Is Pienaar really a better bet for Spurs than the outgoing Kranjcar?
IT IS difficult to criticise much that Harry Redknapp has done since his arrival at Tottenham, especially in the transfer market.
Having previously taken Portsmouth from the relegation zone into Europe and turned them into FA Cup winners, he has had an equally seismic impact at White Hart Lane.
While the 63-year-old had an infamously bad reaction to being described as a ‘wheeler dealer’, a great deal of his success is due to his prowess in the buying and selling of players.
Redknapp is an expert when it comes to improving his team and, armed with Daniel Levy’s chequebook, his shrewdness in consistently ‘trading up’ throughout his squad has been a big factor in Spurs’ renaissance.
There is no doubt that the Lilywhites’ squad is infinitely better than the one that he took over and, with the possible exception of Darren Bent, few fans are mourning the loss of the players who have paid the price and made way.
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Put simply, Redknapp has signed better players than he has sold. Until now, that is, because it appears that Steven Pienaar’s arrival could spell the end of Niko Kranjcar’s time at Tottenham.
“It’s difficult, Niko would like to move,” said Redknapp. “I had a chat with him and he wants to play, and he doesn’t like playing on the right [of midfield].
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“He’s not happy there, it doesn’t suit him. He wants to play off the left and Gareth [Bale] has been playing there, and has been fantastic – and he understands that.
“He’d like to play and so I said ‘I understand that Niko, if someone comes in for you…’ If he didn’t find a good club here – a top club, one of the bigger clubs in the Premier League – I think he’d look to go abroad somewhere, like Spain, to play.
“He’s well regarded around the world. He’s a great international player, he got goals the other week for Croatia. He plays on the world stage and people know what a good player he is. He could play at a top team anywhere really.”
Poor Kranjcar has barely put a foot wrong during his 18 months at Spurs, but the 26-year-old has been the unfortunate victim of the Bale revolution.
Having started 24 matches last season, the Croatian has started just three times so far this campaign, and has been reduced to waiting for the occasions when Bale has been rested or substituted.
That has not happened very often, but on Saturday Bale was required to fill in at left-back, finally leaving Kranjcar’s favoured left midfield berth open – and Redknapp picked Pienaar.
It was a telling moment – proof, if it was needed, that Kranjcar’s days in north London are numbered.
“He [Pienaar] can play either side or he can play central. I think he’s happy playing on the other side, it’s not a problem for him,” explains Redknapp.
“It gives us cover there whereas Niko has always played off the left, that’s where he’s at his best.”
Redknapp has apparently decided to trade up again by signing Pienaar and, if necessary, allowing Kranjcar to leave.
The question is, does this represent good business? Or, unusually, is Redknapp replacing a fine player with a slightly inferior one?
Given that the pair play similar roles, a glance at last season’s statistics arguably support that suggestion.
Goals are not the be-all and end-all but Kranjcar scored eight times in 32 games after arriving from Portsmouth at the end of August 2009, and was Spurs’ highest-scoring midfielder.
Pienaar scored half of that tally, striking four times in 38 games, and adding just one goal in 20 games this campaign before leaving the Toffees.
Meanwhile, Kranjcar is two and a half years younger than Pienaar, who turns 29 in March.
As ever, Redknapp knows what he is doing. Kranjcar’s lack of versatility was exposed in the 4-2 defeat at Bolton, when he was asked to deputise for Aaron Lennon on the right flank and was virtually anonymous.
With David Bentley gone, Pienaar can provide high quality cover for the right flank and well as the left side, and also replace Luka Modric in the middle if necessary, either in the starting line-up or off the bench.
Despite being one of the stars of last season, Kranjcar has become a squad man at Spurs and Pienaar is probably a better option for that role, simply because he can play more positions.
However, that does not make the South African a better player and, should Kranjcar depart – in the next week or in the summer – it is not a huge exaggeration to suggest that Spurs would be selling one of their best players.
His double strike in the 3-0 win over Manchester City at the Lane last December proved to be invaluable, as did his winner in the 2-1 win at Stoke in March.
And, as well as being one of Tottenham’s best performers over the course of the campaign, Redknapp also referred to him as one of the signings of the season across the Premier League.
Things change quickly in football and heroes can be quickly forgotten. However, should Kranjcar leave north London, he will certainly be missed more than most – and deservedly so.