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Jan 29, 2009

Blast from the past the best idea?

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. If Tottenham supporters wanted to revisit their past, they used to have to watch the Masters tournaments, those six-a-side contests notable for expanding waistlines, receding hairlines and diminishing speed. Now Spurs fans can just go to White Hart Lane.

By re-signing Jermain Defoe, Pascal Chimbonda and Robbie Keane, Tottenham appeared intent on recreating the side that finished fifth in 2007. That may seem understandable given their current position one point above the relegation zone, but it amounted to a public admission that many of Spurs' dealings in the previous year were mistaken.

If Harry Redknapp's quest to reunite Tottenham's former players began by bringing back Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand to assist the coaching staff, there is a temptation to wonder why they did not wind the clock back and restore Martin Jol to the manager's job.

Yet this transfer window could only have been conducted by Redknapp. It is quintessential Harry. The frantic business and incessant rumours are hallmarks of his. The eventual outcome is the product of the scattergun approach of a manager who appreciates quality but invariably covets players he does not have.

Redknapp's rhetoric has been as confused as Spurs' thinking recently. He has gone from advocating wholesale change (after each defeat) to wondering where he can fit everyone in (when they win).

That element has just become harder. Chimbonda is the fourth right-back signed in three transfer windows. The third, Vedran Corluka, has performed respectably. Despite Chimbonda's versatility and his impact in a cameo at Bolton, a left-back or a central defender would have been a more logical addition to the defence. When Alan Hutton is available again - which may not happen until next season - competition for places on the right flank will be excessive.

Still more complicated is the situation in attack. There is the ongoing - and seemingly unresolved - debate about Luka Modric's best position, his frequent deployment behind a solitary striker renders a second forward unnecessary. In any case, Keane and Defoe were incompatible in their first spells at White Hart Lane.

Now, at a combined cost of £30m, their rivalry has been renewed. In recruiting two hugely accomplished goalscorers, Redknapp will attract envious glances from his peers. In signing two players who have rarely dovetailed smoothly, he may get querying looks from the strikers themselves.

Defoe's absence for the next 10 weeks may explain Keane's recruitment as a quick fix. A flurry of goals could ensure survival and act as a soothing balm after the Irishman's exit to Liverpool irritated some. Yet Defoe's foot injury merely delays a dilemma.

Albeit unintentionally, Keane was the major factor in Defoe's departure last January. The former can be a creator and the latter is invariably a predator, but they have not functioned in harmony. Neither is at his happiest as a lone striker, and both appreciate the presence of a more physical partner or, in Dimitar Berbatov's case, an idiosyncratic target man. Even before Berbatov's arrival, they alternated as foils to Frederic Kanoute and Mido.

If Roque Santa Cruz was not the most frustrated footballer on transfer deadline day, it is understandable why. With Keane emerging as the preferred choice, Defoe was limited to three league starts in half a season before frustration at his bit-part role led to his exit in January 2007.

Recent events suggest misfortune continues to dog Defoe. His two clubs, Tottenham and Portsmouth, won cup competitions last season, but he figured in neither final. Now ruled out of the Carling Cup showpiece against Manchester United, he is injured just when Keane has been appointed captain and granted a chance to reassert his status as first choice.

With Redknapp's doubts about Darren Bent and a lack of goals at White Hart Lane, either Keane or Defoe made sense. The combination of both does not. Yet in their sepia-tinted memories of happier times, Tottenham appear to have forgotten the awkward moments.

Substitute Berbatov for Roman Pavlyuchenko and Spurs would have the quartet of forwards with which they started last season. It was a campaign, however, that culminated in a finish in the lower half of the table and was marked by a manager's exit.

Moreover, some concerns have outlasted both Jol and Juande Ramos. Spurs still have no specialist left winger, duties that will presumably continue to be shared by Modric, Aaron Lennon, David Bentley, Jamie O'Hara and Gareth Bale. Nor is there an automatic choice at left-back, and the entire squad has a lopsided look.

The absence of alternatives to Heurelho Gomes has at least been rectified even if Carlo Cudicini, long regarded as the finest substitute goalkeeper in the country, showed signs of fallibility in his final year at Chelsea. So, of five purchases, only Wilson Palacios, a high-grade Didier Zokora, cannot be questioned.

If Tottenham's predicament helps account for their approach, short-termism nevertheless ruled. That is a consequence of being in a relegation battle, but in signing players who should ensure survival this season, Redknapp has guaranteed himself some difficult decisions for next year.

Having complained about an imbalanced squad, Redknapp now has a costlier and a better one, but it is still imbalanced. In solving some of their difficulties, Spurs have created others, and a familiarity with the issues should serve as a warning.

Tottenham have shown a repeated reluctance to learn the lessons from their history. In re-signing Keane and Defoe, Redknapp has brought back problems from Spurs' past.

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