Spurs at a crossroads
Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Tottenham Hotspur beating Arsenal 2-1 in the league at the start of a run of four wins in five matches that ended in the club's first ever qualification for the Champions League.
That night, Gareth Bale scored the crucial second goal and Heurelho Gomes was heroic in repelling a late onslaught from the visitors.
One year on and Spurs have it all to do again. Last season it was an improbable run of wins over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City that took them into the top four of English football. This season they still have to play away at Chelsea, City and Liverpool, as well as Wednesday's home game against Arsenal. Finishing fourth the first time felt like a miracle; this season it could be an even bigger achievement.
Defeat to Real Madrid on Wednesday at home -- thanks to a clanger from Gomes -- put in perspective where Spurs stand among the best of Europe. In recent years they have been imaginative, and at times downright inspired, in their transfer dealings, but there is nothing like a 5-0 aggregate defeat to Real to sober you up to realities of life at the top.
Currently in fifth place and three points behind City, who have played one more game, Harry Redknapp is fond of pointing out that City have spent around £150m since the end of last season to close the three-point gap that separated the two clubs last May. But what of Spurs? Could they have done more to improve their prospects for a run-in to the season that could change the prospects of the club for years to come?
Had they played their cards differently in January, the club could have signed Luis Suarez, who has made such an impact at Liverpool since his arrival that same month. Spurs had come close to a deal last summer and in the previous transfer window had the first option on the former Ajax man. He was thought to have preferred a move to London.
There were doubts, however, publicly expressed by Redknapp, as to whether Suarez was adaptable to Premier League football. We all know the answer to that now. Spurs also had a serious interest in Giuseppe Rossi, the former Manchester United striker, but at the last minute his club Villarreal refused to sell. The wage demands of Edin Dzeko, who went to City, were deemed exorbitant.
So, what now for Tottenham? They are confident that whatever happens this season, Gareth Bale will give them one more year. A shy boy, who is a bit of a worrier, he knows that the pull of Barcelona or Real Madrid will be too strong to ignore at some point -- as will the wages -- but not quite yet. They have much to do to secure fourth place again this season, and then they have some major decisions to make.
Contrary to his caricature of a parsimonious chairman, Daniel Levy is prepared to break the club's modest transfer record (about £16.5m on Luka Modric) for the right player. The problem is that the likes of Suarez, Andy Carroll and Dzeko have all moved on now. With the exception of Fernando Llorente at Athletic Bilbao, who may be unrealistically priced, and perhaps another move for Rossi, who will he be able to spend it on?
The will is there to buy a top international striker and there is leeway in terms of the transfer fee. It is the wages that are the problem. The highest earners at Spurs command around £75,000 a week, which is a significant step down from the £100,000-a-week contracts of their counterparts at Manchester United, Arsenal, City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Of Spurs' current strikers, Peter Crouch has two years on his contract after this season and is expected to stay. Roman Pavlyuchenko will be sold but only for the right price. The club want to keep Jermain Defoe, despite a very poor season by his standards. The early honeymoon with Rafael van der Vaart is now starting to wear thin and there are suggestions his attitude might prove to be a problem over time.
Spurs' attack is not the only area that the club would like to strengthen. With Ledley King's injury problems ever more dire, they need cover for Michael Dawson and William Gallas at centre-back. Kyle Walker will come into the squad next season, meaning that Alan Hutton can leave. Other departures will include Jermaine Jenas, Robbie Keane and Niko Kranjcar and, given Gomes' gaffe against Real, there must be serious questions as to whether he is still the right man for the job.
"The Champions League is where you want to be," Dawson said after Wednesday's game. "Every player wants to play in the Champions League and play against the players who were on show for Real Madrid."
Attracting players this summer will be a lot easier if Spurs are in the Champions League again and, given that next season is likely to be Redknapp's last at the club before he gets the England job, he will not be counselling caution. But improving a team that has overachieved in the Champions League this season -- that is the hard bit. (© Independent News Service)
Spurs' remaining fixtures
Apr 20 Arsenal (h)
Apr 23 West Bromwich (h)
Apr 30 Chelsea (a)
May 7 Blackpool (h)
May 10 Manchester City (a)
May 15 Liverpool (a)
May 22 Birmingham (h)