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The last thing to leave Tottenham Hotspur was their sense of self-delusion, but after a decade of self-defeating myth-making, they go into Sunday’s match against Norwich, placed fourth in the table and apparently reaping the benefits of the pragmatism instilled by Jacques Santini since he took charge in the summer.
For a generation of foreign players, to be linked with an unfeasible move to White Hart Lane was a badge of honour, a sign they had truly made it. Only somebody with the stoniest of hearts would have pointed out that they last won the championship in 1962, but it seems that Santini might be that man. “Tottenham,” he said on Friday, “are always convalescing.”
It is probable – his long, rambling sentences make it impossible to be entirely sure - that he was referring to the injuries and international call-ups that have disrupted his training schedule, but he may as well have been talking about the 13 years that have passed since Tottenham won the FA Cup.
It is not uncommon for clubs on the wane to cling desperately to past glories, but Tottenham have done it more embarrassingly than most, their fans’ insistence on attempting to replicate the push-and-run football of four decades ago only succeeding in making it seem bizarre now that 15 years ago they were one of the ‘Big Five’ leading the push for the establishment of the Premiership.
With Santini, though, has come a new realism. Out have gone the ephemeral talents of Milenko Acimovic, Helder Postiga and Darren Anderton, and in have come the rather more robust figures of Erik Edman, Noe Pamarot and Pedro Mendes.
Perhaps most significant, though, has been the arrival of the Moroccan centre-back Noureddine Naybet from Deportivo la Coruna, and his partnership with the ever-improving Ledley King has been the main reason Spurs have conceded only twice in four Premiership games so far.
Admittedly they have scored just four, but they remain unbeaten and if they continue like this, it won’t be long before they have appropriated the 1-0 trademark from their north London rivals.
Even more encouraging is the fact that King, Paul Robinson and, most spectacularly, Jermain Defoe played for England against Poland on Wednesday, the first time Spurs have had three players start a game for England since 1987.
Santini, though, is far too phlegmatic to get carried away. “I do not have Sky on my television, so I did not even see the game,” he said. “It is good news, of course, but does it mean that we will win the next game against Norwich? No.”
Spurs fans, anyway, will know that two seasons ago, under Glenn Hoddle, they topped the Premiership at the end of August only to fall away. With Chelsea and Manchester United next up after Norwich, the danger is that could happen again. “September is a hard month,” Santini said, but the early indications are that he has instilled a toughness that could see them through it.
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