Is Harry The Only One To Blame?

Tottenham threw away a 13-point lead over Arsenal and have ended up in the Europa League once again. Did they stick when they should have twisted in January?

Last Updated: 22/05/12 at 14:50 Post Comment

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There was a shinpadded (and yet suspended) captain lifting the trophy, a man so selfish that he is seemingly incapable of thinking beyond his own happiness. He was surrounded by players worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Fans were celebrating in the stands, a minority of whom felt it acceptable to disrupt a minute's silence marking the anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster just a month ago. Being generous, their football had been pragmatic, and at worst an example of the bus-parking described negatively by their former manager.

So there were plenty of reasons for the neutral to feel a degree of cynicism for Chelsea's Champions League win, and it will not have been greeted with universal applause. For Spurs fans however, cynicism doesn't come close. This was a disaster.

As you all know, Spurs will not be playing Champions League football next season. Despite finishing fourth in the Premier League, Chelsea's victory on Saturday means that for the second consecutive season, the club will have to resort to sending out reserve teams to Eastern Europe. It's Thursday nights and it's Channel 5.

Reading various forum pages on Sunday, there was still a smattering murmur of complaint from the club's fans, largely related to the allowance of five English competitors after Liverpool's success in 2005, but these merely had the bitter scent of sour grapes and sadness. Spurs and their supporters knew the rules, and they knew the dangers of finishing fourth.

Without the temptation of European football's premier competition, there is a fear emanating from fans that this summer could be a turning point for the club. Tottenham earned just £4.5million from competing in the Europa League this season, a far cry from the £37.1million earned during their annus mirabilis, their Champions League run of 2010/11. Moreover, Real Madrid have joined Paris Saint-Germain (presumably amongst other suitors) in courting Luka Modric, and a proposed move to Barcelona for Gareth Bale has the potential to become the tedious transfer saga of the close season. Rumours surrounding Kyle Walker and Rafael van der Vaart have not yet surfaced, but one can imagine that they will.

Unfortunately for Spurs, bitterness towards Chelsea does little more than paper over the cracks. They lost a 13-point lead over their fiercest rivals, and finished 20 points behind Manchester City and United. This is a problem of their own making, and season-ticket holders will be looking to direct the blame at both club and manager. Since their qualification for the Champions League two years ago, Spurs have simply not improved. So where has it all gone wrong?

Firstly, the speculation surrounding the England job did not help Tottenham, despite protestations from club and manager, and it is evident that although he dealt with the disappointment professionally and privately, Redknapp wanted to manage his country. Given that 16 of the players in Spurs' first-team squad were signed by Harry, a degree of unrest at the club was inevitable. Redknapp is a manager that famously relies on the motivation of his players as the facilitator for success. At their lowest ebb, sustained performance became harder to achieve.

Tactically, Harry also fell short. He is a manager that maintains a distinct belief in his Plan A, but crucially has few alternative options. Spurs had eight players that started 33 games or more in the Premier League this season, meaning that burn-out was inevitable. After the 5-2 defeat to Arsenal in the north London derby, Redknapp continued to select almost identical starting XIs for the next eight games, despite it appearing evident that a freshening up was required. From January 11, Spurs won just six of their last 18 games, dropping 30 points.

This unrelenting reliance on similar personnel is not an issue when a fit, strong squad is available, but when Bale and Aaron Lennon sustained injuries, it crippled the squad. Fringe players such as Niko Kranjcar, Danny Rose and Giovanni Dos Santos had not been given sufficient match practise to be effective replacements, and so Modric was instead farmed onto the flanks, massively limiting his effectiveness.

"You can argue about formations, tactics and systems forever, but to me football is fundamentally about the players. Whether it is 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, the numbers game is not the beautiful game in my opinion. It's 10 per cent about the formation and 90 per cent about the players." (Redknapp, 2010)

Redknapp's approach to tactical preparation is infamous, but whilst there is a tangible merit in allowing young players the freedom to express and perform, against the highest-quality teams more structure is needed. Spurs won none of their six league games against Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City, taking just two points in the process. When you examine Arsenal and Newcastle's records against the same opposition (both gained seven points), Harry's tactical naivety has hampered Spurs' performance. In a manner similar to Kevin Keegan's initial tenure as Newcastle manager, a reliance on motivation and passion can seem sufficient when a side is winning, but more is needed in times of even slight adversity.

However, it would be unfair to lay the blame solely at the feet of the manager, and there should be serious questions asked of Chairman Daniel Levy and owner Joe Lewis.

When the transfer window opened, Spurs sat just six points behind the two Manchester clubs with a game in hand on both. Harry is notoriously self-promoting, but he was not alone within the game in considering Tottenham genuine title contenders. Within that window, the club brought in Yago Falque (immediately loaned to Southampton), Ryan Nelsen (aged 34) and Louis Saha (aged 33). The latter two purchases were both on free transfers, and both players had chequered injury records. At the same time, Vedran Corluka, Sebastien Bassong, Steven Pienaar and Roman Pavlyuchenko all departed from White Hart Lane. No matter how it was dressed up, Spurs were weakened during that month of opportunity.

January was Tottenham's time to shine, and Harry was seemingly not backed by owner or chairman. Discussing targets through a car window may offer hope to some fans, but there is a growing concern amongst core supporters that Levy and Lewis wanted instead to keep their money in reserve for a new stadium, and that in January they made a conscious decision to stick rather than twist, presumably assuming that Champions League qualification was almost a certainty. A new stadium is all very well, but it becomes harder to fill (and naming rights far less profitable) without Champions League football. Fans will demand answers as to why their club did not even attempt to build on their formidable start to the campaign.

Spurs' season was not a catastrophe in the Aston Villa or Blackburn sense of the word, but it did little to persuade the club's brightest lights that White Hart Lane should be the venue from which they could achieve their substantial ambitions. If, as many suspect, Levy would have in fact been happy for his manager to move to Wembley, especially considering the substantial compensation on offer, then has the subconscious decision been made that Redknapp's tenure had reached a natural end?

Levy and Lewis need to decide if Redknapp has taken Spurs as far as he can. Delay and Spurs are in danger of standing still. In modern-day football, standing still simply moves you backwards.

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