Why we must remember where Spurs were when Harry Redknapp found them to put their win over Milan into perspective
These are the bald facts. They are worth remembering because they put what happened at White Hart Lane last night into perspective.
When Harry Redknapp took over at Spurs at the end of October 2008, the club was on its knees; bottom of the Premier League, drifting and directionless.
Last night, less than two and a half years later, Redknapp’s side went through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
That’s right, the last eight of the best club competition in the world. And at their first attempt, too.
Into the hat with Barcelona, Schalke 04, Shakhtar Donetsk and maybe Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, too.
“Are you watching Arsenal?” their fans sang happily after the final whistle. As well they might. They have outlasted their north London neighbours in the most prestigious competition of all.
And here’s another extraordinary thing. By their own standards, Spurs played ordinary, rather-inhibited football last night and they still got through.
They worked hard and they hassled and harried and lived on their nerves and were grateful to Heurelho Gomes for some fine saves and William Gallas for an acrobatic goal-line clearance.
And even though they were outplayed, they did not panic or betray their inexperience.
“We worked our socks off,” Redknapp said by way of explanation for how they kept Milan at bay.
Still, they were good enough to beat the great AC Milan, the Serie A leaders, a team that appeared in the Champions League final three times in the last decade.
They were good enough to beat Robinho, Pato, Alessandro Nesta, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and some of the great players of European football without really hitting the heights.
“We’ve just beaten AC Milan, not Rag Arse Rovers,” Redknapp said last night, with more than a little exasperation in his voice.
Redknapp, by the way, is the first English manager to lead a side to the last eight of the European Cup since Terry Venables did it with Barcelona in 1986.
The last English manager to lead an English club to the quarter-finals was Joe Fagan, with Liverpool a year earlier.
It is any wonder Redknapp is being spoken of as the only real choice to succeed Fabio Capello as England manager after the European Championships next year?
It is a measure of how far Redknapp has brought this club that they were expected not only to beat Milan last night but to beat them with style.
That, after all, is what they did to the European champions, Inter Milan, when they played them here in the autumn. They did not just beat them. They destroyed them.
It was probably the most memorable game of this football season so far.
The night when Gareth Bale made Maicon, the best right-back in the world, look like a pub player. The night when Spurs were irresistible and the idea began to take hold that they had a decent chance of making it through to the knockout stages of the competition.
As the fourth English club in the Champions League, Spurs have been patronised until now.
Their triumph was to qualify in the first place, many said, finally muscling Liverpool out of the top four.
That they might actually do well in the competition was an afterthought and even after fine victories over Inter and Werder Bremen, they were the underdogs going into the game with Milan.
But now they are past them, who knows where this adventure will end.
They might not want to draw Barcelona in the last eight - who would? - but the rest will hold no fears for them.
Maybe this was such a nervy occasion because the prize was so big.
This is not quite uncharted waters for the club because Spurs reached the European Cup semi-finals in 1961-62, where they lost to Benfica.
This is not some plucky underdog of a club we are talking about here.
This is the club of Jimmy Greaves, Danny Blanchflower, Dave Mackay, Glenn Hoddle, Chris Waddle, Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne.
This is a club with a tradition of excellence.
Redknapp’s role here has been to revive it, to start to restore it to its former glories.
What a job he is doing.
Who now would relish playing against a fit-again Bale, the superb Rafael van der Vaart and the sublime Luka Modric.
And before you write off the club’s chances of going all the way and winning the thing, remember what they say about Spurs and years that end in a 1.