Redknapp calls for all-out attack to earn Spurs European prize
Wednesday 25 August 2010
The opportunity presented to Tottenham Hotspur tonight has been 49 years in the making, as manager Harry Redknapp knows only too well because he was a teenager in the crowd the last time his club dined at Europe's top table.
Redknapp was a 14-year-old schoolboy on the books at Spurs when he joined the thousands to watch Tottenham's first ever European Cup tie at White Hart Lane, in which Bill Nicholson's Double-winners recorded a remarkable 8-1 demolition of Polish champions Gornik Zabrze.
His memory of the night is understandably a little sketchy. "I remember Bobby Smith battering the Polish goalkeeper and then winning by about seven," Redknapp said yesterday.
The sentiment of that kind of football lives on in Redknapp's current team, particularly when he says he will send his team out tonight against Young Boys of Bern with the instruction to "swarm all over them from the start".
"I wouldn't say we have to be patient, we've got to get after them," Redknapp said. "It's important to get after them early, to set them back. We have to move the ball, play with pace, press them, put them under pressure."
Back in 1961, the Tottenham side that night had to overcome a 4-2 deficit from the first leg; Redknapp's task is only slightly easier as his task is to come from 3-2 behind.
The objective tonight will be simply to overwhelm the unheralded Swiss side, both with the noise inside White Hart Lane and the intensity of Tottenham's high-tempo football. Redknapp recalled the special atmosphere inside the Lane when the giants of Europe visited in the 1961-62 season, when he saw Spurs reach the semi-finals only to lose to defending European champions Benfica. "They were great nights, great atmospheres. We want the same European nights here," Redknapp said.
Tottenham did the hard work last season, with wins at the end of the season over Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City that earned them fourth place. Their work seemed to have been for nought as they fell 3-0 down to the Swiss side a week ago, only to fight back to 3-2. That shock was attributed by Redknapp to the Swiss side's plastic pitch, but he accepts there will be no excuse if they fail having been given a second bite of the cherry.
"I knew before the game it would be a tough night," Redknapp said. "We went 3-0 down and you could see 4-0, 5-0, 6-0. But we got a couple of goals back and got out of jail. We are at home and we are a fantastic team when we play well at home. If we play as we can play it will be very, very difficult not to win. If we can't win we don't deserve to be in the competition. It is a test for us."
The prize for Tottenham is a place in the group stages of the Champions League, worth around £23m, and the possibility they might come out of the hat against someone like Real Madrid or Barcelona. The other side of the coin is that elimination would be an enormous blow, given the way they battled for fourth place last season.
Tottenham only have to look to the example of Everton five seasons ago to see what can happen if you spurn the golden opportunity. They lost their play-off to Villarreal and they never quite recovered from the blow, finishing the season 11th in the Premier League.
The players are keen to kill off suggestions they lost their nerve in Switzerland a week ago. Striker Jermain Defoe, who is to undergo groin surgery next week, said nerves will not be a consideration. "I don't understand why people say we bottle it. Who's going to bottle it? Look at the players we have got," Defoe said. "A lot were at the World Cup in the summer and those who didn't are full internationals.
"There are no nerves. It's like when you are young and your mum buys you your first pair of boots before your first game. You're buzzing to be out there. That's what I feel like. On Tuesday nights you don't want to be at home watching EastEnders – you want to be at White Hart Lane playing fantastic teams."
Progress would also be a huge personal achievement for Redknapp, the pinnacle of his coaching career at the age of 63. Only four other Englishmen have managed teams in the Champions League proper – Sir Bobby Robson with Porto and Newcastle United, Steve McClaren at FC Twente, Ray Harford with Blackburn Rovers and Howard Wilkinson at Leeds United.
Redknapp is understood to still be chasing Seville's Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano, despite the Tottenham manager's claim yesterday that a deal is not imminent. Reports in Spain last night suggested Seville are close to a deal to sell the 29-year-old to Tottenham for around £14m. The transfer depends on Spurs reaching the group stages of the Champions League, however.
Roman Pavlyuchenko v Ammar Jemal
Pavlyuchenko's late goal has kept Tottenham alive in the tie, and the Russian, who has some Champions League experience with Spartak Moscow, should be preferred ahead of the injured Jermain Defoe. Jemal, the Tunisian centre-half, coped well in the first leg but playing at a noisy White Hart Lane could be a very different proposition.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto v David Degen
The Tottenham left-back was given a terrible runaround by Swiss international Degen in last week's first leg, but will hope the boot is on the other foot tonight. Degen, 27, looks the part and is big and strong, but Assou-Ekotto has a personal score to settle.
Tom Huddlestone v Xavier Hochstrasser
Huddlestone has had the look of a Champions League player for years, but if Spurs are to progress Big Tom must get the better of Young Boys' young holding midfielder Hochstrasser, 22, who impressed in the first leg and scored the Swiss side's third goal in the first leg.
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