Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tottenham and Portsmouth: A Tale of Two Clubs

Jermain Defoe is happily returning to North London after Tottenham signed their former striker for £15 million less than a year after selling him to Portsmouth.

Eyebrows surely will raise at the news—not so much at Defoe or even Portsmouth—but regarding Tottenham's schizophrenia in transfer dealings there is sure to be questions.

The North London side sold Defoe last January for £7.5 million, seeming to settle on the pairing of Keane and Berbatov whom were arguably the best strike-force in England for two years running.

Of course, Tottenham had overpaid for Darren Bent just prior to last season, and as Defoe struggled to cement playing time, his sale made perfect financial and footballing sense then.

Cue Summer 2008, when Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy, who is surely the harbinger of this chaos, sold both Keane and Berbatov in excess of $80 million, cashing in at the expense of the club's immediate future. Supplanting his strike-force, Levy okayed the purchase of Roman Pavlyuchenko, the touted Russian striker who only knew one English word: "What?"

To be fair, the summer arrivals of David Bentley and Luka Modric appear good footballing moves, despite at least one questionable price tag.

Yet, Tottenham started this term with an unproven (and unlikely to prove) Darren Bent paired with the foreigner, while Defoe continued his renaissance at Portsmouth. Spurs manager Juande Ramos was inevitably the scapegoat for the most horrible start to a season in Tottenham's history, as both Bent and Pavlyuchenko admitted they didn't know how to play together.

Then Harry Redknapp entered the unfolding plot. Leaving Portsmouth for Spurs, citing something about "bigger clubs", the aging English manager left behind his FA Cup winning squad on the South Coast for glory in London. Redknapp left behind the team he molded, one of the form sides throughout the second half of last season.

The clubs traded fortunes and results, Spurs climbing the table immediately as Portsmouth plummeted with untried yet arrogant manager, former Arsenal legend Tony Adams.

Similar to Blackburn, when Mark Hughes left in favor of Paul Ince ("in favor" being used quite liberally), Redknapp left behind a squad that existed and succeeded mainly because of his leadership. And similarly, the team left to consume the exhaust of their manager's departure was divided, unmotivated, and unfocused.

To say that Portsmouth have plummeted since Adam's arrival would be an insult to all things plummeting. The pompous former defender immediately began plotting his club's demise; Portsmouth have only won once in the Premier League since the his appointment, that victory back in November at home to Blackburn, a run which includes huge home losses to Newcastle and West Ham United.

The players at Portsmouth don't seem to want to play for Adams, which was the same situation which plagued Paul Ince when Mark Hughes left Blackburn for Manchester City. A team well-crafted by the manager, vacated, discarded, and left to toil under inexperienced, overconfident former players.

Having sold Defoe and Diarra, Portsmouth, under great financial constraints, will likely be engaged in a relegation battle this season.

Back to Defoe, and Tottenham's questionable activity in the transfer market. Berbatov is often begrudged for his behavior at White Hart Lane, despite capturing the imaginations of the Spurs faithful like no other since David Ginola.

While the Bulgarian is derided, like former manager Ramos, the real culprit must be Levy. In one year the chairman sold his top three strikers, leaving the squad depleted up front, without addressing glaring concerns in central defense.

Somehow Levy subsists under the shadow of suspicion and antipathy. Simple arithmetic, factoring in television deals and Premier League earnings, levied against incoming and outgoing transfers, shows that Spurs owners are profiting greatly while the club suffers on the pitch.

Spurs status as perennial outsiders to the Champions League and Premier League contention is unlikely to change this year, but Defoe's arrival at least offers a compliment to either Pavlyuchenko or Bent, more likely the former.

Spurs essentially spent £7.5 million to loan the striker to Portsmouth for a year—who wasted no time utilizing his pace and adept finishing—only for Tottenham to realize how much they need him.

On the bright side, for once Spurs are on the right side of a recent transfer. They receive a player who has always been forthright about his love for the club and had performed very well for them in his four-year tenure—despite never really featuring consistently.

Again with a promising and cohesive striking partnership, and an intelligent, sensible manager, Spurs fans can look forward to positive summer transfers, unless Levy undermines the whole operation yet again.

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