Can Rafael Van Der Vaart Propel Tottenham To Premier League Title?

Chris PotterCorrespondent ISeptember 4, 2010

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 11:  Rafael Van der Vaart of the Netherlands shows his dejection  after losing the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Final match between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City Stadium on July 11, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

''No...f*** off. I'm not a f***ing wheeler and dealer...I'm a f***ing football manager.''

One of Harry Redknapp's more colourful recent interviews with Sky was briefly halted by the Tottenham Hotspur coach, fed up of being labelled as the Del Boy of the footballing world.

Harry Redknapp showed his wheeler-dealer skills earlier this week when he wrapped up the shock last-minute £8 million ($12 million) transfer of Dutch attacking midfielder Rafael Van Der Vaart from Real Madrid.

Not a transfer that was essential to the needs of the team, Redknapp himself admitted: ''I felt we'd already got a good squad. It wasn't really a case of being desperate to get anybody in.''

But, with a first-ever Champions League appearance on the horizon and with the additional burden of playing at least six additional mid-week matches before the transfer window re-opens in January, will Van Der Vaart's undeniable experience and quality in midfield help Tottenham build on their success last year?

It seemed until recently that Redknapp was content with his squad and felt it was unnecessary to spend any additional funds which Champions League football will bring in through merchandise, TV revenue, and ticketing.

However, fans will be relieved that club chairman Daniel Levy was able to persuade William Gallas, Stipe Pletikosa, and Van der Vaart to join the renaissance that is taking form at White Hart Lane.

For last night, vice-captain Michael Dawson seemed to suffer a serious knee injury on international duty for England against Bulgaria during the team's first Euro 2012 qualifying match.

Later on in the match, Jermain Defoe seemed to aggravate his groin injury when scoring his third and England's fourth goal in a game that Spurs strike partner Peter Crouch missed because of a back injury.

Last weekend, Carlo Cudicini, filling in for the injured Heurelho Gomes, let a weak Hugo Rodallega shot through his grasp to hand struggling Wigan all three points against Tottenham.

Thus, the wave of optimism which had engulfed N17 last week after the club's win at Stoke City and progression to the Champions League group stages has subsided.

Without Dawson and Woodgate, who was omitted from the club's 25-man first-team squad for the league season due to chronic groin problems, former Arsenal, Chelsea and Marseilles defender Gallas will have a large part to play this season, especially if Ledley King's knee problems resurface.

Without Crouch and Defoe, Van Der Vaart's creativity and goals (he has scored 108 in 332 games for club and country) will be crucial, especially in the Champions League.

But does Tottenham, with so many key players already nursing injuries, have enough ammunition to finally challenge Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United for the ultimate prize, the Premier League title?

The first team squad is littered with international stars who have performed consistently well in the competition for years: in defence, Michael Dawson and Ledley King are impregnable at times; in midfield, Gareth Bale is outstanding and, alongside Van Der Vaart, Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon, will be an integral part of a midfield or real quality on the ball; in attack, Crouch, Defoe, and Pavlyuchenko can all score goals and provide different options.

But the team still has clear weaknesses which will be exploited by the best managers, players, and teams.

Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes, despite being a fan favourite and world-class shot-stopper, is still unreliable in the air and lacks composure. Left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto is wasteful in possession, casual on the ball and clumsy in the tackle. Neither Wilson Palacios nor Tom Huddlestone is able to break opposition play up frequently enough in front of the back four.

The team, in general, still lacks the experience and mentality required to close out tight games or to dominate play for long enough to convert the quality it shows in possession into enough wins to challenge for honours.

And with Arsenal and Manchester City in particular strengthening their squads more successfully than Spurs, and Liverpool now in the competent hands of Roy Hodgson with the fans buoyant about the pending departure of unpopular foreign owners and the prospect of a fit-again Fernando Torres spearheading their campaign, it will be even more difficult for Spurs to finish in the top four places than it was last season.

Redknapp, known for his ability to get the most of out his players, foster team spirit and strengthen his hand in the transfer market, will need to use all of his cunning and knowledge to pull off another miracle.

Although, this time, perhaps crucially, his hands will remain in his pockets until January.


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