Many people will be surprised to know that Didier Zokora, now 36, retired from the Ivory Coast international side only thirty-two months ago. Impressively, he did so as the country’s most capped player.
His retirement from club football is now surely imminent, and the world will be poorer for it.
What many neutrals may not recall is his ability to command a midfield to recovery, after a poor start to a season by his club. Strangely, this scenario unfolded in all three of his seasons at Tottenham, from 2006/07 to 2008/09. Arguably, it was in his final season at White Hart Lane that this unwanted annual challenge proved most daunting.
Picture the scene: it is 5.25pm on the first day of November 2008 – a dank and cold evening in North London. Tottenham Hotspur, in their tunnel of destiny, face trailblazing league leaders Liverpool in a ‘six-pointer’ with massive ramifications at each end of the table.
In mere minutes, twenty-two warriors will emerge, and amongst them is an Ivorian midfield general by the name of Didier Zokora. Unbeknownst to him, he is about to marshal his midfield teammates to a pivotal result in the history of Tottenham Hotspur.
It is to be one of six memorable Tottenham games for the Ivorian. See the gallery and behold some African gold!
TOTTENHAM 2-1 PORTSMOUTH – 1/10/2006
Portsmouth, under Harry Redknapp, enjoyed an excellent start to 2006/07. Tottenham, by contrast, had won only once previously. It was Zokora’s dive, after a strong midfield performance, which settled matters – and infuriated Redknapp! Image source: New Zimbabwe
FULHAM 0-4 TOTTENHAM – 18/2/2007
Ten years ago, Fulham were an established Premier League side – and entirely reliant on home form to stay afloat. Craven Cottage was anything but a fortress on this occasion, and Tottenham’s midfield was brutal in its execution. Image source: Twitter
CHARLTON 0-2 TOTTENHAM – 7/5/2007
It was win or bust for Charlton, but the Addicks' midfield play was continually broken up by Zokora et al. Tottenham had little to play for other than pride, but still outclassed a doomed Charlton team. Image source: My Football Facts
PORTSMOUTH 0-1 TOTTENHAM – 15/12/2007
Once again, Portsmouth were gunning for a Champions League spot, while Tottenham were floundering in mid-table and very poor away from home. Despite possessing the brutish likes of Sully Muntari and Papa Bouba Diop in midfield, Portsmouth proved no match for Tottenham. Image Source: Twitter
TOTTENHAM 2-1 CHELSEA – 24/2/2008
This is Tottenham’s last trophy to date, and was their first in nine years. It was a triumph against all the odds. Once again, Zokora marshalled countryman Drogba in an accomplished manner. With Drogba stifled, Tottenham grew in stature and were, ultimately, deserving cup winners. Image source: Youtube
TOTTENHAM 2-1 LIVERPOOL – 1/11/2008
Tottenham would begin November 2008 with a bang, defeating Liverpool 2-1 to lift the club out of the relegation zone. The final result, against the league leaders, would be largely accredited to a compact, resolute midfield in which Zokora commanded full respect. Image source: IanJoliet .com
After that game, Tottenham were mostly unplayable at home, and by virtue of turning White Hart Lane into a fortress, Redknapp’s men finished an impressive eighth.
Zokora’s efforts provided Redknapp with the midfield blueprints for 2009/10 after his departure for Sevilla. As the new decade approached, Tottenham grew much in strength and became an exceptionally difficult team to break down. Subsequently, they qualified for the Champions League for the very first time in May 2010.
It was an unbelievable change in form and fortune for the club that, less than two years previously, had recorded its worst ever start to a league campaign.