Daniel Levy believes Tottenham Hotspur deserve to be in the group stages of the Champions League but on the eve of their return to Europe's premier club competition the White Hart Lane chairman said he will not jeopardise their future to pursue qualification year after year.
Having defeated Young Boys in a play-off-tie last month, Tottenham play their first game in the Champions League proper tonight, when they take on Werder Bremen in their opening Group A match. Spurs supporters misty-eyed at memories of the great Bill Nicholson side who reached the semi-finals in 1962 before losing to Benfica have long dreamed about seeing their team back on this stage and Levy shares their excitement.
The chairman has, however, moved to quell expectations and called for fans to be "realistic" about the prospects of the club remaining at football's top table in the long term, claiming only Manchester United and Chelsea are assured of a place in the league's top four every season.
Levy also said the Champions League is "not a gold mine" and pointed out that the £15m Spurs will make from competing in the group stages is merely the equivalent of a transfer fee for one player.
"We deserve to be in the Champions League. Our history dictates that but it has taken us a long time to get back," he said. "I think it's a huge achievement for Harry [Redknapp], all his coaching staff and players and the fans as well. It's something special.
"I think we all want to stay there but we all have to be realistic. There are only four places in England and there are seven or eight clubs competing. There are probably two clubs you could say are guaranteed to be in that top four. You then have two places for six clubs. The odds are stacked against you. But what we won't do is jeopardise the club to challenge to be one of those two. You can't run the club on the basis of being in the Champions League. "Often people say you just need an extra player. It doesn't work. It's about the team. I like to think it's important to run the club in the right way. It's not just about today; it's about the future generation of fans. You have to protect the club."
Spurs must already feel like they have travelled to hell and back in this competition after their remarkable first leg against Young Boys, when they fell 3-0 behind inside 28 minutes, leaving Levy in a state of shock as he looked on from the stands. The real journey, however, starts in the Weser- stadion this evening, when Redknapp and his players seek to prove they belong at this level.
Redknapp claimed last night he has "nothing to prove" after taking Spurs from the bottom of the Premier League to the Champions League in less than two years but he also admitted "you never stop learning". The experience in Switzerland was uppermost in the manager's mind when he made that comment and he said he would be "committing suicide" if he set Spurs up in a 4-4-2 formation against Werder Bremen. "I went at Young Boys because the reports came back that they were there to be beaten, that they weren't a good side so I thought, 'We can have a go at these, we'll murder these tonight'. And after half an hour ...
"This is different, they are a good side with quality players. You have got problems with the way they play. They will certainly play with at least four narrow midfield players. It makes it difficult, you are going to get run around all over the shop if you open up and play 4-4-2. With your two wingers, the two in the middle are not going to get near them. If you play 4-4-2 you are committing suicide."
With Jermain Defoe, Michael Dawson and Heurelho Gomes injured and Luka Modric also ruled out after failing to make a full recovery from the knock he received at West Bromwich Albion, Redknapp is set to play with Peter Crouch as a lone striker, with Rafael van der Vaart likely to be encouraged to support him from what will effectively be a five-man midfield.
Bremen are not without their own injury problems. Claudio Pizarro, the former Chelsea striker, will be missing and the club's first-choice central defenders, the Germany international Per Mertesacker and the Brazilian Naldo, are also sidelined, meaning that Mikaël Silvestre, who was released from Arsenal in the summer, is set to start after making his debut at the weekend.