Not even the incessant rain that teemed down on a heaving White Hart Lane last night could prevent a delighted Harry Redknapp from racing from his dug-out to acclaim Peter Crouch’s converted penalty which secured Tottenham Hotspur’s passage into the group stages of the Champions League.
Even though the Young Boys of Berne kit resembled the colours of a wasp it was Spurs who did all the swarming in a 4-0 second leg victory in front of their long suffering fans last night. Most Tottenham supporters are too young or simply unaware of their club’s early European Cup pedigree when Bill Nicholson fashioned a side that regularly went toe to toe with the best clubs on the continent.
To put Tottenham’s qualification success into context it is worth noting that Newcastle United were the last English club to make it through to the group stages of the Champions League other than the usual \’big four’ as far back as 2002. True, David Moyes’ Everton upset the apple cart a few seasons ago but fell at the qualifying round hurdle to a talented Villarreal outfit.
Since arriving at a club that was languishing precariously just above the relegation zone Redknapp has overseen a renaissance even few Tottenham fans thought possible. Spurs have been drifting in the shadow of another North London club for too long but last night proved a deserved reward for the careful stewardship of Redknapp, the Chairmanship of Daniel Levy and the millions of investment from Joe Lewis.
Redknapp’s famed ability to \’put an arm around the shoulder’ of a player and get the best out of an individual who may have lost his way is well regarded. He is a popular figure amongst the majority of the English media and has been mentioned as a possible successor to Fabio Capello in recent weeks. Underneath the newspaper bluster and bland after-match comments however there is also a ruthless streak to the current Spurs manager.
Redknapp’s treatment of Republic of Ireland international and former Spurs Captain Robbie Keane illustrates that he is more than willing to sacrifice a club favourite if the player no longer fits into his way of playing. Keane spent last night’s entire game on the bench and looks set to leave the club before the transfer window shuts in favour of a new striker with a proven Champions League track record. Luis Fabiano has been mentioned over the past few months as a possible Spurs target and a Brazilian who has experience of playing up front as a lone striker for Seville in the Champions League would prove a worthy acquisition.
There is little doubt Spurs will encounter far stiffer tests in the group stages of the Champions League. Yet the North London club are guaranteed three CL home fixtures which should set the pulses racing if they adopt the attacking approach which served them well last night. Utilising the pace of Lennon and Bale on the wings and providing Crouch, Defoe and Pavlyuchenko with enough ammunition to fire in the goals should serve up some electric European nights at White Hart Lane.
Question marks remain over a sometimes porous defence but the signing of William Gallas brings some much-needed European experience to offset the erratic defending of Bassong and Kaboul. The continuing fitness of Gomes, Dawson and King will have the biggest say in how far Spurs will go in this season’s Champions League.
Caution is needed however as much tougher European opponents than Young Boys of Berne will be coming to White Hart Lane with a 4-5-1 formation happy to defend deep and with enough experience to pick Spurs off on the break. Redknapp’s tactical ability will be tested to the full in the group stages especially away from home. The opening half hour of the first leg in Switzerland should act as a warning sign (plastic pitch apart) that a naive 4-4-2 will not suffice against the likes of Inter Milan or Barcelona.
Still, today is a good day to be a Spurs supporter with the excitement of a Champions League group stage draw to be fretted over for the first time ever.
Irrespective of what lies in wait in the coming months, for now, Harry Redknapp can take pride in restoring Tottenham Hotspur to the top table of European football.