Come On You Warmspurs!
Hmmm…ok, admittedly not as aesthetically pleasing or as fun to say as “COYS” but I’m working hard to get this to bubble.
Spurs are such an interesting story. One you’re likely familiar with and this by no means is any sort of history. We all know Tottenham. This is merely an analysis of the current not quite hot but more tepid state of the White Hart Lane club. Or ummmm….the not yet ready to play in new stadium so currently a resident of Wembley club.
Tottenham are doing great. Worthy of plaudits. They are excelling. For the last decade they have emerged as a proper top team in the Premier League. After the fiasco that was Juande Ramos let go of the reins (read: sacked, with aplomb) and Harry Redknapp took over as manager, the club turned a massive corner. In Redknapp’s first full season (2009-10) Spurs finished 4th. Led by Peter Crouch and Jermaine Defoe, Tottenham finished above Manchester City and five points behind arch North London rivals Arsenal. Ol’ ‘Arry would follow that up with extremely respectable 5th place and 4th place finishes before being ousted for André Villas-Boas in 2012.
The subsequent AVB era saw him lead Tottenham to a 5th place finish in his inaugural season. That was a notable season as Spurs finished just one point behind Arsenal and a young man by the name of Gareth Bale properly burst onto the scene and scored an incredible 21 goals in the league. AVB struggled, however, to replicate that form. Gareth Bale signed for Real Madrid as Los Blancos paid the Lilywhites a then world record £85m for the once in a lifetime talent the Welshman was supposed to be. And his loss for the Londoners was harshly felt. AVB didn’t last the full term (replaced on an interim basis by Tim Sherwood) as Tottenham slumped to 6th.
But then the summer of 2014 happened. And the foundation and basis for what we see today was put in place. An actual beginnings of a genuine structure for the club to succeed in the long term and hopefully bring home silverware. Tottenham hired manager Maurico Pochettino, then of Southampton, and blooded a young striker by the name of Harry Kane. The rest as we all know is history. Spurs in 2014-15 behind those two and the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Eric Dier and Christian Eriksen finished in 5th. The next season was 3rd. The next 2nd. And last season 3rd.
Job done? Not so fast. Or at least, that’s what I hope the club and their ardent fans believe.
And that is where the issue truly lies with Tottenham — they’re a mammoth side with decades of history and former legends. Greaves, Ardiles, Waddle, Sheringham, Mabbutt, Gazza, Linekar, Hoddle: LEGENDS. Solely finishing above bigger rivals simply cannot be viewed as success. It’s incredibly clear that trophies need to be won. Can be won. And especially in this era of theirs exuding top quality football played by legitimate superstars.
Spurs do not win things. They just do not have pots on their shelves. And that’s such a farce for such a high profile club. And I’m not even talking about the league title. I’m talking about any old trophy lying about. Their last League triumph was 1961. They last won the FA Cup in 1991. Their only walk up the Wembley stairs in this modern era has been to collect winners’ medals for the Carling/Milk/Carabao/whatever it’s called Cup in 1999 and 2008. That’s rather shambolic. Especially when you think about the fact that their last trophy of any sort wasn’t even in the Redknapp/Villas-Boas/Pochettino sparkling age of the last ten years.
And the main reason for that failure is Chairman Daniel Levy. Listen, he’s a wonderful businessman. He runs this Tottenham club with a solidity and true care for its well-being. And the club has been and currently is set up to be a top 6 side for years and seasons to come. But therein lies my entire point in that Spurs can’t dither about acting like they’re Watford or Everton. They are bigger and have more talent and the primary target must be wins in finals. Tottenham are indeed in good hands, but even more has to be done to reach the next stratosphere they belong in.
And that means transfers. And that is where Daniel Levy falters. Levy is impossible to deal with and a noted thorn in any other club’s side trying to do business with Spurs. He tries (and usually succeeds) to drive up prices of his players and in return for this ponderous negotiation strategy, clubs drive up the price of their players so Tottenham can no longer afford them. The result? Levy leaves the club with zero or limited quality depth and no major signings. Tottenham simply don’t have the manpower to compete on multiple fronts each and every season. And it comes back to haunt them each and every time. The empty cabinet is the only evidence you need.
Now, look, Spurs buy players. Here and there. But not of the standard needed to truly challenge for top spot or make Cup runs both domestically and in Europe. To get those kind of players, with the requisite experience, you need to spend. And Levy has not been able to pull this off. Not even remotely. The biggest signing the club has ever made? £36.6m for a young Dávinson Sánchez in the summer of 2017. That’s borderline insane! Thirty something million is your largest signing and it’s for a defender who can’t even get into the starting lineup on a consistent basis?! Not good enough. Not for a club of this stature. More needs to be done.
And let’s credit Levy where credit is due. He has found gems and steals and pried talent from other teams: Dimitar Berbatov cost £10.9m from Bayer Leverkusen in 2006, Luka Modrić cost £16.5m from Dinamo Zagreb in 2008, Eric Dier cost £4m from Sporting Clube de Portugal in 2014 and Lucas Moura cost £25m from Paris Saint-Germain in 2018, for example. It’s not necessary to discuss the numerous duds sprinkled in there (Roberto Soldado, Darren Bent and David Bentley immediately spring to mind), but he’s had his shrewd moments since he took up the post in 2001.
And that’s the point! Tottenham are bigger than this nonsense surrounding them.
For further example just look at the bench for any Spurs game. If Kane goes down, as he currently is until late February/early March, who can replace him? Right now it’s Fernando Llorente who scores as frequently as I do (and he almost never plays and when he does, he is covered in an impermeable coating of rust as seen in his comical cameo last weekend versus Manchester United). In that same match, Moussa Sissoko came off injured early and Érik Lamela came on for him. That’s a central midfielder in Sissoko replaced by an attacking winger in Lamela — a somewhat absurd alternative that then forced Spurs into a formation change. Eric Dier has been injured (soon to be back from appendicitis) leaving a hole in the middle of the pitch for Harry Winks to fill. That is a dramatic drop off in quality. Winks is a decent player but he’s not going to boss too many midfields of teams bigger than Spurs. He just isn’t. And I could go on. The point is is that it’s so blatantly and starkly apparent that Spurs need help in the market. Of any sort.
Pochettino is an exquisite manager and is there to build a squad with balance that can be one of the best teams in Europe. He is an elite man manager. Players like playing for him. They become friends with him. And he is not scared to let youth have their chance in the first team. This entire period of free flowing uptempo football Spurs have been flourishing with has been because of this aforementioned youth. Pochettino relies on and has relied upon the likes of Kane (now 25), Dier (146 appearances at 24 years old), Winks (22), Lamela (signed when 21), Eriksen (signed when 21), Hueng-min Son (signed when 23), Ben Davies (100 appearances at 25 years old) and Dele Alli (now still only 22).
That’s an electrifying crop that Pochettino has certainly groomed and made better. But these are the stars. These young players sit with the pressure of having to carry this team. It’s arduous to ask them to play and perform all season long in every single match Spurs have. Forget arduous, it’s preposterous! Pochettino doesn’t have the luxury to rotate due to the fact that when he looks at his bench he’s staring at a bottom half of the table side. Don’t get me wrong, the young guns have help on the pitch and there certainly is a tinge of balance. The Tottenham captain is Hugo Lloris, a 32 year old French World Cup winner, in goal and in front of him is the deeply experienced Belgian pair of centre backs Jan Vertonghen (31) and Toby Alderweireld (29). Kieran Trippier is a 28 year old right back and Sissoko is 29 tasked with maintaining the midfield’s shape. But that’s about it. If one of these dominoes falls, the façade of this squad changes drastically.
Which is exactly what we are seeing now as the club is deep in the throes of an injury crisis. Son is at the Asian Cup with his Korean colleagues. Kane picked up an ankle knock over the weekend which turned into worrisome ligament damage. Sissoko, too, got banged up. Dier is still out. Lucas Moura is hurt. And Mousa Dembélé is off to China. That’s a big hit for any club, but the players Spurs have to shore up those holes just aren’t of the caliber that will see them through in competitions like the Champions League (where they face a marauding Borussia Dortmund in the knockouts) or even the second leg of the Carabao Cup semifinal against Chelsea. They may even struggle to stay in the FA Cup where they face off against a can-be-solid-and-recently-defeated-Manchester-City Crystal Palace away in the fourth round at the end of the month. Pochettino could be looking at a middle 5 of Lamela, Winks, 18 year old Oliver Skipp, Alli and Eriksen behind Llorente (or Lucas if/when he’s fit). Go ahead and ask a Spurs fan if he or she likes their chances in those upcoming games?
The solution is splashing cash and getting actual reinforcements. The kind this club is worthy of. The lingering problem? Finding that cash to then go ahead and lavishly splash. Why? Well, remember that stadium I was referring to earlier? Yeah, that one that was supposed to be finished last summer. That guy. Well, as Arsenal fans can intimately relate to you, a new stadium is basically an albatross that scuppers your fortunes in transfer windows for years prior to, during and immediately after the construction and completion of it. So, imagine that financial strain on speed as Tottenham are dealing with the monetary losses related to the delay and the added expenditures of essentially renting out Wembley for an unforeseen 12 months.
The mess is only exacerbated due to the timing of the frugality coinciding with Spurs having their best team possibly of all time. This roster just needs a little help. One big signing to not only amplify the chances at ending the trophy drought but also to keep the current stars in North London. The club is constantly under threat of losing those jewels especially Kane, Alli, and Eriksen as well as their manager. And it’s hard to motivate them to stay or sell them on their futures with the club when the prospect of grasping a trophy are limited without the addition of assistance. Tottenham spent £0 last summer. ZERO POUNDS STERLING. They did not sign anyone, free or otherwise. That’s the first time that has happened in the Premier League era. We can’t pin this all on the stadium debacle. They aren’t the first club to build a stadium. And to be completely frank, why didn’t they plan ahead for this? Not buying anyone is completely acceptable if no one is needed. The club did a magical job of keeping everyone as well. The stage was set for an ideal summer. But like I discussed earlier, it didn’t happen and the heavy reliance on a sumptuous starting XI coming back to bite you is something we are now all witness to.
And that’s the rub for Tottenham. This is the third best team in England and on form can beat anyone in the world. The roll of the dice was working and the gamble was paying off. Until now. The next four to six weeks is the most enormous test of Tottenham’s modern history. Can they compete at a high level without Harry Kane (they have an abysmal ~38% win rate without him)? Can Pochettino patch up the team and prevent the bleeding? Can the reserves step up and deliver? Or can Levy scrounge up some funds and bring in replacements?
Unfortunately for the cooling off Spurs, we are about to find out.