James Lawton: Spurs provide a breath of sweet air after a week of bitterness

 

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The Independent Online

It wasn't a miracle because there is nothing miraculous about a group of talented professional sportsmen paid vastly in excess of neurosurgeons and the majority of Nobel Prize-winning scientists not only treating each other with some basic levels of respect but even the odd touch of fraternal affection for slightly more than 90 minutes.

This remains true despite the commendable fact that this sharp improvement in collective behaviour was achieved while also producing entertainment that the paying customers plainly deemed value for money.

No, we may not have got the equivalent of the parting of the Red Sea at White Hart Lane but what we did have at times was a warmly expressive football match of skill and rhythm and pace.

It was one, furthermore, that was not only undamaged by the presence of such notoriously inflammatory figures as Joey Barton of Queen's Park Rangers and Emmanuel Adebayor of Spurs but at times actively enhanced, despite the fact that the latter should, conservatively speaking, have scored at least a hat-trick.

So, if there was no cause for the throwing of palm fronds, there were plenty of reasons for celebration at this point of a still unformed season.

The greatest of these was touched on by Spurs coach Joe Jordan at the end of a week of arguably unprecedented acrimony that saw the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, stripping down by half the fine imposed by Manchester City on their £200,000-a-week employee Carlos Tevez, who is thus led to believe that insubordination is a matter of degree, and FA investigators set on the trails of alleged racism.

What Jordan noted with a lift of his shoulders as he left White Hart Lane was that he had been part of a football occasion enjoyed most conspicuously not by the fans, who had been exultant enough, but the players. "When you are a coach," says Jordan, "you are never quite satisfied. It is not in the nature of the job. You think of all the little things that might have been improved upon – and the unnecessary anxiety that came because you didn't finish off your chances.

"We had plenty of that on the Spurs bench but when it was all over you could say to the players, 'that was terrific football, terrific attitude, you can be proud of that.' You could also give QPR their due; they fought hard in the second half and they increased our anxiety.

"The best thing for me was the way the players came off the field. They had clearly enjoyed themselves. They had gone forward confidently, they were keen to show their skills – and that is something that will always make this job worthwhile."

On the weekend of Arsenal's redemption (at least as a still potent attacking force) at Chelsea, United's nervy win at Everton and the fresh evidence that Roberto Mancini may well have emerged from his battle with Tevez in the best shape of his managerial life, Tottenham's performance still provided some good reasons for them to take hold most firmly of any neutral spirit.

There is, after all, not much in sport more heartwarming than the sense that a team, or a fighter, has looked hard and honestly at where a broken place might be strengthened. Spurs were in ruins, it seemed, when City plundered the remnants of the well-being that accompanied last season's compelling romance in the Champions League. It wasn't so much defeat as obliteration but it did give Harry Redknapp the chance to make one last impassioned appeal for the signing of Scott Parker.

That move is now being rated at near genius level, an assessment that may have to await sterner challenges than the one presented by a spirited but, in the first half at least, sharply less than coherent QPR. However, there is no question that Parker has brought a terrific competitive instinct to Tottenham and the kind of hard-nosed game-reading that provides perfect support for the often sublime attacking thrusts of Rafael van der Vaart, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale.

Parker (above, left), understandably enough, was the manager's – and the coach's – pet after enabling Spurs to launch themselves into an offensive which should properly have given them a margin of between four and five goals by half-time.

Jordan said: "Scott Parker is a player's player and a coach's player and I also think the fans understand the level of his contribution. Even if you were unhappy at the final result in terms of goals, you had to say that there had been some brilliant attacking football and a huge reason for this was the security provided by Scotty.

"These are early days, of course, but what we did see on Sunday – and have done in the run of performances since that defeat by City – was the value of Harry's pursuit of one player. Sometimes that is the difference between a team which is confident about the future – and one that is not."

For Spurs there can be genuine excitement at the possibility that for one more season at least Van der Vaart, Modric and Bale can operate at a level that takes much of the melancholy out of the fact that more than 50 years have now passed since the double glory of Blanchflower and White and Mackay.

For the rest of us there must be at least some modest satisfaction that Spurs remain a presence, if not at this point an overwhelming threat, at the shoulders of such power brokers as City, United and Chelsea.

Beating QPR, for all the warring capacities of their combative manager Neil Warnock, may not yet be the benchmark for sure-fire contention at the top of the Premier League. But if there is something in the way a team plays, if there is something engaging enough in their spirit, it is certainly no hardship recognising Spurs, for a few days at least, as English football's team of the moment. They may not have played with flowers in their hair but they brought more than a breath of sweetness to some rancid football air.

 

Game must hunt down this canker

There is, of course, an overwhelming need for stringency in the handling of the allegations of racism made against Luis Suarez and John Terry by, respectively, Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand.

However, it probably has to be accepted that from the tumult of a football match – and the potentially misleading, context-free zone of lip-reading – a proper rendering of the realities of both situations might indeed be impossible. This, though, is no excuse for less than transparently vigorous investigation.

One thing is certain: an ugliness, real or perceived, has injected itself into the affairs of a profession which is increasingly seen to be hopelessly indulged. Greed, indiscipline, cheating, irresponsibility are among the more familiar charges.

What shouldn't be forgotten, out of expediency or some unspoken indifference, is that all of those indictments are dwarfed by the sin of racism. The current prosecutions may fail, for legitimate reasons, but there will be no excuse for any slackening of vigilance. If the beast is alive, the duty is to hunt it down.

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