Return of the King

On Wednesday night a top international footballer returned from a long spell on the sidelines and slotted back into his team as if he had never been away.

The understanding he has with his team-mates was there for all to see, and his mere presence galvanised his side as soon as he stepped onto the turf.

No, I am not talking about Robin van Persie. The player in question is none other than Ledley King.

The Tottenham Hotspur captain looked assured throughout his team’s victory over Arsenal, and it was only when he understandably began to tire that their opponents found a route back into the game.

What’s more, Michael Dawson, who looked shaky at times during Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat, grew in stature alongside King.

Injuries have restricted King to just 15 league appearances this season

The centre-back’s return after two months out could not come at a better time, with Fabio Capello soon to announce his provisional 30-man squad for the World Cup.

And if King can continue like this there is no chance of him missing out on a seat on the plane to South Africa.

As for the game itself, it marked the end to Arsenal’s title challenge, and their display at White Hart Lane emphasised why they will not be lifting the Premier League trophy this season.

As has been the case throughout the campaign, Arsene Wenger’s side have struggled to convert possession into clear-cut chances, often panicking around the edge of the penalty area.

Indeed it took an impressive cameo from their attacking talisman Robin van Persie to instil a sense of belief going forward, and Wenger’s men had more clear-cut chances in the final 20 minutes than in the 70 preceding van Persie’s introduction.

The lack of decisive movement in the attacking third was summed up by Tomas Rosicky’s burst shortly before half-time, where he tried to do it all himself and ended up firing wildly off-target with the outside of his right foot.

More dynamism from Nicklas Bendtner and more direct bursts from midfield were needed, and this has been the case for much of the season.

With Chelsea and Manchester United dropping more points than might have been expected, you get the feeling Arsenal will see this season as a chance missed.

Tomas Rosicky has failed to rediscover his form in recent weeks

But in a season when they have been without van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and William Gallas for months at a time, it is easy to make a case for a full-strength Arsenal side being in a position to lift the title.

Certainly they have cause to be optimistic next season, as do Tottenham. But Harry Redknapp’s team have a more immediate task-at-hand: beating Manchester City to the fourth Champions League place.

If they can continue producing displays like the one on Wednesday the spot is well within their capabilities, but it remains to be seen whether upcoming matches against Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City will take their toll.

For all the talk of the title race being over, I believe this weekend’s timetable is as exciting as ever, with the Manchester derby and Chelsea’s trip to White Hart Lane likely to be emphatic of the rise of the two sides in contention for fourth place.

While this season has come too soon for Spurs and Manchester City to threaten the dominance of the top three, both sides will be eager to lay down a marker for the season ahead.

This weekend could therefore end up being crucial not just for this campaign, but for many years to come.


Beyond their means – Portsmouth’s journey to Wembley

Let me take you back to Sunday morning.

Tottenham fans up and down the country were looking forward to their day out at Wembley, many believing their FA Cup semi-final against relegated Portsmouth was a foregone conclusion.

After all, Avram Grant’s side were without arguably their best player in Jamie O’Hara, and had lost much of their squad over the last 18 months.

Fast-forward a few hours and Spurs fans take to the forums, complaining that Pompey were playing by their own rules, bringing the game into disrepute, and didn’t deserve their place in the final. Sour grapes, or do they have a point?

Portsmouth’s financial woes have been well documented over the 12 months since Alexandre Gaydamak sold the club, but the problems may go back even further than that.

Sulaiman Al-Fahim is one of several owners to have taken the reins at Portsmouth this season

David James revealed the punishing effects of unexpected bonuses when Pompey lifted the FA Cup and qualified for Europe in 2008, and one might argue Gaydamak did well to sell up and get out while he could.

But since the Russian’s departure the club has had numerous owners, none of whom managed to arrest the seemingly inevitable slide into administration.

They have since struggled to pay players, and some would say they acted beyond their means in fielding a senior team against Tottenham.

The main case in point is Aruna Dindane. The Ivorian’s appearance in the semi-final ought to have triggered a £4m payment to former club Lens, but Grant’s team managed to reach an agreement with the French outfit.

But Lens surely would not have agreed the original sale if they knew Portsmouth had absolutely no intention of paying for the international striker. This is particularly pertinent when you consider Les Sang et Or are also allegedly owed payments for the 2008 transfer of Nadir Belhadj to the south-coast side.

Furthermore, due to the constraints of administration, Pompey did not apply for a UEFA licence. Now they have reached the final they are seeking to appeal a decision which they essentially made themselves, in an attempt to qualify for a competition one of their own players has admitted helped orchestrate their downfall.

Harry Redknapp’s side have the right to feel aggrieved about the Dindane fiasco. The fact that he won the clinching penalty is academic, however. The important thing is Portsmouth reaching this stage of the competition is founded on ‘buying’ players they could not afford.

Ghanain midfielder Muntari has since moved to Inter Milan

But was this not also the situation when Redknapp himself was manager at Fratton Park? Rumours have been circulating that the club still owe Udinese £4m for the signing of Sulley Muntari during Redknapp’s tenure, and multi-million pound sales of Muntari himself and Lassana Diarra have been insufficient to generate the funds needed to pay a backlog of transfer installments.

Is the significant difference between Portsmouth and so many other Premier League sides simply the fact that other owners are willing to continue bankrolling debt-ridden clubs when the going gets tough?

Tottenham themselves were shown to be £65 million in debt, according to figures published last year, yet chairman Daniel Levy continues to fork out multi-million pound fees on fringe players such as Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker.

Without such a benificent owner, Tottenham might find themselves in the same situation as last Sunday’s opponents, at which point talk of ‘existing beyond their means’ could well go out of the window.