Sunday see’s the club making its third trip to Wembley in the last 10 months, where, in a repeat of the 1967 FA Cup Final, Spurs are our opponents. Back then, our young side were outclassed by a Tottenham side containing two former Chelsea greats in Greaves and Venables. 2008 and we go into the tie as strong favourites. I caught up with Paul Smith, from acclaimed Tottenham Website “Spurs Oddyssey” (www.spursodyssey.com/), currently advertising travel to Wembley with Spurs Legend Graham Roberts” (turncoat) for a trifling £25 return. I suppose that’ll be useful though as, unlike Chelsea fans who can make the journey in their sleep – so often have we traveled to the National stadium, Spurs supporters may need a little help with directions to this “foreign land”!Time to ask the supremely confident Paul a few questions then:
Cutting straight to the chase, what do you think of your performances so far this season?
Well, it doesn’t take rocket science to work out that we were not performing to our potential under Martin Jol, although we did perform well at Old Trafford and at Anfield under his guidance. Ramos arrived and made an immediate difference with his quick responses to a need for tactical change in his first game, when we beat Blackpool in the 4th Round of the Carling Cup. Gradually, under the new management team, Spurs have progressed to the point where they have out-played Arsenal three times, and Man Utd at home. We are now a team that is capable of matching anyone in this league, so that includes YOU!
What areas of your squad need strengthening?
Historically, we have clamoured for a left-side midfielder, which is why Spurs were once again linked with Stewart Downing. Whilst not a winger, Steed Malbranque has been one of our players of the season, and has held down that spot. A fit Gareth Bale would also fill it. Having let Defoe go to Portsmouth without replacement one would have to say we need to recruit a quality fourth striker. I would also say that to reach the next level (Champions League) Spurs would have to find a midfield general.
Who’s been your form player so far? Who do we need to look out for?
I mentioned Malbranque who is one of the hardest workers in the team, with some cute passing skills to go with his battling style. Robbie Keane has been a goal machine now for the last 15 months, and is more likely to score than not in each game. Berbatov needs no introduction, and is surely coveted by any top side. He hasn’t got as many goals as Keane this season, but his game is not just about scoring, but winning and holding the ball, together with quality distribution. Ledley King has probably been nursed to enable his appearance in this game, and could be alongside a recent quality signing – Jonathan Woodgate, whose culture was immediately evident when he made his debut at Goodison Park at the end of January. Alan Hutton will probably play at right back, and he has been impressive since his January signing too. He’s a big powerful full-back, and useful going forward, as required of any full back recruited by Mr Ramos. Pascal Chimbonda will probably move to left back to accommodate Hutton. Huddlestone and Jenas have also hit form, but Hudd may have to sit this one out (he could play at centre back) with Zokora back from Africa. This IS a different Spurs side you are facing you know, with quality all over the park.
What do you think of Chelsea, as if we needed to ask? Are you impressed by what the manager’s doing, or do you think Abramovich has a right to expect us to walk the League?
Truth be told, I prefer not to think about let alone talk about Chelsea. Avram has of course done well, and that has been a bit of a surprise bearing in mind the absences of Terry, Lampard and Drogba in recent weeks. Abramovich certainly has no right to expect results, as that would be arrogance in view of the competition.
Is Ramos the right man to take you forward and how far realistically can you grow?
I think I have already suggested the answer to these questions, and have every confidence in Ramos, now and for the future. He quickly made Spurs a fitter team, and they are now more consistent, more competitive and more skilful too! As for growth, I incorrectly thought that Spurs could challenge the top four this season, but quickly came to my senses after two lost games. Next season, under Ramos, it could be different, and that will surely be the objective.
Which of our current squad do you most admire?
I’ll pick one player as the man you have missed more than most, and that is John Terry. Not the biggest centre half on the planet, but certainly one of the most skilful. A great leader too, and scorer. Any team would welcome him with open arms. Drogba comes a close second for me. Great strength, presence, skill and of course goal-power – even if he does get too dramatic at times.
We’ve built a bit of a fortress at the Bridge. Think we’ll actually get a game out of you?
Er, you’re not playing at The Bridge of course, and of course you will get a game out of us. You will no longer regard White Hart lane as “Three Point Lane” and last season’s win coupled with our 3-1 half-time lead in the Cup last March should tell you to expect a game off the new Tottenham Hotspur any time!
How will you deal with Chelsea? Do you stuff the midfield, or will we see a more adventurous line-up?
Ramos has plenty of fit players that he might choose as a tactical option to still the skill and pace of Joe Cole and perhaps Sean Wright-Phillips. Tainio MIGHT be chosen as a defensive midfielder to allow Jenas licence to get forward more. The thing is that it is difficult to second-guess Ramos, who springs a surprise tactic or two almost every game. Spurs are an attacking force, but will probably sit back initially and hope to score on the break, but that has been very effective in some of our better games, such as the semi-final against Arsenal.
Where will you finish this season?
Hmmmmmmmm, after a very bad start, we’ll be doing very well to get as high as seventh.
What about Chelsea?
You’ll stay third, I think.
Give us a score prediction.
It will be tight, but I’ll be cheeky and predict a 3-1 to Spurs, with no capitulation this time!
Thanks very much Paul – we hope you find your way to the stadium in good time and enjoy your “underdogs” big day out(!)