Davids: 'This is the biggest game I've ever played in'

Before he decides on his future, the Pitbull is hungry for the present - and Spurs glory
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The Independent Football

Edgar Davids makes the kind of statement that - given his competitive rage and his singular reputation for involving himself in a variety of confrontations throughout his intense career - may raise a few eyebrows in Amsterdam, Lombardy and Turin. "We work as a team," he says of the effect he has had on Tottenham Hotspur's burgeoning young squad. "And there is no 'I' in 'we'."

But then this is a more at-ease version of the old battle-hardened "Pitbull" who spoiled for a fight and fought his corner. It's Friday afternoon, and Davids steps off the sun-bathed training ground and swings his arm around an academy player. Words of advice are offered. The boy's face lights up. He appears to walk six inches taller. It's a precious moment.

There have been many for Davids in the past season. He arrived at White Hart Lane, after an inevitable falling-out with Roberto Mancini at Inter-nazionale, last summer, in the twilight of his career. It was a move met with scepticism, but the instructions from Spurs' head coach and fellow Dutchman, Martin Jol, were clear. Add a "winning mentality and physical presence" to his team but, also, set the example and provide the guidance to the young players. It is a duty Davids has enthusiastically discharged.

And so when Spurs face West Ham United today, Davids will be able to say, in all honesty, that he adds Upton Park 2006 to Vienna 1995, Marseille 1998 and - most recently - Old Trafford 2003 as one of the biggest matches of his career. "It's as important as any other important match I've played in," says the 33-year-old veteran of four Champions' League finals and a World Cup semi-final.

"That's because it's what we have worked for all season. You look at what you are trying to accomplish and you can finally have a positive result. If you are hoping for a Champions' League final or winning a title it's the same. You are working for a result," Davids explains. "We had something in mind, we have worked to it and that will be a great feeling."

For Spurs that is a victory which will guarantee fourth place in the Premiership, above Ars-enal, and with it Champions' League football. That is, of course, unless their north London neighbours win the European Cup against Barcelona - one of Davids' former clubs - later this month.

But that's for the future. "That's a whole different matter," Davids says. "The first thing is we have to do what we have to do. And that's win. We've had a great run and established ourselves among the top teams in England. So what more can we do? We may be unlucky, but we have still established what we wanted and maybe next year we'll go that stage further."

It won't lessen the disappointment even if the Uefa Cup, he believes, will be a valuable consolation prize - in terms of experience if not money. "Everyone wants to play in the Champions' League because that's where it is all happening," says Davids, who played in the competition for nine of the 10 years before he joined Spurs. "That's where you get the A-status for players. It's very important for young players."

Davids - like Jol - takes great pride in Spurs' young players, especially the English ones. "We have a great team and players who are going to be really big in the future. I'm sure of that, without a doubt," he says.

Exposure to European competition will have a "huge impact" and only help their development. "That will be a great step for the guys. It's where you want to be, where you want to shine," Davids says. "And with a bit more money you can attract bigger players and it's important also to keep the big players we have. They have already re-signed Robbie Keane and Ledley King and that's good for the future."

His own future is also on his mind right now. Davids has one more year left on his contract at Spurs. His season has tailed off slightly, the pace of a 38-game Premiership programme has told. He is unsure what will happen. "But it's a tough decision," he says. "Maybe at the end of the day you want to go home. I don't know. I have to think. But I like it here. I'm happy here."

That's clear. Davids certainly cuts a less tense figure than at the season's start. He talks of the "fun" he has had and clearly takes great pride in his senior role. "We talked about it," he says of where the team want to be. "You don't want to play one year in the Champions' League and go out. You don't then establish yourself as a big club."

It would be some legacy to leave if he was to depart. There will also be no last hurrah for the Dutch national squad. Davids, like Clarence Seedorf, has failed to make the cut for this summer's World Cup. Coach Marco van Basten has gone for youth.

Davids glosses over the disappointment - although he is intrigued by the apocalyptic reaction in England to Wayne Rooney's broken foot. "Maybe somebody else will stand up," he shrugs. "Don't make it too dramatic. Rooney is a world-class player, but you have a couple of others here.

"And what the English squad has is very good scoring midfielders. You can create things and make a chance. You can cry, but it's like 'the king is dead, long live the king'."

Indeed Spurs could have as many as six players in England's squad if the 19-year-old Aaron Lennon - "if you are a good player you are a good player. When Rooney went to the European Championships no one said he was too young" - is included. Spurs qualifying for the Champions' League will help the country too, Davids believes. "It's obviously important for the English national team if you have a lot of players playing big matches," he says. "You are more mature and know how to cope."

But there is, also, room for others. "On the other hand, if you have good foreigners they add a bit of flavour to the competition," he says. "Good foreigners" like him? "I thank you for saying so," he adds, with a smile.

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