Thursday 17 August 2017

Modric predicament sums up difficult numbers game

Harry Redknapp will face a struggle to keep Spurs competitive, writes Dion Fanning

Tottenham Hotspur's season starts at Old Trafford tomorrow night. Harry Redknapp felt his summer only started last Friday as well.

The riots in Tottenham caused their first game against Everton to be postponed and Hearts offered nothing except the starting point for a debate about the state of Scottish football.

Redknapp's mood in the build-up to that game was instructive. He was invited to offer the customary excited reaction to the season opening. Instead he sounded like a parent trying to look forward to Christmas even though his youngest child had been abducted and his whereabouts was unknown.

Redknapp famously bristled when an interviewer described him as a 'wheeler-dealer' and it is clear that his need to be involved in the transfer market is more profound than simply dealing. Redknapp needs the transfer market to exist, to feel alive as a manager.

He is not unique. Many managers will feel their sides need the transformative effect a summer of signings can bring but Redknapp raises eyebrows when he suggests that his side will improve by selling their best player.

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was determined to keep Luka Modric but in the shadow-boxing and game-playing that is part of every transfer, this stance, no matter how authentic, was unlikely to hold once the player made it clear he wanted to leave.

Redknapp seems to have come to this pragmatic conclusion, especially as there are only ten days remaining in the transfer window, and something has to be done.

It is a bold position for the manager to take. "They are your options. You either sell him, get the money and bring four players in and have a better team, probably, in all honesty. Or you keep Luka, who's a fantastic player."

Redknapp was making it sound simpler than it is.

Modric has been the key player for Tottenham, so the idea that the arrival of three or four players -- especially if two of them are Emmanuel Adebayor and Lassana Diarra -- will make Tottenham better is an interesting one.

Redknapp kept to the party line that he didn't want to sell Modric, certainly not to Chelsea, but it sounded like he has an itch and he needs to scratch. Last week, he needed to stress the damage that was being done by Tottenham's failure to act. If it required the sale of Modric to get things started then, well, let's get things started. Spurs were in a perilous position.

The victory against Hearts couldn't have come at a worse time so it was not surprising to hear Redknapp stressing the gulf in quality between English sides and Scottish sides.

This is the truth but Redknapp will have wanted to emphasise how much Spurs needed to do. The arrival of Adebayor and Diarra are certainly new faces and great talents, at least in Adebayor's case, but how they will improve a team remains to be seen.

Redknapp talked up Adebayor last week, partly by stressing how much his arrival would antagonise Arsenal fans. He recalled Adebayor's 'unplayable' performances while working under Arsene Wenger and again when Spurs played Madrid in the Champions League.

Redknapp may be able to coax the best out of a player who has looked sated more or less since he ran the length of the field to taunt Arsenal fans after scoring for Manchester City.

Adebayor's arrival in north London could well make Arsenal fans appreciate Wenger and remember the recent past when he could sell a player at exactly the right time, something that may well turn out to be the case with Samir Nasri, if not Cesc Fabregas.

If he arrives and Modric leaves, it's hard to see how it makes the team better. Spurs are trying to cure the problem with their strikers but selling the player who provided the creativity is a curious solution.

In the 2009-'10 season, Tottenham's three strikers, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Roman Pavyluchenko scored 31 goals. Defoe got 18. Robbie Keane added another six.

Last season, Keane scored none, the rest managed 17 between them, although the system had been reworked, with Rafael van der Vaart adding 13 goals, making up the difference.

Things had changed with the signing last August of Van der Vaart. Madrid were happy to let him leave and Spurs made what many believed was the signing of the summer when they got him for £8 million.

Van der Vaart's impact was immediate. He had a touch and a vision that left Redknapp enraptured but as the season went on, the weaknesses in his game, more specifically his fitness (he was subbed 21 times last season), became apparent.

There were clashes with Redknapp over these substitutions especially when he headed straight down the tunnel when he was substituted against West Ham.

As Van der Vaart worked behind the striker, Redknapp searched for the ideal man to play in front of him. Defoe was dismissed, primarily for the lack of intelligence of much of his play, while Crouch was resented by fans because of the temptation to hit the ball long to him. He has, of course, got a good touch for a big man, but Tottenham wanted someone with a better touch and they didn't care if he was a smaller man.

Crouch wasn't interested in a move to Stoke this summer and Stoke, for all the talk of the evolution in their play, still are eager to sign big men -- if they have a good touch to go with it, so be it.

Only Keane has gone, freeing up some wages for Redknapp to make the loan signing of Adebayor.

Once Modric leaves, Redknapp will have to do as he promised. Levy was said to be determined to keep the player and earlier in the summer Redknapp also sounded insistent.

"The chairman has made a statement today, he can't backtrack on that. He means that, I know he means that. Luka's not going. It's not easy to keep a player who's not happy but the chairman has said we're not going to sell him so we've got to stand by that now. He can't be saying that and then we sell him."

But something changed. The realisation that Tottenham were, like nearly every club, required to sell before they could buy might have changed his mind.

Perhaps he thought he could keep Modric and develop a settled squad rather than make the big changes but as the summer went on he felt the need to revitalise himself as much as the team.

Last season's end probably told him that he couldn't muddle through. Spurs' season collapsed after their victory in Milan.

Their run in the Champions League was reported as if some plucky no-hopers had conquered Europe. The reality that it was a club backed heavily with a great history reaching the last eight didn't fit in with the concept and with the image of Redknapp as the next England manager.

Redknapp is many things but he is also a pragmatist and, more than most, he knows the game. He might have seen no point in muddling on with a player who wanted to leave, in fact he seemed to take a benign view of Modric's desire which isn't shared by the supporters.

They see his desire to join Chelsea of all clubs as a betrayal. Redknapp, who went to Southampton from Portsmouth, understands that betrayal can only happen if you believe in betrayal.

He might need protecting this season. Chasing Manchester City was always going to be hard but Spurs are no longer competing with them, just over a year after they beat them to fourth place.

They have their own challenges now to stay in touch. The manager's challenge is to make them competitive if Modric and Redknapp get their way and the player leaves. The truth that Redknapp has concealed is that a club like Spurs should have grown from qualifying for the Champions League. Instead it looks like a one-off spectacular. Modric will be the scapegoat but others have squandered that opportunity as well.

Manchester Utd v Tottenham,

Sky Sports 1, tomorrow 8.0

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