Returning to England after a few weeks absence — largely football-free — I sat down to watch the television coverage of Basel against Manchester United.
And, in the aftermath of that particular debacle, ITV Sport was scrambling around to find things to say while they waited, in vain, for a live interview with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Soon they focused on how both Manchester clubs would now be concentrated on trying to win the Premier League. Gareth Southgate said: “Don’t forget about Spurs.” I thought, Tottenham? Had they really become title contenders while I was away?
The truth is that the table rarely lies and, yes, Spurs were clearly in the hunt. They were unbeaten in 11 league games prior to Sunday, winning eight of the previous nine: some record. So I went to the Britannia Stadium prepared to stand and applaud. At half-time I did but that was in acknowledgement of a stupendous display by Tony Pulis’ team.
It may seem a peripheral issue but it really is time that Stoke were given more credit. They are no longer simply a long-ball team. You only had to look at the contribution of the wide players, Shotten and Etherington, to appreciate they can also play when the mood grips them. I was impressed.
Not so, in the first half, with Tottenham. Adebayor was too isolated, Van der Vaart too deep. Spurs didn’t remotely look like title material.
Yet, to be fair, Harry Redknapp made significant changes for the second half, tactically and in terms of personnel. They worked and Stoke had to rely on some wretched referring by Chris Foy to cling on for all three points. Spurs deserved a draw.
And I saw elements in the second period why they are so highly rated. Friedel — I don’t care that he’ll be 41 by the time the season ends — remains an outstanding goalkeeper. With the best, age does not wither them, Van der Sar being another good example.
Parker continues to show that he was ignored by England for far too long. I don’t know what it was, his shyness, his lack of profile, but, in recent years, only Makelele and Vieira could be considered better than Parker in that critical holding midfield role. You have to ask why other clubs, especially, Arsenal weren’t in the hunt for the player.
Keeping Modric was as important. Spurs held to their principles and, to his credit, the Croatian accepted the situation and knuckled down. What would Manchester United give to have Modric or, for that matter, Parker?
Overall, except in the first half when Spurs were, by their standards, too slow, they play at a phenomenal pace, switching from defence to attack in a frighteningly short period of time and Bale and Lennon are instrumental to the policy. It’s great to watch and difficult for opponents to deal with.
So, Tottenham lost at Stoke but Tony Pulis points out that Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have also failed to win there this season
The title? It’s a possibility though, of course, things may seriously ‘get in the way’ for Tottenham.
Redknapp has to face legal proceedings over his tax affairs early in the New Year. There may, too, be injuries ahead.
But if the Spurs’ boss does manage to pull it off then I can’t think of any greater achievement in the era of the Premier League and the FA won’t be asking him to take the England job, they’ll be begging him to take it.