Spotlight shifts from Beckham to Bale as Tottenham face acid test
Ferguson talks up Welsh winger while Redknapp admits his side must win to stay in the title race
There were paparazzi photographers dotted along the lanes that surround Tottenham's training ground yesterday and two extra security men on the gate and yet when it comes to the most important game of Spurs' season thus far tomorrow, David Beckham, the source of all this giddiness, will be watching like the rest of us.
That is unless Harry Redknapp is yet to reveal the coup that will allow Beckham to face his former club Manchester United at White Hart Lane and when the Spurs manager protests as much as he did yesterday that it cannot possibly happen, the natural temptation is to think that it might.
But as of last night the Premier League were yet to receive an application from Spurs to register Beckham and by tomorrow morning the circus that follows the former England captain wherever he goes will have abated and Redknapp will be facing a simple, pressing question. How does his team beat the undefeated League leaders Manchester United?
Not since 2001, when Willem Korsten scored two in a 3-1 win, have Spurs beaten United in the Premier League, although not since 1985 have Spurs been able to consider themselves realistic title contenders. Redknapp said that if they were to have a chance of being champions then Spurs had to win tomorrow. "If they beat us they've run away really," he said. "You're not going to claw back that title lead on them."
In difficult games this season, like the Champions League tie against Internazionale and the League games against Arsenal and Chelsea, Redknapp has committed players to attack. When he said yesterday that "we have players that Alex will be looking at and thinking: 'Yes, it is a good Tottenham team'," what he meant was that Spurs have players Sir Alex Ferguson would like to sign.
"You have to believe that you can win the game, for sure," said Redknapp. "There is no reason why we should not believe that. When we play well we are as exciting as anybody. They will be worried about us as well, they will be worried about how they can contain Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon and how they deal with Rafael Van der Vaart.
"I don't think that we fear anybody. We feel that we have good players here and we have got good players here. There is no doubt about that. We have players that Alex would love at Old Trafford. You look at us now suddenly and you see lots of good players that can play in any team. We have no reason to fear anyone."
It is Bale who is the most obvious of those "Alex would love at Old Trafford" especially as Ferguson has got such great value from the other left-winger he gave a debut to almost 20 years ago. Ferguson is not given to talking up the opposition but in Bale's case he made an exception yesterday. "He has tremendous speed and is a great crosser of the ball," Ferguson said. "He has made an exciting contribution this season. They also have [Luka] Modric, Van der Vaart and Lennon so they have some exciting players."
Modric and, of course Bale, are the two whom Ferguson is known to have his eye on having picked up Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov in the last five years. When Bale left Southampton in 2007, United tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to join them. When Bale next moves, and he will surely give Spurs at least one season, his level is such that it is more likely to be Barcelona than Old Trafford.
"We tried to sign him [Bale] as a 16 or 17-year-old boy – [it] never got to that stage," Ferguson said. "They [Southampton] had a Scottish chief executive [Jim Hone] and George Burley the manager and didn't accept our offer. I think they must have alerted Tottenham. I don't know the full circumstances. Listen, you try to get the best deal you can. We made a good offer but they turned it down."
Rafael Da Silva against Bale will be tomorrow's most intriguing battle, especially as the young Brazilian has looked susceptible to pace in the past. Ferguson said yesterday that he had learned from the high-profile mistake he made in the Champions League against Bayern Munich. "His form this season has been absolutely brilliant," Ferguson said. "He has learned. His concentration levels have improved. He's only 20, just a young boy."
Wayne Rooney and Berbatov are both fit for United and Redknapp too has a full complement of strikers from which to choose. It will be Van der Vaart plus one striker with two wingers and Modric in the centre – the usual gung-ho formation that Ferguson described as "4-2-4" yesterday.
It looks as if Redknapp has missed out on signing either Steven Pienaar or Phil Neville from Everton and he was lukewarm about whether he would opt for Luis Suarez of Ajax yesterday. As for Beckham, he currently only has until 10 February at Spurs which is barely enough time to get fit. He knows better than anyone that if Spurs are serious they have to beat United tomorrow.
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