Tottenham's life of new expectations
Suddenly everything has changed for Tottenham. For the first half of what has been their most impressive start to a season for decades, they were in the wonderful position of zooming along under the radar. Week after week they have been winning, impressing, entertaining. But because the heavyweights from Manchester have dominated the news, with Champions League perennials Chelsea and Arsenal never too far from the limelight, Tottenham have pressed on without pressure.
Not any more. During the week Spurs played their game in hand, a spare match that was postponed from the very start of the campaign when their home fixture against Everton was called off as a consequence of the London riots which started on the doorstep of White Hart Lane. Tottenham gobbled up the points with a performance full of the authority, ambition and confidence that has become a hallmark. If they do the same with their next assignment, against Wolves on Saturday, they will find themselves joint top of the Premier League table for at least two days, before Manchester City play again.
That is such an unusual occurrence, their fans would be forgiven for cutting out a league table to stick in a frame for posterity. But there is something about this team’s progress that is making people rethink the normal assumption that Tottenham will inevitably fall away. Tottenham as genuine challengers is a serious matter.
It is as if the genie has rubbed the lamp. In a puff of smoke, the miracle of this team has revealed itself. They can no longer quietly go about their business, with the outside world complimenting them for the quality of their football without really believing much would come of it. English football is suddenly awash with debate about whether or not this dark horse can thunder around the course, surge past the favorites, and make it over the finish line.
The test that lies ahead is a daunting one. We will see how Tottenham react to the stress of having a prize to lose rather than a goal to gain. Being a contender for English football’s top honor is a new experience for the club. It has been more than half a century since they last won the title, and soccer has changed dramatically in that time. Very few people around the place have experience of what is required.
They also have a more taxing set of fixtures on the horizon, with a run of five out of six league games taking in Manchester City, Liverpool, Newcastle, Arsenal, Manchester United. As their old captain Gary Mabbutt pointed out, “If they are in the same position after that, we can really start talking”.
Spurs have won admirers for the way they have put this team together by building up blocks rather than buying skyscrapers. The additions to the squad this season were shrewd and not, in the current market, overpriced. Emmanuel Adebayor came cheap as a loan. Brad Friedel was a free transfer. Scott Parker arrived for a modest amount from relegated West Ham. Harry Redknapp has declared he is particularly proud to be doing it the “old fashioned way”. That in itself is an obvious dig at City’s millions – even though Tottenham have benefitted from that by borrowing Adebayor from the league leaders, which would not have happened without the financial muscle at City’s disposal.
Perhaps the real springboard, though, was not in the signing but in the keeping of a player last summer. The decision to fight tooth and nail (a fight they won against all expectation) to keep hold of Luka Modric has had a big impact. It seemed inevitable the Croatian playmaker would go to Chelsea, but Spurs were strong enough to knock back a bid of 30 million pounds, as well as the player's will to move. That is a rare feat. It was the launch pad to this season's charge. Cliff Jones, who was a winger in the last Tottenham title winning team from 1961, is full of praise of how both club and player handled the situation. “Modric himself is due credit for getting stuck in, instead of sulking about not getting a move,” he noted.
They have done an outstanding job to get into this position, especially as it seemed this would be a league where nobody would be even remotely close to the two Manchester clubs this season. If people were to bet on which would be the next best, they would have gone for Chelsea. For Tottenham to be currently in front of them, not to mention their other London rivals Arsenal, is a massive boost.
“Of course we can push for the title,” breezed their Dutch attacker Rafael van der Vaart. “Now everybody knows Tottenham have a great team and if we can keep playing like this we will be one of the favorites to win the title.”
For the Tottenham faithful, who have endured many a false dawn over the years, such brazen talk, and the attention it demands, brings with it a sense of dread. Much rather everyone leaves them alone to get on with it without the grip of intense scrutiny and expectations. They have seen promise slip through their fingers too many times to get too excited just yet.