By Darshan Joshi, writing from Sydney
Manchester City look set to secure their entrance to the Champions League this week. They face a Tottenham side on the slide, if trotting out of the Champions League and into European competition-less oblivion within a year is considered a slide. Anything but a Spurs victory, and Harry Redknapp’s side will most probably be overtaken by Liverpool in true tortoise vs hare fashion; Liverpool were eight places off the bottom when Kenny Dalglish returned in January and played the role of Messiah. Now, the Reds are staring the Europa League in the eye, and are looking stronger than they have been for a while.
What does this mean for this season’s most memorable Champions League debutants? Their annihilations of both Milan sides, as well as the seasoned German side Werder Bremen and possible Dutch double-winners FC Twente count for nothing, ultimately, when they can’t dig up three points against sides like West Ham United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackpool, Wigan Athletic and West Bromwich Albion on a regular basis, despite boasting such well-known shovels as Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart, and Gareth Bale. It is a miracle that Harry Redknapp, given the amount of money he has blown, has not, at any point, looked uncomfortable in his position as manager of that side. In fact, to this day, he is still making demands that the chairman Daniel Levy will most likely meet with his head bowed and fingers dug so deep into his back pockets that they may end up smelling rather bad.
Don’t get me wrong – Spurs have been a breath of fresh air in European competition this season. Manchester City will most certainly utilise some variation of the 4-2-3-1 system that was brought to worldwide notoriety during last summer’s World Cup, and thus have a defensive line-up tighter than Russell Brand’s jeans, while Spurs hara-kiri, defending-and-tactics-are-for-losers approach had seen them put seven goals past the defending European champions. At this point, some will point out that they shut out the newly crowned Scudetto winners, but Milan could easily have edged Redknapp’s troops in that tie.
Sixth place in the league will not guarantee European qualification next season, thanks to Birmingham City’s Carling Cup final victory over Spurs’ spineless North London neighbours Arsenal, as well as the fact that whatever the result in next week’s FA Cup final, Stoke City will also be participating in the Europa League, allowing a few continental sides to try their luck on a cold, windy night at the Britannia. It’s a shame that Andy Gray’s commentary career is over… (I miss him, to be honest)
Where does that leave Spurs? Or, should that sentence be rephrased: who will now leave Spurs? For so long, Manchester City cited a lack of European football as the reason why the top players ditched them for pastures greener, like the Nou Camp and the Santiago Bernabéu. Now, will the likes of the aforementioned stars Modric, van der Vaart and Bale remain at White Hart Lane and see out this blip that may be more permanent than Harry Redknapp envisions?
The cries of top European sides have been sounded. Can those three resist Barcelona, Internazionale, Manchester United and Bayern Munich? What if they took a step back and assessed the situation their club faces – Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are undoubtedly going to remain at the pinnacle of the country’s footballing hierarchy. Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi millions will guarantee their place, while Liverpool are regaining much of their former strength in a manner Sauron could only have dreamed. Spurs risk falling into a mire far deeper than their short-sighted manager could possibly have fathomed. His labelling of the Europa League as being ‘a million miles away from the Champions League’ is surely disrespectful, considering this might be the competition his team fights to qualify for in the next Premier League season.
We have spent so much time congratulating Tottenham Hotspur on their midweek soireés in the dark of night over in Italy, Germany, Holland and Spain, and even have the guts to suggest that if it weren’t for a Peter Crouch sending-off, they could have overcome Real Madrid, but the fact is that Redknapp has had us all fooled. There is more work to be done in this region of North London than there has to be to sort out the Palin family’s witless madness. Tottenham fans ought to cherish this campaign, because it is the last of its kind we shall see in a while.