Tuesday, August 05, 2008
During the lockout I began to follow Premier League soccer and chose Tottenham Hotspur as my team. Just as Ryan Smyth was a major impetus in my becoming an Oilers' fan, so was Irish striker Robbie Keane, who I recalled from his heroics against Germany in 2002, a big reason for me deciding to cheer for the Spurs. A few years along and I follow Spurs still, catching them when I can, also watching Champions' League, Euro and World Cup. The big stuff. I'm a casual fan.
Tottenham is a club with a long storied history who have failed to live up to that glorious past recently. Sound familiar? Although Spurs history goes back to 1882, a little longer then the Oilers. Recently however, a disturbing pattern had emerged at White Hart Lane. Young players come and then are sold to bigger clubs once they become prominent and the club meanders about the middle of the league, a once great club now a mediocrity.
In the last few years however there was a change with Spurs. They came close to breaking into the top four of the English league and began to make strong advances in the European club tournament that they qualified for the past two seasons. Young and flashy, they looked to be a team on the rise, a team to break the hold that giants Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea have on English soccer. At the centre of this uprising was Keane, a player who might not rank amongst the elite of the game but was definitely a player of high quality. In low scoring soccer nearly every goal is a "big goal" but Keane has the reputation as a game breaker, the player who scores near the end of the game when the result is in doubt or who scores the lone goal in a 1-0 game. A terrific player, not amongst the greatest the game offers, but a player in the next echelon, imo.
If you are still reading this (I know that soccer causes eyeglazing among many), even if you are not a fan of soccer, if you are ever overseas I highly recommend going to a match if you can. My wife and I went to White Hart Lane two years ago and it was the experience of a lifetime. Really cannot be beat.
Anyhow with Keane one of the constants the Spurs have had a nice run the last few years, culminating in a League Cup title this season. In the Premier League there are three possible trophies to be won. The regular season title and two tournament titles - the FA Cup and the League Cup. With the big four teams its pretty difficult to take any honours but Spurs thumped their greatest rivals Arsenal in the semifinal 5-1 (imagine the Oilers beating the Flames by ten goals in a huge game) and then took down Chelsea in the final to win this year's League Cup and guarantee a third lucrative year in Europe.
So here we have a team on the rise, looking to return to past glories, led by a popular and charismatic player. And last week that player was moved to Liverpool, a team Spurs are chasing for one of the top four spots in the league, for a hefty sum of cash. Liverpool wanted Keane and approached Tottenham with an offer. Of course this info filtered to Keane. A month ago he was saying he felt he would end his career with Tottenham. Now with the opportunity to play for one of the top teams in England (and Europe), a team in contention for trophies year after year, and to reportedly double his salary, Keane went for it. The deal was made.
The club's supporters are divided between those who see the move as same old same old Spurs and those who support the club and call Keane a greedy liar. And then there are those in between.
The manager says Keane was terrific but Spurs policy is to replace players with players who are younger and also better.
For me as a Spurs fan its a bitter pill. I don't blame Keane although he should have kept his mouth shut. Then again, he probably never thought he'd be a candidate to get moved. Anyways I don't blame him. Since the 80s they have won three honours, in 91, in 99 and now this past season. Talk swirled around the club this summer about Berbatov (in the picture above with Keane, arms outstretched), their other terrific striker, getting moved. If I am Robbie Keane and I look at this club, I wonder if this past year was the start of something good or, if Berbatov is on the move for cash, if this may be the only trophy I ever win with Spurs.
Instead he goes to a club that is always in the mix, in England and in the European Champions' League, a team for whom money is no object. And his salary gets doubled.
An athlete plays for three reasons, imo - to win, to make money and to be happy, with one and two contributing to number three. Robbie Keane has hit the jackpot.
Now in fairness to Tottenham they are spending the money they received for Keane but they have gotten younger and its pretty likely that this upcoming season will see the club take a step backwards, especially if Berbatov is moved to Manchester United, as is rumoured. If they do take a step back then there will be no European tournament and thus less money and the club may have to sell other valuable players. You can see where this can go. Spurs are gambling that the kids they bring in to replace Keane and other veterans they have moved will be better and that they can improve what they have done the past few years.
Maybe five years from now Spurs' fans look back on a nice run and realize that moving Keane was the right idea. I sure hope so although I'm not sure why a guy good enough to play for Liverpool is not good enough to play for Spurs. This guy has been the constant in the success they have had recently. He's in his prime. It doesn't make sense to me but then again I'm a casual fan.
I find the parallels to the Oilers and Ryan Smyth interesting although of course there are many differences. Lowe knew that moving Smyth would be unpopular and would set the Oilers back. Fans were split over the move, just as Spurs fans are. A lot of Oilers' fans chose to villify Smyth. A lot feel Lowe can do no wrong.
Lowe was right on both counts but now the Oilers' arrows seem to point in the right direction, just a couple of years later. Those in favour of the trade point to Smyth's poor year last year, the direct return for Smyth, Robert Nilsson, and what many claim is another result, Sam Gagner, to show that Lowe was right. The Gagner connection drives me bananas but I'll leave it.
Lowe is looking better right now although this team hasn't won anything yet but I'm hoping that a few years from now Horcoff is skating the Cup around the ice and we look back and realize that the heartbreak was worth it.
And I think in North London they may be feeling the same way.
In both cases though I think that those who have gone before will make it a little bittersweet.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:49 AM