Sam Wallace: The game is about glory – credit to Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas for remembering that
Talking Football. Also: Dumping Moyes would be a big risk for Everton; The Cunningham storywas not unalloyed joy
The game is about glory, as it proclaims on the livery of the stands at White Hart Lane. Or so they are told, at a club that has won three trophies in 22 years and last bagged a league championship in 1961.
In most quarters, the game is still as much about glory as when Danny Blanchflower, the captain of the 1961 Tottenham Hotspur team, first conceived of that elegant five-word sentence, part of a wider point about how the game should be played. But these days the game is about other stuff too, whether you like it or not.
The game is about money. The game is about growing your commercial income streams. The game is about keeping your wages-to-revenue ratio down. The game is about finishing in the Champions League places. The game is, in Spurs' case, about getting Haringey Council, Sainsbury's and the Mayor's office on board, along with the finance, to build a new stadium, in one of the most deprived parts of a city that is home to some of the richest people in the world.
Yes, the game is about glory but if you want glory these days, you have to plan for it, budget for it, obtain planning permission for it, build for it and even then you might still find yourselves 10 years behind Arsenal. Dragging Spurs into the 21st century has been no easy task but, while they are getting there, someone has been keeping his eye on at least one crucial aspect of that old five-word motto.
That is Andre Villas-Boas, who is still trying to win the Europa League when other managers might have concentrated their efforts on finishing in the top four. Bravo to that. His side's 3-2 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield yesterday was a setback but it was their first defeat in the league since the loss to Everton on 9 December. Competing on both fronts will not be easy, but it would be foolish to give up on the Europa League now.
Liverpool went out of it in the previous round last month, although it was not for want of trying. Brendan Rodgers picked a strong side that lost the first leg in Russia to Zenit St Petersburg and a good 3-1 win at home could not prevent them going out on away goals. But, for Liverpool, this competition is different.
Even putting aside their current mediocrity, Liverpool have won the Champions League and the Uefa Cup in the last 12 years. Spurs have won three European trophies in their 131-year history, none of them the European Cup, and they will reach the 30th anniversary of the last one, the 1984 Uefa Cup triumph, next year. What could be their excuse for not trying to win it?
The most obvious argument, the one that has seen the likes of Stoke City and Aston Villa, among others, field understrength teams in the competition in recent years, is the effect it might have on league form. Third place is within Spurs' grasp, as is a place in the Champions League next season for only the second time in their history.
If they finish the job against Internazionale in Milan on Thursday they will be through to the quarter-finals and from then on in the competition promises to play merry hell with their league fixtures.
The two legs of the Europa League quarter-finals are scheduled in the midweek periods before Spurs' league games against Everton and Chelsea, the latter of whom may yet still be in the competition. The semi-final first leg would fall on the week after Spurs play Manchester City at home. The final in Amsterdam is on 15 May, four days before the last league game of the season at home to Sunderland. If they won the damn thing they would hardly even be able to celebrate it.
But who cares? Sometimes you just have to ignore the cautiousness of modern sport and keep going. It has been suggested, in Villas-Boas's case, he wants to win the Europa League for personal reasons. It elevates him on the European stage, above the parochial league in which he works. It is the tournament that he won with Porto in 2011, the making of his reputation outside Portugal's domestic game, and it seems to mean a lot to him.
So what? At a club where the last European trophy was paraded while the miners were still on strike, it should not be a consideration why a manager wants to win one, just whether he can or not.
The Europa League is an absurdly bloated competition in its opening stages – it should be a straight knockout – and the intake of Champions League cast-offs after Christmas is an insult to the teams who have battled through from the early stages. In Spurs' case they have played nine games already. But now, in mid-March, it at last becomes interesting.
Spurs would not be the first to combine a daunting league run-in with winning a European trophy, but winning the Champions League is different. A better class of opponent? Yes. But it also guarantees participation in the tournament the following autumn, as Spurs know only too well from Chelsea's success last season, and is much more lucrative. The Uefa prize-money alone for winning the Champions League is €10.5m (£9.1m), to the €5m for the Europa League winners.
The established Champions League clubs are better placed to handle the burden of extra games and travel and the bigger income over the years means that they have better squads. You could argue that winning the Europa League while also qualifying for the Champions League domestically is, relatively speaking, just as challenging.
But most of all, Villas-Boas and Spurs' pursuit of the Europa League says something profound about what they are about as a club. They want that Champions League place, but not at the expense of something precious that comes along all too rarely, even at a "big club", in tradition at least, like Spurs.
Spurs and their chairman, Daniel Levy, have achieved remarkable progress in recent years but this season the gamble on winning the Europa League, and the accompanying glory, is worth taking. The most eye-catching old pictures in the press room at White Hart Lane, the pictures that Villas-Boas walks past every home match-day, depict men holding trophies. That is what the game is about.
Dumping Moyes would be a big risk for Everton
In the last Deloitte money league, Everton were behind Aston Villa and Newcastle in terms of turnover, neither of whom have won a trophy in the time David Moyes has been in charge at Goodison Park. Newcastle have, however, been relegated.
Keeping Everton competitive at the top is a considerable managerial achievement, although few football supporters, Everton or otherwise, want to be told that. They always believe their club can do better.
The reaction of some to the FA Cup quarter-final defeat has been to call for Moyes' replacement. It might well be that a fresh start for Moyes would be the best option. His track record and hit rate in the transfer market would make him attractive to many. Should Moyes leave Everton this summer he could be confident about the next stage of his career. For Everton, the future would be less certain.
The Cunningham story was not unalloyed joy
The documentary First Among Equals – The Laurie Cunningham Story on Wednesday was one of those rare treats, a great story well told. When you consider the bare facts, a pioneering black English footballer who was the first to play for both Real Madrid and Manchester United (as well as Leyton Orient, West Brom and Wimbledon among others), it does beg the question why no one had done it before.
His story, raw at times with racism and career-threatening tackles in training, must seem extraordinary to those who have only known the Premier League. There is a great nostalgia for some aspects of that era: the simplicity, the fact that the players were so approachable. But let's not get carried away – much of it was awful, especially if you were young, gifted and black.
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