Van der Vaart has become less and less of a factor.

by Darren Walsh

April 2010: Tottenham Hotspur lose a contentious FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth, then beat Arsenal and Chelsea the week after to take a grip of fourth place and a Champion’s League berth.

April 2012: Tottenham Hotspur lose a contentious FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea.  What happens next?  That remains to be seen.

As far as the usual end of season run-ins go, it looked like being a fairly quiet and comfortable final stanza for the Lilywhites just two months ago.  In third place with an outside shot at the league title, it got even better with a 0-2 lead against Arsenal, which just seemed to confirm that there was a change in the usual standings for the past 15 years.

But it went wrong in that game, and it has not stopped going wrong since, with the players and manager unable to stop the water flowing in as the ship goes down.  Yes, they recovered from a huge disappointment in 2010 to overcome Manchester City and claim a place at Europe’s top table, but the difference is now that the players seem resigned to their fate of losing a manager and slipping down the league table.  Of course a top four finish would be a great achievement no matter how it arrives, as this team was not expected to contend according to the pre-season predictions, but even that may be beyond a set of demoralised players with Newcastle and Chelsea breathing down their necks.

Sunday was a continuation of the problems, despite most of the regular team being in place.  The front six are the group who got the team into such a good position, but the defence contained William Gallas and Ledley King, both of whom are not for this footballing life for much longer.

So let’s start at the top.  Harry Redknapp has brought a team that couldn’t get beyond fifth place and pushed them further.  There have been just enough more good signings than bad and he has generally improved the team by playing to its strengths.

But the mistakes have to be taken into account too.  He failed to find a striker that the 2010/11 team was crying out for, and a second consecutive Champion’s League campaign was thrown away due to a lack of goals.  He hasn’t been able to rotate the team in a way that keeps everyone match fit and ready to play if they are needed.  And he has shown an alarming lack of ideas about what to do when a regular first teamer is injured.

In the first half of the season much of this wasn’t a problem.  But since Christmas the team has wobbled due to having an unbalanced look about it.  Aaron Lennon has missed much of it, while Gareth Bale was seemingly told to go anywhere on the pitch that he liked, apart from the left wing of course.  Emmanuel Adebayor is playing like a man who’s already signed a new contract, rather than someone battling to prove themselves, while Rafael Van Der Vaart has become less and less of a factor as the season has gone on while playing his usual 70 or so minutes.

A lot of the reserves were cleaned out in January, Sebastian Bassong and Steven Pienaar among them.  No, they did not do very well in the time that they were at White Hart Lane, but whose fault is it that we did not see the best of them?  This isn’t twenty years ago, where a contending team could use 14 players for the season; the squad has to be managed, not just the starters.  It’s seems like every week that one of the well-known reserves are talked up by Redknapp about being given a chance; this week it was David Bentley.  It’s not going to happen and we all know it.  If he wasn’t brought into the team when Lennon was injured, why would he be used now that Lennon is back?

So we come to the England issue.  I fully believe that Redknapp will take the job, as I don’t see how a man who has described it as the pinnacle of his profession can turn it down.  I also believe that it has affected his tactical decisions since Fabio Capello resigned.  He is almost certainly thinking about how he can mould an England team together to win the European Championship while his current charges are crying out for some leadership.  We have seen it happen in the past, whether it was Sir Alex Ferguson announcing that he was leaving in 2002, or Sir Bobby Robson in 2005.  Players start to think about the future; they don’t need to impress the outgoing boss and they fall away from the usual standards.

All of this has conspired to make Tottenham one of the worst performing teams for quite a while now, and it will take a sudden upturn in attitudes and focus to change it around.  They showed that they had the mental strength in 2010 to bounce back; we shall soon see if they can reproduce that this time around.