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Would you rather a top four finish or fifth place and the FA Cup?

Which would you settle for? A chance to secure a spot in next season’s Champions League or settle for a place in the Europa League, but an FA Cup in the trophy cabinet? It is a question that has dogged Tottenham fans for months and while many have their opinions, To the Lane and Back gives you their highly esteemed opinion.  

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 As I start this, arguably one of, if not the, biggest game in Tottenham’s season is a little over an hour away. A testing encounter against the Premier League favourites Manchester City at the Etihad stadium is exactly the challenge that will signify whether or not Spurs are genuine contenders for the title and having lost their last season, courtesy of a solitary Peter Crouch own goal, it was a result that confined Harry Redknapp’s side to a finish outside the top four.

The beginning of the season is one to forget. Two back-to-back defeats to the current top two sides, ironically both of the Manchester giants, and after conceding eight goals in the process, Spurs strengthened before the close of the summer transfer window. Now, having lost just once in the league following that humiliating Sunday afternoon, just five points separate the Lilywhites and the Citizens.

Tough game? Yes. Winnable? Isn’t every match? Emmanuel Adebayor isn’t available for obvious reasons but it doesn’t mean Spurs should roll over and accept defeat. However, remember this is pre-kick-off; the odds are firmly stacked against the North London giants. A loss wouldn’t be welcomed by all but, at the same time, wouldn’t be at all surprising. So, what if Spurs come away today with nothing? Personally, the aim is still a top four finish, always has been since day one no matter how much people liken us as perennial title contenders.

When Spurs beat Everton earlier this month, being nine points clear of Arsenal in fifth meant more to me than being three points closer to first. Always the pessimist, if someone offered me fourth place at the end of the season right now, I would literally rip your hand off and stick it straight on the George Foreman. But, that is just it. Many fans would agree a top four finish is a triumph for the season and with the financial implications available to the club, coupled with the lure of Champions League football for potential targets, you would be hard pressed to find a fan who doesn’t agree that with the target.

However, like every quest on the league front, cup competitions are the ones that suffer. Having fallen to exits in the Carling Cup and Europa League, the FA Cup remains the final tournament where Spurs can pick up another trophy, one that would be their first since the 2008 Carling Cup win. Nonetheless, Redknapp has previously admitted he is willing to sacrifice any cup competitions in favour of the league, his aim, and chairman Daniel Levy’s, is clearly that finish amongst the Premiership’s elite.

However, having witnessed the game today, I firmly believe we have enough about us to make a decent run for the cup and continue our charge for a top four finish. Yes, the result wasn’t the best and a point would’ve been taken by most of the Spurs faithful ahead of kick-off, but what was inspiring was the matter of the come-back after going 2-0 down. Spurs matched City for substantial periods of the enthralling encounter but, the result means the North Londoners are all but out of the title race.

Nevertheless, they are very much poised to continue their assault on the top four and with 16 games still to go, a comeback isn’t impossible. But, with Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United still to play, the former three all away, neither is a fall out of the Champions League spot. And with Watford Spurs’ next opponents in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday, the chance to reclaim some glory in the competition isn’t out of their reach, especially with Manchester City falling at the first hurdle and one of either Liverpool or Manchester United set to crash out next weekend.

Not saying that a fall out of the top four is a dead cert, far from it in fact with Spurs still 10 points ahead of fifth placed Arsenal following today’s results, but would fans rather a finish amongst the Premiership’s elite and the chance to showcase their capabilities to rub shoulders with Europe’s greatest teams or a consecutive fifth place finish with the opportunity to win the FA Cup?

It is a real head scratcher for any fan. On one-hand, yes the chance to play against the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich is very, very hard to turn down. An opportunity to increase the revenue, strengthen in key areas in the squad and attract the big name players. However, with the FA Cup, it is a real opportunity to etch the name into the history and go down as that team that won the illustrious competition in 2012.

From a financial perspective, the Champions League trumps the FA Cup comfortably. Which I feel is what Levy cares more about. Money is key in football; any fan can tell you that whether they follow Accrington Stanley or Wigan Athletic. And it is the drive to push up the profit figures that see’s Spurs main objective as qualification for the elite tournament. An excellent article by The Swiss Ramble highlighted the club’s need to finish in the top four this season, with net profit the stand-out principle in the publication.

And when it comes to choosing which I would prefer, I can’t look past Champions League qualification. Purely on a financial side, it is simply better to finish in the top four. The players know this, the fans know this and the sentiments are echoed by Redknapp and co. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see Spurs lift the FA Cup in May and take my third trip to Wembley in four years but at the expense of the a place in next years’ elite European competition? Not a chance.

The prospect of improving the squad with the financial wind-fall the Champions League provides is too much to turn down, especially with Spurs being two, maybe three, players short of launching a full-blow assault for the title. Furthermore, with the club looking to press on with the redevelopment of White Hart Lane coupled with the club recently withholding their shares from the stock market, the chance to increase the net worth of the club will be too much for Levy, and more importantly Enic, to turn down.

From a footballing perspective, the FA Cup would be simply brilliant to win and if Spurs can finish fourth and win England’s oldest competition, then that would be ideal, but if that were an option then there wouldn’t be any need for this article. So, if push really came to shove, gun to my head and forced into making a choice, it would be a finish in the top four. Whether it is first, second, third or fourth, I really do not mind, as long as Spurs reach the Champions League next season, that is all that counts.

Ben McAleer

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