KAT LUCAS remembers an unlikely teenaged hero in the North London derby
Had Danny Rose left Tottenham Hotspur this summer, it would have left a strange taste in the mouth. It looks increasingly likely that the England international will remain in North London for at least one more season, but he will do so knowing his legacy could have been quite different.
There was an intensity about the old White Hart Lane that was matched by very few stadia. On its most historic nights, it felt almost as if the fans were on the pitch, ready to erupt with every rustle of the net.
By April of 2010, that atmosphere was more feverous than ever, albeit simply because there was a North London derby on show, not because of any great sense of expectation. Spurs had just been dumped out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage by Portsmouth, a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Harry Redknapp against his former club.
To make matters worse, the Lilywhites had not beaten Arsenal in their last 20 attempts in the league, having finally broken an eight-year curse against the Gunners with a 5-1 victory in the last four of the Carling Cup two years earlier.
There was little hope that such a woeful record was about to change. Despite putting all their eggs in one basket following their cup exit, the dream of Champions League football was still looking far off with their bitter rivals, as well as Chelsea and top-four contenders Manchester City, still to play.
Redknapp had raised eyebrows by selecting Rose, a 19-year-old left-back who had signed from Leeds and was known to many only because he had been the subject of a tapping-up scandal involving Chelsea three years earlier.
At a time when Tottenham may not have been the force they are now, their line-up still boasted some impressive players, not least Luka Modric and Jermain Defoe – but it was Rose who was to make his name within 10 minutes.
Making his debut with so much at stake could have backfired horrendously. Tottenham’s defensive record at home was superb and yet they were willing to introduce a teenager, admittedly against an under-strength Arsenal attack with Robin van Persie left on the bench.
It’s an irony many players have to contend with when they pull off something as spectacular as Rose’s 30-yard volley in their first game for a club that they will almost certainly never be able to replicate it again. Moments like that promise so much, but they are few and far between in most careers.
Manuel Almunia punched the ball away from a corner, seeing his clearance fall to the apparently innocuous left foot of the youngest player on the pitch. The commentary has become immortalised: “Almunia opts to punch…what a goal! It’s Danny Rose on his Premier League debut!”
For the younger generation, that strike, and the vociferous explosion it prompted is no doubt among their most cherished memories of the Lane. As impressive as the new stadium will be, that feeling of compactness that made the old ground so special will never be emulated, and it must have engulfed Rose as he wheeled away to be smothered by his team-mates.
Gareth Bale went on to score what would prove to be the winning goal, made all the sweeter as it effectively ended Arsenal’s title ambitions.
As for Rose, on the one hand, that night catapulted him into Tottenham folklore. On the other, his journey at the club has not always been easy. The 2012/13 season was spent on loan at Sunderland and it was only with the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino in 2014 that he was transformed into a world-class left-back.
At his peak, racing Kyle Walker down the flanks in the 2015/16 campaign, there were no other full-backs quite like them in the Premier League.
A knee injury against the Black Cats put paid to that progress in 2017 and his stock took another turn for the worse with his infamous stunt in The Sun that summer, three days before the new season was due to begin.
Since that interview, a story that should be cherished has been dampened somewhat. What has been a lengthy, turbulent but inspirational career took off on that night, back when there had been no mention of a power shift in North London.
And yet, whatever era they find themselves in, wherever their respective clubs are in the league, for an up-and-coming Spurs hero, there’s simply nothing quite like scoring against the Arsenal.