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Europe key to Spurs' blueprint

Harry Redknapp's claim that his Spurs side could attract top players if they didn't qualify for the Champions League made interesting reading this week.

As they prepare to face Chelsea on Saturday in a game that is significant for the Premier League title race as well as fourth spot, Redknapp made it clear that Spurs were interested only in players who would not mind if they failed to make it into Europe's flagship competition and, reading between the lines, suggested that the club were well equipped to deal with his worst case scenario should it occur.

But the realism that faces the North London club as one of their most high profile seasons draws to a close, is even worse: they may not even manage to get into Europe at all. While Redknapp and chairman Daniel Levy may be able to placate the likes of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart for a season with promises of more prestigious European nights to follow should they finish 5th, failure to land a spot in the Europa League would be a bitter blow and could see a host of stars depart.

After a season in which Spurs beat Inter and AC Milan, the fear for many fans is that the club's Champions League exploits have exhausted the players for the end of the Premier League campaign - a 2-2 draw with West Brom proving the latest disappointing result in a run that has seen them win just once (against Stoke) since a 2-1 victory over Sunderland on February 12.

Now, with five games to play, Chelsea are next on the fixture list and Spurs also face tough away trips to Liverpool and Manchester City with the Reds just three points behind them, though Liverpool have played a game more. They have two winnable home games against Blackpool and then Birmingham on the final day of the season, but with Liverpool (who have a more favourable run-in) hitting form at the right time there is the possibility of being overtaken if they do not pick up at least a draw at Anfield in what is likely to be billed as the '5th place play-off' on May 15.

Of course the pressure would be relieved slightly if Spurs were to upset Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for the first time in 21 years, but the Blues contain a warning for the future in the form of £50 million new boy Fernando Torres.

Torres has been the most recent top player to jump ship in order to satisfy his career ambitions after Liverpool's struggles and Spurs will be aware that their plethora of stars will be subject to interest if they cannot match their rivals in ambition. Of course there were other mitigating factors in Torres' decision to leave Anfield, but listening to Bayern Munich's Frank Ribery (a former Tottenham target) describing the Europa League as ''rubbish'' suggests that top players really only want to play in one competition.

Sixth place could still land an unlikely Europa League spot, should Man City finish fifth and win the FA Cup, but Roberto Mancini's side are very much in pole position to replicate Tottenham in earning a first-ever season at Europe's top table.

''There shouldn't be two transfer scenarios,'' Redknapp said this week. "If you want to get into the Champions League again you have to keep improving. People say 'If we get in the Champions League we'll buy some great players' but if you don't buy some great players you won't get in the Champions League. That's how it works.

"People would come here anyway. If you pay them the wages, they'll come ... If you don't they will go somewhere where they'll get it. That's football."

Redknapp's reasoning suggests that spending doesn't stop if a club fails to qualify for the Champions League and it certainly shouldn't. But the loss of at least £30 million from the budget certainly curtails it somewhat and, however much Redknapp may wish against it, there is (and has always been) two spheres of influence in the transfer market: those in the Champions League and those outside of it.

Financially, Spurs are on fairly solid ground with well laid out plans for the future allowing them to make an operating profit of around £18 million last year. However, investment into a squad that will require some shaping regardless will also be dependent on their final standing in the table.

As well as being able to offer a higher grade of wages to potential targets, finishing in the top four also gives a top player the kind of football that they have become accustomed to. Once a player gets the taste of European nights, it is something that is hard to replace; as former Reds manager Roy Evans once said: ''Liverpool without European football is like a banquet without wine.''

While the Spurs players may not be too happy with the culinary metaphor given that the pain of failing to secure a spot in the Champions League on the last day of the season in 2006 thanks to 'Lasagna-gate' is still fresh in their minds, the point is still there. Spurs have delivered a feast of football this season already, but whether or not they will continue to dine at Europe's top table remains to be seen.


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