Top-heavy Tottenham heading for trouble
New writer Declan Warrington worries that Harry Redknapp may have set his own bar too high
Beyond any shadow of a doubt, last season was one of the most memorable in Tottenham's recent history.
Not since the fabled days of Ossie Ardiles' 'famous five' have Tottenham played such a swashbuckling brand of football. Not since those days have they featured so many players with so much ability. Not since those days has Tottenham's squad list been the subject of so many envious glances.
Not since those days have Tottenham promised so much, yet potentially been on the verge of a downward spiral of such epic proportions.
Back in 1994, Tottenham's squad featured Jurgen Klinsmann, Nick Barmby, Darren Anderton, Ilie Dumitrescu, Sol Campbell and Teddy Sheringham. Hopes were high, but Ardiles was soon sacked and it took until 1999 Ã¢ÂÂ after two further managerial departures and a serious flirtation with relegation Ã¢ÂÂ before the club won a trophy.
In reality, it wasn't until Harry Redknapp joined that Tottenham regularly provided anything greater than promise. The wrongfully unheralded Martin Jol suffered when food poisoning crippled a team on the cusp of the Champions League, but while the likes of David Ginola, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Ledley King have been the envy of others, it wasn't until recently that Spurs have had such a talented collection of players.
For Klinsmann, Barmby, Anderton, Dumitrescu and Sheringham Ã¢ÂÂ 1994's Famous Five Ã¢ÂÂ read Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart, Gareth Bale, Sandro and Ledley King, five individuals fit to grace any current squad outside of the Premier League's top two.
"Yay! What could possibly go wrong?"
If one of the biggest challenges faced by a football club in the modern age is to sign the best players without paying over-inflated transfer fees, then Tottenham have succeeded on several occasions. Sandro, Bale, Modric and Aaron Lennon would unquestionably each command more than double the transfer fees initially paid for them if they were to be sold this summer.
The figures (real outgoings and potential incomings) compare favourably against the transfer dealings of TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs rivals: Liverpool have paid ÃÂ£55 million for Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll; Manchester City spent, among much else, ÃÂ£42 million on Joleon Lescott and Roque Santa Cruz.
Besides knowing a good player, Redknapp is also a great motivator and extremely bold: few would attempt to play Modric, Lennon, Bale and Van der Vaart in the same midfield. However, his transfer policy is far from spendthrift and Tottenham look set to suffer as a result.
When a manager says Ã¢ÂÂPossibly it's a case where we have to have to sell before we can buy,Ã¢ÂÂ it can be safely estimated that his financial clout has been severely weakened. In Redknapp's case, it is by the very thing that kept Spurs strong last season: that strong squad.
STRENGTH IN DEPTH OR WASTED RESOURCES?
In addition to Carlo Cudicini, there are two international goalkeepers in TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs squad. ThatÃ¢ÂÂs three top-level goalkeepers and seven international centre-backs: 10 players to cover three positions when Premier League rules state a squad cannot exceed 25 players. Many clubs wouldnÃ¢ÂÂt allow such indulgence in the Champions League; with Tottenham relegated to the Europa League this season, itÃ¢ÂÂs an approach that borders upon lunacy.
Amongst the big earners that arenÃ¢ÂÂt first-team regulars are Robbie Keane, David Bentley, Giovani dos Santos, Wilson Palacios, Niko Kranjcar, Jermaine Jenas and Sebastien Bassong. Six months ago, the likes of Fernando Llorente and Giuseppe Rossi were possible transfer targets; now, neither man is likely to be interested and, given their current value, those seven big earners would all have to be sold to fund such a move.
"'Scuse me lads, some of us have jobs to do"
It would appear that Redknapp is being asked to re-qualify for the Champions League with a weaker squad, a smaller budget, free-spending rivals Ã¢ÂÂ and now wantaway players, with Modric seemingly intent on departure. And although Daniel Levy may try to force the Croat to stay, unsettled players frequently get their way.
Javier Mascherano, Fernando Torres, Darren Bent and James Milner are just four players who managed to force through transfers in the last 12 months; Wayne Rooney may not have got a transfer last season, but he got a much-improved contract, Manchester United are a rare case and Sir Alex Ferguson is even rarer. Given that Luka Modric has had his head turned by Chelsea, heÃ¢ÂÂs likely to join them.
Whether or not Bale has the temerity to follow through with his threat to leave if Modric is sold is for now incidental. Modric is TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs main man and orchestrates their play, as Redknapp himself admits: Ã¢ÂÂOther teams want him but we love him and we are trying to build a team, not tear it to piecesÃ¢ÂÂ.
It's almost unthinkable that any replacement Ã¢ÂÂ Joe Cole has been linked Ã¢ÂÂ will be an improvement and even more unlikely that Spurs will manage a serious challenge for the top four. Those fans who blasted Redknapp after their Champions League quarter-final defeat to Real Madrid could be in for a serious reality check: given the current market, a team no longer spending is a team going backwards.
REGROUP AND REJUVENATE
It takes a truly exceptional player to influence a team to consistently punch above its weight Ã¢ÂÂ Steven Gerrard comes to mind, but few others do. Even if Modric and Bale stay, the top four still seems out of reach given the strength of TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs rivals.
Trying to compete against Manchester City without Sheikh Mansour's money, it would be folly for Spurs to continue to pay players like Bentley and Keane who clearly no longer have a future there.
Tempting though it may be for Redknapp to keep his talented squad together, itÃ¢ÂÂs unquestionably in TottenhamÃ¢ÂÂs best interests to create a younger, cheaper and hungrier squad. That means promoting the likes of Kyle Walker and Danny Rose Ã¢ÂÂ players who genuinely want to be involved Ã¢ÂÂ and culling those content to collect cash without troubling the first team.
Walker and Rose: The future?
It may be a damning verdict upon the role of money in the Premier League, but sobering as it may be for Tottenham, that means an adjustment in ambition. Even if Levy were to open the purse-strings, it would be unsustainable, with Leeds and Portsmouth among the clubs haunted by the effects of overspending.
Unromantic as it is, within English football success is now defined by the ability to avoid a relegation battle, perhaps a top-10 finish or Ã¢ÂÂ for a handful Ã¢ÂÂ a sustained challenge for the top six. With the vultures circling and Modric twitching, the emphasis has to be on damage limitation and regrouping.
Last summer, as a Champions League side with (potential) Champions League income and a Champions League squad, Tottenham were thought to be ready for a genuine title challenge. This year, with a top-heavy squad unsupported by the riches of the premier continental competition, Europa League success is a more realistic goal.
Success at White Hart Lane? As Redknapp said at the start of the year, Ã¢ÂÂitÃ¢ÂÂs very hard to compete in the transfer market, wages, or anything elseÃ¢ÂÂ. Anything else will have to do.