August 10, 2018

So Here We Are

Dear Mr Levy,

No wait, that’s that other bloke.

As Mauricio Pochettino delivered a staggeringly philosophical press conference yesterday, which moved between the ever-so-slightly sanctimonious and pure, glorious serenity, some of the cracks of the transfer window were smoothed over. He’s wonderful in these situations; a true company man, protecting his team, his boss and himself with pragmatism, the odd joke, plenty of smiles and a warmth rarely seen in such arenas.

Spurs only have themselves to blame for this mess — if, indeed, it is one; I’ll come back to that — which began two years ago when we signed Vincent Janssen, Georges-Kévin N’Koudou and Moussa Sissoko, three players we’ve presumably been looking to shift in every window since.

We have a squad bloated with problems — some players are not good enough, some want to leave — and Pochettino’s ‘We didn’t sell players and with 25 players in the squad it is difficult to add players.’ comment pretty much explains that it is difficult to do ‘in’ business without first doing ‘out’ business.

The plan over the next few weeks needs to be to find loan takers for some of those players that we ultimately want to flog and those players that are ultimately going to potentially cause unrest. Which is, I presume, why we’re talking to Schalke about a loan move for Danny Rose.

Within the bloat, however, is a core of excellence. Our first fourteen or fifteen players are a match for nearly any other side in the league, and comfortably top four worthy. The rest? Well, we have to make it work. Pochettino’s brilliance comes in his ability to improve. To squeeze extra from a starting point which doesn’t seem to have any slack. Every year we see growth from within the squad; last year it was Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies, this year someone else will step up, that’s simply inevitable with a coach as good as ours.

There is untapped potential there too, some of which we’ve seen in pre-season (Oliver Skipp, Luke Amos, et al) and some of which we haven’t (Josh Onomah and, whisper it quietly, Marcus Edwards). Many fans have given up on Onomah and Edwards, but if we can harness that talent, the upside is huge. Onomah can do some of the things that our long-term target, Jack Grealish, can do, possessing both the ability to drive with the ball from central midfield and to pass the ball effectively, illustrated by the fact that he was statistically one of the best progressive passers in the Championship last season:

Edwards has had well-documented problems — before and during his loan spell at Norwich, but all need not be lost and a clean slate and change of approach from both club and player could finally see both benefit. Perhaps I’m deluded and both will be on loan by September.

But I do think this window has been a mess. I think Daniel Levy has failed in this window, as he did in August 2016, as he did in January 2017, as he largely did in August 2017 and as he did in January 2018. But the failing, in my opinion, is in not putting an appropriate structure in place as much as being one of (lack of) ambition or his famed negotiation tactics. He invites pressure onto himself by being so closely involved in the process, and by not having recruitment experts on hand to do what he cannot.

We accept that Spurs cannot match the spending power of other Premier League clubs with bottomless pits of cash — certainly not having just spent a billion quid on a stadium, and certainly not until we are at a point where we can stretch our wage structure (after a year of increased match-day revenue, perhaps). So we need to be canny, we need to dig that bit deeper, we need to use other methods to identify players. It all seemed to be going so well with the (albeit short-lived) appointment of Paul Mitchell, his black box, a new analytics team, and an increased focus on using ‘modern’ methods to recruit, rather than relying on word of mouth and ‘the eye test’. This has not yielded results.

As I’ve spoken about on The Extra Inch, my biggest hope for this window was that Spurs had got their act together and would act early to secure targets which may be a little under the radar, making the deals that bit easier to do. Pochettino’s pre-World Cup comments implied that the intention was to do business early, to have signings available for pre-season. Clearly, our inability to sell has inhibited our ability to buy, and we have to consider that in future windows. Perhaps we need to accept less. Or better, to not buy trash in the first place.

I hope that this will lead to a change in approach. Where a signing is simply squad fodder, let’s promote from within instead. Let’s utilise the talent already at the club to fill those squad places. This has multiple benefits, but the main two being the savings in outlay (of course), which frees up funds to genuinely improve the first team, but also creates the sense of a progression route being in place from the Academy, which will hopefully put an end to us shedding our top talent in the way that we have over the past two years.

It is clear to any sensible observers that Spurs have basically stood still this summer whilst, at least on the surface, those around us have improved. The window has been a disaster in many ways, but the disaster is within context and — just as importantly — is containable.

Even having signed nobody, we probably have the fourth best squad in the league, and we probably have the second best manager in the league. A manager capable of over-achieving, and so third place again would be no great surprise to anybody.

We are short on fit first teamers for now, sure, but we have a relatively ‘easy’ (with the caveat that ‘there are no easy games in the Premier League) start to the season that will hopefully allow us time to get players fit before we play United.

The positivity that the new stadium will bring can provide the same bounce as a new signing and whilst we might be left wondering what might have been had we strengthened, I still foresee a positive season for Spurs, and hopefully this will be the year that we finally bring a trophy home.

On a personal level, I have negotiated flexible working for the next few months which will give me a little more time to write, to podcast, and to engage more generally, and I can’t wait for the season to get going.

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