20 October ~ Tonight Russian team Rubin Kazan come to White Hart Lane, and Spurs face their biggest test yet in this season’s Europa League. Rubin have qualified for the Champions League in the past three seasons – last year in third place in the Russian league, the previous two as champions – and only fell into the Europa League this year after failure in the qualifying rounds. Both teams drew with PAOK Salonika in earlier group games and both put three past Shamrock Rovers. Both teams currently sit sixth in their respective leagues.
If the Premier League’s “best in the world” tag held up there would surely be a difference in class between the two sides. But this isn’t the same Spurs who beat Liverpool 4-0 and Arsenal 2-1. It’s a side lucky not to lose against PAOK last month, a patchy one full of homegrown talent and second-string squad players – Harry Kane, Andros Townsend, Jake Livermore, Tom Carroll, Giovanni Dos Santos and Danny Rose.
Sure, Dos Santos is a Mexico international who shone at the World Cup and Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe, Vedran Corluka and Carlo Cudicini can be called upon to add experience and quality to the team, but Harry Redknapp’s decision to rest major players in this competition means it will be a tough game to win. Without Luka Modric or Rafael van der Vaart, Spurs have little creative spark and made hard work of beating Shamrock Rovers.
But who can blame a club for not taking the Europa League too seriously when the real prize (money) is fourth spot in the league and inclusion in the Champions League? It’s a shame because the UEFA Cup used to be a sought-after trophy – older Spurs fans will remember their triumph in 1983-84. At least the White Hart Lane crowd gets to see some young players try to prove themselves.
If Tom Carroll plays tonight see how his physique and determination reminds you of watching an Under-14s game, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. They all desperately want to do well and, though maybe not quite good enough yet, it makes a nice change from watching Van der Vaart not bothering to chase back. They are players who would otherwise probably go unseen and eventually be sold or released to a Championship club.
So while some might wish to see a full-strength Spurs try seriously to win another European trophy, prioritising competitions is what football in its megabucks modern mentality has come to. It’s like Spurs fans have got two teams to cheer for this season. Unless they lose, of course. Paul Carstairs