It’s a bamboozling question that has split Tottenham fans right down the middle, in certain aspects. On one hand, some fans would rather see the club lift another trophy, having failed to replicate the 2008 Carling Cup success, although the loss to Manchester United the very next year took Spurs almightily close to back-to-back cup wins.
On the other, supporters would rather see Champions League football back at White Hart Lane having got a taste for the sweet, sweet nectar that playing with Europe’s elite brings. Each option can be considered an un-qualified success for the club but, when push comes to shove, which would you prefer?
A trophy means going down in history as the competitions best, the crème de-la crème of the countries crop while the gloating and sense of relief that comes with picking up a victory on final day is un-rivalled. However, competing with Premier League and Football League opponents can be a gruelling and tiresome distraction from what is undoubtedly the Premiership; the priority in any number of fans eyes.
This season, for example, in cup games Redknapp has used a total of 27 different players in comparison to the current league encounters, the Spurs manager has utilised only 21 of his required 25-man squad, barring of course the ‘ghost’ players, as we shall call them (players under-21 and born after January 1st 1990 – Kyle Walker, for example) who don’t have to be registered in the final squad.
With four games being played in both, it is a testament to the depth of the squad available to the Spurs manager yet, it was only the 5-0 drubbing of Hearts back in August that Redknapp opted to use a majority of so called ‘first teamers’.
The Carling Cup and Europa League has, or had for the former, been prioritised for a mix of three different types of players; academy products, fringe players and those returning from injury. For example, had Sandro not been injured in the summer would he have played on Tuesday night? Same applies to Rafael Van see Vaart. Undoubted senior squad starters, well members at least but with match fitness key as the season drags on, it was vital both got a run out before being catapulted back into first-team duties.
It was a similar scenario last season when Spurs crashed out at the same round, last time against Arsenal. Redknapp again fielded a weakened side against the clubs bitter rivals because his priorities lay elsewhere. Last year it was the Champions League, this year is the Premiership.
But why sacrifice the opportunity to pick up some silverware? Surely, that is what football is all about, winning trophies. For every footballer, trophies (and money) is the driving force behind any major deal that is brokered across the world. Ambitions to lift the most famous of cups is what sees a club go down in history. However, football nowadays is run more like a business than it used to be.
A top four finish will see a major cash windfall for any club that achieves a position in the Champions League. For example, James Maw pointed out that this years winners of the Europa League will pick up around €3m, in comparison to the €7.2m that each team is awarded for reaching the group stages of the Champions League. The figure is dwarfed more so by rewarding last years finalists, Manchester United and Barcelona, over €50m each for the achievement of reaching Wembley.
From a business perspective, clubs can see which is the better of the two competitions to reach for. However, when it comes to history and glory, nobody remembers which team finishes fourth, how far they got in the competition, be it the group stages all the way to the semi-finals. Fans in the future will remember two teams; the winners and the losing finalists.
And this is where the real conundrum reveals itself to Spurs fans; do the club risk exiting a competition early in order to reach the Champions League? Or, do they go all out in every competition, risk fatigue and injuries and miss out on a finish in the top four? It is a major conundrum I can tell you that for free.
Spurs need top four football, not just from a financial perspective, but to keep hold of certain players as well. Luka Modric got a taste of Champions League football and wanted more after his maiden campaign, how many players would do the same if a top four finish isn’t achieved this year? A new stadium is needed to boost revenue but the chances can only be enhanced if the club consistently partakes in Europe’s elite competition year in, year out.
The lure of Champions League football also boosts the chances of landing star players, Spurs failed to fully capitalise on the opportunity to bring in a number of high profile signings and the results last year proved it. Had the club signed the world class striker they were crying out for, who knows where they would have finished last year. It’s a well known fact that had Spurs picked up maximum points against the resulting bottom six teams, they would have won the league, not had to settle for fifth spot.
Without financial risks being taken, it can often end up with teams being made to look back and wonder ‘what if….’ and Spurs were one of the those teams. Nonetheless, it has been made apparent, no matter what Redknapp says, that the league is the priority this season. A fourth place finish will guarantee a number of players remaining at the club next season and, should the Redknapp to England rumours prove true, a hefty war chest for the new man in charge to really make an assault for the title.
Spurs’ next cup game is in 6 days time against Shamrock Rovers in the Europa League. The following Sunday is the North London derby. What are the odds of Redknapp playing an under-strength team against the Irish side, saving his best XI for the match against Arsenal?