Sandro: I’ve improved a lot tactically
Still recovering from an untimely ankle injury, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Sandro is surprisingly upbeat about his immediate future, the product perhaps of his desire to get back in action and recapture the form he displayed at the end of last year. The Brazil international's short-term goal is to be fit in time to aid Spurs’ Premier League title bid, which he believes is still very much alive despite Sunday’s agonising 3-2 defeat away to leaders Manchester City.
“We’ve still got our minds on the title, for sure,” the 22-year-old told FIFA.com. “That’s been our objective since we started working our way up to the top of the table. We’ve got a great squad, and we’ve got to think bigger than just a Champions League place.
"We’re no longer a team who fights for fifth place or, with fortune, Champions League qualification. After what we’ve done in recent years – beating Milan, Inter, great teams – we’ve moved up a level and everybody is aware of this."
Sandro attributes the turnaround in Tottenham’s fortunes to Redknapp, who assumed their reins in 2008, and the quality at the 64-year-old’s disposal. “His touch has helped,” said the club’s No30. “Things have changed since he came here.
"But the players have also been very important. If you look at the squad, we’re on the same level as Chelsea, Manchester [United], and not just the first-teamers. The squad is very strong. The turnaround owes to a mixture of the two: Harry and the squad.”
With the north London club now trailing City by eight points, Sandro’s optimism might seem misplaced. Take a look at the statistics, however, and you can see why he is itching to get back and keep Tottenham's championship push alive. Prior to his injury setback at the start of January, Harry Redknapp’s side had won nine out of their previous 12 games, and over the course of the season as a whole they have won seven and drawn three of the ten matches he has started.
“I’ve been thinking about that run lately and the other wins we’ve had when I’ve come off the bench,” he said. “I’m pleased with the stats and with how it’s all working out. The fans have taken to me, and that’s great because I haven’t been here that long. Things have gone well whenever I’ve played this season, and that’s why I feel we’re still in the mix for the title.”
Sandro's current injury problems are not the only obstacle he has faced this season. The knock he picked up during last July’s Copa America kept him on the fringes of the first team until November, forcing him to work doubly hard to regain Redknapp’s confidence. On the upside, that spell on the sidelines allowed him to gain a better understanding of English football, having struggled to come to terms with it on his arrival from Internacional in 2010.
“Obviously it helps to be more fluent in English,” he explained. “I take part in conversations more now and there’s less stuff that goes over my head. But it was also important for me to get used to the style of play here. They play a physical game, which I enjoy, and everyone’s seen how committed and determined I am.”
Another attribute that has earned Sandro acclaim in England is his ability to raise his game on the big occasion: “That’s helped me settle down even more, as did getting a decent run of games. I got an opportunity against Milan (in last season’s UEFA Champions League) and after showing that I deserved to get a few more chances, I earned a bit of breathing space for myself. Then I had a good game against Chelsea and even managed a goal (in April 2011). After those performances I think Harry felt I was good enough for a starting place.”
Olympic ticket and gold the targets
Sandro’s experiences in the Premier League could well help him fulfil another goal: a place in the Brazil squad for this year's Men's Olympic Football Tournament in London. Featuring prominently in national coach Mano Menezes’ plans to begin with, he produced a fine goalscoring performance in a friendly against Gabon last November only to drop out of the side thereafter. The task now is the same as the one he faces at White Hart Lane: to win his place back in double-quick time.
“I’ve been thinking about the Olympics for the last three years, and the time has finally come,” Sandro said, expressing his determination not just to make the squad but to win gold too. “I want a starting place in A Seleção and to work my way into Mano’s plans for 2014. I’ve not really had a good run in the side yet but I know I’ve picked up an awful lot of good things in England, like how to stay tight on opposing players and push into attack. In tactical terms I’ve come on a lot here.”
Though time is at a premium, Sandro feels sure he can achieve all his aims in the months ahead, and enjoy success at what is a decisive phase in his club and international career. “I hope to finish this season in the same way I finished 2011, and then go on to the Olympics,” he said, mapping out the year ahead. “This is the only chance I’ll have. I want to be a champion and make history."