Over the course of three months' work and more than two dozen games in what he calls a "crazy schedule", there have been peaks and troughs, black marks and red ones, often in successive matches; but, as is usuallythe case, Harry Redknapp is in creditas manager of Tottenham. If his results in all games since replacing Juande Ramos at the end of October were translated into League points, Spurs would be sitting in the top six, which is where many observers felt they should be this season.
Instead, they receive Arsenal – "welcome" is not quite the right word for this particular fixture – at White Hart Lane this lunchtime as one of the 14 clubs looking over their shoulder, and the final ambition of Redknapp's career, to take them into the Champions' League, is being adjourned for a few months due to rather more urgent business.
He clearly possesses the invaluable knack of being able to take over a team and improve it, which is why Bournemouth, West Ham, Portsmouth (twice), Southampton, Newcastle (whom he turned down) and Tottenham have been so keen to employ him over the past 26 years. That career, which reached a high point with the FA Cup success at Wembley last May, was celebrated with a Nationwide Lifetime Achievement award in midweek, when he revealed that improving on his previous best League finish – fifth place with West Ham in 1999 – would be the perfect end before riding off into the Sandbanks sunset.
"I want to be successful with Tottenham now," he said. "It was a big job to take, a great opportunity for me and I want to take the club forward and turn them into a team that can be challenging to be in the top four. A top-four team and then qualify for the Champions' League one year – and then sign off, spend some time walking the dogs."
There has been plenty to ponder during hurried beach walks in the manic period of the transfer window these past few weeks. Spurs have brought in five new players at a cost of £45m, three of them returning after being sold in the previous year. Robbie Keane will be captain, and the question of whether he can function alongside the equally diminutive Jermain Defoe can be deferred, as Defoe is out injured for 10 weeks or more; Pascal Chimbonda offers options in a fragile defence; Wilson Palacios could invigorate the midfield; and Carlo Cudicini has a better chance of playing in goal than he did at Chelsea.
"Please God I'm in a position next January where we don't need to bring anybody in at the transfer window," Redknapp said. "Because of our situation we needed to strengthen the squad and that's what we did, but it's a difficult time. The chairman has been terrific, and I don't say that about chairmen just to get brownie points. I honestly didn't think we'd get RobbieKeane, I just didn't think Liverpool would sell him. I feel we've got a squad that can push on now."
In all Redknapp's long experience, there cannot have been so many clubs fearful of relegation at this stage of a season. "There are so many teams that are pretty much on a par. The teams that came up have had a go and done well, they've stuck in the pack unlike Derby last year, and there's not much between 14 teams, in all honesty."
What has kept Spurs stuck among them is a series of feeble away performances – now extending to six successive defeats on the road – which even such an old campaigner finds difficult to explain: "Tottenham's away form the last few years has been poor. It has to be largely mental. It's a different game away for whatever reason.We go to Bolton on the back of playing fantastic against Stoke [at home] but don't look the same team. It's hard to put your finger on it."
The few occasions when Spurs have shown some real spirit have been when they have not had to travel very far, in their big derbies at Chelsea, West Ham and Arsenal. A win and two draws have been the results, among them the epic 4-4 at the Emirates, where David Bentley scored one of the goals of the season against his former club. It has been difficult to fit him in with Aaron Lennon and Luka Modric, but there will be no need today as Bentley is suspended and will miss the opportunity to take further revenge on Arsène Wenger.
Admiring Wenger and his team more than the majority at White Hart Lane, Redknapp believes they will still make up the gap on Aston Villa to claim the fourth place he wants as his ownbefore the dogs can be walked in real peace: "Martin O'Neill's done a great job, but in my honest opinion I'd still see Arsenal finishing above Aston Villa, as good as Villa have done, and they've been fantastic."
A first League defeat at the Lane since 1999 for Wenger this afternoon and, Andrey Arshavin or not, it will look a tricky task.Reuse content