|Cleared of tax evasion charges, touted for the England job and his team on course for an English title challenge - where did it all go wrong for Harry Recknapp? [GETTY]
“Thursday nights, Channel Five” taunted the away fans during Tottenham’s most recent home defeat, clearly unimpressed by the club's ambitions to play in next season’s European Champions League.
Channel Five in the UK covers the Europa League, the secondary competition for which manager Harry Redknapp makes no attempt to hide his distaste. This season Spurs bowed out in the group stages after lame defeats to continental also-rans Rubin Kazan and PAOK Salonika.
As Tottenham and Chelsea face off in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final, fans of the north London club will be more concerned about their appalling form in the English Premier League where they chase a top-four finish.
Four defeats, three draws and a single victory in their last eight matches sees the Lilywhites precariously placed in fourth position, only ahead of the in-form Newcastle on goal-difference. The revitalised Chelsea are just two points behind in sixth.
Redknapp must take the brunt of the blame for his team’s decline.
In addition to the distraction of him being linked to the England coaching job, the former West Ham and Portsmouth boss has made some puzzling tactical decisions that have affected the club’s momentum.
Just three months ago Spurs were being talked about as genuine title contenders. On January 14 they had a chance to go equal top of the table as they hosted struggling Wolverhampton Wanderers before being held to a disappointing draw to start a run of just one victory in four matches.
There are many key dates in 2012 that can be traced to Spurs’ decline, but none more poignant than February 19 when they travelled to third-tier side Stevenage for an FA Cup fifth round tie. Redknapp tinkered with his tried and tested 4-4-1-1 formation, going with a 3-5-2, which meant star man Gareth Bale had a more central role in the midfield.
The result was that Bale was largely ineffective and Tottenham spluttered to a 0-0 draw against a side ranked 47 places below them on the league ladders. Stevenage had two more shots on target than their highly fancied opponents.
The last thing that the Premier League club wanted was being forced into a replay with a squad that lacks depth outside its best 15 players.
|Recent tactical decisons have raised questions about his suitability as England manager [GETTY]
Another key date was February 26 when Spurs held a two-goal just before halftime against neighbours Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium.
Their previous league outing had seen them thump Newcastle 5-0, just three days after Redknapp had been cleared in the courts of tax evasion.
Somehow they allowed the Gunners to turn a 0-2 deficit into a 5-2 victory with Theo Walcott netting twice in their worst north London derby defeat since 1978. Today the arch enemies are five points above them and seemingly on-course for third spot.
Fall from grace
Just as alarming as Spurs’ decline has been Redknapp’s fall from grace, which now has observers wondering if he is the best man for the England job after all.
Instead of being the inspirational figure who gets his teams playing champagne football, he is being portrayed as a naïve figure who cannot cope with the pressure at the business end of the season.
While he has done well at smaller sides like Bournemouth and Southampton, the jury is out on whether he is well suited to guide one of England’s bigger clubs. That does seem harsh though, if you consider that Redknapp took over Spurs when they were rock bottom of the league after eight games of the 2008-2009 season.
He must have felt that he was on course for one of the best years of his life when Fabio Capello stepped down as England head coach on February 9 less than 24 hours after Redknapp walked free from Southwark Crown Court.
Instead, his road so far in 2012 has been filled with unexpected blind spots and potholes.
The manager and his players have paid the price for their failure to live in the present.
Instead of concentrating on beating the likes of Norwich, Stoke and Sunderland, they have gazed too far into the future and as a result have dropped crucial points that could well de-rail their Champions League hopes for next season.
As a result, Spurs have reverted to type: a side who flatter to deceive in the league where they come up short when the crunch is really on but tend to go on good Cup runs.
If they manage to overcome Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, Tottenham will earn their fifth Cup final appearance in just 13 years. They’ve won the FA Cup eight times and the League Cup on four occasions.
You can be sure that Redknapp, his players and all the fans would gladly allow Chelsea to beat them at Wembley Stadium if it meant they could secure a top-4 finish in the league.
While the chance of silverware is always nice, the last thing that Spurs need now is another distraction. Chelsea, too, already have a lot on their plate with the upcoming Champions League semi-final over two legs against Barcelona on top of their fight for a place in Europe’s elite for next season.
Interesting question: if Spurs finish fifth or sixth and don’t win the FA Cup, will Harry still be the best candidate for the England job?
Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever, the world's first international soccer podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey
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