The backlash against Spurs is increasing amongst the minions. That’s nothing I didn’t expect. The charges that they spent their way in to the position they are in so “fourth place is the least they should expect” is a bit like the charge I made when Spurs would routinely lose to top four sides over the years (“they should be able to beat Spurs with seven players wearing flip-flops given the teams they have”). It’s just frustration and bitterness. Everyone is prone to it.
I read an amusing comment on some Guardian blog from an Arsenal fan who claimed that Tottenham’s losses last year (£6.6m) were “unsustainable”. I don’t think a position at Deloitte is within that guys grasp.
Schadenfreude is a full-time job for many fans – wishing ill-will towards other clubs, managers, fans, players, directors, owners. I do it. I’m not going to pretend I don’t. Leaving aside the fact that 99% of us don’t know the people involved personally, it’s very easy to continually fire bile in the direction of complete wanker Alex Ferguson, self-righteous, myopic arsehole Arsene Wenger and – my favourite – the seemingly increasingly unstable Rafa Benitez.
As the biggest critic of Harry Redknapp (“putting him in charge is like giving the keys of Harrods to the janitor”) I feel able to make a reasonably unbiased assessment of his first two years – well as unbiased as a Spurs fan of almost 30 years could put forward. When you inherently dislike a personality (and there are plenty of reasons not to care for Harry Redknapp all that much) you tend to amplify their failures and water down their achievements.
It’s all just ego of course – giving credit to someone you vilified is kind of like admitting you were sort of wrong, in a way. And while I still have a hard-to-shake dislike of the man, you can’t ignore his achievements in two years at Spurs.
His first transfer window turned me off completely. Jermain Defoe, Wilson Palacios and Robbie Keane were signed for a combined £39m. Defoe was a player who I always felt was over-rated, Palacios someone whose market value multiplied by twelve times in twelve months and Keane a player who months earlier had turned his back on the club to “live the dream” at Anfield – yet another club he seems to have supported as a boy.
Two years later Keane is on his last legs at Spurs, a desperately disappointing return highlighting that in reality he only shone bright when playing alongside Dimitar Berbatov. Palacios has had trouble with injury, family issues (his brother was kidnapped and murdered) and form. Too often he undermines the team with erratic performances, underlined by his atrocious passing. When he does get it right (against Aston Villa a few weeks ago) he is an asset – but those performances are few and far between.
Defoe has remained first choice although injury and suspension have restricted him to 7 Premier League performances and no goals this season. He has scored three times (in Europe) and matched that total in one game for England. By default Defoe is Tottenham’s best striker but any team challenging for the top four needs a better player than him.
Further signings did not instil much more confidence in Redknapp’s transfer market abilities. Peter Crouch was a player I liked but the fee was high and the return since then has been ordinary. Sebastien Bassong is a very limited £8m defender and the re-signing of Younes Kaboul was puzzling to say the least. It turned out that Kaboul improved immeasurably since his first stint (2007/8) and has been a stellar performer at both right back and centre back.
This season’s purchases have both turned out to be inspired. William Gallas had a slow start as he struggled to get fit. But before recent injury he had become a key player at the back. The signing of Rafael van der Vaart had been somewhat mocked by FOOCers (Fans Of Other Clubs) but most would have to begrudgingly admit that the 8-goal midfielder-cum-forward had become a talisman.
The rest of the first choice team were there when he arrived – Gomes, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto, Hutton, Lennon, Bale, Modric, Pavlyuchenko and Huddlestone – but Redknapp should get credit for getting the best out of them. Gareth Bale has gone from potential Nottingham Forest loanee to one of the most admired players in European football. Benoit Assou-Ekotto has gone from frequently error-prone defender to one of the most cultured full-backs in the Premier League. Luka Modric is now recognised as one of Europe’s best midfielders and Alan Hutton has gone from misfit to first choice defender in a few months. Michael Dawson has rediscovered the form he lost in the latter days of Martin Jol and the entire reign of Juande Ramos. Tom Huddlestone has upped his game considerably in the last 12 months and (odd stupid stamp aside) has emerged as a very decent Premier League player.
And that’s been Harry’s strength – give him money and he won’t give you much return (that’s why having someone careful like Levy in charge of the purse strings is important) but give him a player in the doldrums and he’ll get the best out of them. His signing of van der Vaart only happened at the last minute of the previous transfer window and was driven by chairman Daniel Levy. Having said that, Redknapp hasn’t been shy of playing the Dutchman and in fact has pretty much built his team around him.
Occasionally his man-management has let him down. Who knows what he was thinking when he berated Darren Bent (who is a proven Premier League goalscorer) for missing an open goal against Redknapp’s former club Portsmouth. Similarly he has not exactly opened his bosom to Russian striker Roman Pavlyuchenko who, while seeming a little work-shy, is probably the best natural finisher at the club. But the verbal spat between them a year ago appears to have been forgotten now – not that Redknapp wouldn’t take £10m or so for him.
I think I’m far quicker to dismiss Redknapp’s achievements when Spurs record a disappointing performance – take your pick from the League Cup humiliation against Arsenal, the shocking first half hour against Young Boys, or the poor Premier League results against Sunderland, West Ham, Bolton and Wigan. But every Premier League club experiences these days and to knee-jerk in the way that many fans do with nauseating regularity is to repeat the behaviour that I roll my eyes at in the Football365 mailbox every Monday.
Overall Redknapp has done a fine job at Spurs. He’s had his share of fortune – a talented squad that Damien Comolli and previous managers helped put together combined with Chelsea and Manchester United’s relative waning as well as Liverpool’s poor squad. But he’s made the most of it and isn’t afraid to make Tottenham fans dare to believe. It’s a double-edged sword throwing your towel in for the title – more than likely Spurs will fall short given their porous defence. But with confidence high and the landscape shifting it hardly seems as far-fetched today that it would have just a year ago.
As for the David Beckham story? Well we’ll get to that next time.