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Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011

PREMIER REPORT

Spurs in position to live up to stature


LONDON — Bill Shankly, the former Liverpool manager, once remarked that Tottenham is not a club which wins trophies, it loses them. Harsh but fair. Since their last title 50 years ago, Spurs have won the F.A. Cup five times, the League Cup four times, two UEFA Cups and one European Cup Winners' Cup, a poor return for a club of its stature.

Christopher Davies

There is guarded optimism at White Hart Lane that the glory days could soon return. Spurs are seven points behind leaders Manchester City with a game in hand, playing the most exciting football in the Premier League. Harry Redknapp is the people's choice to succeed Fabio Capello, but realistically he knows England is unlikely to win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. At Spurs, if he can keep the likes of Gareth Bale and Luka Modric he has an excellent chance of success at club level.

In the 2-0 win at Norwich in midweek, Spurs played some stunning attacking football coupled with a tactical adaptability that Redknapp is not always credited for. When right winger Aaron Lennon is fit, Spurs use a 4-4-1-1 formation, their midfield quartet of Lennon, Scott Parker, Modric and Bale a mixture of pace, power and precise passing. In front of them, Rafael van der Vaart plays just behind Emmanuel Adebayor, the pair scoring a combined 15 league goals.

Lennon's injury has seen Bale and van der Vaart supporting Adebayor with Redknapp giving the pair free roles. Modric remains Spurs' most consistent player, but when Bale reaches a peak like he did at Carrow Road when he scored twice, he is unstoppable.

Redknapp says the Wales international "has everything" and could only be replaced by "Messi or Ronaldo." Bale ran half the length of the field to score his second goal and was clocked at 27 kph; to put this into context Usain Bolt averages 37 kph in the 100 meters, but without a ball at his feet.

After joining Spurs from Southampton four years ago Bale went 64 matches without scoring. This season he has seven goals and five assists; the 22-year-old is quiet and unassuming, happy to play on a team that showcases his immense talent. His loyalty is likely to be tested because it would be surprising if Barcelona and Real Madrid do not come knocking next summer, but in the meantime Bale and Spurs have a realistic chance of catching the Manchester powerhouses. Or, as someone said, a 2½-horse race.

Michael Dawson, who has missed the first half of the season with an Achilles injury, will soon be fit to return to a defense in which Ledley King's damaged knees have still seen him play in two-thirds of the games. Eyebrows were raised, including mine, when Redknapp took Adebayor on loan from Manchester City. Ex-Arsenal players are as popular as toothaches in Tottenham, but the Togo international's nine goals in 15 matches have ensured little criticism if not glowing praise.

Like City and United, Spurs have plenty in reserve with William Gallas, Vedran Corluka, Tom Huddlestone, Niko Kranjcar, Sandro, Steven Pienaar and Roman Pavlyuchenko experienced stand-ins.

Redknapp has put together a side that has all the Tottenham traditions and his attempts at playing down his team's title chances grow more unconvincing with each victory.

* * *

IT HAS not been a good month for Luis Suarez. He was initially handed an eight-game ban plus a £40,000 fine by the Football Association, pending any appeal, after being found guilty of making a remark to Manchester United's Patrice Evra that referred to the Frenchman's color.

On Wednesday, Suarez admitted a charge of improper conduct during Liverpool's game at Fulham and was banned for one match and fined £20,000. Suarez gave a one-finger gesture — the middle finger of his left hand — to home fans as he left the pitch.

As things stand the Uruguay international will be banned for nine games, effectively almost a quarter of the Premier League season.

* * *

NEVER GO back they say but maybe, just maybe, Thierry Henry will pull on an Arsenal shirt again in 2012. Henry, now with the New York Red Bulls, has been training with the Gunners during Major League Soccer's close season. Word is the 34-year-old has looked in great shape.

Arsenal will lose strikers Gervinho and Marouane Chamahk to the African Cup of Nations soon and Arsene Wenger is considering a short-term loan deal for Henry.

No, he won't have the blistering pace that made him Arsenal's record goalscorer. No, he won't start every game but if Wenger thinks Henry can be an effective impact substitute and the player has the confidence he won't embarrass himself we should trust his judgment.

One thing's for certain, Henry would get the mother of all receptions at the Emirates if he plays for his beloved Arsenal again.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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