It’s 2010, time for an all-out assault on a place in the Champions League. This blog has deliberately refrained from any CL talk: I’m thoroughly enjoying our season but whatever a top four team looks like, somehow we’re not quite there. If pressed (go on, press me then, oh all right…), it’s that resilience and strength in adversity which is missing from our play. In the words of that great seer Billy Ocean, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. And rough, but we don’t. Always.
Except that we are there. In fourth. There it is, in the table. Defensive frailties? Four clean sheets in a row. There’s one place available and we have as good a chance as any of our rivals to make it ours, so hang the doubts, put the pedal to the metal and it’s flat out until May. We are going to have some great games, ladies and gentlemen.
I only hope my nerves can stand the strain. It’s bad enough at the moment because I want us to win so badly anyway, but when something as potentially life-changing as Champions League football (or should that be CL income?) is on the agenda, then I will likely dissolve into a frenzied froth of anxiety for the next few months. I trust the stewards in Block 28 have had first aid training. I’ll ask the club to move those stretcher bearers to the East Stand. They are quicker off the mark than vultures on the Serengeti plains. My recent medical examination showed I am sound in body but then again the doctors have never had to see a body withstand the forces exerted on flesh and blood when Spurs are defending a one-nil lead.
Peterborough should provide some light relief. Dear sweet little Peterborough, or to give them their official title, Cup Minnows. Bottom of the Championship, number of away wins this season – nought.
No. No no no no no. The FA Cup is a worthy competition and we should go all out to succeed in it. Also, you can’t turn that winning mentality on and off at will – it is either there or it is not, so a strong team and 100% effort sends the right message to the players, never mind anyone else.
Banish complacency and all thoughts of playing a second team. We should field the strongest possible eleven. BAE and Lennon are injured but otherwise I don’t see why anyone should be rested, unless they have a little niggle that would respond to a weekend in front of Sky Sports. The one exception is Palacios. To be consistent, I’ve been suggesting that he could do with a break but Harry’s policy of allowing him to find his form by playing through a bad patch seems to have worked, judging by his excellent display against West Ham. And as this blog predicted, Benny’s injury requires treatment and rest just as the African Cup of Nations comes into view. Coincidence is a funny thing…
Ledley will not start, so Daws and Bassong in front of Gomes, a midfield of Kranjcar, JJ, Hud and Modric with Defoe up front alongside Crouch, although Keane may get the nod. There is a huge opportunity for Gareth Bale, a highly talented footballer who needs to learn the art of defending, as do many young defenders. This is hardly surprising, yet Bale has been subject to a great deal of criticism on the boards, something that is undeserved for a player with so little first team experience – he’s started fewer than 40 games in his years with us.
It’s tough for youngsters at Spurs. Consider the case of Charlie Lee, now a popular member of the Peterborough squad but formerly captain of Spurs reserves. I saw him play a couple of times, the outstanding performer in the match with a good tackle and pass and a great attitude. Watching the reserves you can spot talent but never quite gauge if that will be good enough for the first team. Maybe Lee lacked a couple of inches for centre half or the weight of pass for centre midfield, so he moves on and will play well today…but there wasn’t much in it.
The right back selection and the bench may offer some clues as to our transfer policy because if anyone is on the move, their value will diminish if they are cup tied. It’s unlikely therefore that Hutton will appear and a loan back to Sheffield has been mentioned for Naughton, although I look forward to seeing him play.
Talking of transfers, the icy blast of rumours, lies and misdirection is already blowing through the open window. Wrap up warm to protect yourself from several inches of guff. Harry says he’s not in the market for players. This is a lie. It’s fine, I don’t mind him lying because that’s a good place to open negotiations, just don’t take much notice of what he says.
We have money for the right player. The only major gap to plug is the lack of a decent second goalkeeper but this will not prevent Harry from improving the squad if he feels he can. If a top quality all round centre midfielder is available, one who can defend, pass, score and run all day, then by all means buy him. It’s just us and rest of the footballing world that is searching for the same mythical qualities. Sandro seems odds on to join us and I understand this is his position but he’s young and we should not expect too much too soon.
Decent players are seldom on the market in January so the demand may push up the price for Pavlyuchenko, Hutton and Bentley, all of whom will depart. We will lose money but maybe not as much as some suggest. Several English clubs are desperate for quality and Levy will make them pay for it.
Our most pressing problem in this and subsequent windows is not the search for new blood but keeping our quality players. We’ve done everything possible to keep them. The policy of buying players for whom Spurs is a step up is paying off as many of them take a step closer to maturity. Woodgate, Keane and Crouch have played in the CL – anyone else? Gomes? The rest will be motivated to use that as a target.
Others owe some gratitude to the club for the progress they have made, like Lennon, whilst Crouch and Defoe clearly feel understood and content with HR.
So I don’t see what else we could do to keep them. If ManU, Chelsea or even Man City (think of the salary) come in with a determined offer, it’s nigh on impossible for the player to resist. Fergie has his beady eye on Luka, I can sense it.