Tottenham Hotspur: The Players Who Have Shaped Spurs' Modern History

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2013

Tottenham Hotspur: The Players Who Have Shaped Spurs' Modern History

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    For better or worse, all but the most minimal of contributors shape a football club's history. In that respect, Tottenham Hotspur are no different.

    The North London outfit can count some of the finest players to have plied their trade on British shores among their number over the years. Plus plenty more besides have played their part in an engrossing modern era.

    Focusing on the era beginning with Bill Nicholson's legendary reign as manager—one that included the first league and cup double of the 20th century, as well as the first European trophy won by an English club—this article looks decade-by-decade at the players who have shaped the modern Tottenham.

    Some considerable talent misses out here. Not for a second is that a slight on the contributions of players the calibre of Cliff Jones, Alan Gilzean, Gary Mabutt and Luka Modric. They and many more have played their part in the notable moments and events of Spurs' past half-century and a bit.

    The story of Spurs is not told just by the best players and their successes, however. It encompasses tragedy, betrayal, underachievement and the passing of time, too, all of it combining to build the version of the club that stands today.

    Nicholson himself was part of a momentous era in that timeline. Like many players of his generation, his career lost several years to life and service during World War Two. The subsequent success he enjoyed as part of Arthur Rowe's "push and run" team paved the way for what he would achieve coaching his own team down the line.

    Demonstrating the depth to which Spurs' history runs is the fact that Rowe himself was a player in the 1930s, his own career built on foundations laid over so many years before.

    For purposes of brevity and a fear of not doing justice to those early pioneers, it is the latter half of the club's history that is examined here.

    Read on for those who have followed in their wake down the years and the stories of their involvement with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

Danny Blanchflower

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    It might not have been wholly apparent at the time of his signing, but Danny Blanchflower was to be not only an era-defining player for Tottenham but one whose footballing beliefs remain those identified by the North Londoners to this day.

    His famous quote about "the game being about glory" can be seen plastered around the modern White Hart Lane, a testament to the desire for attractive football that Blanchflower helped firmly embed into the club’s culture.

    Of course, all this mattered little if the Northern Irishman’s playing contributions were not as valuable as they were.

    It was not always smooth sailing. The opinionated Blanchflower’s independent willingness to alter tactics mid-game jarred with his second Spurs boss Jimmy Anderson.

    Initially Bill Nicholson thought him too much of a luxury player, dropping him for a time in favour of more defensively-minded players at the heart of his side.

    Nicholson eventually concluded Blanchflower’s tactical acumen and passing sensibilities were too useful not to harness. Here was an on-field lieutenant perfect to lead the side he was putting together, not to mention a player of considerable quality worthy of taking his place among the gifted group he was assembling.

    So much of Spurs’ football ran through Blanchflower during their successes of the early 1960s.

    The trophies that came under his captaincy built on the legacy established by Arthur Rowe’s "push and run" side a decade earlier, establishing Tottenham’s reputation among English football’s hierarchy for some time to come.

Dave Mackay and John White

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    Dave Mackay

    Dave Mackay was the ideal counterpoint to Blanchflower at the heart of Bill Nick’s double-winning side.

    A gifted player in his own right, he crucially provided a greater grit to balance his teammate’s more attacking leanings. It was not a one-sided partnership by any means, but it would be fair to say Mackay’s less glamorous duties made a big difference to Spurs’ all-round ability to win games.

    The Scotsman’s sheer desire to win helped instil a necessary determination in the teams of the early 1960s. He played a pivotal role in ensuring their efforts matched their talent, leading by word and example.

    As that team dissolved, Mackay stepped up his leadership to compensate for the retirement of Blanchflower. Two broken legs threatened to stop his career in its tracks, but he fought bravely back, setting the tone for the new crop of players to follow.

    The reward for that was getting to lead Spurs up the steps at Wembley to collect the FA Cup in 1967. Even if they were never to reach the highs of the early 1960s again (at least domestically), Mackay showed what was possible even with a comparatively lesser team.

    John White

    The double-winning team of 1960-61, who also achieved an English club’s first success in Europe in 1962-63, was always going to dissolve at some point.

    The hope was that John White, one of its youngest and most gifted members, was going to be the playmaker around which a next great team would be built.

    That possibility was tragically stolen from player and club alike when he was killed in 1964. As Blanchflower is quoted in Ivan Ponting’s Tottenham Hotspur: Player by Player (Third edition, 2008) guide as saying at the time: "There were no boundaries for John…he was going to be a king."

    The greater tragedy was, of course, the loss of White the person to his family and friends. That his footballing ability would never be realised amid the greater responsibility of having a new team shaped around him was nonetheless a cruel waste of his talent.

Jimmy Greaves

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    Tottenham’s all-time top scorer with 268 goals in almost 400 games, Jimmy Greaves is undoubtedly the club’s best-ever striker.

    His signing was intended as one to build on the success of the league and cup-winning side of 1960-61. While another title would not come in a competitive English top flight, the England forward helped fire Spurs into a brave new era in Europe.

    They were narrowly denied in the 1962 European Cup semi-final against the Benfica of Eusebio, but FA Cup success that year earned another crack at the continent in the Cup Winners’ Cup.

    Greaves augmented the already considerable power of Nicholson’s team with a goal threat that improved on the already prolific production of players such as Les Allen, Cliff Jones and Bobby Smith.

    It paid off with European success in 1963 and then, as Spurs moved away from the double team, ensured they remained a substantial presence in England, albeit one less likely to compete for league honours.

Martin Chivers

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    Greaves’ sale in 1970 truly marked the end of an era, the departure of the last significant remnant of the historic side of the early '60s.

    One of those charged with replicating Greaves’ contributions in an attempt to restore Tottenham’s standing was Martin Chivers.

    Trophy-wise, the powerful, often devastating forward played his part with goals in the 1971 League Cup final and the following year’s 1972 UEFA Cup victory. 

    After overcoming injury problems that had soon followed his arrival in 1968, alongside Alan Gilzean and Martin Peters, Chivers formed part of a potent and varied attack.

    Chivers was prolific as Spurs enjoyed something of a return to prominence in the early '70s. By the time he was done with Spurs in 1976, he had scored 174 times.

    That firepower was undoubtedly a major reasons for Spurs' resurgence as a competitor for trophies. Similarly, though, it was no coincidence that the waning of Chivers' powers in his last couple of seasons coincided with a team struggling for form.

    Bill Nicholson had gone and the next great Spurs side would be some time in coming.

Pat Jennings

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    Keith Burkinshaw got plenty right in his time as Tottenham manager, but one decision he might have come to regret was letting Pat Jennings move to Arsenal in 1977 soon after Spurs had been relegated to the Second Division.

    It was a judgement call by Burkinshaw, who believed Jennings' best days were gone—a mistake for sure, but one it was his job to make and what he thought was the best choice at the time.

    Only after the arrival of Ray Clemence in 1981 did Tottenham truly find a replacement for the monumental Jennings, who was still at that point going strong with the Gunners.

    Knowing it was not his decision, Spurs fans didn't blame the Northern Irishman as they would Sol Campbell so many years later and, besides, they can truly claim to have gotten his very best.

    Upon joining from Watford in 1964, Jennings had to compete with Bill Brown for a couple of seasons, but it was an arrangement that proved beneficial as he adjusted to the demands of life at one of English football's glamour clubs.

    Jennings proved himself to be an exemplary custodian between the sticks for the best part of just over a decade.

    By the time he left in '77, he had played his part in four cup successes, establishing a reputation as one of the world's best goalkeepers in the process.

    As one of the last links to the Nicholson era, Jennings' departure confirmed Spurs were all but starting from the ground up. If they were to get anywhere near achieving what they had done over the past two decades, others would need to step up.

Steve Perryman

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    Spurs' struggles in the mid-to-late '70s might have ended up worse than they were but for the presence of Steve Perryman.

    A valuable cog in the midfield machine for Bill Nicholson earlier in the decade, he moved back into defence under Keith Burkinshaw in the latter half.

    Having been made captain in the intervening years, Perryman assumed responsibility in Spurs' promotion push following their relegation in 1977.

    The importance of Perryman here cannot be underestimated. Without his leadership and experience, Burkinshaw's rebuilding through the process of returning to and establishing themselves back in the top flight would have been a whole lot harder.

    Talent in the form of players such as Glenn Hoddle certainly helped, but the building of any good team needs a foundation as solid as that provided by the tough and classy Perryman.

    His reward for guiding Tottenham back was a part (now as right-back) in two FA Cup-winning years in 1981 and 1982, a second UEFA Cup medal in 1983-84 and the individual accolade of the FWA Footballer of the Year award for 1981-82.

    For the loyalty Perryman had shown his club, they were all well deserved indeed.

Glenn Hoddle

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    Joining Perryman in helping Tottenham out of the Second Division was their supremely gifted young midfielder, Glenn Hoddle.

    Still a teenager at the time of Spurs' relegation, Hoddle was facing a challenging time furthering his development with the first team. The lower climbs of the English football were even less conducive to living up to the name of the beautiful game then than even Division One was.

    A lesser player (and man) than Hoddle might have found his passing-oriented game stifled in the face of more physical opposition. Instead he found a way to get by and indeed, more often than not shine, too.

    With Perryman and others such as Ossie Ardiles, Garth Crooks and Graham Roberts, Hoddle had good players around him as Spurs returned and thrived back in the top flight.

    With his exquisite passing, impeccable vision and eye for a spectacular goal, Hoddle more than made the most of this help. He took the team forward, both home and abroad, helping to elevate them to a status in a way only the great players can.

    For his talent, the England international probably deserved more in the way of honours from his time at Tottenham. But in restoring them to relevance and giving the fans a home-grown hero to adore, his contributions were well worth the effort.

Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa

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    The Argentinian duo of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa will always be linked when it comes to their part in the history of Tottenham and indeed English football.

    Their joint signing by Burkinshaw following Argentina's World Cup victory in 1978 was momentous on a grander scale as they were two of the first notable foreign players to arrive in the country.

    For Spurs, it meant the addition of two terrific performers who would provide a huge boost to the club's sense of momentum following their promotion from Division Two that year.

    Both Ardiles and Villa would take time to settle to the different style of the English game, with the latter especially struggling to adjust initially to life in his new home.

    Ultimately both did, each playing a part in speeding up Spurs' swift return to prominence as Burkinshaw combined youth-team products with a clutch of shrewd signings.

    Ardiles formed a good understanding and healthy rivalry with Hoddle in midfield, one that overcame injuries and the intervention of the Falklands War to last to the latter part of the decade.

    A little further forward, Villa was less consistent in his contributions, but when he did find form (as in the reply of the 1981 FA Cup final), he was a sight to behold.

Graham Roberts

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    "On his graduation to the senior side, it became clear that Roberts was the North Londoners' most formidable 'hard man' since Dave Mackay"—so goes Ivan Ponting's assessment of Graham Roberts in his book Tottenham Hotspur: Player by Player (Third edition, 2008).

    Spurs' team of the 1980s was not short on commitment, while the likes of Perryman, Chris Hughton and Paul Miller were not shy in making a tackle, either.

    However, it was safe to say too that the emphasis in the team overall was on the technical side of things, rather than toughness.

    There was more to Roberts than crunching tackles and a general appetite for winning the ball. Though this was his focus when playing in central defence, those attributes alone would not have seen him fare as well as he did in midfield as the decade wore on.

    The steel installed by Roberts was hugely valuable, though. It was a necessity in allowing the likes of Ardiles and Hoddle play the way they wanted to, giving a balance that ensured Spurs were more than the southern softies some critics made them out to be.

    Signed from non-league Weymouth by Burkinshaw after being scouted by Bill Nicholson, Roberts' purchase was a throwback to more measured spending in some of the last days before bigger transfer fees began to take hold.

    Spurs had never been opposed to making a big-name signing worth a few quid, and in the future they would be happy to get a bargain, too. But rarely from this point on would a player as good as Roberts cost as little as £35,000.

Paul Gascoigne

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    The purchase and sale of Paul Gascoigne were both notable moments in Tottenham’s recent history.

    His signing from Newcastle United in 1988 brought a creative talent with the potential to help fill the void left by recently departed Spurs greats Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle.

    That potential was realised in stunning style over a three-year period in which Gascoigne’s talent continued to emerge. Initially with Chris Waddle, then later in support of Gary Lineker, the young midfielder starred as he blended power with beauty, captivating fans and tormenting opponents.

    Despite his doubts over the player’s temperament, England manager Bobby Robson was eventually persuaded to take him to the 1990 World Cup.

    By the time he returned to club duty, Gazza was a national phenomenon whose talent had caught the eye of big clubs abroad.

    Gascoigne’s final season encapsulated the great promise of Spurs that was being undermined by the club’s financial troubles of the time.

    Under Terry Venables' management, they were a fine team at their best, as shown by the Gascoigne-inspired run to FA Cup glory in 1991. With the need to sell their prize asset, though, hopes of genuinely pushing on beyond this were growing dim.

    As it was, Gascoigne seriously injured himself with a foolish tackle in that cup final, though he would eventually make his previously agreed move to Lazio.

    It was cruel fortune for Spurs that events had conspired to leave them progressing into the final decade of the 20th century without the player who might have lifted them beyond the humdrum years that largely ensued.

Teddy Sheringham

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    Heading into the Premier League era, the signing of Teddy Sheringham ensured Tottenham would have a classy forward. Without the goals of the recently departed Gary Lineker, that was a must.

    Sheringham certainly provided plenty, scoring 98 times in all competitions in his first spell with Spurs between 1992 and 1997.

    Not only a reliable goalscorer (fitness permitting), he was also a superb foil to the likes of Darren Anderton and Nicky Barmby, and later Jurgen Klinsmann and Chris Armstrong.

    As Spurs sought to establish their identity in the brave new world of English football, Sheringham was a pillar of quality during a tumultuous process.

    Beyond the aforementioned productivity, he was also a player in the finest tradition of the club. His considerable finesse was made all the more telling by the intelligence with which he wielded it.

    The defining partnership of his first five years with Spurs was undoubtedly with World Cup winner Klinsmann. With the two of them leading the team forward in 1994-95, the North Londoners briefly threatened to have a successful year.

    Ultimately their league form spluttered into a seventh-place finish and they suffered an embarrassing 4-1 FA Cup semi-final defeat to Everton.

    Klinsmann departed, leaving Sheringham as Spurs' main man once again. He would continue to play a big part in helping the team along in those early years of the rebranded English top flight.

    When Manchester United came calling, that responsibility fell to others.

Chris Armstrong

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    Bought to replace Klinsmann, Chris Armstrong had a hard act to follow.

    After taking his time to settle, the former Crystal Palace striker did well in 1995-96, netting 21 times in a solid season for Spurs in which they finished eighth.

    Nobody was under any illusion that Armstrong was in the German international's class. Still, alongside Sheringham, he had hinted at being a capable replacement.

    Unfortunately, Armstrong was one of several first-team players to have torrid luck with injuries over the next couple of years. He would enjoy a decent run of form during the 1998-99 campaign—even earning a call-up to the England squad for their March '99 match with Poland—but would never regain the form of that first season.

    Armstrong was a player who embodied the unintended recruitment policy under Gerry Francis and, to a lesser extent, Christian Gross during the latter part of the '90s: the signing of players who had excelled elsewhere but never quite reached those heights at Tottenham.

    Like with Armstrong, players such as Les Ferdinand, Ruel Fox and John Scales could not catch a break when it came to staying fit. But then, they never quite delivered as consistently as they might have when playing either.

    Sadly for Spurs, things never quite came together at the right time to allow them to see the best of Armstrong and Co. over more than the occasional good spell of form.


David Ginola

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    One of the players who bucked the trend of injuries and poor form among Tottenham's late-'90s acquisitions was David Ginola.

    In just three seasons, the brilliant Frenchman charmed his way into legendary status in North London. Ginola was the perfect balance of style and substance during a period of upheaval.

    Gerry Francis—who signed him in 1997—soon made way for Christian Gross. As Spurs edged worryingly near the drop-zone, Ginola proved to be one of his team's few saving graces.

    A player to get excited by, the winger lifted both teammates and supporters with a swashbuckling style that drove opposition players back to places they did not want to be.

    He was not alone in instigating Spurs' eventual survival in 1997-98, but things would certainly have been a lot worse without him.

    Spurs sufficiently improved the following season (with a new manager halfway through in George Graham) that the flair and drive of Ginola was no longer about survival, too. Now it was allowed to flourish in more positive scenarios, notably a run to the League Cup.

    The final win over Leicester City was unremarkable on the Ginola front. However, his crowning moment in the tournament had come at the quarter-final stage when he had helped inspire his team to a win over Manchester United.

    Differences of opinion with Graham would see Ginola depart in 2000, sooner than the majority of Spurs supporters would have liked. In his stay, though, he had demonstrated the enduring ability of a singular talent to help take a team further than it had the right to go.

Sol Campbell

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    Traitor. Judas. These words and many more too awful to print were thrown Sol Campbell's way following the Tottenham defender's defection to Arsenal in 2001.

    The prospect of losing the youth product had been on the horizon for some time as his contract had wound down without him signing a new contact.

    Few, though, had anticipated he would switch allegiances to Spurs' hated North London rivals.

    Spurs hardly needed reminding of Arsenal's superiority at the time, but here was the crushing confirmation of it.

    Life would go on without Campbell as the club embarked on a new era under the recently appointed Glenn Hoddle. They finished three places higher than the year before in 2001-02; nonetheless, the loss of their best player did little for their hopes of a push to the higher echelons of the Premier League.

    Campbell had developed into one of the best defenders in Europe during his stay at Spurs. Strong and athletic as they come, he was comfortable playing across the back line.

    It was in central defence where he truly excelled. He stepped into the void left by long-time Spurs stalwart Gary Mabbutt, maturing into an important leader as the 1990s wore on.

    There were ups and downs for the club during the period. A relegation battle in 1997-98 was followed by the League Cup success in 1999.

    Through all this, Campbell was a beacon of solidity, helping Spurs maintain stability as they sought to emerge from mid-table mediocrity.

    Ultimately they could not. Campbell did what he thought was right for his career. In the minds of Spurs supporters who regarded him as one of their own, it was the unthinkable.

Ledley King

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    In just about every interview he has given since his retirement in 2012, Ledley King has been asked about the extraordinary routine that defined the latter days of his career.

    While his ability to come good on matchday after his knee injury-enforced absence from regular training sessions was certainly impressive, Tottenham fans will tell you there was plenty more besides to admire about the central defender.

    Following Campbell's departure, the emerging King's presence helped soothe the hurt at losing such an important player to a hated rival. The then 21-year-old was naturally still learning his craft, but his ability as a gifted centre-back was already apparent.

    King's mobility, pace and reading of the game saw him utilised in midfield, too. Off the back of a strong performance in England's European Championships defeat to France—alongside Campbell—the beginning of the 2004-05 season would see Spurs decide his future definitely lay in central defence.

    That summer saw monumental change at the club. Jacques Santini was appointed as manager (with Martin Jol as his assistant), overseen by sporting director Frank Arnesen as chairman Daniel Levy implemented a new European-style structure.

    With it came a substantial turnover of players as a more youth-oriented signing policy came to fruition.

    Timing-wise, it could not have worked out much better for King. Not only was he a Spurs youth product who knew the club inside out, he was just about coming into his own as a top-class footballer.

    The example he offered as a leader here (he would take over from Jamie Redknapp as captain that season soon after Jol became permanent manager) helped ease the larger transition the club was undergoing.

    As that set in, he was one of the players to guide Spurs into an era in which they would be as consistently competitive as they had been in two decades.

    Even as the injuries took an unfortunately increasing influence over him, King remained a pivotal performer for the increasingly aspirational Spurs.

Robbie Keane

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    The aforementioned youth-oriented signing policy may have taken firm hold under the management of Arnesen, Santini and Jol, but it was significantly aided by a clutch of younger players already at the club.

    Signed by Glenn Hoddle in 2002, Robbie Keane was a concession to youthful promise in a team whose key figures were largely of the elder statesman variety—Darren Anderton, Gus Poyet, Teddy Sheringham and Christian Ziege to name a few.

    After spending the early part of his career bouncing between clubs, Keane would welcome the home he found at White Hart Lane for his unique brand of forward play that enticingly veered between mesmeric and scrappy.

    Spurs appreciated those qualities, too, as well as the tenacity and fiery passion which inspired his hunt for goals.

    Twenty-nine of them came in those first two seasons. Besides Sheringham, that was about as prolific a spell over more than one year that the club had witnessed from a striker in quite some time.

    The arrival of Jermain Defoe in 2004 did not make things easy for Keane, but he continued to score goals as Spurs' fortunes began to change for the better.

    Along with Defoe, the Irishman would share the chief scoring burden with Mido and Dimitar Berbatov over the middle part of the decade, helping fire the club to the periphery of the Champions League, as well as League Cup success in 2008.

    Keane could certainly claim to be the one attacking link in lifting Spurs from a safe level of mediocrity to a team with realistic ambitions of cracking the top four. The consistency with which he performed during those years should not be underestimated in the role it played in the club's improvement.

    His departure and swift return from Liverpool in early 2009 ended that momentum for the player personally. Others such as Defoe, Peter Crouch and Luka Modric took up the mantle he had left behind, both in terms of goals and the determination to drive Spurs forward again.

Edgar Davids

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    Given he is currently earning a living in the comparatively less glamorous surrounding of non-league football coaching Barnet, it can be easy to forget how big a star Edgar Davids was in his days competing with Europe and the world's best.

    The Dutchman joined Tottenham in 2005 after a less-than-successful spell with Internazionale. That was of little concern to a White Hart Lane faithful who gave him a rousing reception after his introduction during a friendly winner over Porto.

    One of Davids' first acts that day was to launch a crunching tackle on the sideline. That trademark ferocity would be a great addition to Spurs that season, providing the grit in central and left midfield that would work well in tandem with the passing and speed provided by Michael Carrick, Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon.

    That trio were among those to benefit from the overall example provided by Davids. In addition to his contributions to the team's energetic style, his determination and resilience would rub off on a young team and its players picking up the habits it would take forward.

    There were occasional downsides to Davids' self-belief. In December '05 he and Keane would have a training ground bust-up, while a lack of first-team opportunities the following season would see him and his manager Martin Jol disagree.

    But in that 2005-06 season, the Holland international set a tone that would be followed in that campaign and beyond.

    Davids alone could not bring the kind of success he had enjoyed earlier in his career, but he helped give his Tottenham teammates a better chance of doing so.

Gareth Bale

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    Gareth Bale joined Tottenham in 2007. But for a succession of long-term injuries, he might have made a big impact earlier than he did.

    As it was, Bale took his chance in the first team during Spurs' push for a top-four place in 2009-10 (initially at left-back) and never looked back.

    He helped his team to fourth, scoring goals in vital late season wins over Arsenal and Chelsea. If those performances were impressive, two he put in the following season's Champions League were on another level.

    Bale's displays in his team's two group meetings with Inter Milan—a hat-trick in the 4-3 loss at the San Siro followed by his terrorizing of full-back Maicon in the 3-1 return win—elevated his profile on the world stage to a level no Spurs player had experienced since Paul Gascoigne (at least in terms of those who made their name in North London).

    The downside of the ensuing realisation of this exceptional talent was that plenty of big clubs were now aware of his existence.

    Spurs saw Bale go from strength to strength post-Inter. Few of you will need reminding of his achievements last season, of how he galvanised and inspired his team to within inches of a return to the Champions League.

    It was to be the last seen of the Welshman as a Tottenham player. The interest from abroad—chiefly from his eventual buyers Real Madrid—had been ratcheted up to an extent it could not be ignored, no matter how much chairman Daniel Levy and manager Andre Villas-Boas wanted to.

    Bale's immediate legacy was the estimated £85 million/100 million euros Spurs got for him, spent on the players charged with making up for his departure.

    We now wait to see how those men—among them Christian Eriksen, Paulinho and Roberto Soldado—go on to shape the next part of Spurs' history.