William Gallas stays grounded as Tottenham Hotspur start to soar

The crowing from the White Hart Lane stands was loud and inevitable and for one man the temptation to join in might have felt irresistible.

William Gallas stays grounded as Tottenham Hotspur start to soar When William Gallas crossed the bitter north London divide last summer, he ensured that his ability to polarise opinion was ratcheted up to a new level.

Now his Tottenham Hotspur team had succeeded where Arsenal had failed 24 hours earlier, advancing into the Champions League quarter-finals. After Arsenal's elimination in Barcelona, Tottenham's 0-0 home draw against Milan on Wednesday served to prolong their heady adventure in their debut Champions League campaign.

It is generally a mistake, though, to second-guess Gallas, who can often resemble the last word on steely professionalism. Asked what he felt about Arsenal not making the quarter-finals, his response was curt. "Nothing, because now I play for Spurs and I think only about the future. The past is the past. I don't think about Arsenal. Everything is behind me."

Gallas was at odds with the general mood around the club, which gloried in the belief that Tottenham had finally proved their calibre, ahead of their hated rivals. Several Tottenham players spoke about the delight that they felt together with the club's supporters at outlasting Arsenal, while there was an element of tub-thumping about what they could achieve in the competition.

"Why can't we get to the final?" asked the striker Peter Crouch. "I can't give you one reason why not. Barça are fantastic but we have match winners too and we have shown that we can be resilient."

Even some of Milan's dejected players talked up Tottenham's chances. "They have got the quality to go far and yes, they can win it," said Kevin-Prince Boateng, a former White Hart Lane midfielder. Clarence Seedorf acknowledged Tottenham's status of "outsiders" but said: "We have seen some outsiders go all the way, so who knows?"

Gallas's reality checks felt jarring although they did echo the comments of the Spurs manager, Harry Redknapp, who is always keen to keep a lid on expectations. Gallas said that Arsenal had paid a heavy price for their failure to top their group and he said Barcelona were "the best team in the world."

"After what we saw [against Arsenal] on Tuesday night, nobody wants Barcelona," said the Frenchman, who was outstanding in the draw with Milan. In the grand sweep of the north London rivalry, it is also worth remembering that Arsenal still have a fighting chance to finish the season as the Premier League champions and/or the FA Cup winners.

Gallas's experience – his worldliness – is vital to the Tottenham squad and motivation continues to bubble inside of him. "When I signed for Tottenham," he said, "I just wanted to play football and show everyone who I am. Everyone judged me because I didn't have a good World Cup [with France] and I was injured last year.

"I had a lot of criticism but in football, it is like this. Now I am very happy to show people who I am. If I left Arsenal, it was for some reason. I will say at the end of the season."

Tottenham's supporters are excited to discover the identity of their Champions League quarter-final opponents when the draw is made on Friday of next week but Gallas's focus will not be deflected from the attempt to qualify for next season's edition of the tournament.

The importance of a top-four finish is paramount and he suggested that it would hold the key to whether he remains at White Hart Lane next season. Fears have already been raised about whether the club's star players, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, would stay on without the promise of Champions League football.

"We are fifth in the Premier League and our target is to qualify for the Champions League," he said. "Tottenham has to be big. I play with big players. I don't know yet [about next season]. I'm happy to be here and we'll try to see if I can stay for the next season. We'll see. It will be very important to be in the Champions League next season. Like I say, Tottenham has to be big."

The club has revelled in the bold strides that it has taken this season. But as far as Gallas is concerned they have achieved nothing yet.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Hytner, for The Guardian on Thursday 10th March 2011 22.30 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

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