Around Europe in 80 Games
23 May 1984. Anderlecht striker and father of future Tottenham Hotspur player Eidur, Arnór Gudjohnsen had the ball on the penalty spot, waiting to run and shoot towards Spurs keeper Tony Parks. Gudjohnsen would go to the bottom left corner, only to see Parks not only guess correctly, but push the ball away. Mass hysteria would ensue.
Those few seconds were the last time Tottenham won a European competition, beating the Belgian side Anderlecht on penalties after a 2-2 draw from two legs, to win the 1984 UEFA Cup.
For the next twenty-five years, Spurs would have brief contact with the competition. The following season would not prove to be a success, being knocked out in the Quarter Finals to Real Madrid. It would be a painfully long wait for the next game in Europe, but it would come in victory after winning the 1999 League Cup, beating Zimbru Chişinău in Round 1, but going out swiftly afterwards to Kaiserslauten.
After the highly successful 2005/06 campaign which saw Spurs so nearly reach the Champions League, they reached the UEFA Cup for the first time since 1984 based on league position. It was a stroll through the opening stages, and then received a bye instead of playing Feyenoord because of their misdemeanours. Braga were soon dispatched, but Spurs would eventually fall short once again in the Quarter Finals, losing out to the eventual champions Sevilla.
Further European adventures followed the next season, although a lot less successful. The change in manager from Martin Jol to Juande Ramos had a massive effect on the campaign. Most notably in the match against Getafe, when the decision Jol had been sacked filtered through before the end of the game. The 3-2 victory when Ramos regained control against Aalborg showed new found belief of some sorts, coming down from 2-0 down to win the game. In the end though they would fall short in the way they won the tournament back in 1984, with a tense penalty shootout against PSV going a long way, before Pascal Chimbonda missed and with it, saw Spurs go out.
The final time Spurs played in the UEFA Cup was the 2008/09 season, which of course featured the infamous ‘2 points, 8 games’. Ramos was out and the new manager, Harry Redknapp came in. Without a doubt Redknapp didn’t give much care for the competition and Spurs went out to the eventual winners Shakhtar Donetsk in the 1st knockout round, with the youngsters being played and thoughts realistically turning to survival in the league.
Three seasons on and it seems nothing has changed.
Although the UEFA Cup has itself rebranded to be called the Europa League and in itself a more lengthy and pain enduring competition, its still more or less the same to what the UEFA Cup was and used to be.
It isn’t perfect, far from it. There are far too many flaws in the competition. The fact that the winner doesn’t get automatic berth for the Champions League is a disgrace, and really would add some extra incentive into the competition. There’s also the fact that the Europa League for this season has felt like it has been going on for centuries (in reality, only the end of June, but considering the fact Fulham players had to start their season early isn’t the most helpful of things), there is more matches than the Champions League itself (only two if the team managed to go all the way however). And then you do have to play matches on a Thursday, which although makes logical sense to avoid clashing with the far more prestigious Champions League, means that league fixtures are forced to be moved to be played on a Sunday, often not even for television coverage.
And these are all, somewhat, decent excuses not to go all out and not play your best and set your sights on other targets, improving league position, or winning a domestic cup competition, which is going to take up less time and resource.
But Harry Redknapp has once again said he doesn’t care much for the Europa League, he sees it as an unnecessary distraction to the title bid.
Wait, title bid? Coming from the same person who last season that Tottenham had no chance of competing with those who spent bucket loads of money, such as Chelsea and Manchester City. Surely we don’t have a chance at either and then we will have a second depressing season in a row.
Yes, we focused hell for leather last season in the Champions League, but for our first year in the competition, it is about making it a memorable experience and great glory, glory nights in Europe. We got that, especially against the two Milan teams and being able to place ourselves against the might of Europe.
But the comment that "Thursday and Sunday every week, you’ve got no chance in the Premier with that,” really annoys me. Yes, it only gives you two days of rest between matches, which occur shockingly two more times more often than if we were in the Champions League. But guess what, the Champions League teams are in the same boat, two or three days in between matches for them as well, I wouldn’t exactly say its the perfect situation for them either, but they all seem to manage it, so why can’t we? Look at Manchester City in the Europa League last season, they got the chance to play with their first team more often, yes they have a far bigger squad and better players on the whole, but they did it (albeit getting themselves knocked out to Dynamo Kyiv).
Sticking out youngsters has to be done at some stage. I accept that. You are going to play, especially in the Europa League, teams that Spurs should beat with plenty of ease. So in this case you might as well stick some of the players that haven’t been chucked out on loan. But the same situation was used in the League Cup against Arsenal last season, without a reserve team there is no possibility for the team to gel as a second string, they will struggle to adapt with each other realistically, and the games are not going to be walkovers as expected.
The thing is though, with the excuses that can be employed to this competition, I want Spurs to go out and win the Europa League. I want Spurs to win every competition, but I know it isn’t possible unless we have a massive cash injection a la Manchester City. It is a competition I think we can go out and win as well. It’s not impossible, looking at the teams in the Europa League (obviously we can’t tell which teams will enter from the Champions League, another flaw) we are one of the best four teams in it (along with Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and probably Paris St-Germain considering their spending so far this summer). So it isn’t impossible to do it, go out there and win. Any competition win is something to be savoured, look at how happy fans and players of the previous Europa Leagues and UEFA Cups have been for winning it. I have only really had one experience of winning something as a Spurs fan, the 2008 League Cup. It would be quite nice to have something else to add to that collection, especially if it came from Europe.
At least Redknapp got one thing right, the “crazy places” Spurs will have to visit first is a terrifying and difficult journey all the way to Edinburgh.