What a big loss it was for Tottenham in the build-up to their Champions League Quarter Final against Real Madrid on Tuesday night. Following the positive news that Gareth Bale was fit to play, manager Harry Redknapp was forced to withdraw England winger Aaron Lennon just minutes prior to kickoff. As a last-minute reshuffle, Jermaine Jenas was drafted in on the right-side of midfield as the team were forced to do without one of their best attacking players.
Redknapp attributed Lennon’s absence to an unspecified illness: “He felt rough, went out and had a warm-up, came in and said he didn’t feel well…if he didn’t feel fit enough then there’s nothing we can do” was the official line given to the BBC. And that surely should have been it?
But no. Lennon joined a growing number of fellow players in offering his own take on proceedings publicly through microblogging service Twitter. “Saying I fell ill before the game is bull****… I fell ill on Sunday morning”, he told followers. “Will not be made a scapegoat”.
But was he made a scapegoat? Admittedly his absence was a big loss for the team and Redknapp was forced into last-minute changes that ultimately altered the whole team’s shape. But illness is illness and those fans labelling Lennon a bottler should give him some credit. And after his fantastic performance against Milan at the San Siro, he can hardly be criticised for failing in big games.
And what about Harry Redknapp? Surely he must have been aware of Lennon’s illness prior to the match as the winger was prescribed antibiotics on Sunday. But you cannot criticise him for wanting to field his strongest available side. Admittedly in this case it was a gamble and one that failed to pay off as Redknapp seemed to be without a suitable Plan B. Jermaine Jenas was seen being briefed on the pitch prior to kick off but you would have thought Redknapp would have had Jenas in preparation since doubts were first raised about Lennon on Sunday.
But why was Lennon so worried about being labelled a scapegoat? Unless he was withholding information about his condition then he should accept that he fell ill and there was nothing more he could have done. Spurs were forced into last-minute changes but that’s in the nature of football. And, if Spurs fans were to look for a scapegoat surely they would look towards Peter Crouch whose two reckless challenges ultimately left Tottenham with a monumental task.
The only way Lennon has criminalised himself in this debacle is by publicly disagreeing with his manager’s tale of events. Admittedly we live in a society free of censorship and Twitter has been a revelation in helping fans to connect with sportsmen and women. But at the same time, Harry Redknapp is his manager and in publicly disagreeing with him, Lennon has shown a lack of unity and trust in his manager. In the same way that managers are prohibited from publicly criticising referees, perhaps players should think twice next time they vent their feelings so openly.