Monday, 18 April 2011
Talking Tottenham with @charlieparrish - Part 2
It's part two of an ongoing conversation with @charlieparrish. And this time the question is:
If we do finish fifth, how big a disaster is it? And who will leave?
Such Small Portions:
The fact that the words ‘fifth’ and ‘disaster’ are in such close proximity in a conversation between two relatively sane and almost completely sober Spurs fans is, in itself, quite extraordinary.
Until very recently the words most closely linked with Spurs and fifth would have been ‘miracle’ or ‘from bottom’.
That said, I know what you mean. It would feel like a disappointment. For a start, I think the top four was within our range this year. City remain wholly unconvincing, Chelsea wobbled badly and Liverpool never got their arses in gear.
But this is about the consequences of finishing fifth, not the reasons for finishing fifth. And what it all comes down to is trust. We have to trust that Levy and Redknapp (with Levy in the driving seat, of course) are true to their word and that we will not sell our biggest players to bigger clubs.
‘Sell’ is probably the wrong word. I don’t think we are, or even were, a club that sees its stars as commodities to be cashed in. We don’t tout them out unless we want rid or they’re obviously running down their contract with a view to a ‘free’.
The problem has been more to do with resisting bids from big clubs, clubs that turn the heads of our best players, players who then make it clear that they fancy the move. We ‘fail to keep’ rather than ‘sell’.
So this summer, if Man Utd, Barca, Inter or whoever make it clear they want Bale or Modric, then, even if we say no, what happens if the player wants to go? Are we big enough and convincing enough, without Champions League football, to make them believe they’ll win things with us? And that this season’s tilt at Big Cup wasn’t a one-off?
Personally, I think we have a year’s grace. Bale’s sensible enough to know that (at least) another season at Spurs would do him good. And I believe Modric when he says he wants this squad to stay together because he believes we’re capable of great things. I’d also believe Modric if he told me the tooth fairy is real and Jack Whitehall is a genuinely funny guy.
But, if (when) we finish fifth, then the next 12 months become the most important in our recent history. We have to spend the summer keeping the key players and adding, say, two more quality (not ‘squad’) players. Then the next season we need to put in a better league campaign than this year’s, or even last year’s.
Because Man U, Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea aren’t going away, and Liverpool are/will be back. We have to get used to and be part of a Premier League elite that sometimes qualifies for the CL and sometimes doesn’t – and when they don’t, they don’t panic, they don’t sell, they just redouble their efforts and get back the year after, and it’s someone else’s turn to miss out.
So, in a remarkably upbeat conclusion: no, I don’t think finishing fifth will be a disaster, and I do think we’ll hang on to all our major players. But I think what happens after that defines our short-mid term future
(Oh, and if anyone offered us £12-£15m for Van der Vaart, I take it, just by the by)
My biggest concern about (potentially) finishing fifth? Manchester Ciy. I was at Wembley this weekend for the semi-final, and while nouveau-riche City haven't usurped their snobby neighbours just yet, it's coming.
And as an aside, they boast the nosiest, most intimidating fan base I may have ever heard. Give that fearsome lot something proper to cheer about, and even Mario Balotelli might be inspired to jig about a bit. In short: allow City to park themselves up in the the Top Four bay this season and they may be immovable tennants.
Add Champions League football to their potential signing sales pitch and suddnely Gareth Barry becomes Bastian Schweinsteiger and Pablo Zabaleta is Dani Alves. And as you rightly say, United won't be vacating the Top Four on Fergie's watch, Chelsea will reload next year and Arsenal will most likely remain, as Henry Winter said this weekend, the Premier League's "prettiest bridesmaid". It's imperiative we barricade our door from City.
Dig deep for these coming seven fixtures and we stave off the inevitable for another year. A stay of execution we'll desperately need with Harry's England desertion a shoo-in next summer and half his stars surely eyeing his departure the perfect excuse for theirs. Big Cup re-qualification (not entirely sure this is a word...) means Levy touring Europe with his dog-eared cheque for £30million and lassoing a worthy striking prey.
But should we lose out this May, I'd love to share your optmisim for the intentions of our loveliest assets. And maybe you're right. After all, Bale may recognise one more year is required to hammer home his gigastar credentials in comfortable environs. Modric is trotting out encouraging quotes. We're split on Mr Van der Vaart's effectiveness, but give him a proper pre-season and a capable striker and he'll happily stop for another year. He loves being the big fish in the medium sized pond. Unless Fergie decides he requires another barrel-chested drifter who scores in bunches.
Instead, the danger might be the quality of the reinforcements. We lucked out on Rafa this past summer, Sandro was signed as a project, Gallas proved a trademark 'Arry transfer manouvere that came off and Pienaar's simply rekindled fan love for our wronged Nico. That's been the level our Champions League-bolstered recruitment drive. Lose Top Four status and will that standard dip? Probably not, but for Tottenham to progress, the fresh legs have to be a marked upgrade on our current standard.
Because one false move, and our membership to this new extended elite suddenly looks perilous. Should Bale actually decide he simply must rub Champions League shoulders with his elite peers each year, his starrier teammates will get twitchy.
And without Bale, or Modric, we're a different proposition. We're one of those upstart sides systematically dismantled after a season in the sun. A gateway club for fledgling world-beaters. But batten down the hatches this summer and keep our toes crossed for serious Levy investment and we've got our extended elite VIP wristbands for another season.
A 2011/12 Tottenham led by Bale, Modric, Rafa and Mr £30million Striker is a Premier League dark horse. It's a season that - as you say, Dave - holds incredible value for our future.
I'm still unsure quite how loyal our stars will prove to a Spurs shorn of Champions League football. But I'm entirely certain this summer will define what sort of club we support for the next five years. Christ, we've made it all sound rather important, haven't we?
Coming soon: more big issues tackled by a couple of geezers who may well know less than you. Meanwhile, check out Charlie's excellent blog here.