Best of the rest?

August 8, 2008
By Phil Holland
(Archive)

Has there been a more exciting time to be Tottenham Hotspur fan than going into the 2008/09 season?

EmpicsJuande Ramos: Has strengthened Spurs with some exciting talent.

With the arrival last season of Juande Ramos, the League Cup win over Chelsea at Wembley and the signing of so many exciting players ahead of the new season, Spurs fans can look forward with genuine belief that the club can finally break into the 'big four'.

Or can they? There are undeniable positives for Spurs but there is also a very real risk that the weight of expectation placed on the new manager and his squad will be a burden which they are unable to carry.

With so many players coming into the side and so many being tipped for big things it will only take one to fail to acclimatise to life in the Premier League for the chinks to appear and for the increasingly cynical Spurs supporters to chime in with discouraging words.

Much is expected of players like Luka Modric, Giovani do Santos, Heureolho Gomes and David Bentley and not just because of their combined £47.9 million cost. If all hit the ground running and begin in fine form Spurs really could be in with a shout of the top four.

But there are problems, for example behind the veneer of exciting signings there have been departures, chief amongst them Robbie Keane, who with 15 league goals last season became the first Spurs player to score double figures in the Premier League in six consecutive seasons.

There also remains a significant question mark next to the name of Dimitar Berbatov. The mercurial Bulgarian is as close to genius as Spurs have had in their ranks since Paul Gascoigne and if he were a fully-committed member of the squad all would be well.

Sadly, rumours persist over the future of the player who has bagged and impressive 27 Premier League goals in two seasons. In the closed season a deal for Berbatov to join Manchester United looked set to go through only for negotiations to stall over the selling club's £28million asking price.

So with a reluctant Berbatov set to stay, at least until January, prepare for an increasingly exasperated expression on Ramos' face as he fields repeated questions about Berbatov and his languid, lackadaisical, albeit effective, playing style.

Spurs must hope that either Berbatov's future is resolved beyond all doubt or that his continued presence does not have a negative impact.

This coming season will afford the fans and pundits the chance to discover if the political machinations in the corridors at White Hart Lane which so undermined Martin Jol were truly worth it.

Conventional wisdom has it that Damien Comolli, Spurs technical director, was largely responsible for destabilising Jol and successfully convincing club chairman Daniel Levy round to his way of thinking.

What followed were months of uncertainty, and no small measure of humiliation for Jol, who was ultimately dismissed at half time during a UEFA Cup match. After a press release was made public during the break a wave of SMS text messages and whispers around the ground relayed the news.

Incredibly Jol himself only discovered his fate after his nephew sent him a text message. Not the type of behaviour befitting a club of Spurs heritage.

In fairness the Ramos regime began well, very well. Impressive results in the league and, of course, the famous League Cup win, but the 2008/09 season will provide the opportunity to really see what Ramos is made of and if he is worth the £4.5million a season he is reported to be earning.

EmpicsLuka Modric: Set to shine as Spurs' playmaker?

The only player who left the club this summer that Ramos wanted to keep was Keane, the rest were an amalgam of misfits and Jol signings Ramos did not rate (goodbye and good riddance Paul Robinson, Pascal Chimbonda, Teemu Tainio and Steed Malbranque); Ramos did a sterling job on arrival in October 2007, but this Spurs side is his and its success or failure will rest on his shoulders.

Fitness has improved under Ramos, but at the cost of a few creature comforts. Just ask Tom Huddlestone, who has lost weight and looks fitter and sharper under the new austere conditions at Spurs' training ground: including the banning of fruit juice, ketchup and sneaky rounds of toast between meals.

On the subject of fitness, keeping the club's two first choice central defenders fit will go a long way to defining the club's season. If both Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate are available for selection and at their best Spurs will boast two of the finest English defenders the game has produced, their role will be crucial in allowing new keeper Gomes to begin life at White Hart Lane in confident mood.

The only disappointment in the transfer market was the club's inability to sign the Russian Andrei Arshavin who set Euro 2008 alight with some eye-catching displays.

His arrival would have augmented an already impressive attacking line, instead Darren Bent and Berbatov will be the twin threat and will hope to benefit from the invention of Dos Santos, Bently and Modric, who looks like the sort of player that will be able to shine in the Premier League.

Although slight in stature Modric has the engine, touch, vision and flair to set the pulses racing and if he can find form early there is every chance Spurs can set the foundations for concerted attack on reaching the Champions League places.

  • Any comments? Email Phil Holland