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The most important team in this season’s English Premier League won’t win the title, and may not even gain the top-four finish needed to qualify for the next version of the Champions League.
But even in these money-mad times where results are king, there is something “bigger picture” about Tottenham’s continued emergence, forged on the back of a simple approach that is a throwback to days when soccer was a lot more fun.
Before we get too sentimental, let us remember that this is sports. The all-important "W," not style points, is what everyone strives for each week.
However, the manner in which Tottenham has kept itself in contention with more than a third of the campaign gone is the best thing that could have happened to the league.
So much of modern soccer has become about science. Companies providing in-depth statistical data, analyzing every facet of the game, have sprung up, and leading clubs have been swift to pour millions into their coffers.
New formations – most notably one which promotes the use of two holding midfielders – have become fashionable but led, in many cases, to dull, slow play.
Harry Redknapp, Tottenham’s head coach, isn’t the kind of man to buy too heavily into the new-fangled stuff. Redknapp doesn’t care what the stats gurus tell him about a player, preferring instead to trust his instinct – one honed by decades in the game.
He sticks by a few basic philosophies. He knows what sort of soccer he wants his team to play – open and entertaining. He knows what kind of players he needs to fulfill that wish – creative, motivated and intelligent.
The results have not been perfect, but they’ve certainly been exciting.
Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool, courtesy of Aaron Lennon’s last-minute winner, was a prime example of Redknapp’s all-action approach and constant desire to chase victories. Out of the team’s 25 points gathered this season, 16 of them have now come from games in which they trailed at some point.
When the Spurs have lost it often has been because of poor defending and sometimes due to too much offensive ambition. Whatever, it adds up to a heady cocktail for a group of fans who have suffered in the shadow of local rival Arsenal for longer than they care to remember.
Tottenham sits in fifth place, six points back from Manchester United and still behind Arsenal. But at White Hart Lane it doesn’t seem to matter too much. Because this is a side that is fun to watch, and somehow seems to conjure up thrills and spills every time it takes the field.
Redknapp believes his team can actually win the title – a remarkable statement given that United, Chelsea and Arsenal have held a 15-year monopoly on the championship. But this season is more open than ever and if an imposter is ever going to break through it could be Manchester City or Tottenham this time around.
There is plenty to suggest that Tottenham can still get better, too. Rafael Van der Vaart, a player who has never lacked ability but who saw his career stall, has been a revelation since his arrival from Real Madrid. Redknapp recognized Van der Vaart’s talent and refused to stifle him. With a license to maraud forwards, Van der Vaart’s performances have been spectacular.
Midfielders Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone have also blossomed, while young left-sided midfielder Gareth Bale has been such a revelation that some of the biggest clubs in Europe are looking to sign him next summer. All of them have a naturally attacking mindset, which Redknapp has encouraged and promoted.
The Tottenham project has a vital underlying subplot to it. If teams from outside the traditional elite see success from this refreshingly open-minded formula, then more of them will be inspired to copy it.
The EPL is a trendy league and successful fads are swiftly copied. A new era where entertainment trumps all? Now that would be worth watching.