Harry Redknapp, the cockney coach with the gift of the gab and an eye for a bargain, may have used all his wile and willpower to steer his Tottenham Hotspur side into the Champions League last season, but he believes, this season, Spurs' place in the Premier League's top four will come under threat not just from the likes of the big-spending Manchester City or Liverpool, but also, curiously, Sunderland.
In January of last year, when Darren Bent missed a last-minute header against Portsmouth while plying his trade for Spurs, Redknapp belittled the England forward proclaiming his wife could have finished the chance. Yet, 18 months later and a Black Cats side spearheaded by the 26-year-old forward - who was shipped to the north east last summer - are seen as a contender for a place in Europe's elite competition, according to Redknapp.
"It is going to be tough, everyone is going to be fighting and it will be very tight up there," Redknapp told the official Tottenham website. "It is going to be a hard division again this year for every side. Liverpool will be stronger, as will Man City, then you have the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Man United who are always strong, while Aston Villa and Everton will be up there, too. I think Sunderland could be pushing to get in there as well."
Of course, Redknapp, could be up to his old tricks; a timely confidence boost for a side that could eventually provide the 63-year-old with some much-needed money before the transfer window closes. When Spurs sold Bent to Sunderland the initial fee was £10 million (Dh57.6m), but that figure could rise to £16.5m depending on appearances and achievements. And Redknapp could certainly benefit from an increased kitty.
With Sandro, the 21-year-old Brazilian international who will not join his teammates at White Hart Lane until August 20, the only signing so far this summer, Redknapp is keen to bolster his squad further. He has spoken of having "a list of three players" that can take Tottenham to the next level and compete for the title. But while Spurs have already had a £6m bid for midfielder Scott Parker rejected by West Ham United, Manchester City refuse to sell Craig Bellamy, their fiery striker, to their league rivals. Ashley Young, of Aston Villa, is also a target.
City are first up for Tottenham tomorrow and Redknapp is confident his team can get a result against the Abu Dhabi-owned side. "We have been looking good, we are a quality team. We are playing well, full of confidence and looking forward to the start of the season," he said. "Man City at home is a massive game for us to start with, in fact it is a big opening to the season ... City [tomorrow], Champions League qualifier on Tuesday, Stoke away on Saturday and then Champions League return leg. Four huge games."
By all accounts, Spurs were fortunate in last week's Champions League play-off draw. With Sampdoria, Dynamo Kiev, Auxerre and Braga all potential opposition, Redknapp will be quietly pleased to have been pitted against Young Boys of Berne, the Swiss Super League runners-up. Not that he will admit it. "Any draw is hard, it is going to be tough so we will have to see, but we have got a big chance," he said. "We will be favourites, but we will give them utmost respect. They beat Fenerbahce in the last round, which is a fantastic result, they also have an AstrotTurf pitch at their stadium and they play well on it, so it will be a tough game for us."
The Spurs coach knows though that qualification to the group stages - where they could face the likes of Barcelona, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich - is essential in the club's bid to build on last season, where they recorded their highest Premier League finish. "European nights at White Hart Lane have always been special, so it would be great to bring Champions League football here," Redknapp said. "It was always the dream; it is what we all wanted." email@example.com
Tottenham v Manchester City, 3.45pm, tomorrow, ADMC Sports 3, to order call 800 2388 or log on to www.admcsport.com