Tottenham in 2010: A year when dreams came true at White Hart Lane
IF THERE was a national award for the Football Team of the Year, it would be difficult to look beyond Tottenham for the winners of 2010.
Chelsea would be short-listed, having won the league and cup double, and Blackpool would certainly be in the running, but surely the crown would have to go to Spurs.
Rewind 12 months and the seemingly eternal question still hung over the club: ‘Can Spurs finally break into the top four?’
It was the same question, over and over again, but there was no escaping the club’s goal of Champions League football – ‘the dream’, as Harry Redknapp put it this week.
One year on, Spurs’ goals have moved. At the mid-point of the season, the manager and players are now asked: ‘Can you win the league title? Could you reach the Champions League final at Wembley?’
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These are lofty aims for a side who, 365 days ago, were fifth in the league and uninvolved in Europe at all, and a telling indicator of the club’s sensational progress over the last 12 months.
Tottenham ended 2009 as perpetual also-rans, spectacular only in their unfulfilled ambitions. They now end 2010 as a major force in England and Europe, having become the first team in Champions League history to score two goals in every group match.
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Look back over the last year and there are highlights galore – wins over Arsenal in both league meetings, home and away, ending a 10-year wait for a derby win in the league, and then that 17-year curse of failing to win a league game away against the ‘Big Four’.
Spurs also beat Chelsea back in April before clinching their top-four finish with a nail-biting and ultimately magical victory over Manchester City at Eastlands in May.
The summer came and there was the usual excitement as William Gallas made the switch from Arsenal and Rafael Van der Vaart arrived from Real Madrid.
Since then, Spurs’ league form has been frustratingly inconsistent, but it has certainly never been dull. The Lilywhites have come from behind to win five times, banking 16 points from losing positions.
Meanwhile, the Champions League has been everything it was supposed to be, bringing out the very best and the very worst of Redknapp’s swashbuckling Tottenham.
It has been a rollercoaster ride from the very start as Spurs travelled to Bern to face Young Boys in the play-off, going 3-0 down in the opening half an hour before battling back to salvage a 3-2 defeat from the first leg.
In all, an incredible 38 goals have gone in during Spurs’ eight European matches and few will forget the comeback at the San Siro with 10 men, or the victory over Inter Milan – the reigning European champions – at White Hart Lane.
Those historic nights centred around the blistering pace of Gareth Bale, who had a breathtaking 2010 on a personal level – going from zero to hero with the same acceleration that left Maicon in his wake.
Bale was a national joke last December, having failed to start a league game in the first half of the season. Now the 21-year-old is being touted as the best left-sided midfielder in the world, valued at around �50million.
Looking back, there is so much to savour – so many games that fans will recount to the next generation and boast ‘I was there’. And yet, as always in football, a seismic change is only moments away.
Redknapp is the big favourite to replace Fabio Capello as the England manager and, while the Spurs boss repeats that the issue is two years away, he knows that that is not necessarily true.
In fact, the 63-year-old’s weekly press conferences frequently highlight the speed with which the unpredictable football landscape changes – few would have predicted the sackings of Newcastle’s Chris Hughton and Blackburn’s Sam Allardyce, for example.
Even now, Inter Milan’s president Massimo Moratti is considering the future of manager Rafael Benitez, and rumours persist that Capello – who went to watch the Italian outfit play at the Club World Cup this month – would be approached if Benitez is sacked.
For now Capello appears to be committed to the Three Lions, but his reputation in England is at an all-time low, and it is hardly ridiculous to suggest that, whether he jumps or is pushed, the Italian will not be employed by the FA this time next year.
Whatever happens, any scenario that leaves England needing a new manager next year would probably be bad news for Spurs.
Meanwhile, Tottenham could be announcing a permanent move to east London in the next few months, as they battle West Ham to become the new tenants of the Olympic Stadium in 2012.
The preferred bidder is expected to be announced by the Olympic Park Legacy Company in January ahead of a final decision in March.
‘Stratford Hotspur’ remains a very real possibility and, should Tottenham win the bid, issues over the club’s history, heritage and future will cast a big shadow over events on the field.
However, these are Scrooge-like ‘humbug’ thoughts at this festive time of year. There is so much to celebrate and this brief, snowy hiatus in Tottenham’s campaign is the perfect time to pause and reflect on a memorable year when dreams really did come true – and lick our lips as we wait for this footballing feast to continue in 2011.
A two-legged Champions League tie with AC Milan is already in the diary, and the FA Cup is just weeks away. Meanwhile, the Lilywhites are currently unbeaten in eight games, and seven points off the summit in the league.
Historically, Spurs have tended to win something when the year ends in the number one – they won the FA Cup in 1901, 1921, 1961, 1981 and 1991 – and there are some big trophies on offer in 2011.
It is certainly a very merry Christmas at White Hart Lane, and potentially a very happy new year.