EPL Preview 2010/11: Harry Redknapp and Tottenham Hotspur Hit Their Glass Ceiling
Tottenham Hotspur effectively had their best season since 1961 in 2009/10.
By qualifying for the Champions League, it looked as if they were back with the big boys, but if anything, it looks as if Spurs has hit a glass ceiling and may progress no further, unless their manager can work some magic during the transfer window.
By beating Manchester City in the penultimate game of the EPL season at the Eastlands last May, Harry Redknapp and Tottenham Hotspur guaranteed Champions League football would return to that particular part of North London for the first time in 50 years.
The win sparked celebrations around the globe as Spurs broke the monopoly that had strangled the life out of the Premier League as a competition.
Always being one of the few clubs capable of breaking into the top four, Spurs, under the shrewd stewardship of Harry Redknapp, capitalised on Liverpool's worst season in decades and Manchester City's incoherent team structure to finish in fourth place, just five points behind Arsenal.
That coveted fourth-place finish meant that Spurs would enter the UEFA Champions League in the last knockout round before the group stages, and as history has shown us, it can be a cruel and unforgiving land for the uninitiated.
Knowing that he would have to strengthen his squad significantly, Redknapp started approaching players that would bring Spurs onto the next level—that next level being regular top-four finishers and, in return, regular Champions League appearances.
If Spurs could attain that much, then it would be in a position to actually build a team capable of winning the league. Without either, they would remain a top-seven team.
Redknapp and Tottenham have, so far, found the transfer market a frustrating place. Usually the Cockney manager is quite adept at finding bargain basement players, and his record with his intuitive signings is second to none.
However, Redknapp has never chased Champions League quality before and has always cut his cloth to suit the team he was building.
This time around, he is competing with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, and Bayern Munich and is finding that players of a certain quality only want to play Champions League football, for teams that are guaranteed to play Champions League football, or for teams who will compensate for missing out the on Champions League.
To date, Spurs have struggled to make any impact in the transfer market and have effectively stood still, basically moving them backward as EPL competitors.
Each player Tottenham has made a concrete approach to has turned the team down in one way or another.
Diego Forlan was out of their price range, and spoke of his reluctance at moving back to England.
That was a gentle rebuttal for Redknapp, because you can be guaranteed that if Chelsea or Manchester United had come calling, that the Uruguayan would have been more than interested.
Then came Simon Kjaer's decision to join Steve McLaren at Wolfburg. The German team are bankrolled by Volkswagen and are expected to challenge Bayern Munich for the title under the Englishman's guidance.
Losing out on the highly-rated Dane was a blow to Redknapp, as he believed that Spurs was in pole position to sign him having begun negotiations with Kjaer in January.
Initially, the ex-Palermo centre half wanted somewhere in the region of £100,000 per week to move to Tottenham, but club chairman Daniel Levy would not mortgage the future of the club and allow their strict wage structure to be broken.
Spurs began trying to negotiate with Kjaer's agent over his wages and were making minor progress, only for Wolfsburg to nip in and offer the Dane exactly what he wanted.
Another missed capture.
Then Joe Cole joined Liverpool. Spurs was again in pole position with the player that Harry Redknapp introduced to the game and were in the belief as Cole left with England for South Africa, that the playmaker would sign on the dotted line when he came back.
In the end, Spurs were gazumped by Roy Hodgson and Liverpool and just could not compete with £18.7 million over four years before bonuses on top of a hefty signing on fee.
Redknapp was learning that even before a ball was kicked that life in the Champions League was tough for a club like Tottenham Hotspur.
Spurs are just unable to offer the kind of wages that even teams like Liverpool, in debt for £450 million, could beat them to signings by offering far higher wages.
This has been a bitter pill to swallow at White Hart Lane because Redknapp and Daniel Levy know what needs to be done to move the team onto the next level but are hamstrung by the clubs ongoing planning problems with the new stadium.
Quite simply, a 36,000 capacity is not enough to generate the kind of cash to compete against the likes of United, Madrid, Liverpool, and Arsenal.
And their lack of guaranteed Champions League football is enough to put off players like Dejan Lovren (who chose to move to Lyon), Simon Kjaer, Diego Forlan, and even Luis Fabiano.
Spurs have hit a glass ceiling and will struggle to progress further until their stadium proposal is sorted out.
Spurs will receive Haringey Council's decision on the 56,000-seater stadium on Sept. 13, so until then, it is very hard for Tottenham to compete wages wise.
In realising this, Spurs and Redknapp have decided to use a new tactic in the transfer market and approach teams in England for their best players.
Aston Villa is in a similar position to Spurs and is even more hamstrung in terms of finance than their London rivals.
Martin O'Neill is struggling to hold onto his best players as clubs, like Manchester City dangle huge offers. O'Neill knows that a lot of the money he receives will not go back into the team.
To that effect Harry Redknapp has tried to play on Villa's and O'Neill's need for new blood to push their team onto the next level by offering three players for the price of one.
Robbie Keane, David Bentley, and Jermaine Jenas are three players that Villa has inquired about over the last three seasons, while Redknapp has also inquired about Ashley Young.
So it came as no surprise to see the Spurs manager offer all three to his counterpart in a bid to sign the high-flying winger come forward.
It is highly unlikely that Young will ever play Champions League football at Villa and should Redknapp sign the player he would become a key part of the Tottenham team if they choose to go 4-2-3-1 instead of their manager's traditional 4-4-2 formation.
The three players are all of international standing and would easily strengthen O'Neill's team in certain positions so on paper it may seem a good deal for both clubs.
However, Young would be virtually irreplaceable for Villa and the three new faces would probably mean a completely different formation and philosophy for the Northern Irish man.
For Spurs it would be a dream come true: sign one player who would allow Redknapp to change his set-up completely, but who would still offer the opportunity to go back to his favourite formation should the need arise, as well as taking an estimated £150,000 per week off the wage bill.
In the end, this deal will probably be scuppered on the rocks by the Spurs player's wage demands, as Villa would be hard-pushed to match the same terms and conditions.
Redknapp is also said to be looking at Manchester City's certain cast-offs as the new EPL ruling of a 25-man squad for the season comes into play. Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards are said to be top of his shopping list, but as of yet no offers have been made.
This makes this current transfer window a very frustrating one for Redknapp and Spurs fans alike.
No new signings, no new world class players, and no sign of it getting any better.
On top of that, Liverpool appears to have been completely regenerated by Roy Hodgson, and Manchester City has roared into not only being top-four contenders, but actual title contenders.
This means that Spurs are effectively the early leaders to finish sixth in the league, and given Everton's form toward the end of last season, that too will come under threat unless they strengthen significantly.
If Spurs are to finish in the top four this year, it will take them to have another great season and at least two clubs to have nightmares. An unlikely proposition given their lack of action in the transfer market, 5th place and the Europa League. beckons.