By Joe Meloni
When they were done laughing about it, many English soccer fans whose allegiances lie outside of White Hart Lane wondered if any top-flight English sides had suffered defeats as “humiliating” and “embarrassing” as Tottenham’s 3-2 loss to Swiss club Young Boys in the first leg of the final UEFA Champions League qualifying round.
Yes, Spurs fell 3-2 to the squad from Bern, and the adjectives quoted above were just some of the barbs tossed toward Totts following the defeat. To answer the question, there was one defeat I could come up with off-hand that seems far worse than losing to perfectly fine mid-level squad. In 1988 University College Dublin AFC qualified for the European Cup Winners Cup and pulled a scoreless draw with English side Everton in the first leg of the tournament’s opening round. While the Toffees didn’t fall to UCD, it’s seems like the more improbable result than Young Boys beating Spurs on Tuesday.
Anyway, the 3-2 loss puts Spurs in pretty good position to advance to the Group Stage of the Champions League. Even with the current deficit, a 1-0 puts them through. If Young Boys comes out of next Wednesday’s match with a shiny new ticket to Europe then the mocking can begin. However, let’s be honest for a moment, Spurs really don’t have much to worry about. They were bad Tuesday afternoon – even after scoring a couple they never looked particularly sharp – and if they’re that bad next Wednesday then they’ll have some explaining to do – maybe even a new vacancy to fill atop the club. But this club is too solid, too capable fall to a side like Young Boys, which can only be defined as average, twice.
Now, there were certain obstacles facing Spurs that were too great to overcome. Manager Harry Redknapp pointed to the artificial surface at Stade de Suisse. Making excuses like this may seem beneath Redknapp, but his insistence on its inferiority likely means it was worth noting.
“You have to get used to playing on it. If you play on it every week, you get used to it,” Redknapp told the Guardian after the loss. “It’s not an excuse, but I have played on Astroturf myself, and I hated every minute of it. We’ve had it at [Queens Parks Rangers], but we don’t have it anymore in England. I don’t agree with Astroturf, and I don’t think Astroturf should be used in a competition like this.”
Leave it the Englishman to come off like a sore loser and an elitist following a loss, but Redknapp’s earned a little cache in his time. So we’ll let it slide this time, but another slip-up from Spurs won’t be written off to conditions or any other excuse Redknapp can concoct. It’s pretty simple stuff through two games for Spurs. In their EPL opener last Saturday, they were “unlucky,” which really just means they weren’t as good as Joe Hart was in the scoreless draw with Manchester City. Against Young Boys Tuesday evening, they were “uncomfortable,” which really just means they’re not good enough to overcome adversity.
Expectations were high on White Hart Lane this year. For the first time in years, Spurs and their fans believe they’re capable of winning the league for the first time since 1961. Two games are hardly enough to judge a team, but it’s looked like the same old Spurs side thus far. Good enough to make it a match, but not good enough to make it a win.
Redknapp showed last season he was capable piecing together a full season of success with Tottenham and winning games important to the club and its fans. Still, doing it for one season and wasting another to excuses won’t do much for the legacy of the club – or for Redknapp’s career.
After stopping short of blaming all his club’s problems on groundskeepers, Redknapp turned his head to the second leg. By then, Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe should be back in from injuries, while Ledley King and his tender knees will be in the lineup.
“It will be a great night. The atmosphere will be amazing, but [winning] will be tough.” Redknapp said, according to ESPN Soccernet. “Our plan is to get after them at White Hart Lane.
“It’ll be a fantastic crowd, a great atmosphere. We’re at home; we have to win the game. If we win the game, we have a great chance to go through, obviously, with the two away goals.”
Redknapp’s not the only one looking forward to a couple more excitable crowds at White Hart Lane later this fall and winter. But if he or his players want more of those mid-week matches, there can’t be anymore excuses. No more questions about fitness after playing two games in four days or rants about artificial surfaces.
Just a one-goal deficit, Harry. A chance to make everyone forget about Tuesday’s defeat. A loss still won’t surpass Everton’s loss to UCD 22 years ago, but this one would sit with Spurs fans for a long, long time.
Joe Meloni is a writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at Joe.Meloni@TheSoccerGuysOnline.com.