This will undoubtedly go down as a season to remember at White Hart Lane. Tottenham’s memorable Champions League run has caught the imagination of many and has given rise to a sense of optimism that the Londoners were in good shape to cement their place in the Premier League’s upper echelons for years to come. However, the preseason fears of some that the Champions League might take an inexperienced squad’s eye off the ball in the league could well be realised, with Spurs now facing an uphill battle not only to qualify for next season’s Champions League but also to get into Europe at all.
Having been comfortably in the top five for most of the season Tottenham had looked solid and well placed to challenge for that fourth Champions League spot. However, a dip in form has coincided with the resumption of the Champions League. Since their famous victory over AC Milan in the San Siro, Spurs have won just one league game in eight, dropping points against numerous sides they would have expected to beat along the way. Having had their European adventure abruptly halted by Real Madrid it was important that Spurs dug in and ground out the results in the league. Instead, a string of dropped points, the odd error from goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes and an unfortunate referee-aided defeat at Chelsea now leaves them at risk of not even claiming the consolation prize of Europa League football next season. They now face a wicked run-in that involves trips to rivals Manchester City – looking comfortable in fourth – and crucially Liverpool who leapfrogged Spurs into fifth spot, albeit having played a game more.
Whispers of the potential consequences of European non-qualification may fill many Tottenham fans with dread, with suggestions that club’s star players could have their heads turned should other opportunities arise. However boss Harry Redknapp defiantly refuted suggestions of an exodus, insisting that the club will aim to continue progressing. Addressing the issue Redknapp said: I hate when people say, ‘Oh well, if they don’t make the Champions League, they’re going to sell Bale or they’re going to sell Modric – that’s not the way forward.” A manager that seems to thrive on difficult situations, no one should be better than Redknapp at ensuring Spurs do not slip into obscurity. As Rafael van der Vaart acknowledged last week: ”Redknapp is a sensational psychologist. So many times he’s raised morale. His support is better than any training session.”
In terms of the future, Redknapp is aware of the task ahead but still believes they can win the league in the next few years. Manchester City and Chelsea look set to spend big over the summer, Arsenal’s young squad should continue to show improvement, Manchester United show no signs of their predicted decline and Liverpool look set to become a force again. None of this will be lost on the ambitious Redknapp who openly admits he needs to strengthen his squad this summer if Spurs are to push on. Surely that hinges on European qualification. Failure to do that takes away a selling point of the club and could see them fall behind their rivals.
It was the lure of Champions League football that enabled Redknapp to pull off a surprise coup in signing Van der Vaart. If they were to qualify for the Champions League for a second time Spurs would become a more established name and most likely would not need Redknapp to pull another Van der Vaart-style rabbit out of the hat. However no European football at all could well mean that is exactly what will be required if they are to remain in contention next season.