The San Siro home of Internazionale is one of those iconic stadiums in which every manager of ambition envisages themselves leading out their team one day. But yesterday Harry Redknapp was not filling the role of a wide-eyed new boy, just pleased to be in Milan on Champions League business; he was talking about his plans for Tottenham's future.
On the eve of his side's biggest Champions League group game so far, against the reigning champions, Redknapp said that he believed Spurs were two players short of a squad capable of winning the Premier League. It is a bold claim – especially when Redknapp suggested his club might be in the running to sign Wayne Rooney – but it felt in keeping with yesterday's sense that anything is possible in English football.
Games like tonight's are what made that long slog to finish fourth in the Premier League last season worthwhile and gave Redknapp cause to reflect on how far he had brought Spurs, and how much further they might go. "I think Tottenham may be one or two big signings away from being a team that could win the Premiership," he said. "One or two players in the right positions – and I'm talking about [getting] two top, top players in the right positions.
"If we could go and do that then I think Tottenham are a team that could win the championship in a couple of years. This squad is just so full of talent anyway, players who have made their mark and Daniel [Levy, the chairman] has done a great job, backing my judgment and improving the squad and the club, that I really believe we're not far away from that level."
Ever the optimist, Redknapp suggested signing Rooney was "not an impossibility". He shared Sir Alex Ferguson's disbelief that the striker would want to leave Manchester United and joked that he was going to speak to Levy about it immediately. Having dismissed the notion, he later warmed to the idea of Rooney in a Spurs shirt. "If he's going to stay in England, who knows? You have got to be interested when the best players become available but there will be some very big fish after him."
Almost two years since he took over a club that was bottom of the League with two points from eight games, Redknapp's Spurs face the European champions away from home as, if not equals, then at least a team capable of causing Rafael Benitez's side problems. Before his squad flew from Stansted yesterday, Redknapp permitted himself one glance back at where they came from.
"As we walked into the airport terminal, I turned to [assistants] Kevin Bond and Joe Jordan and said: 'It doesn't seem 10 minutes ago that we were coming into the club for the Bolton game [his first in charge] and meeting up with the lads'. I just asked myself where those two years have gone because they seem to have gone so quickly. It's amazing."
Otherwise, Redknapp is unwilling to be the grateful tourist and emphasised that he believes he has players who are capable of competing with Benitez's side – none more than Gareth Bale, who comes up against one of the most exacting tests of his career so far against Inter's right-back Maicon. "Not for sale!" shouted Redknapp in response when he heard Bale's name in a question posed to him in Italian even before it was translated. "I wouldn't want to be selling Gareth, he's one of the best left-sided players in the world."
There are a few questions hovering over Redknapp's team; in defence, his options are badly limited by injury. Ledley King is out the game, as are the long-term injured Michael Dawson and Jonathan Woodgate, leaving Redknapp with Sébastien Bassong and William Gallas. Beyond that, he would have to bring back Younes Kaboul, who is only just fit again after five weeks out.
The talk from the Italians yesterday was about Samuel Eto'o and his goal-scoring record of 12 goals in all competitions so far this season. When Redknapp was asked about Eto'o, he used his classic diversionary tactic – relating a story about how he once almost signed the Cameroonian. "I watched him about nine times play for Real Mallorca and I was interested in bringing him to West Ham," Redknapp said. "I knew all about him."
In the absence of the suspended Rafael van der Vaart, it will be Luka Modric playing in and around Peter Crouch. The lanky Tottenham striker has a personal score to settle with Benitez, who, having signed him at Liverpool five years ago, gradually froze the England striker out of his team until Crouch had no alternative but to leave.
While, for Benitez, Champions League nights are nothing new, Redknapp was doing his best not to sound over-awed. He just about pulled it off, although talk of signing Rooney might be asking one leap of the imagination too many.
Internazionale v Tottenham Hotspur: Three key confrontations
Maicon v Gareth Bale
Bale has continued his fine form from last season and has often been Tottenham’s main attacking threat. If the 21-year-old Welshman can run at Maicon down Spurs’ left, he will not only stretch Inter‘s back line, but might also pin the marauding Brazilian right-back in his own half. This could be crucial, as in nullifying Maicon’s attacking threat he will also protect his own full-back, Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Samuel Eto’o v William Gallas
With 12 goals in 11 appearances this season, Eto’o has flourished under new manager Rafa Benitez. He is playing as a centre-forward again and the clever positions he takes up on the edge of the box have helped him score four goals already in the Champions League. In the absence of the injured Ledley King, Gallas will need to draw on all his European experience to lead Spurs’ back line tonight.
Wesley Sneijder v Tom Huddlestone
Denying Sneijder time and space on the ball is key to disrupting Inter’s attacking flow. He pulls the strings in midfield so Huddlestone’s most important duty will be to close him down early and restrict service to Eto’o. However, the 23-year-old Englishman, who at times appears to lack mobility, must also beware of Sneijder’s tendency to switch positions across midfield.Reuse content