Despite the recent partnership with Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur have long had an association with their fiercest rivals, FC Barcelona. Former Spurs players Vic Buckingham and Terry Venables went onto manage FCB, while players including Steve Archibald, Gary Lineker and Edgar Davids were successful at both clubs.
More recently, as I wrote in my book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley, Pep Guardiola has taken a footballing philosophy to another level with Barcelona; his side achieved glory at the highest level based on a beautiful passing and moving game that had echoes of the Tottenham "Push and Run" team that won the English Football League in 1950-51, and the Spurs side that won the double and then became the first British team to win a trophy in Europe the following decade.
So, Barcelona’s visit to White Hart Lane yesterday, albeit at Academy Level, in the series of NextGen group games, attracted nearly 9,000 fans on a Thursday night. Besides a great view in the West Upper, there was singing, something that only happens in that part of the ground on the memorable nights.
Spurs started off well with a patient approach perhaps only undermined in the final third when players sometimes were perhaps a bit too selfish in front of goal. But early on there was already plenty of promise, with Alex Pritchard coming inside from the left of a front three to hit the bar with his favoured right-foot. Pritchard was a constant threat in the first-half and though he saw less on the ball in the first quarter of the second-half when he moved to centre, he showed plenty of skill throughout.
Pritchard wasn't the only stand-out player for Tottenham; Captain Kevin Stewart was also excellent. He took advanced positions from left-back when Spurs built from the back and showed real leadership amongst his back-line when defending. Stewart’s runs of the ball always provided an option for Spurs, even when he wasn’t picked out, before he switched to play as the right-sided centre-back for the last fifteen minutes.
Another Tottenham defender that caught the eye was Dominic Ball. The 17-year-old centre-back read the game well, was composed on the ball and moved forward into space when he had the chance. For a club that produced Ledley King, arguably the best defender of a generation, these are encouraging attributes.
For Barcelona, Fernando Quesada always seem to find space in midfield, Sergi Samper was always composed first in central midfield and then at centre-back, and their big striker, Sandro, twice produced excellent finishes that proved decisive in a 2-0 win. Like Sandro, Alain Ebwelle, one of four Cameroon players in the Barca squad, produced a number of nice first touches, although he wasn’t as prolific in front of goal.
Both sides produced good football that was entertaining and enjoyable to watch, with Barcelona doing enough for the win. Barca now top the group, but ideally both sides will progress, and can meet again later in the competition.
Mel Gomes is the author of ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’, his account in of the 2010/11 Champions League, following Tottenham Hotspur home and away, before going onto the series of Clasicos and seeing Barcelona win the Cup at Wembley. More details here http://thesubstantive.com/the-substantive-published-e-books/
Mel Gomes is also on Twitter - @melstarsg