James Lawton: Cry God for Harry, Spurs and a return of football values
Tottenham, while not exactly paupers, have played their way into contention for the title
If tribal instincts hadn't become so rampant, if undiluted hatred didn't so often appear to be the most persuasive currency in the national game, we might have something like consensus on this weekend of potentially significant Premier League action. It might be expressed in one simple exhortation, the one that goes: "Come on, Spurs."
Manchester City supporters are of course granted exclusion from any such obligation. Understandably, they are proud of a team that in the shape of engaging and hugely talented figures like Sergio Aguero, David Silva and, when he joins us for a little while on Planet Earth, Mario Balotelli, have become progressively agreeable.
However, Tottenham surely demand the affection, and yes, the support, of a wider audience because they so regularly produce beautiful football at considerably less than ruinous cost to the idea that the ability to make a team, to have it strong and creative at every point, is still within the scope of a football man as intuitive as their manager, Harry Redknapp.
City, like Chelsea before them, paid their way with unprecedented resources into the elite which used to be a private club occupied by Manchester United and Arsenal, who provide the second phase of tomorrow's double-header in the knowledge that Arsène Wenger's problems have sharply eroded the old edge of their rivalry.
Tottenham, while not exactly paupers, have played their way into contention for their first title since the one conjured from among the stars by such as Blanchflower and Mackay, White and Jones 51 years ago. If it happens, today's Spurs will not suffer too much in comparison with the team which won England's first European prize and played with a brilliant hauteur that persuaded the young Manchester United player John Giles that they had arrived from another civilisation.
This week Redknapp has been banging on to an unusual degree about the nature of his club's return to prominence, how it has come not from the happenchance of a desert wind bearing undreamt riches but old fashioned nous in appreciating the true value of players.
Yesterday he was again cranking up the pressure on himself as much as City by saying that players like Luka Modric, Rafael van der Vaart and Gareth Bale would be given their heads and their hearts. He said he hated the possibility of returning to London without "having a go". If Redknapp sounds like a man on the edge, it is because he is – and who can blame him after considering the stakes at the Etihad Stadium.
City and Spurs have, after all, formed the habit of breaking each other in pivotal matches. Spurs did it to City the season before last and won themselves a brief but thrilling adventure in the Champions League. City returned the wound last season, though without quite the same impact in Europe.
Tomorrow the City requirement is to slash through Tottenham belief as they did at White Lane a few months ago, soon after United had apparently exposed Redknapp's team as no more than occasionally frisky lightweights. That has been made to look bizarre by the force of the Spurs recovery. If Tottenham's high street had burned, so too had the illusions of the football club – but only briefly.
Now, with just one League defeat since then – and that a dire piece of larceny at Stoke – it is hard to dispute Redknapp's claim that his team represent a force for good.
Apart from putting up the value of their playing staff by upwards of £50m, with Bale on the shopping lists of Real Madrid and Barcelona, coming from under the shadow of Chelsea's assumption that next to City they have the price of anything that moves in English football and retaining the services of one of the game's most creative players in the £16m Modric, Spurs are challenging for the title with a squad that cost only slightly more than half of City's outlay – £153m to £294m.
While City have been stymied by the Uefa financial regulations which will acquire teeth in just two years' time, Spurs operate within comfortable margins.
It is a stunning story in that it represents what has always been the best hope that English football might one day be rescued from a financial death march for all but such recipients of random wealth as Chelsea and City. Spurs have not enjoyed such sudden largesse. Instead they have shaped their own future, with their own wits and their own financial management.
Meanwhile United, defying the downturn of their ability to buy the most expensive players, remain favourites to hold off the might of City. This is mostly a tribute to the extraordinary resilience of Sir Alex Ferguson, whose relatively recent generosity towards the achievements of Wenger is surely evidence that he believes at least one old dispute is consigned to history.
Spurs, though, are a separate story. It is one that tomorrow, surely, will commend itself to almost the entire football nation.
Pietersen and Bell must be shown there is no 'I' in team
It is a pretty theory that cricket, which is larded with nearly as many individual statistics as baseball, is a team game but at times it can look terribly threadbare.
This was never more so than in that empty stadium in Dubai this week when Kevin Pietersen, who had rarely before been more required to put the priorities of England above the promptings of his frequently madcap nature, played a shot that would have been infuriating had it come from a wilful schoolboy.
But then Pietersen is Pietersen, a poster boy for the Twitter culture that insists whatever you think and do, however crass, is uniquely important, and Ian Bell is supposed to have graduated, finally, as a hugely talented and fully paid up member of the world's No 1 Test team.
In this light, his instant call on one of his team's video appeals was as brainless as Pietersen's shot, and in some ways even more selfish.
Beaten, utterly, for the second time in three days by the doosra of Saeed Ajmal, Bell's imperative, he made it clear, was his own survival – and an appeal that might have been far better employed was tossed away.
There is an optimistic belief that England's abject failure to justify their ranking as the No 1 Test team can be attributed to their flimsy preparations after a long lay-off and will be redeemed soon enough under the hitherto impressive leadership of coach Andy Flower and captain Andrew Strauss.
Maybe, maybe not – Pakistan are, miraculously, looking like a mature, fully-focused team who have not suffered the most appalling blows to their self-esteem in the last few years. England over the last few days have displaying nothing like that sense of team and they are not likely to do so any time soon if the brilliantly gifted Pietersen and Bell continue to forget that it isn't all about them.
Beckham's captaincy dream is Games for a laugh
At the end of his third World Cup – in which he had played mostly as indifferently as he had in the previous two – David Beckham wept copiously and, without consulting his slavishly devoted manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, handed in the captain's armband.
Now, unsurprisingly, he publicly declares his desire to lead the British Olympic team, which for a 36-year-old semi-retired footballer of ever-burgeoning riches is not bad work if you can get it. This summer might even prove to be another stepping stone to that visit to Buckingham Palace for the knighthood, thought not so likely on a results basis.
It is a scandalous prospect of course. If there is any true significance in Olympic football, it is about a great opportunity to blood young players and shape outstanding international teams, which in the past has produced such multiple winners as Hungary, Uruguay and Argentina. Now it is reduced to still another publicity vehicle for Beckham Enterprises. Someone should have the nerve, and the conscience, to say enough is enough.
Big Spenders: Cost of tomorrow's teams
De Jong £18m
Total cost: £176.6m
Van der Vaart £8m
Total cost: £66m
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