Tottenham Hotspur go into the 2011-12 Premier League season with a clear main objective in mind – a return to the Champions League, a competition they lit up in the last campaign but fell short of reaching for a second time. Harry Redknapp, having kept Luca Modric – so far – faces a challenging task to restore Spurs to the top four.
The drawn-out saga over Modric’s proposed move to Chelsea – which has quietened down now from its summer peak – overshadowed Redknapp’s efforts to improve his squad. The Croatian’s insistence at crossing London meant the former West Ham United manager was spending more time holding his squad together than adding to it, and as a result Spurs’ have only marginally improved on the side that finished fifth last season. Brad Friedel has joined from Aston Villa on a free transfer to compete with Heurelho Gomes, while highly-rated young prospects Soulemayne Coulibaly, a 16-year-old striker formerly of Siena, and 18-year-old attacker Cristian Ceballos, a graduate of the Barcelona academy, have also moved to White Hart Lane. Coulibaly, despite being two years younger than his Spanish teammate, is expected to have more of a first team impact in the near future but neither is likely to go straight into the first team.
Redknapp has thus far been frustrated in his search for additions, as well as offloading some of the unwanted players in his squad. All four of Tottenham’s strikers, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane, have been linked with moves away – with Keane reportedly on the verge of a move to Los Angeles Galaxy – but Redknapp has not been able to add to their ranks. Espanyol’s Pablo Osvaldo, Villarreal’s Giuseppe Rossi and Porto’s Hulk are just three of the strikers chased by the manager, but none are near a move. Standing still while Manchester City and Liverpool strengthen is a strategy unlikely to reap rewards, nor one Redknapp is content with, and unless there is a flurry of late activity it could cost Spurs dear, particularly with the club facing a difficult start to the league program. But Redknapp can still call on the partnership of Crouch and Rafael van der Vaart in support, and given his prolific past another barren season for Defoe – the nine goals the England striker netted last season was his lowest tally since 2005-06 – must be considered unlikely.
Lassana Diarra is about to arrive from Real Madrid to bolster Redknapp’s options in midfield – an already competitive area – but an extra centre-back, a playmaker to possibly replace Modric and at least one striker are all desired before the close of the transfer window. Redknapp’s success in signing these players will largely dictate Spurs’ season – if they arrive, Spurs can make another significant push towards the top four. If not, the Europa League might be the summit of Tottenham’s aspirations. But with two dangerous wingers in Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, the nuanced probing of Modric, van der Vaart’s creativity and goal threat and a cadre of dangerous strikers already at the club, Spurs will remain a threat to every side in the division.
Key signing – Brad Friedel: Now 40, Friedel has been one of the Premier League’s most reliable goalkeepers for years, first with Blackburn Rovers and latterly at Aston Villa. A more solid option than Gomes, the former United States international is not nearly as prone to errors as his Brazilian rival.
Key departure – None: At one stage this summer it appeared Luka Modric would fill this slot but the playmaker has so far been denied his move to Chelsea. Should Modric swap White Hart Lane for Stamford Bridge it would be a big blow to Spurs’ ambitions, but keeping the No 14 would be an equally big boost.
Walker – Gallas – Dawson – Assou-Ekotto
Lennon – Huddlestone – Modric – Bale
van der Vaart