Tottenham Hotspur’s season is a good case study of a season that promised much losing its way largely due to off field matters.
The drama started even before the actual season did. Luka Modric contract talks took up a lot of precious pre-season time. Thus Spurs never really got going in the early stages. Their 1st match against Everton at home was postponed, and they kicked off their season away against Manchester United. With Modric not in the right ‘frame of mind’ to play, Scott Parker not yet signed from West Ham United, Huddlestone on a long-term injury (I gather he is still a long way off from 1st team action) and a flamboyant (and pre 1-6 Man city) Manchetser United, Spurs had a lightweight midfield of Kranjcar and Livermore. They never stood a chance.
Their next game turned out to be an embarrassment, a 5-1 home defeat to Man City, with Edin Dzeko scoring 4 spectacular goals. After 2 games, they were in the relegation zone!
So it would be fair to say that Spurs’ season really started from the 3rd game. Away to Wolves, they ground out a 2-0 win to finally kickstart their season.
From here on in, they went on a 9 game unbeaten run,which included fantastic wins against Liverpool and Arsenal at home, 4-0 and 2-1 respectively. Their excellent unbeaten run was ended away at Stoke, where I must admit they were unlucky to not get anything out of the game due to dodgy refereeing decisions.
Still, 1/3rd of the season done, they were in the Champions League places and even possible title contenders.
Decent results followed, further establishment of the fact that Tottenham were a hard team to score against and beat both at home and away.
Such stability was brought about by consistent team selections by the manager Harry Redknapp. With the dependable Brad Friedel in goal, the solid defensive pairing of Kaboul and King, the hard working midfield of Scott Parker and playmaker Luka Modric, and the attacking prowess of Van Der Vaart and the enigmatic Emmanuel Adebayor (on loan from Manchester City), Spurs finally looked like a team that could cut open any team on their day with fluid attacking football. Spurs were slowly becoming a joy to watch.
An undeserved defeat at Man City perhaps brought an end to their title ambitions. Having been 2 goals down at the Etihad, Spurs fought back from goals by Jermain Defoe, following a mistake by keeper Joe Hart, and a stunner from Gareth Bale. They even had the chance to win it at the end with a swift counter attack right at the end, Jermain Defoe being millimetres away from sliding the ball in from a low Bale centre. Fate would have other plans though, as a clumsy tackle by Ledley King brought about a penalty, which Balotelli converted with the last kick of the game. (Balotelli shouldn’t even have been on the pitch, escaping action for a dreadful stamp on Parker.)
They took positive steps to cement 3rd spot, with a 5-0 thrashing of the most impressive team of the season, Newcastle United. This was perhaps the best I’ve seen Spurs play in the league for a long, long time. They thus opened up a 10 point gap between them and 4th placed Arsenal.
From that high, it was all to go down in the following weeks.
Fabio Capello, the England manager, resigned due to differences with the English FA over their handling of the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand racism case. Thus started the whole clamour of who would be the next manager. There was overwhelming support for an Englishman to take over the job. Redknapp was, and perhaps still is, undoubtedly the favourite to land the job. He had earlier also stated his willingness to one day manage his country’s football team. It is anyway an honour and a privilege for an Englishman to manage his country’s football team.
But the FA dragged its feet on this matter, and appointed Stuart Pearce on an interim basis. The gossips continued for subsequent weeks. This distraction proved too costly for Redknapp’s present employers. Already feeling the effects of a gruelling season, the core 14-15 players started feeling the heat of playing week-in week-out.
Thus began their horrendous run, which would allow Arsenal to catch up and eventually overtake them for the race for the 3rd and final automatic Champions League spot.
Tottenham’s season had thus, nosedived. After being possible title contenders mid-season, it was thought that they’d do well to even hold on to 4th spot (and thus a chance in the Champions League qualifiers).
Finally, a new manager was appointed for England, and it was not Harry Redknapp. The FA had perhaps played a cruel joke on him. All the support for his candidature from the media would count for nothing. Roy Hodgson got the job.
Ironically, Redknapp perhaps had the last few games of the season to save Spurs’ season and his own job!
And save he did. With 3 wins out of the last 4 games, Spurs had managed to take the fight for the 3rd spot upto the last day, but eventually coming 4th.
Their place in the Champions League now entirely depended on the Champions League final between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. For if Chelsea were to win, their spot in the Champions League qualifiers would go to Chelsea, as the previous year’s winners.
One last ironic twist was still left in the tale, and Chelsea pulled off a highly improbable upset and thus lifted the crown.
After all the hue and cry of titles and Champions Leagues, it had all fizzled out with a whimper for poor Tottenham Hotspur.