Pressure no more on us than it is Villa or Tottenham

Former City captain Richard Dunne's words implying that the heat is all on his beloved Blues and not his current employers Villa ahead of Saturday's game has already proved the main soundbite ahead of a weekend which will not only play a big part in the fortunes of both clubs but prove an afternoon of heroes and villains (no pun intended), scores to be settled, good versus, well, you get the picture.

So far as 'needing' Champions League football, Dunne's probably right in the medium-term, but i'm not sure i agree that it's absolutely essential this season. At the start of last year Mark Hughes was given a target of finishing in the top half, we achieved that. This year's target, pre-season at least and publicly stated by both Khaldoon Al Mubarak and Garry Cook was top six. That objective, again going from what we were told on record, was then fast-tracked in light of extra funds given to the then manager, and his subsequent sacking certainly indicated that goals had been brought forward by a year.

The main factor in any disappointment that would follow for fans of any club realistically involved in the race for fourth has quite simply been the form of Liverpool. Even if they'd been slightly less below-par they'd be well away in their usual position of being the best of the rest but not quite good enough for the main prize. Their ten league defeats have opened a door, but that's not to mean that any side of the three who doesn't grab that final slot would have had a disappointing term.

Time seems to be a quick healer, certainly as far as pressure on managers goes. It wasn't all that long ago that Martin O'Neill was being heckled by those who go to Villa Park, being labelled 'tactically inept' by those who mainly don't, and couldn't give assurances of his future amidst rumours of unrest with owner Randy Lerner. Top six and two trips to Wembley surely shows further signs of progress, but odds are he'll pack his bags should they not achieve their greatest target.

It would be interesting to see how Spurs' season may go having to accommodate Champions League football should they see their way over the line. I think they'd be okay, and certainly no worse of than they'd be with the prospect of nineteen Europa League fixtures on the horizon. They are where they are because Redknapp has gotten full use of a squad which at the start of the season, with several players having either not shown their true form or being said to be unhappy, didn't appear, on paper at least, a touch on ours. With the likes of Gareth Bale, Sebastien Bassong, Michael Dawson, Niko Kranjcar and Roman Pavlyuchenko coming in and performing, Tottenham's strength-in-depth is now not a concern at all.

Overall, though, internet baloney aside, most Spurs fans would have been quite content with a top six finish this season, and whilst the way Redknapp has turned them round deserves enormous credit and any potential slip may not be a huge disaster, not being able to offer regular Wednesday evening European football next year would make it more likely that the "bigger" clubs (not wanting to get involved in that particular debate) express an interest in their best performers, and should they not grab fourth then certain members of their squad could quite possibly be prized away, most likely Luka Modric, or the current Lane hero, Gareth Bale.

What no City, Spurs or Villa fan would deny is that the club with most to lose here are the outsiders, the former greats of Anfield Road. They have a slim chance, assuming Spurs don't royally mess things up, but the possibility of Europa League success might be the only thing to persuade their two players - Nando Torres and Steven Gerrard, to stay put, the latter being due his biennial transfer request.

Where the pressure is, then, is difficult to say. Playing the other contenders on our own patch given our great record there, well, us failing to get the necessary results will certainly be painted out as us bottling it, for want of a better phrase, but we're due to be playing two terrific sides who the league table shows are at least as good as us.

Particularly irritating is the assumption by the dimmer amongst us that Spurs and Villa are both some sort of potential saviours of football's soul against a game that's becoming more and more money-orientated. We shouldn't forget that Spurs squad itself has cost the best part of £200m, and Martin O'Neill has brought over £100m of players into Villa. It's hardly obscene bucketloads versus paupers, and certainly isn't an unlevel playing field.

Should we not qualify for the Champions League this year then i've no doubt there'll be big decisions made at board level, but then there's likely to at both Villa and Liverpool, too, should neither of them manage it. Next year, whichever way it goes, will be a huge season, and the owners will almost certainly request an improvement once more. Gambling on a new face or sticking with Mancini would be a big call. I'd err towards the latter, as over his time at the club his results stand up to any of the other contenders, and though it might mean several departures, i'd prefer a manager to be judged on his players and not anothers.

One of the biggest plus-points about our situation is that it lessens the possibility of our better players being syphoned. Not that we're completely invulnerable to the vultures; the clubs who, let's be honest, have the prestige we could only dream of, but being in a position where you don't have to sell and any key player would have to take a hit to his pride (wallet) to move on, well, as much as anyone edging above us would be seen as a huge victory, a rival club strengthening window after window would worry me.

Dunney's assertion that the pressure is very much on us, then, is pretty nonsensical. Our manager is no more likely to be out of job if fourth isn't achieved than his, our star players are much less likely to move on, and we'll maintain the strongest hand to make further additions over the summer. Whilst the business models of both them and Spurs may well be better set-up to cope with seasons after season of dodging the biggest club competition in the world, we're clearly in the most commanding position to keep having a go at it, which surely makes it all the more vital that they grab their chance whilst they can.


  1. Quality! Absolutely agree!

  2. Interesting article, as a Spurs fan I've got to disagree, most fans i know would be greatly disappointed with a 6th place finish. I'm not sure you realize how important it is for us to get 4th this year, if your lot get in we can all but kiss our chances of 4th in the future goodbye. Knowing your owners, this summer they will be spending a lot, and if it so happens your in Champions League then you have a real shot at the likes of Torres, Villa, etc. It's just a matter of time before your lot spend enough to get in. Oh and did I mention no Champions League this year = Goodbye to our top players?

  3. Jonny Foreigner29 April 2010 at 05:43

    Pressure is even more on them than us! For Villa and Spurs this is possibly their final opportunity to get into the top competition as the blues continue to build and Liverpool look for new owners to enable their recovery.

  4. As a Villa fan, I agree. This is probably the last chance for us and teams like us the finish top 4. As you will undoubtably buy it next season. So the onus is on us. You have a couple of "cup finals" against villa and spurs to claim 4th. I would say good luck, but I wouldn't mean it. Hope we stuff you ;-)

  5. 'Assuming Spurs don't royally mess things up...' That's one hell of an assumption!

  6. Spurs are the best prepared, the more likely and the most deserving team to get the 4th spot. I personally believe , they were victimised last time around, due to a certain Mr Dein and his rather shady affairs with FA and EPL. Besides, Spurs will beat Bolton, Man City and Villa will draw, which will end Villas challenge, I cant see Chelsea losing to Liverpool, i think we will witness Liverpools demise from this season onwards from a top four team to a mid table club, all down to mis management and mistakes over the years. Spurs for me will finish 4th,City 5th,Villa 6th ,Liverpool 7th.

  7. Reasonably considered article. Just a note though, Spurs do assemble squads that have cost money - however, we do so whilst balancing the books. Berbatov, Carrick, Bent, Keane, the mob that went to Portsmouth, those that went to Sunderland - all have brought a lot of money into the coffers as well. Please don't just follow the Lawrenson/Hansen line of Spurs have simply spent a lot of money - it's not quite true.

  8. The issue with the money that's being spent isn't so much that I think its bucketloads vs paupers because we all know that Spurs and Villa have spent a lot to get where we are. The real issue is that we're drawing from a finite pot of money and have to balance the books to do it. Man City on the other hand aren't, and they have as much money to hand as they require - it's not ben so evident yet, but next season is crucial - if you get 4th spot, you'll have your choice of players and we'll struggle to ever bridge the gap. That's why it's so important that City don't get it. I've nothing against City personally, but for the sake of the next few years of the Premiership as a spectacle I'm praying they don't get 4th place yet!

  9. The difference between Spurs/Villa spending money and City spending money is that Spurs/Villa spend within their means, whereas City's spending is due solely to having new billionaire owners (and yes the same applies to Chelsea)

  10. The 4 sides all have varying characteristics which makes for a brilliant end of season show. I am spurs fan and I think the pressure is only Liverpool. City will get there someday very soon. Villa and Spurs don't budget for it and have never been there so all this stuff about must do this and that is over the top. People call it their last chance. So what do those same people think just by being in it next year, we are garantueed to overcome City's and Liverpool's challenge next year? Champions League for just one season will not change Villa and Spurs' budget too much.