Spurs’ squad is in a real mess.
I’m not normally one to catastrophise or get hysterical but the failures of the recent transfer windows have arguably had less of an effect this season than they will in future seasons. Spurs have major squad surgery to do over the coming year which could significantly set us back if it is not managed carefully. This will be Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest challenge yet.
Our squad has all of a sudden become remarkably middle-aged to old (in football terms). At the top end of the age spectrum are the following:
- Michel Vorm (35)
- Fernando Llorente (34)
- Hugo Lloris (31)
- Jan Vertonghen (31, turns 32 in April)
- Toby Alderweireld (30)
- Moussa Sissoko (29)
- Danny Rose (28, turns 29 in July)
- Kieran Trippier (28)
- Victor Wanyama (27, turns 28 in June)
We had become so used to Pochettino using young players and having a young squad but this has crept up rather suddenly. At this point, the only squad players (that we use) under 22 are Foyth (21) & Skipp (18).
The excellent Daniel Storey pointed out that this season we’ve tended to use older players more than younger players:
League starts this season by players currently 24 and under: 57
League starts this season by players currently 30 and above: 72
Ignoring the fact that Pochettino historically prefers working with younger players, this shift in age within the squad brings with it other issues too, such as: a higher wage bill; more tired/injury-prone bodies; less certainty, as players start looking for ‘one last payday’ towards the end of their career; and less motivation for other young players if they cannot see an obvious route through to the first team.
From the list at the start of this piece, I would argue that only Lloris, Vertonghen and Sissoko are all-but-guaranteed to be at the club for the start of the 2019/20 campaign, and so this issue of having a squad tipped towards older players may become less of a problem. But that turnover in itself is a major issue.
Squad surgery is very achievable when it’s properly planned and undertaken at regular intervals. We are left, however, with a summer where we have three windows of surgery to do in one. Not only is that hugely challenging practically in terms of actually getting the deals done, but it brings with it the knock-on effect of having multiple players to acclimatise at one time.
It also means that you cannot be so opportunistic. For example, I cannot imagine that the club are overly concerned about keeping Lucas Moura, who we could probably sell for £20m+. But presumably we would think twice about selling him simply because we would be at risk of running out of players given all of the other outgoings that we can expect.
If you begin to start looking at the players likely to leave in the summer, it becomes clear that our squad is going to be left remarkably thin without significant re-investment.
- Toby Alderweireld (contract allows him to leave for a set fee this summer)
- Christian Eriksen (only a year left on his contract with rumblings that he’ll look to move on)
- Vincent Janssen (assuming we can find a taker)
- Michel Vorm (contract expiring)
- Fernando Llorente (contract expiring)
- Georges-Kévin N’Koudou (…)
- Victor Wanyama (unable to play at the highest level after a series of injuries).
If you start to consider other areas where we need upgrades, this widens out from seven outgoings to potentially 11:
- Kieran Trippier (a possibility to cash in whilst his stock is still high-ish)
- Serge Aurier (not progressing as hoped, opportunity to recoup £20m)
- Danny Rose (unable to play more than once a week and struggling to put together consistent performances)
- Ben Davies (more likely to be kept as a squad player, but ultimately shouldn’t be troubling the first team of a team with aspirations of winning the league).
And then we have a series of young players who at this point seem likely to move on:
- Josh Onomah (22 in April and needs to leave in search of regular first-team football)
- Kyle Walker-Peters (as per Onomah; ultimately he’s now wasted three years of his career waiting for opportunities)
- Cameron Carter-Vickers (a little below the required standard for Spurs, though should have no problems finding a decent club)
- Luke Amos (perhaps he’ll get another year after being so unfortunate with his injury, but he would need assurances)
- Marcus Edwards (building quite a reputation in the Eredivisie but one may assume his bridges have been burned at Spurs and Pochettino does struggle to integrate more mercurial young players)
- Anthony Georgiou (22 now and it’s time to find a permanent home)
- Connor Ogilvie (23 and a constant loanee – time to make that permanent switch)
- Shayon Harrison (perhaps that Melbourne City loan will become permanent)
- George Marsh (unlikely to ever make the grade)
- Jack Roles (having another prolific season from midfield but out of contract in the summer – why would he stay?).
11 becomes 21 and that is without mentioning other young players who could also leave (Japhet Tanganga, Dylan Duncan, Jon Dinzeyi). That is a hell of a lot of work to do, and that’s without even considering how many incomings we may need to repair/bolster the squad.
As we have not been consistently giving even our best academy players chances (let alone others), academy players are starting to get to the end of their first professional contract (or end of scholarship) and are looking at leaving. This means that where we had previously hoped to reap the rewards of our investment in the training centre with a conveyor belt of talent, that conveyor belt will begin to head the way of Germany, France or The Netherlands, countries who have recognised that there is huge value to be found amongst young, English players. It’s important to note that this is not an issue just at Spurs, but across the Premier League as a whole, but Spurs are suffering as much as any, with Miloš Veljković, Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts and Noni Madeuke already having moved abroad in recent seasons and others likely to follow this summer.
One would like to imagine that a lot of pre-summer work to line up outgoing and incoming deals can take place, but with Daniel Levy’s energy targeted towards the new stadium for so long, perhaps some of this focus has been lost. I mean, we’d have hoped for the past two transfer windows that deals would be in place, and yet nothing has materialised. The obvious solution would be to bring in a Sporting Director/Director of Football to manage our squad restructuring process, but I fear Spurs have left that too late too. Besides, is Levy trusting enough to leave these decisions in the hands of someone else? Would Pochettino be comfortable with this extra layer of management?
Instead, Pochettino will be left to prioritise which positions he wants to focus on. Central midfield and the full-backs are the most obvious areas for improvement, but replacing both Eriksen and Alderweireld would undoubtedly have an impact on those priorities, particularly if Pochettino intends to continue playing with a back three.
The club has some major decisions to take in the summer: what kind of buyer do we want to be? Do we want to simply sign ‘proven’ Premier League players (James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, David Brooks), who will cost a fortune due to their homegrown premium? Do we want to dig deeper into the football league (Max Aarons, Jack Clarke, Tom Bayliss) to try to find value? Or do we want to use analytics-based scouting to try to find similar value from across Europe (Sander Berge, Denis Zakaria, Marko Rog, Soualiho Meïté)?
Of course, some of these issues could be fixed with a simple change in approach. We can fix some of the problems right now. Offer Eriksen and Alderweireld huge contracts. Fully integrate the likes of Walker-Peters, Onomah and Edwards. Give Skipp and his 18/19-year old peers significant minutes. Suddenly the situation would look more rosy. We could play Walker-Peters between now and the end of the season and potentially fix our right-back problem. But there is a stubbornness within Spurs’ ranks (and I include Pochettino in that just as much as Levy) that makes me think we’re beyond that point. Besides, we may have left it too late; the time to fully integrate some of these young players was two to three seasons ago. The time to tie Eriksen down was last season.
What we must ensure is that Pochettino is appropriately backed because (Kane-aside) losing him would be worse than losing any player.