Aaron Lennon yesterday launched an extraordinary attack on his manager, Harry Redknapp, accusing him of lying over his claims that the Tottenham player pulled out of Tuesday's Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid at the last moment.
Lennon said on Twitter that he would not "be made a scapegoat" after Redknapp suggested that he had only learnt of the player's illness seconds before the start of the match.
"Saying i fell ill be4 the game is bull**** i fell ill on sunday morning where the med team put me on anti botics, but only got worse b4 tues", Lennon wrote. For a player who rarely speaks publicly and has a reputation for shyness with the media, this was as outspoken as Lennon has ever been. He added: "Believe me this is 1 game i did no wnt to miss and still devo [devastated] now!!!! but will not be made a scapegoat saying they only knew jus b4 K O."
Last night, Redknapp attempted a reconciliation with Lennon, saying he had "no problems" with the 23-year-old and that Lennon was "not to blame" for the 4-0 defeat. "No one's made him a scapegoat," Redknapp insisted. "No one is blaming Aaron for not playing. It wasn't Aaron's fault. He didn't bottle anything. The kid wasn't well. He's been fantastic for us. I've got no problems with the kid whatsoever." On Tuesday night, Redknapp said that he had to take the decision seconds before kick-off, having spotted Lennon was unwell. "I lost him just as the teams were walking on to the pitch, he didn't feel well enough to play so we had to change things straight away."
Redknapp elaborated on the subject yesterday: "He [Lennon] went out for a warm-up, I picked the team, put the team-sheet in and he came back in. We were sitting almost waiting to go out and I looked at him and he was sitting there looking like death warmed up. I said to him, 'Are you OK?' He said, 'I've got no strength and no energy but I'll give it a go.' I said, 'But do you feel you can play, if you haven't got any strength or energy do you feel you can go out there?' I had to make a decision."
Jermaine Jenas, who played instead of Lennon, confirmed that Lennon's withdrawal was very late, but also that his illness had lasted for a few days. "I found out as late as you could possibly find out that I was playing. The team was lining up ready to go out into the tunnel," Jenas said.
"He has been battling it for a few days and was trying to dig in. He really wanted to play and he went out for the warm-up but he just didn't feel that he could do the team justice."
Tottenham's players are now left facing up to a more mundane but very immediate reality – they need to beat Stoke City on Saturday. Redknapp's side have to make up five points on fourth-placed Chelsea in their remaining eight games or return to the Europa League next season.
Vedran Corluka underlined how the visit of Stoke was now far more important than the home tie with Real Madrid four days later. The defender urged his team-mates to shut out any ideas of what would be an incredible turnaround in Europe and to focus solely on taking three points at the weekend.
Corluka said: "We shouldn't think about hope for the second leg, we just need to leave a good impression – play the best we can and see what happens but we won't be thinking about the semi-final. We have a more important game on Saturday against Stoke. We need to win that game and we need to focus on that.
"It was brilliant to play in the Champions League and come to the quarter-final but we want to play in it again next season as well and there are other teams who want to play in it too so it will be very difficult."
Those sentiments were echoed by Tottenham's captain, Michael Dawson, who said: "We have to pick ourselves up against Stoke and get back to winning ways and make sure we get ourselves back into the Champions League next year."
William Gallas's experience will now be called upon as Spurs try to lift themselves, but after the game at the Bernabeu he was one of the most deflated. "It was one of the worst defeats in my career," said the former Arsenal defender who fared badly against his ex-Gunners team-mate Emmanuel Adebayor. "Three years ago I lost in the semi-final, that one was very difficult to accept, this tonight was one of my worst."
Gallas shook Adebayor's hand when the Togo forward was taken off with 15 minutes left. The on-loan Manchester City forward had his greatest night so far in the Spanish capital and confirmed he wanted to stay at Madrid beyond the end of the season. "Of course I do. I just have to keep working hard and in the summer the club will decide."
He is now set to start next Wednesday at White Hart Lane as the Madrid manager, Jose Mourinho, takes advantage of the first-leg lead to give another few days' rest to French striker Karim Benzema who is recovering from a calf strain.