Like it or not, Tottenham Hotspur is not the same team that stormed through the first six months of the Premier League campaign. Things changed the moment Fabio Capello resigned as manager of England’s national team.
Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp was, and is, the only logical successor to Capello. The public has been clamouring for him since England crashed out of the 2010 World Cup. Capello’s shock departure changed the dynamics of Tottenham’s locker room because the talk has centered around “when” not “if” Redknapp would leave the club.
Spurs thumped Newcastle 5-0 in their first game following Capello’s announcement. But the next two saw cracks appear in a seemingly united front. A scoreless draw against lowly Stevenage in the FA Cup was followed by a crushing 5-2 loss against Arsenal in the Premier League.
The loss not only ended Tottenham’s title hopes, but also the belief that the best was yet to come from Redknapp’s group. Arsenal only trails third-placed Tottenham by four points in the standings. Chelsea trails by seven points with 11 games left to play. Missing out on next season’s UEFA Champions League is not out of the question, especially if Spurs do not deliver an emphatic response to suggestions of weakness in the coming weeks.
Sunday will see Manchester United visit White Hart Lane, and it could not have come at a worse time for Spurs. Scott Parker is suspended, and a number of other players are carrying injuries of varying severity.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson noted the effect the England talk has had on Tottenham’s fortunes in his latest round of mind games. Earlier this week, he said Spurs were playing the best soccer in the league up until three weeks ago. On Saturday he said the uncertainty around Redknapp affects the club directors more than the players, but he was sure to point out the players.
“Yes, I made that mistake myself,” Ferguson told the Guardian. “I said I was going to retire [in 2002] it definitely affected the dressing room, no doubt about that. [But] it’s a little bit different [for Spurs], it’s only speculation –- Harry has not made any statement that he wants the England job for a start, though I think the general feeling is he would relish it.”
Tottenham’s players were enjoying the season of their lives a month ago. Each must now be considering their club future, as the man who lifted the club from potential relegation gets set to abandon what is arguably his greatest-ever project.
On Sunday Spurs must show the character that has carried them to this point. Defeating United would prove Redknapp’s assertion that the loss to Arsenal was a “one-off” and not the start of a descent into the unknown.