I remember one of those awful old primary school hymns that went something like this ‘everybody’s building, everybody’s building, everybody’s building day-by-day…’ and to me it echoes the progress being made by Tottenham Hotspur this season. What you won’t find from the majority of Spurs fans is them singing from the rooftops about just how good this season’s Tottenham team is. What you will find is facebook status updates following the teams victories that say ‘the Spurs go quietly marching on’.
For too many seasons Spurs have threatened to challenge the Premier League hierarchy, to some extent they have achieved it, but this season is the one where Spurs need to start being taken seriously. When I say taken seriously, I think that other managers and players see how far Tottenham have come, the people who haven’t are perhaps football fans in general; even Spurs fans themselves have had a slow realisation that maybe this season is not going to fit in to the category ‘close, but no cigar’. As we reached the crescendo of the festive period, Spurs were lying in third place with a sizable gap over Arsenal and Chelsea, Spurs fans waited to see if that gap could be made even wider by proving they had the minerals in their game in hand against Everton.
Spurs did prove they have the durability to challenge this season with a solid 2-0 win against Everton, their third clean sheet in a row at home, as they went joint second with Manchester United, 3 points behind league leaders Manchester City. Tottenham Hotspur football club have come a long way, but the success hasn’t come over night.
Spurs have been building a squad that could challenge the echelons of the top four for a while and it all started with Martin Jol. The big Dutchman bought something new to Spurs that his predecessors hadn’t; he started a staged building process at the club. Jol was backed by business savvy chairman Daniel Levy and started to upgrade the Tottenham squad piece by piece. Players were churned after short periods at the club, the likes of Erik Edman, Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes, Noe Pamarot and Fredi Kanoute all moved on. More experience was bought in the form of Tainio, Stalteri, Davids, Lee Young-Pyo, Jenas and Danny Murphy, players who had the experience of European competition. Spurs under the guise of Comolli also looked to the future by recruiting players like Lennon and Huddlestone, as Jol started to form a squad ready for European competition.
This continued with more deadwood be discarded, like the lumbering Naybet and bumbling Bunjevcevic whilst players like Zokora and Berbatov, Assou-Ekotto, Taarabt, Marlbranque and Chimbonda arrived. We all know the wheels fell off for a period towards the end of Jol’s reign, and whilst Ramos’ stint was a nightmare, good foundations had been laid for Harry to build on. Maybe there was too much instability during these churning years, but it had to be done. Redknapp shook the squad up again, preferring a team with a more British core, who could relate to the club and its traditions. Players like Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon and Modric have given the first eleven consistency in Spurs’ style of play over the last three or four seasons.
Redknapp has come under-fire this week from rival fans after he commented Spurs have not bought success like Chelsea and Manchester City. Since Redknapp has taken over he has spent around £90million on players, he has bought in Parker, Sandro, van der Vaart, Pienaar, Walker, Crouch, Bassong, Kaboul, Kranjcar, Defoe, Palacios, Chimbonda and Robbie Keane, whilst showing hints of his previous ‘wheeler dealer’ label with the clever free transfers of Friedel, Cudicini and Gallas, whilst bring Adebayor in on loan has been a masterstroke. He has made mistakes as the players that didn’t work out above have departed to leave a squad filled with depth, quality and potential.
Now Spurs’ transfer activity is similar to that of Manchester United’s and Arsenal’s in years gone by; it is hard to find better than what you have got, only one or two players will be replaced/upgraded each season – this is when you know you have the makings of a very good team. Spurs have had their share of fortune as youngsters have stepped up to the plate and made their claim; Kaboul has been ever-present and impressive, Kyle Walker has been nothing short of a sensation, Bale’s stock keeps rising, even young Jake Livermore has proved he can hack it.
Having the quality is no good if the dynamics are not right; you need characters in the dressing room that will hold the team together on the pitch. Players like Friedel, Gallas, Parker, van der Vaart and Adebayor are vital experienced older players who know how to win and shut games out – it is no fluke that Spurs have turned the corner and started to ‘grind out’ results in a Manchester Unitedesque way.
Redknapp is like a smooth bar-tender at one of London’s swanky Mayfair bars that the players no doubt frequent; he blends the ingredients of his team to perfection, shakes them up when needed and the results are tasty. Harry has the balance of the side right, mixing the players technical and physical attributes with personalities that personify a winning mentality, which equates to a team that is near perfect with the dynamics of this side being spot on.
This second half of the season is where things are won and lost, injuries kick in, fatigue makes legs heavy and the pressure mounts. Spurs do have their weaknesses; the side is unbalanced when they lose Bale or Lennon and this needs to be addressed, you could argue they don’t score enough goals (rumours of a striker arriving are intensifying), they have injuries to key players like King, Parker and Sandro.
When you look at the pedigree of Spurs first XI in comparison to that of other title challengers Manchester City’s, City have some of the world’s best players, but how many have been there, done that and got the t-shirt when it comes to winning championships in any league in the world? Or the experience of being at some of the world’s top clubs so they know how to handle pressure?
Redknapp has nurtured his side along, down-playing their chances, allowing them to not feel pressure, enjoy their football and grow in to a team. With Spurs’ consistency you cannot hide from reality forever, the manager has realised what he has, the players have also realised and started to believe, I like that the fans are not getting too carried away with the talk, but they have a vital part to play and need to realise they are part of the equation – White Hart Lane needs to be rocking every game, it needs to be an uncomfortable place for teams to go, if anything the atmosphere has suffered as a bi-product of success.
The worrying thing for the other contenders is Spurs are not yet in top gear, they play near their best about one game in three and still get results. A couple of players coming in and Spurs finishing strongly is an exciting prospect and I for one am excited to see the Spurs quietly go marching on…the chance is there to make this their season.