The Libero - Spurs are back in the big time
Published: 06 May 2010 - 07:20:51
It was billed as a winner-takes-all match and so it proved, with Tottenham emerging victorious from their hugely important 'Champions League play-off' with Manchester City and ensuring it is they who will reap the benefits.
It is easy to scoff at such importance put on one single game, to view it as a mere side effect of an over-zealous Sky marketing machine. A season is, after all, a marathon and not a sprint. But in this case the massive hype surrounding the one-off game was entirely justified.
Indeed, it would not be over the top to say that Wednesday's result at Eastlands was one of the most significant in English football in recent times. No, really. Just read on.
Certainly, one assumes that is how the average Spurs fan is feeling this morning after having watched Peter Crouch ensure the club will be dining at Europe's top table next season with the only goal of the game. It will be the North London outfit's first outing in European football's premier club competition since the 1961-62 season - when they went on to reach the semi-finals - and the first time the Big Four cartel in this country has been broken in five years.
Spurs may even go on to pip their local rivals Arsenal to third place should results go their way on Sunday, and who would begrudge them that final flourish at the expense of their most bitter enemies?
But perhaps more significant than Spurs' success in the wider scheme of things is City's failure.
The match at Eastlands provided City with the most golden of opportunities to kick-start something big, something special which could have shaken up English football like nothing else since their local rivals United came to prominence with the first of their Premier League titles back in the 1992-93 season.
Victory over Spurs would, of course, have put them in pole position to win a place in the second round of next season's Champions League. And that, coupled with their immense financial clout, would surely have been enough to attract top players to the club over the summer - the kind they need to push on to the next level but which have so far proved elusive.
Whereas Spurs are unlikely to push on from a fourth or even third-placed finish, City possess the resources to go further and really trouble the top two. All they need is Champions League football to convince the likes of Kaka and Gigi Buffon that coming to the blue half of Manchester is a good idea. Without it, it will always difficult to attract players of that calibre.
The harsh reality for City is they will now be playing in the Europa League next season - that will not quite cut the mustard with any potential targets they may have been lining up. Fernando Torres, for one, will not want to swap Liverpool for City if the latter cannot offer what other top European clubs can.
Instead, City will have to endure another summer of frustrated attempts to lure the best players in the world to Eastlands, and at least another season of trying to crack the top four.
Of course, City's rise to a position of power in English football may only be a matter of time, given their financial backing, and this latest setback may only serve to delay their grand plan by 12 months.
But City's mega-rich owners are keen to see a return on their massive investment, sooner rather than later, and who knows how long they will stick around if the team continues to disappoint them?
Certainly Roberto Mancini will be feeling the heat this summer, having been brought in to deliver Champions League football and ultimately having failed to deliver. As long as City stay outside the top four, his job - or that of whoever follows him into the managerial hotseat - will remain under scrutiny.
Redknapp, meanwhile, will be able to enjoy the summer break and maybe even allow himself to dream of a meeting with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Internazionale. Yes, Spurs are back in the big time, and after the season they have had, they fully deserve to be there.
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- FOOTBALL.CO.UK BLOGGER:the libero
- Libero (noun): 1. Versatile, ball-playing defender given licence to roam. Expected to break up opposition attacks while instigating counters. Role patented by German legend Franz Beckenbauer. 2. Versatile weekly football columnist, aka journalist Mike Hytner, given licence to write what he likes. Expected to file every Wednesday. Not nearly as talented as his boyhood hero Der Kaiser.
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