After a season in which Tottenham Hotspur qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history, there was a strong sense of optimism and a growing confidence evident among everybody involved with the club. As both fans and players, as well as manager Harry Redknapp insisted that this side were looking to progress and improve on the achievements of the 2009/10 campaign, the prospect of finishing outside of the top four seemed to have hardly been taken in to consideration. Redknapp himself had even suggested at the start of the season that his side ought to be considered as genuine title contenders, however by the end of the campaign Tottenham were only able to secure fifth place in the league, finishing six points off Arsenal in fourth, and nine points off Manchester City who had effectively taken their place in the top four.
It has been suggested that as debutants of the competition, Spurs were simply not prepared for or able to cope with the demands of playing in the Champions League. Many of Tottenham’s players would not have been used to playing more than once a week and so, as fatigue and injuries began to take their toll on the side, squad rotation became almost inevitable, leading to an array of inconsistent performances in the league. However, we must remember that Spurs did reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League and never really seemed to struggle up until their clash with Real Madrid. It seems rather odd then, that whilst the players were able to step up to the mark against the likes of Inter Milan, Werder Bremen and AC Milan, domestically, Spurs were struggling against teams at the foot of the table.
During the 2010/11 season, Spurs failed to win any of their away games against the bottom five clubs in the league, picking up just 3 points altogether from these matches. At home, they managed to scrape just 7 points against the same five clubs, taking just 10 points out of a possible 30 overall, home and away. Spurs failed to win against Wigan, Blackpool, or West Ham over the course of the season, and both Redknapp and the Tottenham fans would have been going in to these games with confidence and a strong belief that the three points were almost certainly there for the taking. Tottenham’s success in the Champions League seemed to have left the players with a confidence that was verging on arrogance, and their performances against the lower clubs in the league appeared to lack the energy, desire, or determination that had been so evident throughout their European campaign.
It seems then that Tottenham’s naivety may have been the main contributor to the failure of their season. This ‘failure’ is of course only relative to the success of last season, and it is important to recognise that to finish the season fifth in the league is by no means a disaster. However, a season which offered so much promise for the white side of North London ultimately amounted to very little, primarily due to an inability to get the results required against the clubs beneath them, and in particular those at the foot of the league table. At the start of the campaign Redknapp claimed “if you don’t aim for things, you have no chance” and that Spurs would be aiming to win the championship. However, as Harry quickly discovered, aiming too high can also have its repercussions, especially for a club that were entering a campaign of such intensity, and a fixture list that they were not accustomed to.
Regardless of whether or not it was intentional, Tottenham did appear to prioritise the Champions League over their domestic duties, and this ultimately cost them their place in the top four. Whilst Manchester City looked to constantly improve and increase their squad, Redknapp remained content with his crop, adamant that they were capable of competing on all fronts. Unfortunately Redknapp now faces the tough task of holding on to his key players, as those who have had a taste of Europe’s biggest club competition may start to look elsewhere for their football.
One thing is certain: Redknapp and his players must learn from their mistakes of last season if they are to progress back in to the top four. The Europa League will throw out a fixture list not too dissimilar from that of the Champions League and Tottenham cannot afford to take their eye off the ball domestically as they did so last season. If Spurs can hold on to the likes of Bale, Modric and van der Vaart, then with a couple of additions to the squad there seems no good reason as to why this side cannot challenge for their place back in the Champions League. However any plans to challenge for the title must, at least for the time being, be put on hold.