This evening Tottenham Hotspur will walk out of the tunnel at the Stadio Bernabeu in Madrid and into one of the biggest and most prestigious games in the club’s history.
The journey from the bottom of the Premier League to the quarter finals of the Champions League has been a remarkable one under manager Harry Redknapp – although perhaps not quite as dramatic as the low point might indicate.
Under the previous regimes of George Graham, Martin Jol and Juande Ramos Spurs had achieved a level of progress and in some cases silverware. However, each time a high point was reached Spurs’ improvement would stall and then wither.
The shock of plummeting down the table as rising expectations wilted, would then precipitate a change at the top, and the cycle would start afresh.
There does not appear to be any signs of such a dramatic fall under Redknapp although Spurs are again at a critical juncture.
Champions League football for next season can be secured by one of two methods.
The first is to win this season’s Champions League – easier said than done – or finish in the top four of the Barclay’s Premier League.
The Premier League seems to offer the more realistic route back to the premier club trophy in the world but given that Spurs are currently 5th and six points (with a game in hand) behind Manchester City it still constitutes a considerable challenge.
There is no doubt that Spurs fans have been in heaven this season on Champions League nights and such events can be addictive and intoxicating and not just for the supporters.
But if Spurs are to move forward in a sustainable way these next few weeks might prove to be absolutely vital. Under Redknapp the Spurs squad – both in depth and quality – has improved significantly.
That required the board to authorize an increase in spending not just on transfer fees but wages as well. (The club also mitigated some of the additional spending with players such as Dimitar Berbatov going rather than coming – in the case of Berbatov it was just a few months before Redknapp’s arrival).
But even with an increase in the wage-bill Spurs spending is still nowhere close to teams that they now consider their rivals at the top of the Barclay’s Premier League.
Manchester City and Chelsea’s salary expenditure outstrips ever other club in the league. Then comes Manchester United followed by Arsenal and Liverpool.
There is a considerable gap until you reach the Spurs level. So, to some extent Spurs achievement over the last couple of years has been done “on the cheap” although it is difficult to consider a 2010 wage bill of close to $96M as budget conscious.
Success not only brings increased expectations from supporters but also pressure from players to see their efforts showing up in bulker wage packets. Spurs can expect considerable pressure on their salary budget as contract renewal time comes around.
When you also consider the cost of developing a new White Hart Lane it only serves to emphasize why Spurs participation in the Champions League next season, and in years to come, is so vitally important.
Owner Joe Lewis has proved to be an excellent steward since he initially invested in the team in 2001. But even with an estimated wealth of $3B Lewis has never shown any willingness to underwrite the financial fortunes of the club ala Roman Abramovich.
In order for Spurs to continue to grow and prosper they have to reach that sweet spot where success becomes close to self-sustaining. And to do so Champions League football is now a necessity rather than an occasional treat to be savoured.
Memory Lane or Inspirational Corner
Nearly half a century ago Spurs played another Madrid side in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup. They beat Atletico 5-1 and became the first British team to lift a European trophy.
The year before Spurs had failed to make the final of the European Cup when they lost to Benfica in the semi-final. Benfica went on to win the final by beating Real Madrid and retain the trophy they had won the year previous after beating Barcelona.
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