Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Mash Note for 'Arry

I realize sports are a tougher sell on this fine blog, but given the rough times of the Caps and United plus the perennial false optimism around DC for the Redskins, an actual happy sports story is much needed.

On Wednesday Tottenham Hotspur finally (finally!) snagged a spot in Champions League*, something that has been long overdue for a team of our stature (you'll notice me slipping into "we" at points during this post, but that's sports fandom for ya). And the man who got us there is the congenial, ever ruddy faced Harry Redknapp, who for good measure just snagged coach of the year as well.

When Redknapp took over early last season, Spurs were literally a national laughing stock and were headed toward relegation (one of many jokes from the time: "What's the difference between Tottenham and a triangle?" "A triangle has three points").

Harry turned things around literally from the second he arrived. The team won their first game under their change, and having actually been at that game, I can speak to one improvement I noticed right from the start. Tottenham had signed Luka Modric as our playmaker at the beginning of that season, but he had underperformed under the previous manager. That first game under 'Arry he looked like a completely different player, covering the whole pitch and creating all sorts of chances. I don't know what did it, but I would bet Redknapp probably just told him to play his game, and let him cover wide swaths of turf.

And that was just the first of many players he seems to have gotten the best out of. In the game on Wednesday, there were six English players. After the game all six had a better than even chance of being on the plane to South Africa for the World Cup. And that includes our captain Ledley King, who can only play one game a week due to perpetual knee issues. But those are just the Englishman. Our keeper has gone from joke to game saver. Two of our main offensive weapons were in the doghouse for the better part of the year, but when they came on the pitch, they started producing like crazy. Gareth Bale (to the right) has the making of being a top class midfielder, and he's only 20! And Palacios, what a signing! The list goes on and on. People can argue about the quality of 'Arry's tactics, but he's for most part one of the classiest leaders in the game. When reporters praise one defender after the game he'll be quick to compliment the unit, or he'll also heap praise on his midfield. When he won coach of the year he thanked his team by name and emphasized their role. There's a fetish in
England with having English managers doing well, but for me, it's just nice to have a manager who on the whole I can just be proud of. He has made this a better team from top to bottom, and he's done it with a lot of class.

By the end of the season we didn't just look like a team that could beat just about anybody, we actually were beating damn near everyone. In a span of five days Tottenham beat their bitterest rival Arsenal, and the top team on the table Chelsea, in games where I would have been content with a draw. Next season will not be a cakewalk, but for the rest of the summer I will be coasting on the glory of Tottenham Hotspur.

* Champions League is like a super-playoffs that takes the top few teams from each European league and puts them in a season-long tournament that is played concurrently with the normal club season. It sounds weird,
but soccer is weird.

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