Whenever Tottenham Hotspur face West Ham United in the Premier League the infamous ‘Lasagne-gate’ story that cost Spurs a top-four finish at the hands of fierce rivals Arsenal is relived. Spurs were playing away to West Ham in the last game of the season; if they matched fifth-placed Arsenal’s result, Champions League football awaited.
Tottenham lost the match 2-1 whilst Arsenal‘s Thierry Henry scored a hat-trick against Wigan Athletic as the Gooners won 4-2. Painfully, for Spurs fans, the red team from London finished in the top four and white team qualified for the Europa League. The true narrative is more than one fateful match against West Ham in 2006.
This is the story of hope and expectation that became bitter and sour for anyone associated with Tottenham. Michael Carrick was not thought of as anything special at the time, but he would eventually have the last laugh.
Carrick joined Spurs in the summer of 2004 alongside new head coach Jacques Santini. Unbeknown to the new signing, he walked into a toxic situation within Tottenham’s new leadership team.
To start with, the manager didn’t even know who the player was. Speaking in his autobiography Carrick said:
“My new head coach, the man supposed to guide the next stage of my career, didn’t recognise me, didn’t have a clue about me and didn’t seem interested at all in a new signing who’d cost Spurs £2.75m.”
Arnesen and Santini had differences of opinions when it came to recruitment and Carrick found himself in the middle of this power struggle. Santini made the player train with the reserves during his first training sessions. Arnesen won the war as Santini left the club after 13 games, with Jol appointed as head coach. Instantly, Carrick was back into the team and helped the side finish ninth in the 2004/05 season. He also made his full England debut against the USA in May 2005.
Carrick respected Jol, the manager credited with providing the foundation of Tottenham’s current success and progression both domestically and in Europe. Carrick has said “I’ll be in his (Jol) debt forever” which shows the impression on the future Champions League winner.
Jol recruited well in the summer of 2005 bringing in Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon, Jermaine Jenas and superstar Edgar Davids. With Carrick at the heart of the team, Spurs were having one of their best seasons ever in the 2005/06 Premier League. Robbie Keane, Mido and Jermaine Defoe scored 38 goals between them whilst the formidable Ledley King helped the team to gather 13 clean sheets.
Carrick began to create a reputation for his ability to receive possession from defenders and play forward passes to key players. He didn’t boast many goals or assists but received a lot of the ball and rarely lost possession. Spurs have only had two players since he left the club who showed similar traits in a successful way: Luka Modric and Moussa Dembele.
As these key players prepared for the final game of the season, many of them were affected by the illness, but the most important one, Carrick, appeared to be the worse as he detailed in his autobiography, “It felt like a fire was lit in my guts with petrol poured on it again and again”.
During the morning of the game Jol, doing an excellent job since taking over as manager, suddenly found himself with eight players suffering from food poisoning. As Carrick and the rest of the squad entered a meeting room the morning before that crucial match, they found themselves in the middle of a peculiar situation. The police were called to investigate potential foul play whilst Daniel Levy rushed to communicate the situation with Premier League officials. Levy, renowned for his infamous negotiation skills, lost the argument and league chief Richard Scudamore instructed the game to go ahead as planned.
Had Tottenham’s players not experienced food-poisoning at the Marriott West India Quay hotel the day before, Spurs would’ve won the crucial final game. Yes, there might just be some bias in the words you’re reading right now but we’ll just have to agree to disagree.
The aftermath of finishing fifth was more than rivalry embarrassment for Spurs fans. As the summer progressed Man Utd expressed an interest in Carrick and signed him for £18m in July 2006. Spurs were happy with the money they received for the player and many still were unable to see the quality of passing that Carrick demonstrated for most of his career. He left Tottenham at the age of 25 and in his peak years won numerous titles with his new club.
A month before, the club signed relatively unknown Bulgarian, Dimitar Berbatov, from Bayer Leverkusen. The striker went on to score 23 goals in the following two seasons before joining – wait for it – Man Utd. Spurs were the nearly team and as much as they huffed and puffed, they couldn’t walk away from Arsenal’s shadow.
Had Carrick and the rest of the team not experienced the symptoms before the night of the game and Spurs qualified for the CL then the player would’ve stayed, Berbatov would’ve still joined and more money would’ve been readily available to the team to recruit even better players.
‘Lasagne-gate’ provides football fans with a funny story to tell, and even produces a catchy song from West Ham and Arsenal fans.
In reality, it provided Tottenham with a hidden bug. No one seemed fussed when Carrick left the club but losing a key player became a hidden illness in Tottenham’s progression.