We’re just over halfway through the season, and I wanted to reflect on the season so far, and what it’s meant to me and then think forward to next season in terms of squad building and transfer planning. So this will be half ‘heart’ and half ‘head’.
I use the phrase ‘what it’s meant to me’ very deliberately because it has been quite a transformative season for me so far. Ange Postecoglou is almost entirely responsible for that. I’d like to offer a couple of brief personal vignettes by means of explaining what I mean.
I don’t know if you realised, but I host a podcast. I wouldn’t expect you to know, I barely ever mention it. It’s called The Extra Inch (Spurs Podcast), you should check it out. I have the joy of speaking to two of my closest friends about Spurs every Monday. It is generally a complete and utter pleasure to do so, and although I often speak about the podcast as a second job, the actual hour and a half or so we spend on Skype once a week does not feel like work — it is pleasure. At least it is now.
During periods of the tenures of José Mourinho and Antonio Conte, sometimes the thought of sourcing questions, writing a running order, setting up my kit and logging on felt like the biggest drag. Or, alternatively, it felt like a form of therapy — communally talking through how shit our fandom felt, how the connection with the club we’d all been embedded in for decades was being eroded on a weekly basis. At the very least I tended to think of it as a chore, rather than something to look forward to.
Woe is me, poor podcaster, ‘having’ to turn up and talk about a hobby. Yeah, you’re right, I’m being dramatic and the other option was to simply not turn up. The reasons I kept turning up, of course, were that firstly, this is Nathan’s actual job and so I have obligations. But also because I knew that what’s happening now was a possibility. That we would appoint a coach who would deliver what had been craving since Mauricio Pochettino (*spits*) was still on the scene.
The other, similar example is that when I met my wife, I went hard on the fact that I was football-obsessed and that it was also my job. I didn’t want to get into a situation where a few months down the like she was like ‘so, uh, are you ever not watching Spurs?’. Better to be up-front. Anyway, she was surprised about how calm I would be during matches, sometimes barely even cheering goals. The 6-1 defeat to Newcastle back in April stands out because I essentially shrugged/laughed it off. Now she’s experiencing my fandom just as differently as I am. She’s loving how excited I am (except when I scare the dog). In fact, she has been somewhat sucked in by the drama and especially by Ange. Big Ange.
I feel like I keep stopping short — on social media, on the podcast — of explaining why I think he’s been so transformative for the club and us all as supporters, possibly because it feels grandiose and a bit cringeworthy. But I’ll have a go here.
I think there are two really obvious qualities that a football coach needs in order to succeed: leadership skills and a deep level of tactical insight. Obviously all football coaches at the highest level have some level of tactical insight, but it becomes about ‘levels’ at the very top, right? I think you can get away with just having leadership skills (Harry Redknapp) but I don’t think you can get away with not having extreme tactical depth. I think there are some coaches that have aspects of leadership — and massive side-eye at Conte and Mourinho here — but not the whole package. Maybe they’re good in some situations but they’re inconsistent or they fail to acknowledge the realities of lives for young footballers, or they’re too ego-centric to properly engage or empathise.
I genuinely think Ange Postecoglou is the full package. This morning I watched this video that Nathan had linked to. It illustrates how Ange utilises training drills effectively to coach situations that his teams will subsequently recreate on the pitch. It shows the link between tactics and technical coaching. Whilst this build-up approach is just one aspect of his complex tactical set-up, I think it is illustrative.
But the part of Ange which I think everyone — Spurs fans, non-Spurs fans, the media — has recognised is the way he is. Who he is, how he holds himself, how he treats people. He’s extremely assertive but also affable, empathetic, authentic and human. Timo Werner gave an interesting interview this week, where he said:
Already in the first days you see how, first of all, the team is behind him, that’s the most important thing. Everyone in the group is speaking very, very well about him. Also, when you see him in the meetings as well as before the game and in the game, he will always push you. He will give you clear information about what you have to do.Football.London
As much as I enjoy listening to Ange, so do the players. He is clear, authoritative and just thoroughly decent.
So onto the head part. Here’s where we currently stand with our Premier League Squad List. We could easily create capacity for more signings by selling one of those listed in red or, as we did in August, simply by not naming poor old Brooklyn Lyons-Foster in the squad.
When planning our January transfer window obviously we’re also thinking forward to being in a European competition next season, hopefully the Champions League. So this is how our squad is shaping up for next year’s European competition.
Those in red may leave or be loaned in this window or next. If you take into account all of those players we would still only have space for four players, plus as many Under-21s as you like. Though it’s worth noting with potential signings Antonio Nusa and Adam Wharton in mind, List B players must have been at their club for two years, hence Ashley Phillips and Alejo Véliz are listed in List A. The regulations state:
A player may be registered on List B if he is born on or after 1 January 2002 [will be 2003 for next season] and since his 15th birthday has been eligible to play for the club concerned for any uninterrupted period of two years, or a total of three consecutive years with a maximum of one loan period to a club from the same association for a period not longer than one year.UEFA Regulations
In addition, amazingly we found a loophole to make Pape Matar Sarr ‘homegrown’ for Premier League purposes (as we registered him before loaning him to Metz), so I’m actually wondering if he might be classified as Club-Trained in the Champions League.
So, we have space for four or five players based on my assumptions — let’s say four. I think those would need to be:
- Central midfielder (6 or 6/8 profile)
- Central midfielder (10 or 8/10 profile)
Should Ryan Sessegnon be able to stay fit and turn out to be a good profile fit (obviously there are big question marks there) this may change slightly, but I think this is roughly where we’re at. We can then have a conversation about whether we loan out Véliz since we have Troy Parrott returning, creating space for another centre-back or, say, Timo Werner on a permanent basis.
As a slight aside, the justifications for the central midfield profiles are that we would then have cover for each of the three distinct roles. I do think some multi-faceted cross-over players would be really useful — i.e. Rodrigo Bentancur can clearly cover 6 and 8, which creates more options for rotation and cover.
I think this analysis shows how delicately balanced our transfers need to be, and explain why I felt so frustrated about the opportunistic signing of Manor Solomon. We don’t have a great deal of wiggle room, and so each incoming player needs to be immediately impactful or have the potential for future impact (like Udogie, Sarr, Phillips and, hopefully, Nusa).
I think this activity also illustrates why Alfie Devine, Jamie Donley, Alfie Dorrington, etc etc etc are so critical and not just ‘nice to haves’ at this point. Having Club-Trained players is so useful for the purposes of UEFA competitions, and so having pathways for Academy players is essential. I watched Alfie Devine make his Plymouth debut yesterday (thread here) and I do think he can make a meaningful contribution next season, but that decision would be balanced against how many minutes he would get. But these are the sorts of conversations that will be happening: can we utilise Alfie Devine for 8/10 cover minutes, or do we need to sign someone for that role? And, if so, what does that mean for other potential signings?
Not only am I loving the vibes and excited about player recruitment and how next season looks, I also genuinely think we can have immediate success. We are so well-poised for a strong finish to the season. I wouldn’t back against us finishing top three, and I mean any of the positions in the top three. We are good enough. COYS.
(If you spot any inaccuracies in any of the spreadsheets above, please leave a comment below. I’ve been looking at them so long that I’ve gone blind to errors!)