Arsenal may have out-performed their North London rivals Tottenham in the Premier League for well over a decade but this season has surely shown that the once-daunting gap no longer looks insurmountable.
Historically Spurs have had a lot of catching up to do. Whilst predominantly languishing in mid-table mediocrity, the Gunners have enjoyed 12 consecutive years in the Champions League and acquired a glittering haul of trophies under the club’s most-successful and longest-serving Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Tottenham’s misery over losing all bragging rights to their illustrious neighbours had been further compounded by their failure to come out on top in 22 successive derby matches, but, things are now looking a whole lot brighter down at White Hart Lane. With Champions League qualification and a decent record against Arsenal from last season now in the bag, they have started to become very noisy neighbours.
With this intriguing turnabout in events, we should probably take a look at the two men at the helm of their respective clubs, steering them on a path toward almost certain collision.
You might be surprised to hear that Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger are in many ways quite similar. Some definite parallels can be drawn from the state of affairs at White Hart Lane when Harry put pen to paper and the circumstances that Arsene found himself in when arriving at Highbury all the way back in 1996. Admittedly the Gunners were never bottom of the league like Spurs when Harry found them but both men inherited and then moulded inherently talented squads. The Frenchman already had a solid platform to fall back on with the likes of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Dennis Bergkamp when he blended them with the astute signings of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars and Nicholas Anelka. It was a recipe for success and Wenger won the double in only his second season.
Spurs on the other hand had plenty of talent in their locker who were massively underachieving under the auspices of a certain Spaniard whose name is best discarded in the annals of unwanted history. Redknapp took existing gems such as Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon and Michael Dawson, augmented by the signings (or resigning) or Jermaine Defoe, Wilson Palacios and Robbie Keane, and turned his side into Champions League contenders.
Both men are fabulously adept at recognising the talent of young players and transforming them into world-class players. Wenger established his strong reputation for unearthing young stars during his days at Monaco when he signed George Weah who later became Fifa World Player of the Year. Cesc Fabregas, Robin Van Persie and Kolo Toure need no introduction now but were all relatively unknown before coming under the Gunners’ boss’ radar.
Similarly Redknapp is no stranger to plucking young players from obscurity and propelling them on to successful careers at the top level. Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and his nephew Frank Lampard all came through West Ham’s academy during his premiership at Upton Park and for want of a more recent example, who can forget debutant Danny Rose’s sensational volley in the North London derby last month?
Here’s where the similarities end though. Wenger’s air of superiority stems from one important factor – sustained success. The players have come and gone but Arsenal have been a constant force for the whole duration of the Frenchman’s time in England. His net spending is also far superior to his counterpart at White Hart Lane. Between 2004 and 2009, he made an average profit of £4.4m on transfers per season, far more than any other club. His record has been exemplary at bringing in players for a fraction of what he has garnered when selling them on. A notable example is Nicholas Anelka who cost Wenger a paltry £500,000 from Paris St Germaine and was sold to Real Madrid for £22.3m just two years later.
Although Redknapp has a reputation for being a wheeler-dealer from his time at West Ham and Portsmouth, this is yet to be seen at Spurs after parting with large amounts of money to bolster his squad in order to mount last season’s charge on the top four.
The two men’s philosophies and management styles could not be more different either. Wenger can be described as a purist who is dedicated to technical quality. His romantic ideals for how the game should be played are admirable but have been fatally undermined this season by not having the players to do it.
Redknapp is the pragmatist and a traditionalist who places team spirit above much else. He is less serious and studious than the Frenchman but is an equally shrewd tactician. Benjani credited his success at guiding Portsmouth to FA Cup victory in 2008 to his propensity to inject humour to proceedings.
All joking aside though, it will take an awful lot to knock the grandmaster of his perch at the Emirates but could Harry be just the man to do it?
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