Big day for Spurs, dry run for Harry Redknapp?
The England manager's job will be the elephant in the home dressing room tomorrow at Wembley
Harry Redknapp will give his pre-match team-talk in the traditional home dressing room at Wembley tomorrow afternoon. He will take his place in the home dug-out. When the photographers cluster around him before kick-off it is clear what kind of picture they will be looking for: Redknapp trying the England manager's chair for size.
If the Football Association does, as expected, make its approach for Redknapp after this weekend, then those pictures may well end up with the FA crest Photoshopped on to the jacket pocket of his club suit in the days to come. Spurs are back at Wembley this weekend but even if they do not make it past Chelsea to the FA Cup final, there is a good chance their current manager will be back time and time again.
The issue of Redknapp and the vacant England manager's job has dominated the agenda at Spurs ever since Fabio Capello quit on 8 February, the day Redknapp was acquitted in his tax evasion trial. These days the club are particularly sensitive about any mention of the topic, especially given that in the period since Capello left they have won just two from nine Premier League games.
Redknapp wants to finish fourth in the league at the very least but he can also see the advantages of winning today's semi-final and, on 5 May, potentially the club's first FA Cup in 21 years. Asked yesterday which of the two he would rather have, the Spurs manager could not make up his mind. "Difficult one," he said. "The chairman [Daniel Levy] would probably say the Champions League fourth place. I want both of them."
On top of that he has injury problems, most notably in defence where Younes Kaboul is missing tomorrow. And always in the background is his position as the favourite to be offered the England job. It is the elephant in the room, and this particular elephant is starting to misbehave like the one from Blue Peter television folklore.
When the subject was finally raised with Redknapp yesterday he did his best to play it down. "I never think about it. Honestly, I swear. I never think about anything other than just Tottenham. That's all I think about. Just trying to finish this season ... get where we have been all year. Get in that top four and get to the Cup final. Other than that there is nothing else to occupy my mind at all."
You can hardly blame Redknapp. Privately, he is as intrigued as the rest of us as to what the FA's plan of action will be. But in the meantime he has to play down the significance of the England manager scenario on his team's form. Yesterday he even pointed out that Spurs' form had tailed off last season. In 2010, he added, they lost the FA Cup semi-final to Portsmouth and then beat Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City to clinch fourth place.
It is a stressful situation for Redknapp and it will only get worse if Spurs are beaten tomorrow. He is sensitive about criticism of a side that he maintains is not playing badly but is simply going through a difficult phase. In response to one pointed question about the team's form he answered, in as merry a tone as he could muster, "the form is fantastic, you obviously think it's crap".
He has, by his own admission, been reluctant to rest key men such as Luka Modric and Gareth Bale, and after such a strong start to the season the team is starting to tire. Nevertheless, he is trying to see it as glass-half-full situation. "We're fourth, and still in with a great chance of making the Champions League, and in the semi-final of the FA Cup. If you'd said to me at the start of the year 'Do you want to be sitting here today in that position?' I'd have said 'Fantastic, I'll take that straight away'.
"People forget where Tottenham should be at times – two Carling Cup wins since 1991, the average finishing position until four or five years ago was probably about 10th. So you can get too carried away with where you should be and who you are. If we want to maintain that next year and the year after, you've got to keep improving."
It was only once the questions got on to the FA Cup, which Redknapp won as Portsmouth manager in 2008, that he was more relaxed. He recalled his childhood and the deserted streets when the whole country was inside watching the game – in the case of the Redknapp family, on a "nine-inch television with a three-inch magnifying glass". He embarked on an evocative description of Manchester United's Ray Woods having his goalkeeper jersey roughly removed in the 1957 final, despite the fact he had broken his jaw.
He recalled Spurs' shock semi-final defeat, at Wembley, to Portsmouth in 2010. "I remember having to get a couple of sleeping tablets that night because I couldn't get to sleep. I remember sending my mate, a taxi driver, out to try and find me a chemist that was open. I was so low. I was fed up. It's all in the past now. I look forward."
As for his 2008 winners' medal, he said he did not even know where it was. "I'm very proud of it but ... I couldn't find it. It's nice to do [win the Cup]. It's good for the club and the fans. That's what it's about, really." If only life was that simple. Even without the shadow of the England job over him, the last four weeks of the season for Harry Redknapp are already pressurised enough.
Semi-detached: Tottenham's torrid time
Tottenham v Chelsea
Tottenham have been beaten in their last five FA Cup semi-finals, since Paul Gascoigne's free-kick helped them defeat Arsenal 3-1 at Wembley, 21 years ago today.
1993: Arsenal 1-0 Spurs
George Graham's team earned revenge for the 1991 loss, Tony Adams heading home a Paul Merson free-kick with 10 minutes remaining. Arsenal held on despite Lee Dixon's red card and, having already won the League Cup, went on to beat Sheffield Wednesday in the final.
1995: Everton 4-1 Spurs
Having won at Anfield in the sixth round Spurs were heavy favourites but they were undone at Elland Road. Matt Jackson and Graham Stuart had Joe Royle's side two up before Jurgen Klinsmann reduced the arrears from the spot. Daniel Amokachi confirmed victory with two late goals and Everton went on to beat Manchester United in the final.
1999: Newcastle 2-0 Spurs (aet)
Alan Shearer's extra-time double took the Magpies to Wembley for a second consecutive final after a goalless 90 minutes at Old Trafford. Spurs were denied a penalty from a Nikos Dabizas handball, before Sol Campbell gave away a spot-kick with his own error. Shearer scored his second from the edge of the area but Newcastle lost to Manchester United in the final.
2001: Arsenal 2-1 Spurs
An injury-hit Spurs took the lead when Gary Doherty bundled in at Old Trafford, before Patrick Vieria equalised with a header after Sol Campbell – playing his last Spurs game – fouled Ray Parlour. Robert Pires tapped home the second-half winner – Arsenal went on to lose to Liverpool in the Cardiff final.
2010: Portsmouth 2-0 Spurs (aet)
Harry Redknapp's side were heavily favoured to beat relegated Portsmouth but were left to rue the state of the pitch. Michael Dawson slipped to allow Frédéric Piquionne to give Pompey the lead before Wilson Palacios brought down Aruna Dindane and a former Spur, Kevin-Prince Boateng, secured a return to Wembley. Chelsea beat Avram Grant's side in the final.
Tottenham v Chelsea
Odds: Tottenham 6-4; Draw 12-5; Chelsea 9-5.
KO Tomorrow, 6pm (ITV1).
Ref M Atkinson (West Yorkshire)
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