Gary Neville: One blip shouldn"t stop Spurs believing they can win the title

One blip shouldn't stop Spurs believing they can win the title

For a whole generation of football
fans, not least the Tottenham supporters and players, there is a
slightly odd look about the league table.

We're past Christmas, into the New Year and Spurs are still hanging on to the leaders.

You have to go back to 1985 to find Tottenham genuinely contesting a title race at this stage of the season.

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Those were the days: The last time Spurs mounted a title challenge, Ossie Ardiles (centre) was in the side

Those were the days: The last time Spurs mounted a title challenge, Ossie Ardiles (centre) was in the side

In the year in which Everton won the
title, Tottenham were second, just two points off their rivals, on the
same weekend in January.

But you can't argue with the league table this season. In fact, Tottenham have been playing the best football in the league.

The issue with Spurs is that you wonder how they will react once everyone starts talking about them as title contenders.

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The 1-1 draw with Wolves will add weight to the sceptics as to whether they can handle the pressure.

I would put it down to one of those
freak occurrences, the result of playing three times in a week, and
similar to the defeats Manchester United suffered against Blackburn or
Manchester City did at Sunderland.

For those people who had started to
see them as serious title contenders, one result stops shouldn't stop
them believing that they can do it. In the next six weeks they take on
Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal away before finishing a nasty run
by facing Manchester United at home on March 3.

That's a crucial point of the season and, by then, we'll have a clear idea of the likely title winners and that's when we can re-assess their credentials.

But you have to give them credit for their season so far.

I'm not sure anyone was quite expecting this in August when they lost their opening two games 3-0 to Manchester United and 5-1 to Manchester City, Luka Modric looked set to leave for Chelsea and they were struggling to bring signings in.

In fact, a measure of the progress they have made is that City would never have loaned them Emmanuel Adebayor if they had ever thought Tottenham would end up being rivals in the title race.

And you would question whether Modric would want to join Chelsea now because the quality of football Tottenham have been playing has been superb.

I've been away in India this week and I arrived at my hotel room at 1am to find that the Tottenham-Everton game had just kicked off and was on TV.

In it there was one particular move involving Rafael van der Vaart, Gareth Bale and Adebayor that was just electric.

They attack with more speed than anyone in the Premier League and in Modric they have the finest central midfielder in the country at the moment.

In the week that Paul Scholes came back, Modric is the only other Premier League player in his mould who controls a game just with the tempo of his passing.

Pace-setter: Luka Modric is one of the best midfielders in the league

Pace-setter: Luka Modric is one of the best midfielders in the league

When he moved to Tottenham, I never envisaged him being able to play in the centre of a midfield two – you thought he might play off the left, come in from the right or play behind the strikers.

But he has developed a strength and determination which means he can now dominate in the middle of the pitch.

It's similar with Bale. A few years ago you wondered whether he was too soft-centred to excel in the Premier League, whether he lacked the self belief.

But in the past 18 months he has not only toughened up but developed a tactical intelligence.

Star men: Gareth Bale (left) and Emmanuel Adebayor have performed well for Spurs this season

Star men: Gareth Bale (left) and Emmanuel Adebayor have performed well for Spurs this season

If he's being marked out of a game on the left, he'll drift into the centre or pop up on the right.

In fact, you might be preparing yourself as a right-back to deal with him and then not see him the entire game.

They may be the stars but the supporting cast is impressive as well. No one expected Scott Parker to improve as much as he has.

Everyone knows Adebayor is strong, quick and scores but under Harry Redknapp he now looks motivated as well and works hard.

I never thought I would see another Paul McGrath but Ledley King, like Paul, reaches those incredible standards without training.

Lastly, there is the manager. He has done an incredible job pulling all those talents together and now looks to be an absolute shoo-in for the England job.

Other than Howard Wilkinson, who was caretaker England manager, you have to go back to Don Revie when England last had a manager who had won the league title.

Man management: Harry Redknapp is impressing with his decisions this season

Man management: Harry Redknapp is impressing with his decisions this season

Imagine the confidence it would give Harry if he could do that. And what an example that would provide to every aspiring English coach, as Harry wasn't the most famous player in the game and he has come up through the grass-roots of management.

The next four months should be the perfect preparation for the England job.

Already, Roberto Mancini and Andre Villas-Boas have been talking up Tottenham's title credentials.

I reckon that's a deliberate attempt to put pressure on them. People say mind games don't matter, but they do and Harry will know that keeping a lid on the emotions in the dressing room is the most important part of his job now.

In fact, maybe his toughest job now is to get the players and fans to forget about the modern history of the club and to forget about their reputation for falling away when the pressure is on.

My belief, which I've expressed in the past few weeks in this column, is that they will find it difficult to sustain a challenge.

Manchester United have all the experience of being in this position.

In previous years they have been like a juggernaut, taking their time to get going but difficult to stop once they gather speed.

Manchester City don't have that experience but they do seem to have a determination and mental resilience about them. And Spurs now have to answer the question as to whether they can perform when the pressure is on.

I think back to teams that were in great positions to win the league going into February and March – Newcastle in 1996, Liverpool in 1997, Arsenal last year – but all of a sudden, when the expectation begins to weigh down, your legs can fill with lead.

I count myself in that category of player.In 1996, my first title race, with six games to go I felt that pressure, struggled and was eventually left out.

That will be a new experience for a lot of their players.

When you look at potential title winners you say to yourself: 'Right, where's the character in this team.' You would look at Chelsea, when they had Jose Mourinho, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech and Michael Essien and you knew there was steel about them.

I look at City now and I see something similar. Joe Hart looks like he would relish a championship race. Yaya Toure is a big character who has won trophies at Barcelona and won't be fazed. Sergio Aguero and David Silva have the arrogance necessary for the challenge.

So now it's up to the senior players at Tottenham to get hold of the dressing room and make sure they show that character – all the more so after yesterday's result.

Key man: Spurs defender William Gallas has seen it all before

Key man: Spurs defender William Gallas has seen it all before

Players such as King, Brad Friedel, Modric and Adebayor and finally William Gallas, who has won two league titles at Chelsea and played in a World Cup final. This might become your time. You could be the most important player at the club, as you have genuine experience of this situation.

Those players need to stop the younger players from becoming overexcited and talking rashly about the title. If you get drawn into talking about it, make sure you believe what you say and don't wake up the next morning, see a headline and cringe. If you can't, then make it a taboo subject.

They will also have to ensure the younger players are focused on the games ahead and not totting up points of games they might win – the kind of thing we've all done when we're young and chasing a title.

If they can do that, they might just prove a few pundits like me wrong, make themselves true heroes and give themselves the best feeling ever in their football careers.

The league title is special because it's the Grand National of football titles, not a six-furlong sprint.

Spurs now have to prove they're ready for some heavy going and nasty fences.