Heart of Midlothian and Tottenham Hotspur may be leagues apart, but they have more in common than their evident Britishness. Scotland's Dave Mackay represented Hearts and Spurs with some vigour in the 1950s and 1960s, wallowing in baubles on both sides of the border.
Tottenham old boy Jimmy Greaves continues to regard the hardy Scotsman, who was so committed legend has it that he would have attempted to play through a broken leg, as the greatest figure to wear a Tottenham shirt. He remains arguably the most protruding player to pound the beat around Gorgie with Hearts before causing widespread heartache in Edinburgh by opting to enhance Spurs.
Hearts could do with a figure like the dynamic Mackay in the opening leg of their Europa league qualifying match on Thursday, but such a player would perhaps be too rich even for Spurs to purchase in the modern era. Mackay has compared his own game to a Paul Scholes of his time, but the one player to resemble Scholes in the Tottenham side, Luka Modric, has been clipped from the squad as a move to Chelsea apparently nears completion. This is all good news for the home team.
Tottenham are warm favourites to throttle Hearts, but it is always dangerous to make assumptions in sport. As Greavsie has been known to say: "It's a funny old game." There continues to be a perception among some wise sages, including the annoyingly insular Greaves, that Tottenham will abuse Hearts in Edinburgh. Greaves has compared Hearts to a side from Luxembourg or Lithuania in a throwback to the days when he did not have a good word to say about Scottish goalkeepers.
Such a belief is built upon the two major
factors afflicting fair competition practices in European football: money and
power. The notion goes that Spurs are richer and can afford better
players than Hearts therefore they must ride roughshod over them. The fare on offer in
the Premier League is vastly superior to the Scottish Premier League therefore
Goliath will slay David. It is dangerous to believe such prophecies.
One can remember sitting through Celtic's mazy run
to the UEFA Cup final in 2003. Celtic were derided by a stream of leading
managers, including Blackburn Rovers's Graeme Souness, Felix Magath of
Stuttgart and Liverpool's Gerard Houllier. Celtic removed the lot of them, and did
so with some ease.
Interestingly enough, the only coach who valued Celtic's merits was
Jose Mourinho, whose Porto side were the only team to record a meaningful
victory over the Glasgow side in the final before carrying off the Champions
League a year later.
The Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp will not undervalue the
problems Hearts could present. Neither will Joe 'Jaws' Jordan, his Scottish
assistant, who managed Hearts in the early 1990s, a period in time that already feels like
an eternity ago.
It is very much a case of after the Lord Mayor's show for
Harry Redknapp in Europe. Harry may not be warming to the idea of the Europa League
after jousting with Real Madrid in the Champions League, but he will not want to
get turned over by the SPL's third best team in the opening game of his side's
season. There remains a real thirst for European football in London, and a win
over Hearts will ensure six games in the group section of the Europa League.
Start as you mean to go on.
From speaking to him several times over the years, I can
vouch for Harry's admiration for Scottish football, stretching back to the time
when he tried to land Ricardo Fuller from Hearts during his time running West
Ham United, and Phil O'Donnell and Simon Donnelly from Celtic. Redknapp remains a strong advocate of Celtic and Rangers playing in England.
Neither of those two would be daunted by Spurs. While
there is a gap between Hearts and the Glasgow duo, it is a
gulf that can be bridged over one or two knockout confrontations. It is raw
pace rather than skill that is likely to do for Hearts under their new coach
The media in England continue to have a bloated notion about
how efficient their Premier League is. They tend to miss the point that their
league is only attractive because overseas players play in it for millions of
pounds. It is quite amusing when some hacks suddenly become aghast when England fail miserably in
international climes. The success of the
England national team is at odds with the country's domestic league, a set-up
that is merely resident in England. The Premier League surrendered its Englishness a long
There is little or no reason for Hearts to fear what awaits
them on Thursday. Tottenham will play their first match of the season. Tottenham could be without figures such as Sandro, Steven
Pienaar, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas, William Gallas and Modric.
Tottenham are a decent team in the Premier League, but they
should not strike fear into the system like a Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City. It was only a year ago
that Tottenham lost 3-2 to Young Boys of Berne in a Champions League
qualifier before they walloped the Swiss side 4-0 in the return leg. Hearts would take their chances with a 3-2 as they look to emulate the 1-0 win over Bayern Munich at Tynecastle in 1989 when Iain Ferguson harpooned the German side's net from distance.
Hearts are probably at the level of a competent
Championship side. A Championship side would relish a free shy at Spurs in the
FA Cup. Hearts have several figures in their side who appear ripe to excel in the first leg, including their young winger David Templeton who gets the chance to analyse his talents against real quality.
Hearts are certainly potent enough at a bunged-up Tynecastle
to win the opening leg, but a draw would not be a poor result. The second leg
at White Hart Lane is likely to be an altogether tougher assignment, but it is
worth stressing the point that this tie is far from the mission impossible it
has been painted if Hearts can rouse themselves. If they can invoke the spirit of Dave Mackay, even better.