With Valentine’s Day done for another year, it is time for thoughts to return to our first love: football. We are getting the business end of the Premier League season, where players have the opportunity to write themselves into the history books of their clubs. Now, I’m a Tottenham fan, and a lot of the time we’ve been like The Inbetweeners of the Premier League – not complete outcasts, but never quite pulling in the end (while often being the source of great amusement to others). But we have had some great players, if all of them were in one team it would make a hell of a line-up, and it got me thinking about what my Ultimate Spurs XI and super-subs would be. I started properly paying attention and supporting them at secondary school (around 2002 onwards), although I’d been to see them before that, so this corresponds nicely with the idea of an Ultimate Spurs Dream Team of the 21st Century. Warning, there may be some controversial calls…
Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris
We start with one of the easier decisions for the team. The first genuine world-class keeper that Spurs have had for a while, the current club captain has saved us time after time with his performances and is rated as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. It says a lot that Paul Robinson, arguably Tottenham’s last quality keeper, said ahead of the 2015-16 season, “I think the biggest achievement of Spurs this summer was keeping hold of Lloris”. Capped 74 times for France and currently our highest-rated player on FIFA ’16, Lloris is of course the first name on the team sheet.
Right Back: Stephen Carr
The first tricky decision, as England international Kyle Walker is a strong contender for this position. But too often Walker has seemed convinced that he is a right midfielder rather than a right back, so I’m starting with a more solid and dependable defensive option (because generally speaking, defence hasn’t Tottenham’s strong point over the years). Vedran Ćorluka looked promising initially but fell away a bit, so, despite his departure to Newcastle United, I’m going with Carr. Stephen Carr had a trial at Spurs as a fifteen-year-old and stayed at the club for another thirteen years as a regular starter in the Right Back position. With the attacking madness of my midfield which I’ll get to later, I think it will be important to have a safe pair of hands protecting them at the back.
Centre Back: Ledley King (captain)
Another name that was a no-brainer, King was an absolute stalwart in defence. At Spurs for his entire playing career, he’s always been a favourite and I think he could have been an important part of the England team in the 2000’s if it weren’t for his knees. King defied logic with his ability to continue playing for Spurs despite his condition getting so bad that he couldn’t even train. Playing Premier League football when he couldn’t even train, and still being one of the first names on the team sheet?? An inspiration to all, and the logical choice to captain the Spurs 21st Century Dream Team.
Centre Back: Jan Vertonghen
Now, when I started properly supporting Tottenham everyone was raging about Sol Campbell leaving, so I can’t quite affiliate him with Spurs and include him in the team here. Instead I’ve gone for one of my favourite current players at Spurs, Jan Vertonghen. The Belgium national team have an embarrassment of riches in defence, but he still stands out. In his first season with us he was our second-best player after Gareth Bale, and ended up in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year. Currently he’s a part of a Tottenham Hotspur defence that can actually consistently defend too, which is gold dust. Plus he’s got a good Superman goal celebration, which is a bonus.
Left Back: Christian Ziege
This choice has a certain sentimental element to it. I remember a game against Arsenal in 2002 when I first started supporting Tottenham. In this game Christian Ziege scored an incredible 30-yard free kick. Ever since that I always found him an exciting player to watch, as he possessed that genuine quality that set him apart from other Left Backs, especially in attack. Due to his injuries there is a bit of a ‘what if’ question with Ziege, but on his day the 72-cap German international was a quality player.
Centre Midfielder: Michael Carrick
Perhaps the most underrated midfielder of his generation, Carrick is a brilliant passer of the ball that the England national team is only just beginning to appreciate. His subsequent success at Manchester United only enhanced his reputation at club level, and he was an asset to the Spurs midfield and would be for any in the Premier League. While others will press forward, Carrick can be a calm distributor to everyone, not quite as flashy or showy as some of the other names I’m about to mention, but crucial to any team he’s a part of.
Centre Midfielder: Luka Modric
The first name here from the incredible midfield that we had during the Redknapp era. Modric is a seriously classy player – the goal he scored against Liverpool in 2011 may well be his most memorable moment at Spurs, but it was his supreme passing and ease on the ball that made him so fantastic to watch. He was crucial to us getting qualification to the UEFA Champions League for the first time in our history in 2010. It is no surprise that Real Madrid went on to buy him. And he wouldn’t be the only one…
Attacking Midfielder: Gareth Bale
Do I even need to explain this? The most expensive player in the history of club football needs no introduction, so I’m going to look at the funnier moments that may have been forgotten, before he became a superstar. Initially played as a left back, Bale was thought of as a bit of a jinx as Spurs went an incredible 24 games without a win in the Premier League when he was playing. Even better were reports in 2008 that Middlesbrough had demanded £15 million plus Gareth Bale in a deal to bring Stewart Downing to Tottenham. Stewart Downing… Stewart Downing?? Thankfully Bale stayed and became a world-class attacking player. I remember him getting the hat-trick in the 4-3 game against Inter Milan (it almost meant my mate having his eyebrow shaved off due to a foolish bet he made when we were 4-0 down). The season under Andre-Villas Boas was even better than the “Taxi for Maicon” Redknapp days. I remember initially questioning why he kept shooting from so far out, but they just kept going in… He remains comfortably the best player Spurs have had since I’ve supported them.
Attacking Midfielder: Rafael Van der Vaart
I still can’t fathom how we got Van der Vaart from Real Madrid for £8 million. It’s quite nice to remember that there are Spurs / Madrid transfers that go the other way occasionally… Another seriously classy player, he scored some important goals in our UEFA Champions League quarter-final run. He scored some goals in less important games too. He basically scored a lot, and as such was a great addition to the best Spurs midfield I’ve known. Yes he can be lazy, but Bale will do a lot of the running for him in this team. Speaking of lazy…
Striker: Dimitar Berbatov
He’s not going to get much running done, but wow the natural ability of Berbatov is something to behold. He was great for us too, and he always made it look so easy. Sure, the interview of himself that was recently conducted by… himself, suggests that he may have lost the plot (if you haven’t seen this, definitely look it up). But while he was with us, it was always exciting to watch him play because he just seemed to be on a different wavelength to everyone else, like he knew something they didn’t. Why do all this running, when a touch of quality will make me a fan favourite week after week? Manchester United bought him for a fortune, and he remains the most an English club has ever paid for a Tottenham player.
Striker: Harry Kane
Unlike Berbatov, Kane will do a lot of running. In fact he’s a lot cleverer on the ball than people give him credit for, but he is in the team for his ability to score goals time after time. It has been great to watch a home-grown talent continuing to prove himself as a player of real quality, and a great use to many in their Fantasy Football teams. And what is most impressive is that this came after setbacks, after a couple of loan moves that didn’t quite work out… He had to wait for his chance, but when it came he didn’t hang about. Not just one for the future, he’s already a club hero in the here and now. While he is in the Spurs team, there is plenty of reason to get very excited about what can be achieved.
Subs: I already mentioned Paul Robinson, and he was also a great goalkeeper and gets the nod as a back-up, and he even scored the odd goal in his career! As for defensive cover, Toby Alderweireld is looking like a great player, but it’s still his first season so it is perhaps too early to throw him into the mix. Jonathan Woodgate sure had his moments, but I’m going for the very accomplished and long-serving Michael Dawson as my reserve central defender. My other spot goes to Kyle Walker, on account of his speed and stamina that has proven crucial in many a game. I remember a European match that went to extra-time when the entire team was spent and he ran for the other 10 players combined. Walker can also create a bit of width if Van der Vaart inevitably ends up cutting in-field too. Benoit Assou-Ekotto is unlucky to miss out, but I figure that Vertonghen or even Bale can cover Left Back.
For my midfield I thought of well-known players like Gus Poyet, Darren Anderton or Tim Sherwood, and I remember watching them when I was very young in a game against QPR, but they still feel a bit before my time. I was very tempted to go for the ever-reliable Scott Parker (or even Didier Zokora just for the hell of it), but I’ve instead gone for Edgar Davids to sure up the midfield if the attacking prowess of the starting line-up needs a bit more solidity behind it to close out a game. Another world-class player, the Dutchman is surely one of the best free transfer of the 2000’s? Ledley King is another option as a Defensive Midfielder if we are trying to shut up shop (I wonder if Tottenham have ever done this successfully). Give me another year and I might be putting Dele Alli in this squad too, he is a player that is looking seriously exciting, but for now I’m sticking with Christian Eriksen. Probably my favourite player in our current squad (and yet another No. 23 in this team), he has been one of the few successes from the spending money that we got for selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. His free-kicks and slick passing have proven great to watch ever since he arrived at White Hart Lane (this squad has an insane number of free-kick specialists now I look at it). I did consider David Ginola, but technically he was only in a 21st century Spurs squad for half a season, and again if I was being honest he was before my time. On the other end of the spectrum there is a bit of fond nostalgia for Aaron Lennon, but I could never figure out if he was crossing or shooting half the time…
For the striking options I had to choose between Sheringham and Les Ferdinand, and in the end I’ve gone for Teddy Sheringham. Great experienced player, and he proved at Manchester United that he sure packs a punch when he comes off the bench – and this could come in handy if Berbatov doesn’t last the full 90 minutes. Another tough call was omitting the Jermain Defoe who was very loyal to the club (except for when he left, twice), but I’ve instead chosen Robbie Keane. A great player for club and country, Keane was our big name signing when I first started supporting Spurs, a goal-scorer who was an absolutely crucial part of the team. I am still a big fan of his attitude, and even more so his cartwheel-and-roly-poly goal celebration.
Manager: The team formation resembles 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1 if Berbatov is lagging behind on the counter-attack), but more often than not I reckon it would become 4-1-3-2 / a diamond midfield formation, with Carrick behind the three other midfielders as I can’t quite see Van der Vaart sprinting down the flanks regularly (seem to remember that Modric went out on the left on occasion). Perhaps controversially, in terms of manager I’m not going to pick Harry Redknapp – with the squad we had, particularly the midfield that I think was the best in the Premier League at the time, should we have done better? Still, we qualified for the UEFA Champions League and had some great results under him. I remember watching his first game in the pub, the 4-4 comeback against Arsenal, and it was rarely dull from that moment onwards. Martin Jol had his moments, Juande Ramos even won us a trophy, and funnily enough I was actually a big fan of Andre-Villas Boas during his time at Tottenham. And Sherwood as a manager was nothing if not entertaining… But I’m going to go with Mauricio Pochettino. Yes he’s still relatively new as a manager, but the style that he plays is exciting, the team is very hard-working with a good attitude, and the defence even seems to be improving. And it is worth noting that he has done this without a marquee signing of his own. His didn’t buy any superstars to strengthen his squad, but under his tutelage Tottenham are actually creating the superstars now. Given this, what could he do with the 18 players I’ve mentioned above?
Team: Lloris, Carr, King (captain), Vertonghen, Ziege, Carrick, Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart, Berbatov, Kane
Subs: Robinson, Dawson, Walker, Davids, Eriksen, Sheringham, Keane
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
So there it is, my ultimate Tottenham Dream Team of the 21st Century. Feel free to disagree with any of the calls I’ve made, next week I’m going to try picking my worst Spurs flop team. Now that ought to be interesting…