Harry Redknapp is a seldom a man who likes to mince his words. Whether it’s expressing admiration for someone else’s player, or providing a flippant appraisal of Darren Bent’s finishing ability, he rarely leaves anything to the imagination.
The Europa League, the scourge of domestically-inclined managers across the continent, is another subject which has felt the full force and scorn of Redknapp’s tongue. The 64-year-old has certainly not been shy in admitting his disdain for the Champions League’s ugly little sister.
“It is a nuisance,” he cried before Spurs’ recent trip to Salonika.
His condescension is not unreasonable, especially when considering the whirlwind nature of the club’s maiden Champions League voyage last term. The aim, as Redknapp has stated, is for Spurs to feast upon the delights on offer at Europe’s top table once more.
White Hart Lane’s prized assets, including messrs Bale, Modrić and van der Vaart, excelled throughout Spurs’ trips across the continent’s footballing cathedrals last season while Europe’s traditional powerhouses sat up and fluttered their eyelashes. Redknapp is all too aware of this – midfield orchestrator Modrić pleaded with the club to consider Chelsea’s offers throughout the summer – and ensuring another top-four finish is high on his list of priorities.
Despite the prioritisation of domestic pursuits, the Europa League has certainly proved to be more than just a mere nuisance this season.
Mindful of fatigue, Redknapp has, for the most part, eschewed the use of first-choice players and instead opted to go with youth. And this approach appears to be paying off, with Spurs recently installed as the bookmakers’ favourites to win the trophy. Despite last night’s defeat to Rubin Kazan, Tottenham’s European fate is still in their own hands, with their next home game against PAOK Salonika likely to be the decisive tie.
Spurs made the 2,000 mile journey to the “Third Capital” of Russia on the back of a five-match tournament unbeaten run, a sequence which was made all the more impressive by Redknapp’s selective use of his squad.
The side selected for Spurs’ opening Europa League Group A clash at PAOK Salonika included six players aged 21 or under, with the average age of the starting eleven weighing in at 23 years of age. Redknapp has used the competition to hand club debuts to four Academy graduates (Jake Nicholson, Ryan Fredericks, Thomas Carroll and Harry Kane), and as a platform to allow the likes of Jake Livermore and Andros Townsend to develop and flourish.
Redknapp has been particularly effusive in his praise of Europa League ever-present Jake Livermore. The 21-year-old midfielder has blossomed this season, and Redknapp has admitted that the club paid a premium for Scott Parker in order to keep Townsend at White Hart Lane.
“West Ham wanted to take him and, in the end, he didn’t want to go anyway. It didn’t happen and I’m pleased to have him here because he’s important for us,” he said.
“We paid more money for Scott in the end rather than throw Jake in as part of the deal.”
Like cross-city rivals Chelsea, Spurs have struggled to extract the best from their Academy over the last decade – club captain Ledley King is the only first-team regular to have been developed at the club – with successive managers preferring to buy rather than nurture.
With the impending implementations of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations and the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan, the onus on grooming one’s own products will be greater and more important than ever. Spurs have already taken steps to rectify the quality of their production line, such as actively limiting the presence and prevalence of birth bias and disbanding their reserve team set-up.
However, there is no substitute for first-team exposure, and Livermore’s displays in the Premier League (he has featured for the club domestically too) seem to vindicate his manager’s selection policy in Europe, with Spurs permitted the opportunity to exhibit the finest collection of youth talent they’ve had in a generation.
Nuisance? What nuisance?
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