Spurs have a long way to go to match United

AT the final whistle at White Hart Lane yesterday, Harry Redknapp took Alex Ferguson’s hand and whispered a sweet nothing into his ear.

Ferguson murmured something back, and Redknapp walked down the tunnel to the dressing room, eyes demurely downcast, biting his bottom lip, smiling a secret smile.

He did not look like a man furious that his team had squandered the opportunity to justify his pre-match talk that there was no longer a big gap between Manchester United and Spurs.

He looked delighted to have got a point. But then, judging by his comments post-match, Redknapp felt Spurs had lived up to their pre-match billing.

“I couldn’t sit here and say they’re on another level,” Redknapp said.

“We’re not a million miles behind. We went to Arsenal and won, we played Chelsea and there was nothing between the two teams. We played Man City here and battered them [the result was 0-0]. There was nothing between us and United today.”

Redknapp’s comments were totally delusional.

In the match I watched, a Manchester United side playing well within themselves effortlessly kept his team at bay, extending their unbeaten run against Spurs to 24 matches in all competitions.

They had their right-back sent off with 20 minutes to go and still never looked in trouble.

Curiously, Redknapp was saying exactly the same thing after the match as he was before it, as though the evidence of the match had changed nothing.

“We have to believe we’re not inferior to them,” he said, although the lack of ambition by Spurs and Redknapp’s own obvious satisfaction with a point at home proved they do still believe themselves inferior.

“We’re getting closer and closer. There is the top five teams, and we’re one of them. When you’ve got Modric and Bale and van der Vaart, you’ve got to be up there,” Redknapp said.

The problem is that there is no top five in English football, only the top four that qualify for the Champions League.

That is why Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick were playing for Manchester United instead of Spurs. If Spurs keep regarding a goalless home draw against a 10-man Manchester United as an occasion to congratulate themselves, then before long Luka Modric and Gareth Bale will be joining Carrick and Berbatov.

Spurs are looking at ways of reducing the wealth gap between themselves and the other members of Redknapp’s Big Five.

Their big idea is to uproot themselves from White Hart Lane, which has been their home since 1899, and move to the site of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, about seven miles away.

The move is hugely unpopular with some Spurs fans for whom the benefits of their club being able to compete financially with Arsenal would be considerably offset by it not being “their” club any more.

Protests outside the ground ensured the fans’ message was heard: “Say no to Stratford, north London is ours”. The numbers were not huge however, and the protestors had mainly dispersed more than an hour before kickoff.

The Spurs board don’t seem to care what their fans think, on the basis that if those fans don’t turn up in Stratford, there will be plenty of new fans waiting to take their place.

These directors should take a tour around Italy where there are many examples of clubs who are dwarfed by giant stadiums that they cannot sell out.

Even Juventus, who are supposedly supported by one in four Italians, found they could not fill the soulless Stadio Delle Alpi, and move this summer to a new stadium that is only slightly bigger than White Hart Lane.

Italian clubs thought they would benefit from the stadium renovations completed for the 1990 World Cup, but instead they suffered a long-term decline in match attendance that saw crowds fall 40% between 1998 and 2008.

THERE are signs that demand for the Premier League might not be as robust as it once was, with Manchester United’s famous season ticket waiting list evaporating, and 10,000 empty seats at Anfield for the recent match against Wolves.

If Tottenham pour their resources into moving to a huge new stadium they are taking a big risk, especially if in so doing they alienate their core fan base.

They would be better off taking risks on the pitch in pursuit of Champions League qualification, because only participation in the elite European competition will allow them to hold on to the stars they hope will draw the big crowds in Stratford.

Ironically, Harry Redknapp was asked more questions about Manchester United’s credentials than the disappointing performance of his own side. United remain undefeated and yet nobody seems to think they are very good. “I think it would be a miracle if Alex got through the season unbeaten,” Redknapp said, “I just can’t see it.”

It won’t take a miracle if United’s remaining opponents are as cowed and flaccid as Spurs.

Nemanja Vidic was the standout player yesterday, but he wishes he could play Peter Crouch every week.

Crouch and van der Vaart have taken many plaudits for their combination play this season, but Vidic and Ferdinand cruelly exposed their lack of pace and athleticism.

Redknapp seems to have decided Crouch and van der Vaart is his best strike pairing, but the partnership will not trouble aggressive, streetwise defenders. Only when the speedier Defoe came on was Vidic’s easy dominance threatened, and by then Spurs seemed to have settled for a draw.

From United’s perspective, it was another of those not-quite-convincing performances.

Vidic and Ferdinand excelled but Fletcher and Carrick looked ordinary — especially compared to Modric in the first half — Giggs, Nani and Berbatov were peripheral, Rooney still a passenger. The signs of decline seem clearly apparent.

And still they cruised to a draw, and back to the top of the league, 21 matches, no defeats. If United are in decline, they are declining more slowly than everybody else.

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