By Michael King
Effectively, Tottenham’s Champions League hopes have ended; for both this year and next. The Spurs gambled on making a deep run in the competition would out-weigh failure to qualify for next year’s tournament via a Top 4 English Premier League finish.
And now they have little to show for it.
It’s perhaps unfair to argue this position with the ability of hindsight in light of Tuesday’s dreadful performance against Real Madrid. The 4-0 loss in Spain during the first quarterfinal leg puts the London team in an insurmountable hole. Overcoming a four-goal deficit on aggregate is beyond the capability of this team, especially given its most recent performances.
This was not the same Tottenham team that twice appeared the better side against Inter Milan in the CL group stages and defeated AC Milan last month in Italy.
Given how difficult it is for teams to compete at the highest level in multiple competitions for an extended period of time, rationing energy and resources is a necessity. It’s certainly wise to concede the point that it’s much easier to motivate your squad against a hallowed Milan club than it is for a trip to Molineux to face Wolverhampton. But the job of the manager is to maintain motivation for every opponent and to have an understanding of what’s in the best interest of the club.
Harry Redknapp has admirably sought to overcome this challenge. Explicitly or not, the Spurs were clearly determined make a genuine challenge for the Champions League trophy. But even Redknapp all but acknowledges that dream has ended.
“It going to be difficult,” he told The Guardian after Tuesday’s match. “It certainly couldn’t be much more difficult than to be 4-0 down to Real Madrid but we’re at home and we’ll give it a go. It’s not over until it’s over; you never know but obviously, we’ve got a mountain to climb.”
The Englishman is a fine manager in many respects. He’s gotten perpetually superb efforts from midfielders Rafael van de Vaart and Gareth Bale – both of whom have been revelations for the Spurs in marshalling the attack. Yet others, such as Luka Modric, Peter Crouch, and Jermain Defoe, display only flashes of brilliance masking their overwhelming struggles.
Furthermore, he remains steadfast in his support for these players, giving them a seemingly endless amount of chances. Crouch, meanwhile, rewarded his manager’s loyalty with two rash challenges – and two cautions with an early shower – against Madrid.
It might now be too late for the Spurs. The team is five points behind a surging Chelsea team in the Premier League, and six away from a Manchester City squad that rarely drops points. The remaining slate of fixtures appears favorable with matches against both of the aforementioned clubs. But the Spurs also face Arsenal and a difficult game at Liverpool.
“It won’t be tough to lift them, what’s tough is the injuries,” Redknapp told The Guardian. “We had Nico Kranjcar on the bench tonight, but he wasn’t fit. We’ve got to lift ourselves this week and see if we can go on a run in the league. We’ve had a great season so far and we’ve got to finish it strong.”
The Spurs will need to reacquire the attacking flair they’ve displayed so many times this season. When Tottenham has stumbled, it typically wasn’t from a lack of goal-scoring ability – the bane of rival club Arsenal. Rather, it’s been a lack of discipline in maintaining a proper defensive posture. Surrendering three goals to Blackpool and Wolverhampton in successive games is unacceptable for a club that aspires to be among the league’s elite.
In this sense, it may seem like a contradictory position to argue that qualification for next year is more important than doing well in the current tournament. But Tottenham’s goal should be to establish itself as a consistent Top 4 Premier League Club. Just as Arsenal has done. Just as Chelsea has done. Just as City appears poised to do.
In 2004, Porto accomplished Tottenham’s goal and won the Champions League as a smaller club. Though still very successful in its domestic league, the club has only made it to the CL quaterfinals once in those seven years since, and more significantly, failed to qualify for this year’s competition.
Clearly even winning Europe’s most sought-after club competition is not a guarantee of sustained club growth and success if you’re not a consistent participant.
Beyond the immediate financial impact of competing in the league, Champions League appearances helps a club to build a brand. More exposure leads to more fans, which leads to increased revenue, which ultimately leads to better players and more on-the-field success. In the future, UEFA’s Fair Play rules will make it even harder for teams without large revenue streams to be competitive.
Given that it is not even the most popular soccer team in North London, Tottenham has much to accomplish before it can be truly considered among the world’s elite clubs.
Michael King is a contributing writer for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.