As the dust now begins to settle on the 2011-12 league campaign, supporters have the opportunity to reflect, recharge and contemplate the situations their clubs find themselves in. And for Tottenham Hotspur fans, the sheer furore of the league’s climax, left little time to take breath and breathe in the bigger picture. But this summer isn’t going to be quite the lager stained, England fuelled frenzy of excitement that it could have been for Spurs supporters.
Beneath the pain of missing Champions League football and the pats of commiseration on the backs, not all Tottenham fans feel as unlucky as other supporters might think. For some, there is one man that is right at the fulcrum of the disappointment and that man is Henry James Redknapp.
Before engaging in the sort of harsh critique that is so often unfounded when picking on a football manager, it is important to not get too shortsighted. Harry Redknapp took over a Spurs team who were four-points adrift at the bottom of the Premier League in 2008 and were down a certain creek without a paddle. Whilst it is still difficult to believe that those players really would have ended up as relegation fodder, Redknapp took the same group of players that were utterly hopeless for ten months under Juande Ramos and, albeit with a few additions down the road, guided them to a fourth-placed finish one season later. Make no mistake, what he achieved in 12-months was a remarkable feat.
And success in the league didn’t come as a fluke, either. The brand of football that Harry Redknapp has employed at White Hart Lane, has rightly been lauded over the past three years. Of course they’re not quite Barcelona, but the way Spurs have kept it on the deck, playing the quick, puck like passing, is the brand of football Spurs fans want to see. Events down the road at Upton Park put that one into perspective.
Also, in an era where many foreign managers in the game lack a certain degree of warmth and association, Redknapp has the sort of old-school persona that is a dying breed in today’s world. Many fans enjoy that and embrace it.
But there is also a tendency to look past some uncomfortable truths. Despite their awful start, the team that Redknapp inherited in 2008 was a pretty gifted bunch- Modric, Bale, Lennon; the list goes on. One cannot assume any other manager would have definitely attained such success, but he had a squad that was more than capable of mounting a top-four challenge. The achievements of Martin Jol a couple of seasons before, serve to dilute Redknapp’s feat. In a league that was arguably stronger in 2006, Jol managed to attain fifth with a team that included the likes of Lee Young-Pyo and Teemu Tainio. Redknapp managed to go one better, but not without spending millions that Jol wasn’t afforded. Spurs fans knew that fourth place wasn’t impossible.
And the crunch is, that despite reaching some unimaginable highs (a la Inter Milan), Tottenham’s evolution since 2009-10 under Harry Redknapp, simply has not fulfilled all of it’s burgeoning potential. The look of the league table at the end of season never lies and it tells us quite frankly, that Tottenham have been the fifth best team in the land for two-years running. During that period, Spurs have capitulated in the second-half of the season twice and the responsibility for that falls straight with Redknapp.
He isn’t completely wrong when he moans about player performance and tells the fans they should be grateful with fifth. Of course, Spurs fans haven’t had it so well in years and they appreciate that too. But the riches and the tastes of Champions League football invigorated the fans into the belief and the desire that makes football what it is. The first XI at White Hart Lane carries genuine potential. Why should they settle for fifth when the squad is capable of third?
And this is part of the Redknapp problem. For two years now, an astute, effective style of play, that has achieved good results for the first part of the season, has been sussed out. In 2010-11, it was the knockdowns from Crouch to Van der Vaart and this past season, it’s been the intricate play around the edge of the box. When teams have parked the bus, Redknapp has had no way of moving it out the way and as a manager, that is his responsibility. Moaning about the strength of the squad holds no gravitas; again, it’s Redknapp’s responsibility to ensure the bench is capable of changing a game and it hasn’t been for three years now.
It’s not just the games away at teams like QPR, Blackpool and Stoke that have harmed Spurs over the past two seasons; scores of chances but a failure to take three points. It’s the record against the big boys. As success dawns, aspirations change. Forget the odd refereeing decision here and there, Tottenham should have beaten Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea far more than what they have over the past two years- they certainly have had enough chances and the players are definitely good enough, It’s just that Redknapp has been outsmarted by the Ferguson’s, the Mancini’s and often the Wenger’s of this world far too many times. Is it hard to believe that any of the three just mentioned, would of achieved more with this Spurs team than Harry Redknapp?
Perhaps it ultimately depends on what you want from your football club. The issues Liverpool and Chelsea have faced recently, suggest that stability is an important thing. But this really is a crossroads for Spurs, this really is the real deal. When was the last time they had a team with players like Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart? As a certain Danny Blanchflower once said, “the game is about glory.” It’s not about settling for a point at Villa Park when third place awaits. That’s the difference.
Every club eventually reaches the end of a cycle. Even the greatest of all in recent times, Barcelona, recognize this. Pep Guardiola hasn’t left because the fans are sick of him and it’s definitely not through a lack of success. Sometimes, for all parties, a change is needed. With small murmurings about Redknapp and the Chelsea post, maybe the end of his Tottenham cycle wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.
Think now is the time simply for a fresh face to fulfill the potential at White Hart Lane? Or do you laugh in the face of my Redknapp critique? Get involved in the discussion and fire away on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus