We were rarely out of the news in 2010-11. Whether it was Gareth Bale making the world’s best defenders look like mugs, David Beckham grinning boyishly at the training ground, Daniel Levy stamping his foot at not getting his own way or Harry the media tart popping up anywhere and everywhere, the papers and the internet rarely had little to say about what was going on at White Hart Lane. Our Champions League games & the Olympic Park legacy decision were probably the two biggest stories and they neatly encompassed the joy we had in the present and the worries we held for the future.
Our success in hurdling some of Europe’s toughest obstacles in cavalier fashion before stubbing a toe in the Bernabeu made us the nation’s favourite second team for a while. The Champions League Group stages are normally just a vehicle for allowing the bigger sides the chance to shrug off the efforts of the teams more hopeful than expectant whilst making a few bob before they get to grips with each other in the knockout phase. Our two legged comeback against Young Boys, the ten man win against Twente, the hat-trick from Gareth Bale in the San Siro and then the dispensing with of the European champions at White Hart Lane, (thanks once again to the seemingly unstoppable Welshman), all added normally unwitnessed levels of entertainment to a competition that rarely gets going before Christmas. ‘Champions League and we’re having a laugh’ was the chant and we meant it. The Guardian’s Paul Hayward wrote a fine report on the home draw against Milan in which he used some lyrics from Elbow’s Lippy Kids to describe our achievements and aspirations in the competition. ”Build a rocket boys!” is the exhortation in the song and it seemed to summarise our occasionally naïve and wide-eyed performances. Our rocket soared for an unlikely eight months before it came crashing to earth in Madrid in April.
Domestically we rarely hinted at the magic that we showed in Europe. We still finished fifth of course, a result we’d have been pleased with and proud of only a few years ago and we should indeed still be proud of it. Manchester City apart, the teams that finished ahead of us have a history of playing success that rewards them and allows them to build more. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re unlucky in one way that the Omani money has brought progress to City at this time. Take away Mansour’s millions and we’d have finished comfortably clear in fourth and be looking at another season of Moneybags League football. Instead of worrying about Luka’s intentions we’d be able to satisfy his ambitions as well as, thanks to a jump in renown and status, those of other world class players perhaps looking for a chance to show themselves on the biggest club stage of all.
That we’re playing in the more prosaic than glamorous Europa League instead is down to the fact that we didn’t get enough points. Stating the obvious I know but it’s as simple as that. Our 70 points from last season would’ve put us in fourth spot once again. Where could we have got another eight points from? Well how about, as a starter, getting more than three points from the eighteen available from the games against Wigan, West Ham & Blackpool. Statto.com shows how your team performed against sides who finished in the top or bottom half of the table. Against the top half we finished second. Against the bottom half, ninth, and that says it all. Our season long inability to turn our regular midfield superiority in games into goals whilst not conceding any at the other end was a conundrum that Harry never solved.
Injuries were as much a theme to the season as the struggle to score & the Champions League run. Players were hurt, or needed a sudden operation, all season long. Defoe, Dawson, King, Bale, Huddlestone, Palacios and Kaboul were all out for months at a time whilst Van der Vaart, Crouch, Gallas, Corluka and Pienaar all played on despite needing regular treatment for injuries that just wouldn’t go away. Modric, Assou-Ekotto and Lennon all had relatively injury free seasons but missed important games due to knocks. It didn’t matter who played up front, we were generally toothless so it was at the back that the missing players were felt more. Stability in defence, especially at centre half, was impossible. King, Bassong, Gallas, Dawson, Kaboul, Corluka and Huddlestone all took their turns in the middle at some stage – even Woodgate managed half an hour in the San Siro. We kept only eight clean sheets in the league. There would’ve been more but for the form of Gomes between the sticks. It perhaps seems harsh to have a pop at last season’s player of the year for a lot of people but there were far too many gaffes to just shrug off. By the time we played at Stamford Bridge his confidence was shot and you could virtually see his legs shaking every time Drogba was allowed to line up another pile driver. We conceded four goals in a game in each of the four competitions, which is an ugly stat.
We fell behind too often and though we time and again recovered the situation, the confidence the opposition gained knowing that they could score against us is one of the factors that contributed to fourteen league draws, nine of them at home, the most of any team in the division. We lost fewer home games than Chelsea and Arsenal and won fewer than Stoke and Bolton. Rafael Van der Vaart was key to a lot of the comebacks. His barrel chested confidence and cocky attitude inspired belief in many of the big games. Against Liverpool, Arsenal, Twente and Inter Milan he scored crucial goals that the team were able to build on and get great results. His performances dipped towards the end of the campaign but he was our biggest attacking influence for much of the season and most definitely the signing of last summer. Our other outstanding players during the year, bearing in mind how subjective this is, were Modric, Bale, Gallas, Sandro and Assou-Ekotto. The fact that three of this group of six were new to the squad this season bodes well as changes designed to help us launch a challenge next season are planned and executed.
What doesn’t give one quite as much confidence is the club’s handling of the new stadium issue during the winter. By the time the Olympic Park Legacy Committee announced that they weren’t turkeys voting for Christmas and were against the idea of tearing down the stadium, Levy and the Spurs communications team had managed to alienate a fair proportion of our support. The sudden shift in status of the Northumberland Park Development Plan from ‘imminent’ to ‘unviable’ appeared all too convenient and the (later retracted) comments hinting that news and information were being manipulated to suit the club didn’t help. Since the decision went West Ham’s way our threatened legal action against all involved appears from the outside to be undignified and doomed to failure. Levy (and Joe Lewis?) have convinced themselves that the answer really does lie in Stratford. It’s tempting to be facetious and wonder what the question might be if postcode E15 is the answer but it always comes back to the same thing in football these days, ‘Money’.
So the Europa League awaits. Before then though is another important date in the calendar. Some time in July, Harry will face tax evasion charges at Southwark Crown Court. He has been pursued with such vigour and for so long that it appears that the CPS think that they (Redknapp and Mandaric) have a case to answer. I’ve no idea what might occur, in terms of sentencing, should Harry be found guilty but it’ll undoubtedly be a distraction. Looking on the bright side though, if he’s found not guilty it’ll have the opposite effect and take a weight off his mind as he once again leads us into a another season even more important than the last one. (The Premier League hype wouldn’t allow anything else). One or two new strikers, a new keeper and some changes at right back are probably required but whatever happens, if it’s anything like last season we will mostly be enjoying ourselves.
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