contenders for the Premier League title this season, and followed this up by saying that, “If we went out and bought four world-class players, no matter what the price, we would have a fantastic chance”. The first of these statements is to be expected of any Premier League manager that has just got into the Champions League, no matter what the actual prospects of his club winning the league actually are. The second, though, is intriguing. The Premier League is having a summer of relative restraint in terms of spending massive amounts of money on new players, and that probably doesn’t suit Redknapp much. How much of this sort of statement, then, is gamesmanship, trying to lever a little more cold, hard cash to spend on players from the owners of the club? It’s difficult to believe that it isn’t the major motivating factor in such comments.
In the modern game, with players being free to come and go, the biggest deal of Spurs’ summer came at the end of May, when Luka Modric signed a contract extension for a further six years with others watching hungrily on. The waif-like Modric is a wonderful player, who in some respects calls to mind a tradition of Spurs players that have become a part of the self-image of the club’s supporters – stylish and elegant, arguably likely to blow hot and cold, he falls into a long lineage of Spurs players of this type and, at twenty-four years old and tied to a six year contract, the club should now either get his best years or, should the likes of Manchester City come a-calling, a colossal transfer fee. Keeping hold of him is far more important than any new signing that the club could realistically have brought in this summer.
At the time of writing Spurs have yet to land anything like a killer blow in the transfer market, and their interest in the likes of Ashley Young and Lois Remy remains diminished only by financial constraints. Their current squad is riven with players that blossomed last season, from Gareth Bale (who, of course, took more than two years to feature in a winning Spurs team but is now indispensible) to Heurelho Gomes, who looked like a liability when he first signed for the club in 2008 but was outstanding last season and could yet conceivably displace Julio Cesar at Brazil’s goalkeeper if he continues his upward curve through this season. Not everything is rosy for Spurs, though. There may be particular problems for them unless they can tighten up the centre of their defence. Jonathan Woodgate’s injuries seem to have reached the point of being chronic, and Ledley King’s ongoing tribulations are now common knowledge. William Gallas, a free agent having left Arsenal at the end of last season, might be tempting for Redknapp, but chairman Daniel Levy may baulk at his wage demands.
The Premier League title itself is likely to be beyond Tottenham Hotspur, but a domestic cup might not be and most Spurs supporters will be plenty aware of the significance of years that end in the number one to the club throughout their history. However, Harry Redknapp can’t cast European football aside as he may have sought to do in recent seasons and the pressures of the Champions League (presuming that they get through their play-off) and trying to recapture a Champions League place may mean that the League Cup and the FA Cup have to go on the back burner instead this season. Whether this is the right thing to do is debatable, but fighting on all fronts may well have a detrimental effect on the team.
The success or otherwise of Spurs’ season, however, will be judged upon their Premier League performance, and the most difficult task that they will face over the coming months will be holding onto that fourth Champions League place or seeking to improve upon last season’s performance. Spurs supporters of any age have been through enough false dawns to be wary of any set of circumstances, but there is no reason to suggest that their team won’t make the top six again, and a repeat of last season’s fourth place finish is obviously not beyond them, even if Manchester City’s new owners see a return on their investment than they did last year and Liverpool improve on their performance last season. They’ll have a better idea by the time that the rest of the Premier League kicks off at 3.00 on Saturday afternoon, by which time they will have played their home match against Manchester City. Last season, Spurs dared and they did it. This season, they have to go out and do it again.
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