Without trophies as ballast, how do you weigh greatness? Tottenham have spent the Premier League betwixt and between mini-eras: sometimes on the up, occasionally on the down, but rarely standing still.
Without a truly level playing field, it’s difficult to measure the impact of different players given the varying circumstances they often faced. This is not a list of the brightest and best, rather a collection of those who did and meant the most within the context of their particular time.
10. Michael Dawson
During the recent defeat of Hull, with Tottenham cruising into a 3-0 lead, the White Hart Lane crowd chorused their affection for Dawson. Maybe there's nothing unusual about that: a nine-year career probably warrants some gratitude. But there was a tenderness to that moment that betrayed more than just casual respect.
Dawson wasn't the quickest defender. He wasn't the best in the air and he wasn't immune from making costly errors. But if you were to write down all the human qualities desirable in a footballer, he would have them all. He would run through walls, take fizzing shots to any part of his body and do anything within his physical power to stop the score changing.
Though his place in the team was never guaranteed and he would invariably become vulnerable whenever a more talented centre-half arrived, Dawson never allowed his ego to show. At another club he could perhaps have enjoyed more security and maybe even added to his four England caps, but he never gave the impression that anything mattered more to him than team as a whole.
There are other players who have a stronger superficial claim to be on this list; there are even other centre-halves. But Dawson belongs by virtue of his sporting and social decency: a reliable and occasionally excellent performer on the pitch, a modern athlete with a conscience off it. He's the kind of player than any fanbase in the country would gravitate towards and, in Tottenham parlance, the anti-Campbell.
9. David Ginola
During Ginola's three years in north London, Spurs finished 15th, 11th and 10th in the league. It was sign of the times: that was an ordinary team full of flawed players. Admittedly, he was one of them: he didn't want to defend and, when he didn't have the ball, he wasn't overly keen on running.
But to understand why he's here, it's important to remember what it was like to watch those teams play - or, more specifically, what he was able to bring to them. Despite playing for Christian Gross, David Pleat and George Graham, Ginola still managed to be fun. Not in a trite, incidental manner, but in a more pertinent "reason for going to the football" way.
The Graham/Ginola union was a strange one. In March 1999, in an interview with the Independent's Bill Pierce, the player was effusive in his praise for his manager. Johan Cruyff had just anointed him the best player in the world and yet, far from ego and bluster, Ginola talked enthusiastically about free-kick routines and his tactical role. Graham evidently had a positive influence on him, too. Later that year, the Football Writers' Association would vote him Player of the Year and, after Spurs won the 1999 League Cup, he collected his only major English trophy.
But Ginola transcended the winning and losing. At a time when life at the Lane had become dour, his ambition in possession and exhilarating running were soothingly cathartic.
8. Harry Kane
What a captivating story. It's not just that Harry Kane was a boyhood Tottenham supporter, came through the club's academy and plays with a fan's enthusiasm, it's that he was a wonderful surprise. He was a highly touted prospect for many years but, on first glimpse, most were unimpressed: he was slow, clumsy and ready to be filed away with Jamie Slabber.
Some knew better and they were proved definitively right. In Kane’s progression lies a lesson for us all about experience, patience and the importance of nurturing talent.
His subsequent rise has been extraordinary, but also coated with normality: Kane lacks the airbrushed finesse of many of his contemporaries and, allied with his local roots, is an obvious everyman.
And yet his output has been extraordinary. His goals and all-round game have been essential to Mauricio Pochettino's impact on club fortunes, but his emotional symbolism has been the binding mastic for a notoriously fractured fanbase. Kane is the common ground for everyone: universally loved and appreciated, he arrived at just the right time to become the talisman for a new, healthier direction.
7. Luka Modric
The notion of a player "being worth the entrance fee alone" sounds quant and archaic now, not to mention highly unrealistic. Even in this age, though, Modric never shortchanged anybody. The world now sees him for what he is, being the heart of a Real Madrid midfield that has won two European Cups, but those soft feet and that tenacious heart are nothing new.
The very best make football look easy and that's the defining memory of Modric: he could have scored more goals and he should have occasionally been more aggressively with the ball, but didn't he make it all look so simple? His outside-of-the-right-foot pass remains one of the prettiest sights in the sport, but even his more mundane actions - the twists out of tackles, the swivels away from pressure - looked effortless.
It ended badly. He deserved to a play on a stage that Tottenham couldn't give him, but his attempts to manufacture a move put an ugly frame on a beautiful four years. Nevertheless, Modric was an artist with the ball at his feet and he represented all the spritely joy which is left in the game. What a privilege he was to watch.
6. Darren Anderton
Anderton quite clearly resents his reputation as an injury-prone player. Justifiably so: his 299 Premier League appearances is a Tottenham record and, barring some protracted difficulties in the late 1990s, he was on the pitch far more often than is commonly assumed.
But, more pertinently, that "sicknote” tag unjustly tarnishes the memory of what a good player he was. In his era, the only right foot which seemed to matter was David Beckham's, but Anderton could be just as cultured. And just as deadly: his goal at St James' Park, rifled past the late Pavel Srnicek, is shockingly under-referenced, and his simmering drive against Leeds at White Hart Lane remains one of the best goals the ground has ever seen.
He had his frailties and some of his best performances did come in an England shirt, but Anderton could play and he was frequently effective in a side which was often - respectfully - not very good at all. Perhaps he was the wrong player, in the wrong place, at the wrong time? There’s no greater crime than fragility in British football and Anderton, with his floppy hair and leggy gait, was possibly too subtle a talent. He’s rarely mentioned now, which is shame, but he was one of the best players in the country at his best and those who watched will know what they saw.
5. Robbie Keane
He's the butt of jokes now and, no, he never seemed to play for a club he hadn't supported as a boy. Being a Tottenham player did mean something to him, though, because the pictures at the end of the 2008 League Cup final don't lie.
When he signed in 2002, he had already played for four different clubs and was developing a reputation for transience. Two years at Wolves, one at Coventry, six months at Inter and a couple of seasons at Leeds United; Keane was a man without a flag before arriving at White Hart Lane.
Over the next six years, he not only acquired a solid identity, he also became quickly aligned with the club's personality. Just as they would spent most of the next decade climbing the table and trying to break into the top four, he too would rally against the perception that he wasn't quite good enough for that level. They raged together.
Keane was an emotional character and his Tottenham career coincided with a point in the game's history when practiced indifference was becoming the norm. He played like he cared and that was infectious. His 122 goals puts him 10th on the club's all-time list and only Teddy Sheringham has scored more Premier League goals (91) but, while significant, that's only loosely descriptive.
Keane was part of the initial resurgence in the new millennium and his career was intertwined with an optimism that hadn't existed for some time. Perhaps that unjustly garnishes his legacy, but football is supposed to be about hope and aspiration, rather than just records, and he brought both over a long period of time.
4. Hugo Lloris
The best Tottenham goalkeeper of most people's lifetime. And by some distance, too
Lloris’ significance is twofold: firstly, his catalogue of truly excellent saves is broad and deep and contains many which have been forgotten. The consequence of producing heroics on a semi-regular basis is normalisation and Lloris, probably more so than any of his contemporaries, has turned the spectacular into the status quo.
However, his commitment also earns him a place on this list. Tottenham are now on a steady trajectory towards their new stadium, but there have been dark times during Lloris' four-and-a-half years and slumps which a player of his calibre, one of the world's best in his position, needn't have tolerated.
In resisting the urge to walk away, he's bucked an irritating trend. Spurs have enjoyed short surges before, but they have always ended with a mini-exodus; essential players grew tired of the boom and bust and headed for bigger contracts and bigger clubs. Lloris has not, opting instead to remain loyal to a cause and to a contract which pays him well below his market worth.
He is a fabulously talented goalkeeper, one of the most agile of the modern era, but he's also a textured character who contradicts many of the game's frustrating modernisms.
3. Teddy Sheringham
Almost all of his career highlights occurred away from Tottenham. He may have been the Premier League's inaugural Golden Boot winner at the end of his first season, but all of his medals came from his time with Manchester United - as did his twin Player of the Year (FWA & PFA) awards in 2001. What, other than his goals, makes up his Spurs' legacy, then?
It's a hard question to answer and one supporters continue to wrestle with. He was one of the most rounded - and prolific - forwards of his generation and supremely intelligent footballer, but was also kissing the Manchester United badge months after leaving White Hart Lane.
Sadly, that's football and it would be churlish to persecute him for something that was relatively common, but Sheringham had a stand-offish quality and a flash persona which made him difficult to embrace - that United transfer may have allowed him to touch trophies that he was entitled to chase, but it also created a distance between him and the Tottenham support which exists to this day.
He remains a legend, but a two-dimensional one. Fans now in their late 20s and 30s suffered through his departure as children or teenagers and, though he would eventually return, that left a deep wound. Broken hearts never really heal.
2. Gareth Bale
There's a fallacy about Bale's Tottenham career which has been allowed to become a semi-truth. He was useless one minute, a superstar the next - with that night at San Siro the tipping point in between. But while his brittle body initially wilted in the Premier League, his talent was always obvious.
By the time he left White Hart Lane, he'd risen to an unprecedented level of dominance for a Spurs player. His 2012/13 campaign belonged to a graphic novel and the variation within and quality of his goals bordered on the absurd.
Bale was Tottenham's defining factor, again and again and again. The club's supporters had spent the Premier League watching talented yet flakey players at White Hart Lane, or those whose individual abilities were stifled by surrounding mediocrity, but the Welshman was a fearless superstar who did more than anybody to purge the team of its inferiority complex.
And what an athlete: Bale's acceleration wasn't freakish, but his ability to sustain it over long distances was. When his game was decorated with complementary abilities and an understanding for how to really hurt opponents, he ascended into a highly rare territory. When he left for Real Madrid, he was more force of nature than football player and, irrespective of whether he returns one day or not, he will remain one of the most dynamic footballers English football has ever seen.
1. Ledley King
The legend doesn't need to be re-told, it's already carved in stone. King, the wounded captain who performed well beyond his limitations for over a decade, is a Tottenham immortal.
The anecdotes often told about him actually do him a disservice. His inability to train during the latter stages of his career certainly embellishes his legend, but talking of what he could and should have been instead of what he was is to ignore the obvious: injured or otherwise, King was a terrific player.
Reducing 268 Premier League appearance to a single 90 minutes is obviously reductive, but even so: watch his performance away to Manchester City in May 2010. He had begun to creak by that stage and his range of movement was not what it once was. But there he stood, at the heart of the defence in the club's most important game in a generation, blocking shots, winning tackles and shutting the door on Roberto Mancini's opulent forward line.
He had too many good games to mention, but that might just be his signature moment - for the performance he gave, the circumstances it was under and what he'd endured to get there. King would never play in the Champions League - and he would only make another 30 appearances before retiring - but that night, with its tenuous but affecting metaphors, was perfect. Imagine the discomfort he was probably in, bone on bone in his knee joint for an hour and a half, and marvel at how good he was still able to be.
The game is about glory, but it's also about giving as much of yourself to your team as you can possibly spare. And that was King.
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Seb Stafford-Bloor is a football writer at Tifo Football and member of the Football Writers' Association. He was formerly a regularly columnist for the FourFourTwo website, covering all aspects of the game, including tactical analysis, reaction pieces, longer-term trends and critiquing the increasingly shady business of football's financial side and authorities' decision-making.
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