Tottenham look to follow the example of Europe's elite with progress in Europa League

Andre Villas-Boas' side showed the nous against Lyon to set up a glamour tie with Inter, a game that will rekindle fond memories of the tournament they wish to return to
By Jay Jaffa

They wore the smiles of men who knew they had grabbed what was rightfully theirs. Lyon, with more graft than craft, committed the cardinal sin of sitting on an away goal lead, a sheath that was penetrated in dramatic circumstances by Mousa Dembele.

It wasn't the first time Tottenham have scored a game-changing last gasp goal this season – Clint Dempsey's equaliser at home to Manchester United another prime example – and this is becoming a welcome habit of Andre Villas-Boas' Spurs. Yet, that should not be the defining theme gleaned from Tottenham's 1-1 draw at the Stade Gerland, rather the club's continued ascent towards the promised land of Europe's elite.


2011-12 Atletico Madrid
2010-11 Porto
2009-10 Atletico Madrid
2008-09 Shakhtar Donetsk
2007-08 Zenit St Petersburg
The first leg provided the first taste of an atmosphere resembling Spurs' 3-1 win over Inter Milan in the Champions League season of 2010-11 as the Europa League kicks into gear. It wasn't pretty, but they showed the nous and belief to progress past Remi Garde's side.

Lyon, with all their history and tradition in the Champions League, were a standout name in this year's Europa League, their elimination another black mark on a team toppling through a difficult transitional stage. But for Villas-Boas, Thursday marked more than mere progression to the last-16, it resonated with the great Tottenham generations of years gone by.

The club has a proud history of achievement, albeit sporadic, on the continent, growing from the 1962-63 Cup Winners' Cup winning team – the first English side to win a European trophy - and the two Uefa Cup triumphs in 1971-72 and 1983-84. However, the modern journeys through Europe felt more like a ride in a sidecar attached to a Harley-Davidson; the nuisance in the way of Premier League progress.

The barnstorming run to the Champions League quarter-finals two years ago thrilled all those present as Harry Redknapp's Spurs attacked all comers until a humbling 5-0 aggregate loss to Real Madrid. Then, Spurs approached the tournament courageously, if a little recklessly.

Under Villas-Boas – Spurs have a man who reveres Europe's secondary competition to the level the club do. It was a ball and chain around the ankle of Redknapp in his first year in charge, and one he was relieved to escape when they were eliminated by Shakhtar.

Some will point to the extra games Tottenham will play and apportion blame if the club slip out of the top four. But cast your mind back to Sir Alex Ferguson's early days at Manchester United and you will find that there is value in chasing a 'minor' trophy.

Ferguson was in his fifth year by the 1990-91 season and he had delivered just one notable trophy - the FA Cup in the previous season. A drop off in league form fell contrary to a successful Cup Winners' Cup triumph though and 1991 is seen as the first steps towards making United a 'European' club again. The logic was less that it bred confidence and rhythm but that it marked United as more than just a domestic side and certainly more than just European also-rans.

If Villas-Boas wants long-term success at Spurs – and there is every indication that he is thinking long-term – then the Europa League becomes more than just a stopgap en route to the Champions League.


Came into the side and displayed an excellent range of passing and a fine set-piece delivery that set up the opening goal. His snapshot was repelled by Friedel as he looked to double the hosts' lead. Impressed throughout.

Carried the ball looking for openings but was either too reluctant to attempt an ambitious pass, or not precise enough when he did. Chased the ball a lot but expertly thundered a shot past Vercoutre to send Spurs through.
Hypothetically if Spurs finish in the top four, and win the Europa League, not only will it be deemed an outstanding season, but it will set the team up perfectly for a Champions League campaign. More so than sneaking into the top four and fobbing off the afterthought of the Europa League at least.

Take Lyon as an example: They are a wonderful scalp almost entirely because of their Champions League history. This is an elite club – from the infrastructure and history, through to the playing squad – built to compete at the top-end of Uefa's showpiece competition.

Look at Liverpool's conquerors, Zenit St Petersburg. Though they are pumped full of Gazprom money, their recent success was borne from the Uefa Cup win of 2008. Atletico Madrid, Shakhtar, Porto – all recent winners of the Europa League, are regularly competing in the Champions League. Their recent history has shown that progression and even victory in the Europa League is a stepping stone to the big time.

Spurs are not there yet, of course, but gallant results in Rome and Lyon, in boisterous, threatening atmospheres mould character, while an unbeaten record in eight European games bodes well heading into the latter stages. Tottenham were far from fluid in France but they ground out the required result and have much to look forward to.

No-one is denying that Spurs face a monumental fight on their hands to lay claim to a top four place, and much of that will naturally depend on the fitness of Gareth Bale. Lose him and you can give up on the dream. But if Villas-Boas can guide Tottenham back to the Champions League, while riding a wave of a successful European campaign, it will taste all the more sweet when the biggest European nights return to White Hart Lane.

Follow Jay Jaffa on