It’s mid-January. Tottenham Hotspur sit three points adrift of leaders Manchester City and level on points with Manchester United. The media is abuzz with title talk and Ladbrokes have cut the odds to as short as 6/1. It’s a situation that seemed entirely unthinkable following heavy defeats to United and City in our opening two games.
The fixture list didn’t look too kind when it was released last summer. An opening home game against Everton certainly looked like the best opportunity to get off the mark in August. The riots in London deemed the game unsafe to go ahead and Tottenham finished the month bottom of the Premier League. It looked like it could be a long season.
Harry Redknapp added dynamism to the midfield in Scott Parker and talismanic presence up front with Emmanuel Adebayor and since then, Tottenham have barely stuttered.
With the exception of a tepid display against Stoke, Tottenham have brushed aside Norwich, West Brom, Fulham, Blackburn, Wigan and Wolves away from home and beat Liverpool and Arsenal at home. December’s draw with Chelsea extends an unbeaten home record against their London rivals to six seasons at a ground their fans used to call ‘Three Points Lane’.
On Wednesday night we beat Everton to claim three points that have long been won in the minds of every Tottenham fan. We’ve looked at the table for months thinking “If we can beat Everton…”, adding the three points to our tally in our heads. Now that we have, we actually look like we’re in with a shot at the title. Just don’t tell anyone I said that. I’d hate to be the one that jinxed it.
As a Tottenham fan since the mid-Nineties, I’ve seen some truly horrendous lows. A 7-1 defeat at St James’ Park, two points from eight games a few seasons ago, a wretched decade and a half of results against the artists formerly known as ‘the big four’ and signing Grzegorz Rasiak on transfer deadline day. I even took my fiancée for a romantic evening in Grimsby for her first ever Tottenham match in 2005. We lost 1-0.
There have been a few highs, of course. I’ve been lucky enough to witness Gareth Bale’s stunning hat-trick in the San Siro, Peter Crouch’s Champions League qualifying goal at the City of Eastlands Etihad Stadium and I nearly broke my foot celebrating Allan Nielsen’s header in the 1999 Worthington Cup Final in a pub I wasn’t old enough to be in.
Massive credit must go to Harry Redknapp for bringing the good times back to White Hart Lane. Aside from rebuilding relegation fodder and turning them into Champions League quarter finalists, he’s now taken them one step further. Tough decisions were made in the summer, trimming a bulging squad by shipping out Woodgate, Crouch, Palacios, Bentley, Hutton and Jenas. The decision to replace Gomes with Friedel would have been a difficult one but has proved to be masterstroke.
Emerging talent such as Kyle Walker and Jake Livermore have revitalised the side, improving players like Younes Kaboul have added depth and exciting youngsters gaining valuable playing time elsewhere such as Townsend, Caulker and Naughton plus several others breaking through in the Europa League suggest the future is bright. The team spirit is better than ever with the reaction to Assou-Ekotto’s screamer last night testament to that.
The steely resolve to keep Luka Modric should also be admired. There might have been a better pay packet waiting for him in West London but the benefit of hindsight would suggest he’s just as likely to win major honours wearing white as he would have been in blue this season.
Redknapp has been adamant that he won’t spend big during the transfer window and will only bring in players who can add quality. With the likes of Pienaar, Kranjcar, Dos Santos and Pavlyuchenko kicking their heels on the bench, Huddlestone to come back from injury and Dawson returning to captain the side last night in the absence of Ledley King and William Gallas, it’s hard to identify positions that require strengthening.
Chris Samba, Loic Remy, Junior Hoilett and even Rio Ferdinand have all been touted as possible signings but Redknapp continues to play his cards close to his chest. It’s hard to imagine a transfer deadline day passing without him giving an interview out of the window of a stationary BMW though.
Whether we strengthen or not, psychologically, these three points against Everton are our most important of the season, and not just because they’ve moved us within touching distance of the top of the league. The gap we now hold over our faltering rivals for automatic qualification to the Champions League could prove crucial.
Liverpool are bereft of their best player for weeks. Chelsea are in a transitional period with an ageing backbone and might well settle for continued progress in the Champions League and qualification for next season as priorities now. Arsenal are awaiting positive news in the loan market with Gilles Grimandi and Christopher Wreh hoping to join Thierry Henry on 6-week loan deals.
Above us, Manchester City’s wobble has shown a chink in the armour and United have continued to grind results out in between spectacular defeats like the ones against Blackburn and City themselves. Games against both Manchester sides in the coming weeks will truly test our ability to win the title.
There’s unlikely to be a better chance to truly establish ourselves as a Champions League team and attract the world’s best players to the Lane. Once the Premier League’s joke club, we now play some of the most attractive football in the country and have a squad of players who genuinely look ready to push for the title.
With the England job available soon, Adebayor only on loan until the end of the season, some of the world’s top clubs coveting our very best players and Friedel defying the natural ageing process, now is the time to fulfil our potential or risk the break-up of our most talented side for decades.
Can Tottenham actually win the title? Yes. Just don’t tell anyone I told you so.