Redknapp makes Spurs dream
White Hart Lane
As Harry Redknapp drove back to his Dorset home for a celebratory bacon sandwich and a cup of tea after taking Tottenham into the Champions League quarter-finals, he left behind a masterpiece of understatement.
"They wouldn't have seen this coming two years ago," said Redknapp in reference to the Spurs fans floating down Bill Nicholson Way and along the Seven Sisters Road after the goalless draw with AC Milan that keeps what he calls "the impossible dream" alive.
What Spurs fans saw coming when Redknapp arrived to succeed sacked Juande Ramos in late October 2008 was a potential relegation fight and a long haul to restore credibility.
Now, two and a half years on, the scale of Redknapp's remarkable achievement was easily measured at the conclusion of a memorable, tension-riddled night.
From the bottom of the Premier League on the day Redknapp left Portsmouth and headed for north London, Spurs now deservedly take their place in the last eight of Europe's elite club competition.
Redknapp is often the first to damn himself with faint praise, although he rightly rails against suggestions that most of his success is simply down to an ability to work the markets. Tottenham's progress into the latter stage of the Champions League proves that a serious manager lies behind that jocular exterior, indeed the first English manager to reach the last eight of this tournament since Terry Venables with Barcelona in 1986.
A controversial signing, William Gallas was immense against Milan (photo: PA)
And it was done over two legs in the classic European style, a manner many regular observers of Tottenham's campaign this season thought might be beyond them.
As Spurs embarked on this adventure, it appeared any success would be based on Redknapp's attacking approach - with the risk that opponents of greater quality may ransack their hopes by coming in through the back door further down the line.
The demolition of holders Inter Milan on a thunderous night was a demonstration of Tottenham's threat but Redknapp may take even more satisfaction from the way Inter's neighbours were sent out of the tournament.
Spurs won the first leg in the San Siro with a performance of dominance rewarded with a counter-attack of pace and a finish from Peter Crouch. The way in which they confirmed their passage into next week's draw arguably said even more about their maturity.
Could Spurs keep a clean sheet and get that grafting goalless draw when it mattered? Make that two clean sheets against an attack containing the maverick talents of Pato, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic - the second a backs-to-the-wall affair achieved with a show of resilience and fighting spirit that is almost alien to Redknapp's natural instincts.
Who would have thought a goalless draw would give White Hart Lane one of its greatest nights? Who would have thought erecting a defensive wall of defiance would deliver such pleasure and provoke such scenes of jubilation?
So it proved as Spurs survived a Milan performance that carried much of the pace and intensity absent from the first leg. As time ran out and Milan became even more desperate, the obstacles in front of keeper Heurelho Gomes grew bigger in stature and number by the minute.
Spurs, along with others, may wish to avoid Barcelona in the next round but the knowledge that the London side can defend a lead, shut out the Serie A leaders twice and still carry such an obvious attacking threat will fortify confidence for the challenges ahead.
Redknapp has witnessed his side produce a body of evidence that suggests a favourable draw could be the catalyst for further progress - and they should not approach any opposition with huge trepidation.
Life was lived on the nerves from first minute to last, with Redknapp standing sentry in his technical area almost permanently and joined on a regular basis by trusted lieutenants Joe Jordan and Kevin Bond. It was not a night, nor an atmosphere, for sitting serenely in the dug-out.
It ended with Spurs proving they could cope with the dirty work of the Champions League when required to call on more than the attacking verve and dash that swept away Inter Milan here in early November. There is more to this Spurs - and Redknapp - than has previously met the eye in Europe.
"Are You Watching Arsenal?" boomed out with inevitability seconds after Belgian referee Frank de Bleeckere sounded the final whistle to leave Spurs as north London's only Champions League representatives following the Gunners' exit in the Nou Camp.
Unlikely, but if they were their pain would have been increased by the performance of an Arsenal old boy who has become a pivotal figure in Tottenham's journey to the last eight.
Redknapp spent the day he signed William Gallas defending himself in the face of a lukewarm - at best - reaction from Spurs supporters.
And Gallas played football in outstanding fashion alongside Michael Dawson as Spurs remained firm, with a little luck it must be said, in the face of Milan's domination of territory and possession. Even those who took time to warm to Gallas must now accept the deal to bring him to White Hart Lane was a Redknapp masterstroke.
Ahead of Gallas stood the imposing figure of young Brazilian Sandro, maturing before the eyes and delivering yet another outstanding European performance.
Redknapp explained Sandro's recent rapid development from faltering first steps following his £6m arrival from Internacional in Brazil when he said: "He's like a lot of players. He needed a little run but he's powerful, strong, aggressive and got the ability to run and work for 90 minutes. He turned in a great performance. He is a young player with a big future. He is still only 21 but he's in the Brazilian squad. He might not be your typical Brazilian player with the silky skills but he's certainly got other great attributes."
Sandro showed every one of those attributes, especially in the face of a quite magnificent performance from the evergreen Clarence Seedorf, a performance that cemented the Dutchman's reputation as one of the great operators of the modern era.
The match programme for Milan's visit traded on the rich moments and the legendary players from Tottenham's European past, the likes of John White, Jimmy Greaves, Pat Jennings and Alan Mullery.
Spurs have conducted themselves in the Champions League in a fashion that has done justice to those great names under a manager showing a mastery of the light and shade of European football at the tender age of 64.