It was ironic that the commendation of an Arsenal legend helped save the Tottenham career of Heurelho Gomes. When Harry Redknapp took over at Spurs 18 months ago, he said his keeper's confidence was "shot" as the club toiled at the bottom of the table. Every mistake, every moment of hesitancy from Gomes exacerbated his situation, leaving his manager with little option but to consider a replacement.
But Redknapp also got Tony Parks, the goalkeeping coach, to work with him as he recalled the words of Tony Adams. The former Arsenal captain, who was a coach for Redknapp at Portsmouth, had watched Gomes at PSV Eindhoven, when he played under Guus Hiddink, and boldly claimed he was the best keeper in the world. When the Brazilian sat on the bench at Stamford Bridge in September with Carlo Cudicini as No 1 when Spurs last faced Chelsea, the praise seemed far fetched. But the three magnificent saves that broke the hearts of Adams' beloved Arsenal on Wednesday in Spurs' 2-1 victory over their bitter rivals were ample proof that they were right to have faith.
"I always knew he had the ability," Redknapp said in his pre-match press conference yesterday. "I spoke to Guus Hiddink and he said he [Gomes] nearly took them to a Champions League final in 2005. He's that good. He's up there with the very best." Gomes will face Chelsea today with his reputation restored and a crucial figure against a side who have scored 18 goals in winning their last five matches.
Goalkeepers are often in a no-win situation. Four brilliant saves are soon forgotten for an error that can decide a result. Gomes has also felt that the perception of Brazilian keepers did not help. Despite being at AC Milan for 10 years, Dida has often failed to convince. "I see a bit of prejudice towards Brazilian keepers. We need to work twice as hard because the blows will be double hard when we fail," Gomes once told Radio Globo.
He has not been the only one to suffer in this manner. Petr Cech, his opposite number at Chelsea, has had his credentials questioned ever since the horrific head injury four years ago following a challenge by Stephen Hunt, of Reading. A vulnerability at set-pieces has been highlighted as a particular flaw for a man who has been lauded as the world's best. When he returned from the injury, Jose Mourinho, the former Chelsea manager, said it was like "signing a £50 million player". A 100th clean sheet in 180 league appearances was recorded in the midweek win against Bolton that pushed Chelsea closer to the title.
Consistency has been the key, and a factor in why Spurs are not challenging higher, according to Carlo Ancelotti, whose team are four points ahead of Manchester United at the top of the table with four games left. He told reporters: "Sometimes they have had a very good performance [like against Arsenal], but three days before they lost an unbelievable game to Portsmouth. With more continuity they would be up in the table. I have to think we have to play against the best Tottenham. It is not a formality we will win the title."
With fourth place their own target, nothing less than the best, particularly from Gomes, will do for Redknapp. email@example.com Tottenham v Chelsea, 8.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2