Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham Hotspur manager, believes that the example set by Barcelona is raising the standard of football in the Premier League. Today Spurs face Swansea City, one of the clubs at the forefront of that change for the better.
Under Brendan Rodgers, promoted Swansea have offered an alternative to the big-men-and-set-plays model for first-season survival offered by Bolton and Stoke, and Redknapp welcomes their success with a passing style based more on the holders of the Champions' League trophy than the Wimbledon of yesteryear.
"More teams are looking at the way Swansea have played this season, and Barcelona, the top team in the world, and suddenly saying: 'This is the way we want to play'," Redknapp said. "I think more clubs are passing the ball. We played Bolton the other night and I thought they were looking to play.
"And clubs have suddenly realised that players don't have to be six foot two. The Messis, Iniestas and Xavis are all little guys with great technical ability. You haven't got to sign hammer-throwers. Wimbledon got the best out of what they had. What they did was a miracle, to win the FA Cup and do what they did in the Premier League was amazing. But Brendan Rodgers has done it a different way at Swansea."
One of Rodgers' key players is a 5ft 5in midfielder that Redknapp knows well. "I had Leon Britton at West Ham, a smashing little player in the youth team but they let him go after I left. A fantastic footballer – but he's lucky he found the right manager. There are lots of Leon Brittons who could do a job if you put them in the right system, the right team, but because of their size, their shape, the way they want to play football, they have not had the chance."
Redknapp hopes that the emphasis on size and athleticism may be shifting. "A lot of people weren't sure Luka Modric was suited to English football, as though he was coming into something where he wouldn't be strong enough and people would kick lumps out of him, but he's been fantastic. Juan Mata at Chelsea is only tiny, [Jack] Wilshere [of Arsenal], [David] Silva at Man City."
Rodgers, of course, has had to establish his side at the top level with players of somewhat less renown, but the former Chelsea coach and manager of Watford and Reading has improved the material he has worked with. "He's got players there that you probably wouldn't have thought could play that way," Redknapp agreed. "He has resurrected their careers. Scott Sinclair gets released by Chelsea, they don't think he's good enough, Wayne Routledge has been everywhere, [Nathan] Dyer, who I had at Southampton – he has got the best out of them. He has given them the confidence to go out and play."
And taken the supporters with him. "With ten minutes to go they're not shouting, 'Lump it,' or 'Get it forward.' Barcelona don't whack it up in the air for Messi to head the ball. You keep doing what you believe in. We go out to play, Swansea are the same. I'm pleased for Brendan after he got the sack at Reading. He has come back strong."
Tottenham Hotspur v Swansea City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pmReuse content