Bale the architect of Spurs' glory night
"Football is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom."
It is the quote most associated with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, delivered as it was by Danny Blanchflower, the leader of the team that fifty years ago lifted a storied Double. Over the years, such an attitude, a thirst for the game played the right way has caused the club genuine trouble.
Since the Keith Burkinshaw era ended in 1984, with the bitter words "there used to be a football club here," Spurs have suffered from an identity crisis. Managers have overcooked matters, in the free style of Ossie Ardiles, or ill-fatedly tried to consign the Blanchflower/Bill Nicholson philosophy to the dustbin, as occurred a decade ago under George Graham.
The welcoming of Internazionale, European champions no less, has afforded Spurs a glimpse of the "Glory Game" that was almost expected in those days when this was London's dominant footballing force. The landscape has changed since the 1960s, 1970s and indeed the mid-1980s, and despite only qualifying for the Champions League by dint of finishing fourth, the welcoming back of the big European nights has charged Spurs supporters with an excitement many thought was either left in the past or that they were too young to remember.
That Harry Redknapp chose to face Inter with a midfield made up of three playmakers in Rafael van Der Vaart, Luka Modric and Tom Huddlestone reflected his belief in doing things in a certain style. It also helps when you have the most effective left-sided player of the European season so far, and it will be Gareth Bale whose star will again be brightest after his latest gracing of a top-level occasion.
The Welshman's torture of Maicon was almost tantamount to humiliation. "You'd say that he (Maicon) was a right back no one could give a chasing," Redknapp said. "But he (Bale) has done it against the best. He's given him the most torrid time you would ever wish to see." Bale was "amazing, just amazing", is what Redknapp said Luis Figo, on the Inter bench, had told him. "'He killed us twice', he told me," beamed the proud boss.
However, this was also a team effort for which Redknapp was only too keen to hand out credit throughout his ranks. While this was no Ardiles-esque kamikaze approach, it was certainly not the containment methods that many a lesser Champions League force employ against the likes of Inter. There is a sense that Spurs may struggle to return to this stage next season, with the money of Manchester City expected to finally pay its way in, so it would seem that Redknapp is almost as determined as the fans to enjoy temporary access to club football's grandest stage. This was a victory achieved in the very apex of Tottenham traditions with Bale shining in the manner of the greats of yesteryear.
Qualification from the group stages is within reach, and while it might be suggested that such attacking ideals may leave Spurs too open to the shadowy world of the knock-out round away-goal rule, the club's fans can still dream. "We're going to Wembley" was one aired anthem and while few genuinely believe that Spurs will be in next summer's final, nights such as these can only be savoured.
That a familiar foe was among the vanquished only added to the enjoyment. Both managers had made it their business to be the pre-match story. While Harry Redknapp has seemingly stared out an FA charge for his response to the weekend's Nani nonsense, Rafael Benitez has been opening old wounds and even causing newer ones at Liverpool. Indeed, it was an odd sight to see the Spaniard prowling an English touchline clothed in the colours of Internazionale, living an afterlife beyond Anfield. The last couple of weeks have seen him step from Jose Mourinho's shadow by engaging in a series of verbal spats dripping in colourful and somewhat unintelligible metaphor. Ever the managerial martinet, he has retained that tricksy switching of play that he demanded from his Liverpool team and it had to be said his current charges did not respond so well.
The switch from Jose to Rafa has somewhat faded Inter's status as European and indeed Treble champions, and the Benitez version has not dominated Serie A in the Mourinho manner of the Portuguese's two years in charge at San Siro. A fortnight previously, Inter had blown away Spurs only to show vulnerability when Bale was making a name for himself late on. Here, the Welshman's direct running ravaged Maicon from the start. When Lucio attempted a mean-spirited two-footed 'reducer' on Bale at the beginning of the second half, it was surely an action borne of genuine fear of a player to whom the Italians had no answer.
Inter's continental crown was achieved through the type of obdurate defending that blunted both Chelsea and Barcelona, but it was absent when Luka Modric carved opened an 18th minute goal for Rafael van Der Vaart, who continued his amazing record of goalscoring at White Hart Lane when calmly slotting home after staying onside. Wesley Sneijder may be regarded worldwide as the prime Dutch master after a wondrous 2010 but it seems unlikely that many Spurs fans would swap their own man for him. Spurs' own 'Rafa' departed the scene at half-time, the risk taken with his hamstring having paid off for one night at least. He may be missed in the coming weeks.
The Italians' defending showed signs of a collapsible quality that Benitez's Liverpool were occasionally prone too - think that 4-4 with Arsenal - and Bale's bursts should have resulted in a quickfire Spurs second when Crouch shanked wide with the whole goal gaping as Inter were drawn magnet-like to their right flank. No matter, the same move eventually produced a goal for Crouch. Just past the hour, Maicon was left alone and exposed as Bale blasted by and Crouch bundled home. "Taxi for Maicon," mocked the home fans.
Of course, it would not be Tottenham without a wobble, a fluttering of butterflies, and Eto'o's goal made this a contest before Gareth Bale's final torment of Maicon finished it. This time, in almost carbon copy form, Roman Pavlyuchenko repeated the role of Crouch, whom he had replaced from the bench and slotted in to send White Hart Lane into glorious rapture.
"Outstanding," proclaimed Harry Redknapp, a smile barely leaving his lips in a long and celebratory press conference. "It was one of the great nights that fans will have seen at White Hart Lane," he said, a sentiment all of them will surely agree with.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Gareth Bale. Inter had no answer, and no amount of Benitez tinkering or rough-house stuff from Inter worked against him. He retained his effectiveness right until the end and proved the match-winner in setting up Pavlyuchenko and denying Inter the comeback their manager felt was coming.
TOTTENHAM VERDICT: Fighting for every ball yet able to be creative, this was a glory night on the scale of a seemingly bygone era. Bale takes the headlines but Modric and Tom Huddlestone both shone in midfield as Van Der Vaart, aside from his goal, rather struggled. The lesser-starred likes of Carlo Cudicini, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Younes Kaboul are worthy of mention in dispatches too while Redknapp was only too keen to sing the praises of William Gallas, who still looks odd in a Tottenham shirt.
INTER VERDICT: Like their manager, they were somewhat ratty and irritated. Bale destroyed them, and the right flank was a panicky mess because they had no method of dealing with his running power. Sneijder faded, and while Eto'o carved their goal, he was not able to enjoy himself as much as he previously has done against English opposition. A night to forget.