Whilst Tottenham’s centre-backs are dropping like flies, manager Harry Redknapp is finding himself in an enviable position with his selection dilemmas in other areas of the pitch. Brazilian goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes made his return from injury against Preston in Spurs’ 5-1 Carling Cup win to challenge his understudy Carlo Cudicini for the shirt again, whilst three star strikers found the net, including a hat-trick for Peter Crouch. Gareth Bale was also back after injury to bolster the options on the left side of defence and there was a demonstration of the decent depth on the wings with run-outs for Giovani Dos Santos and David Bentley.
The goalkeeping issue is not an easy one to solve. Prior to Gomes’ injury against Hull City in August, the £7.8m signing from PSV Eindhoven had been the regular first choice in Redknapp’s team. Having been a star in the Dutch league, including a stunning Champions League display against Tottenham’s North London rivals Arsenal, the 6ft 3in keeper has yet to fully convince at White Hart Lane. A fine shot-stopper, he has lacked a commanding presence in his own penalty area and has displayed suspect handling on multiple occasions. With his first season out of the way – something that can be difficult at times for players trying to settle in to a new league and country – Gomes will have been hoping to push on and demonstrate exactly why Spurs made him one of the most expensive goalkeepers to sign for an English club.
His comeback performance against Preston was classic Gomes, if his previous performances in England are to be believed. BBC Commentator Guy Mowbray summed the 28-year-old up perfectly, exclaiming in his match commentary: “We are seeing both sides of the Gomes coin in the Spurs goal tonight. He gets the basics wrong one minute then pulls off the spectacular the next.” At one stage, a woeful attempt at a kicked clearance lead to a Preston shot that he tipped away superbly. Whether Gomes will keep his place for the game against Burnley on Saturday is not clear. In Gomes’ absence, Cudicini has put in some steady if unspectacular performances, and Redknapp must now choose between two keepers who are potentially excellent but too often just plain old decent.
Having been permitted a free transfer by former club Chelsea in January, Cudicini has had to wait to get a run in the Spurs first team. Prior to the arrival of Roman Abramovich’s billions at Stamford Bridge and the subsequent purchase of Petr Cech, Cudicini had been one of the revelations of the decade. An unheralded keeper who had made just 51 Italian league appearances, of which just one came for a big club, the son of former AC Milan keeper Fabio Cudicini quickly ousted Ed de Goey at Chelsea. Producing a string of excellent performances, he earned himself the award of fans’ Player of the Year in 2002. Injury problems cost him dearly in Abramovich’s first season and he then spent five years keeping the bench warm while Cech starred. Even when he got a chance for a spell in the team when Cech was missing with a fractured skull, he looked a shadow of his former self, no longer commanding, although the smart saves were still present. He has looked better for the run of games at Spurs but perhaps has left it too long to leave Chelsea to really warrant a long run in the first team, especially if Gomes regains his form. For now, Redknapp must choose his best option and will hope the competition will keep his preferred choice at the top of their game.
An even more difficult choice, but a very opulent one to have, is who to select up front. Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe started the season in the team ahead of new signing Peter Crouch. Defoe has shown excellent goalscoring form of late and Keane is still living off the reputation he built for himself before his short move to Liverpool. Crouch offers a different option in attack and showed his worth with a superb hat-trick against Preston. The opposition might not quite be Premier League class but Preston are not an easy team to beat at any level, so Crouch’s treble should not be undervalued. Also on the scoresheet were both Defoe and substitute Keane, and short of playing Keane on the left flank, he must work out the best way to fit three into two spots. With Roman Pavlyuchenko sitting on the sidelines waiting for his chance, Redknapp is almost spoilt for choice. If only he had the same luxury at the back, although the return of Michael Dawson was at least something to smile about.
Tottenham Club Focus
Defoe dazzles but may remain an England substitute – September 8
Redknapp to thank for Lennon renaissance – September 11
Spurs fail first big test – September 15
Transfer budget not affected by new training complex – September 18
Honesty not always the best policy in football– September 22
Redknapp almost spoilt for choice – September 25