Spurs must be wary of return to purgatory
Published 04/04/2011 | 05:00
"Purgatory's kinda the in between one isn't it? You weren't that s***, but you weren't all that great either. Like Tottenham." Ray, 'In Bruges'
When this excellent film was released in early 2008 and Colin Farrell's character put forward his analogy, even the Spurs fans watching must have smiled at its accuracy. At the time, they were a few months away from winning the Carling Cup and sending their players -- including Robbie Keane -- into the sort of unbridled ecstasy that is charming at first, before the sad realisation that this might just be the highlight of their club career.
Within a few months, the feeling of celebration was long gone to be replaced with the fear of playing Championship football as they started the following season with two points from eight games.
Over the years, only Manchester City could rival Spurs in building up the optimism of their supporters, before reality dawned sometime around Christmas. But in the 2008/2009 season, that hope of better things to come was extinguished even before the clocks went back.
Just under two and a half years later, they are travelling to play Real Madrid in the quarter-finals of Europe's premier club competition with Harry Redknapp managing to turn a club that was the epitome of the can-beat-anyone-on-their-day faint praise, into one that can knock seven times European Cup winners Ac Milan out of the competition. The team who have won it nine times await tomorrow night.
Yet for all of the plaudits that Redknapp and his players are deservedly picking up at the moment, the danger of falling into the trap of chasing the Champions League dream is never far from the surface.
Having been to the San Siro twice already this season, tomorrow's trip to the Bernabeu is another reminder of just how far Spurs have come since sacking Juande Ramos, yet the points they dropped against Wigan on Saturday are far more important to their future.
Spurs' chances of winning this season's Champions League are more realistic than they were when they were 3-0 down to Young Boys after half an hour of their preliminary game in August yet, even if they get past Madrid, they will probably have to beat Barcelona in the semi-finals and, after that, Chelsea, Manchester United or Inter Milan.
It is, as Harry's son Jamie might put it in his mangled English, a massive, massive ask.
Leeds United's disastrous desire to chase the European dream should be a lesson to all clubs in a similar position and, with their plans to move to a new ground, it seems that the Tottenham board are well advanced in increasing revenue streams, brand positioning and all that other stuff that football supporters used never have to worry about.
Yet, achieving this progress is only possible either by finding a billionaire who wants to throw his money at the club in the manner of Manchester City and Chelsea or by trusting a manager to deliver success while improving the club's infrastructure and marketability like Manchester United or Arsenal.
For many years, Tottenham have had to deal with players wanting to leave once a bigger club comes sniffing around (Michael Carrick, Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov) and while they have been handsomely rewarded for their loss, they have never desperately tried to keep a manager -- it's getting rid of them that has usually been the problem.
This time, however, they can expect a call from the English FA at some point in the next year with Fabio Capello's contract due to end once their involvement in Euro 2012 is over. With a desire to appoint a manager who knows how important it is to be captain of the 'Three Lions' (ie not a foreigner) and somebody that won't see them lambasted in the media, it's impossible to see beyond Redknapp as the English FA's first port of call.
In July, Redknapp faces a court case for tax evasion, but, presuming he comes through that unscathed, his English-born rivals for the job would be (by current ranking) Steve Bruce, Tony Pulis, and Alan Pardew. With such limp competition, it's difficult to imagine Redknapp turning down an offer to end what would be, by the time 2014 rolls around, 48 years of hurt.
Although he often cultivates his happy-go-lucky reputation to play down expectations, Redknapp, like most successful managers, is ruthless when it comes to making choices that will further his career.
After his first stint at Portsmouth ended, he managed their fiercest rivals two weeks later. When he left Southampton after failing to keep them in the Premier League, he was back at Portsmouth within a week and won their first trophy in almost 60 years. Yet, recognising that the only way they could go was down, he was gone to Tottenham within months as Portsmouth sank like a ship off its coast.
In seeing how the clubs have fared after his departure, Redknapp's timing would make Bertie Ahern envious, but, while Spurs seem a long way from such a slippery slope, the danger remains that heavenly notions of regular Champions League action could become purgatory once again, while Redknapp watches from the comfy seats in the Wembley dugout.