With an FA Cup semi-final date with Portsmouth at Wembley on Sunday, swiftly followed by the north London derby with Arsenal, Tottenham have been boosted by the possible return to action of Aaron Lennon.
The flying England winger has been out since late December, missing the last 19 Spurs matches. His groin injury has proved problematic to cure, with the prognosis unclear on how long he would ultimately be out of action. For the thousands of fans who turned out on Tuesday to see the team train at an open session at White Hart Lane, there was a huge morale boost as Lennon took part. It was Lennon’s first day back in training and it will be important not to rush him back into action, but the signs were encouraging as he came through the session in one piece. How he responds to further training in the lead up to the Pompey clash will determine whether he plays any part, but his return to fitness could not be timelier. After the disappointing showing away to Sunderland last weekend, Tottenham’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League have demoralising descended, but the prospect of having one of their chief attacking threats back is just what is needed to give the team a fillip ahead of the tough run-in.
Spurs fans will have had one eye on Manchester United’s Champions League meeting with Bayern Munich on Wednesday. The match offered a couple of interesting thoughts for Tottenham’s current situation. The surprise return of Wayne Rooney after an incredibly speedy recovery from injury will have given them hope that Lennon will be back in match action sooner rather than later, but will also act as a note of caution as to what can happen if a player is rushed back too soon. Rooney played his part in inspiring United to a stunning first-half performance, but he left the field long before the end after his weak area was targeted by some cynical defending by the opposition. Rooney’s soft tissue injury was not serious to begin with but was still vulnerable after his hasty return, so Lennon’s fragile groin needs protecting. With Lennon a certainty for the World Cup if he is fit, he could potentially play a lot of football over the next few months. If he returns to the intensity of the Premier League before he is fully healed and then plays in South Africa, his long term fitness could suffer. Of course, the Spurs medical staff are experienced enough to look after him properly, but the temptation for Redknapp to throw him straight back into the first-team will remain either way.
The other food for thought will have been the harsh reality of the competition that Spurs’ efforts have all been for. Having seen their unloved neighbours blown away on Tuesday by a Lionel Messi wonder show, Tottenham will have been no more heartened by United’s cruel exit. It is occasions playing against the likes of Bayern and Barcelona that teams strive to reach the Champions League for, but there is also the high likelihood of heartbreak in front of the glare of the whole of Europe when things do not quite go to plan. Qualification for the crown jewel tournament of European football represents a huge payday for clubs, but for fans it is all about the dreams of glory. If Spurs qualify in fourth spot in the Premier League then they would first face a preliminary round before even reaching the group stages, so quarter-final nights are a long way away from being worth worrying about. Still, whether it takes one year or several years to get to that stage, this is what Tottenham are striving for. With the biggest dreams come the biggest potential heartaches, and it would be interesting to know how many United and Arsenal fans remain philosophical about their very participation in the competition to start with.
Portsmouth, Sunday’s opponents, had their own dream taste of Europe in the 2008/09 UEFA Cup and have since had to endure much agony as the foundations of the club crumbled. For Tottenham, there are no such worries at present as the club is sensibly run, but that does not mean the FA Cup will take a back seat or mean any less to the fans if they win it. Pompey might have almost as many on-field problems as they have behind the scenes but they will still provide a test for Redknapp’s team. Lennon may or may not feature, but even having him just around the corner could be just the lift that Spurs need to make sure they get the job done.