After consecutive campaigns which had taken Tottenham Hotspur to unprecedented new heights, including two trips to the San Siro and a UEFA Champions League quarter-final tie against Real Madrid, a melancholy mood had settled over White Hart Lane last summer.
Having failed in their attempt to reach Europe’s top club competition for a second season running, the north London outfit watched their rivals grow stronger and were forced to spend the close season persuading their star midfielder, Luka Modric, to stay, rather than searching for added talent to an impressive squad.
When Spurs began their Premier League assault with back-to-back thrashings at the hands of Manchester’s finest, 3-0 at Old Trafford before a 5-1 humiliation at home to City, talk of challenging for Champions League football again seemed forlorn.
I've been saying all along that it's not impossible to win the title. It's very hard, but we have got a chance.
But, with their Croatian schemer still among the ranks, now accompanied in central midfield by 2010/11 Writers’ Player of the Year Scott Parker, and on-loan Emmanuel Adebayor recapturing his early-career form, Harry Redknapp’s charges embarked on an 11-match unbeaten run, ten of which were victories, that catapulted them into title contention.
With the season beyond the halfway stage, Spurs sit in third place, eight and six points behind the duo from Manchester who lead the way. While Redknapp has discussed the possibility of winning the championship on several occasions since he took the helm in 2008, he is confident that the players themselves can now see it.
“The players believe we have got a chance. It's not beyond the realms of possibility. We have some real quality in the squad,” the 64-year-old declared. “I've been saying all along that it's not impossible to win the title. It's very hard, but we have got a chance.”
Strong squad of stars
A glance at Spurs’ squad list gives an easy explanation for Redknapp, who became manager with the club sitting bottom of the Premier League three-and-a-half years ago, being so bullish about his team’s chances of silverware.
Goalkeepers do not come much more experienced than Brad Friedel, full-back Kyle Walker has established himself at international level, Gareth Bale has become one of the division’s best players under Redknapp’s tutelage, while the Modric-Parker tandem offers an effective balance in midfield behind Adebayor, who is revitalised after a third chance in English football.
But, arguably, it is the new strength in depth at White Hart Lane which has transformed Tottenham from European hopefuls into genuine title contenders. With the likes of Jermain Defoe, Tom Huddlestone and Sandro waiting in the wings for an opportunity, Redknapp’s options are manifold.
“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,” Brazilian midfielder Sandro recently explained to FIFA.com.
Five key fixtures ahead
That turnaround is undoubtedly in large part down to Redknapp who, long frustrated at his lack of opportunities at one of the country’s biggest clubs after 25 years in management, has pushed Tottenham further and further since succeeding Spanish coach Juande Ramos.
Willing to give youth a chance, as proven by the emergence of Walker, Danny Rose and Jake Livermore, the Englishman has also retained his canny skills in the transfer market, honed so successfully during spells with West Ham United and Portsmouth, by completing bargain deals for stars such as William Gallas and Rafael van der Vaart.
Already out of Europe for the current campaign, Spurs have few distractions as the season reaches its climax. However, they now face a run of fixtures which will provide a strong test of their true credentials.
Following a journey to Anfield to play Liverpool, who were hammered 4-0 last September, tomorrow, Redknapp’s side host in-form Newcastle United, travel to north London enemies Arsenal, then welcome title rivals Manchester United before returning to Merseyside to take on Everton. While a Champions League spot seems secure, this gruelling run of games could make or break their title aspirations.