Ah, Man Utd versus Spurs. Two giants of the game, under the floodlights, in a one-off knock-out contest. It reminds me of when England played Brazil in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final. Then, the meeting of two sides with so much history behind them provided a unique buzz of anticipation, and seemed to epitomise precisely what the competition was about. And now, Manchester United play Tottenham Hotspur. It’s a classic Cup tie.Except it isn’t really. It’s the Carling Cup, by far the lowest of Alex Ferguson’s priorities, and now a sideshow at White Hart Lane.
Wellbeck and Gibson
Man Utd sent out the minions for a Champions League game last week, so a Carling Cup quarter-final is unlikely to herald the appearance of the big guns. In fact, even when we met in the Final last year, they had such household names as Wellbeck and Gibson in their starting line-up. Nevertheless, they still beat us, and their second-string tomorrow is likely to be pretty strong again. (Nor should we expect too many favours from the officials, this being Old Trafford…)
’Arry for his part has also pledged to empty the contents of the substitutes bench out onto the turf. Keane, Pav, Bentley, Bale, Jenas and Hutton could all feature – which is fine by me, to be honest. They are all capable enough, having all been first-team regulars at some point or other.
Dawson and Bassong will presumably start again in defence, which is a silver lining to the murky cloud under which Ledley and Woodgate hobble around. The Daws-Bassong combo worked well on Saturday, in only their second game together, and another 90 minutes will give them a chance to develop further. It could be the start of something beautiful.
The in-form Kranjcar is cup-tied – curses – but my main concern is that we may well start without both Defoe and Lennon, both of whose pace and sharpness in recent weeks have given us a real cutting-edge going forward. Many a time and oft these days I can be spotted gazing misty-eyed into the distance; on such occasions it is a fairly safe bet that I’m wondering what might have been if we had had these two for the visit to the Emirates last month…
The Days of Yore: Over
The lure of silverware is still strong of course, for all the usual reasons (another etching on the honours board; another reason to crow over l’Arse; and it’s just plain ruddy marvellous to win trophies), but now the situation is undoubtedly different. We are not just pushing for UEFA Cup qualification any more; the days of yore are over. They ended around the time we beat Sunderland and moved into fourth by more than just goal difference. The sentiment at AANP Towers has now altered, as we have begun to look genuine contenders for the fourth Champions League spot. It’s like leaving behind the blissful innocence of childhood – but discovering the wondrous joys of the liquor.
Not only that, but we are in the driving-seat for fourth. And this isn’t one of those anomalous late-August League tables, where we top the pile but only on goal difference from Stoke – a third of the way in, and we are as well-placed as anyone to take fourth. I have to admit, I would trade quarter-final Carling Cup elimination if it would help our Premiership campaign.
I Feel Unclean
An involuntary shudder passes down the spine as I type that, for I do feel sordid in admitting it. Out, damned spot. We are Tottenham Hotspur, and as such we have a glorious tradition. Winning the FA Cup in 1901, the first post-war team to win the Double, the first British team to win a European trophy… and so on. [**Shameless plug – our glorious tradition will be lovingly covered by AANP in forthcoming book
Spurs’ Cult Heroes, out next Feb**] Preferring to finish fourth in the League over winning a trophy – my own family would struggle to recognise me. It’s selling my soul. ‘Tis a dark, dark day at AANP Towers.Still, that’s one man’s opinion. “Judge me not by the heights to which I aspire, but by the depths from whence I’ve come” (if you pardon a little vulgarisation of the quote) – for we’ve already shown we can master the dark arts of the Carling Cup, over the last two seasons. This certainly represents firm progress from a decade ago, when our heroes seemed unable to put one foot in front of the other without stumbling over, while the other lot racked up trophies like they were going out of fashion. We are finally moving in the right direction, having won the Carling Cup and gained European experience. Now we have an opportunity to take the next step forward. Success in the Carling Cup once again would be cracking, but qualifying for the Champions League is now the target, and much though it pains me to admit it, anything else would seem a mite anti-climactic.
Still A Cracking Chance For Glory
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And as ever, all are most welcome to leave memories – and browse those of others – regarding some of the players to be featured in forthcoming book Spurs’ Cult Heroes: Danny Blanchflower here, Dave Mackay here, Cliff Jones here, Martin Chivers here, Alan Gilzean here, Pat Jennings here, Cyril Knowles here, Steve Perryman here, Glenn Hoddle here, Chris Waddle here, Ossie and Ricky here, Gary Mabbutt here, Graham Roberts here, Jimmy Greaves here, Clive Allen here, Jurgen Klinsmann here