Harry Redknapp and shrewd transfer usually go hand in hand, the cheaper the better. However this summer has been a period of austerity at Tottenham and that, excuse the pun, could cost them this season.
While many clubs are undergoing some degree of financial conservatism this summer, they are the sides that finished below Tottenham. Redknapp threatens to undermine the good work he has done at White Hart Lane over the past two years if he follows this particular trend.
Redknapp infamously said that last season was the “best it was gonna get” for the north London club. On one hand, the high spending of Liverpool and the Manchester clubs support his statement yet there is an arguable sense that the domestic duopoly of Chelsea and Manchester United, who have shared the Premier League trophy over the past several years, can be broken this season.
Sir Alex Ferguson has a track record of successfully rebuilding squads and this will be challenged yet again as Manchester United’s squad is now in a young, transitional stage. The retirements of Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes will weaken the club, but “Fergie” has been buying heavily. Two of the three summer signings are under the age of 21. Ashley Young is the oldest at 26.
Chelsea meanwhile have a new man at the helm, which is rarely a surprise. 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas takes on an ageing Chelsea squad that had suffered a mid-season lapse in form that destroyed their title challenge and at one point made Champions League qualification look like a tough task. With the high level of expectation at Stamford Bridge, Villas-Boas will have difficulty juggling success on four fronts despite experience pulling it off at previous club FC Porto.
Outside the top two, Manchester City look the most realistic candidate for upsetting the status quo. Their vast vestige of wealth and recent £38 million signing of Sergio Aguero provoked Villas-Boas to claim their financial domination was “unfair.” The irony obviously lost on the manager of a club that benefited from similar riches during the last decade.
Arsenal have failed to address problems that cost them silverware stretching over the past six years. Namely their lack of a physical presence down the centre and an experienced, reliable goalkeeper, Arsenal are likely to end another campaign empty-handed.
Finally Liverpool have thrown £50 million at a manager who would still be a club legend if he relegated the club. Yet Dalglish has spent this war-chest on domestic talent. Nationalists will regard Jordon Henderson and Stewart Downing as positive signings. Realists will argue the £16 million for Henderson, an unproven youngster and £20 million on the average Downing are over-priced fees.
Other clubs that could trouble Spurs are an Everton side that always finishes in the top half of table. However the Toffees are at risk of stagnating without any powerful financial backing. If Blackburn Rovers were capably run then they could challenge for European places considering their wealth. But with a seemingly hapless manager and a transfer policy that could have been generated by a visit to a primary school four years ago, where children are asked to shout out names of the first footballer that came into their heads. Needless to say the likes of Ronaldinho and David Beckham did not want to join the Rovers.
But do not be mistaken into thinking Spurs will fail to challenge for a Champions League place. Despite their inactivity this summer, they have a capable manager in Harry Redknapp, one who is a shoe-in for the upcoming England job in 2012. With Brad Friedel’s arrival, Redknapp has a goalkeeper who will provide assurance and a level of consistency between the posts compared to the unpredictable and often lamented Heurelho Gomez.
The club have also retained key players Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric at the time of going to press. The latter has been linked with a move to Chelsea, although it seems he may be willing to remain at Spurs, at least until January. But there are serious issues Redknapp needs to address.
Spurs’ defence were sometimes error-prone last season which led to 46 goals being conceded in the league. Teams like Fulham and Everton, who both finished below Tottenham, had conceded less as well as last season’s top four sides and Liverpool.
But it was a lack of goals that cost Tottenham the prospect of leap-frogging London rivals Arsenal to fourth place. Regular England internationals Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch as well as Roman Pavlyuchenko and the nomadic Robbie Keane are not a bad bunch of strikers, but 30 goals scored at home last season was a poor return. Wolves and Blackpool who finished in the bottom four equalled that count whilst clubs like Stoke City, Newcastle United and Bolton, who all finished in the bottom half of the table, bested that tally.
Van der Vaart was the club’s top scorer in the league with 13 goals, Pavlyuchenko finished second in the club scoring stakes with just ten goals. Crouch netted only four, the same as Defoe.
The remedy sounds simple. Redknapp has to sign a good striker and centre-back, especially with the concerns over the injury-plagued Ledley King, to realistically compete for a Champions League place. Keeping hold of their talent is crucial, but adding quality to the existing talent is paramount if Spurs are to match, or even better their league performance of 2009/10.