When we talk about ‘transition seasons’ at football clubs we generally mean that the club has moved from a previous poor performance, generally involving a parting of ways with the coach, to being on the road to better times. This has been a transition season for Spurs but, rather than being on the road to better times, we’ve reached the better times already.

Such is the quality of Antonio Conte, he has allowed our ‘transition season’ to essentially be a transition half-season. Even during the transition he got us winning.

But it’s the transition off the pitch that, for me, has been more important. I have made no secret of the fact that being a Spurs fan has been very difficult for me during the last couple of years. I felt completely disenfranchised and devoid of hope when he was our manager. I could not see any semblance of a workable system and there was nothing to dream on.

Nuno Espírito Santo wasn’t him (good) but he also wasn’t really anything (bad), and it always seemed like such a terrible fit. Fortunately it was a fleeting visit. Antonio Conte’s appointment felt massive because of his coaching ability and his record, but I did worry a little about how I’d find his deliberately abrasive and confrontational approach. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve adjusted to it.

I doubt that he’s ever going to occupy the same space that Mauricio Pochettino does for me — partly because the chances are that we’ll be a quick stop-off on his journey to a Galáctico, that’s how brilliant he is — and partly because I don’t believe that he is quite as invested in the club. Fair enough. But seeing him waving his arms on the touchline to urge support, seeing the way he has us playing, seeing the way that he has made use of some of the previously under-performing talent at his disposal… this is what it’s all about.

We go on and on as fans about what’s better: winning a cup or a top four finish. The truth, at least for me, is that unity is more important than either. If I feel bought into something, if I feel that we’re moving in the right direction, I can forgive almost anything. And I’ve got that back in spades. What is it they constantly say up the road? Trust the process. Except whereas they put blind faith in their long-winded and wasteful process, we have found a slick and efficient one.

So whatever happens today — and hopefully it’s the absolute obliteration of Norwich City Football Club as an entity (no offence, Canaries, I just want us to end on a high) — I want to thank Antonio Conte for bringing the spark back into my relationship with Spurs. I didn’t need handcuffs, role-playing, light spanking, a third party. I just needed direction.

COYS. I love you.

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Dilan Markanday… And What It Means (Part 1.5)

At the end of my article Dilan Markanday… And What It Means (Part 1), I wrote:

This is part one of a two part look at where Spurs are going wrong. I’m quite excited about the piece of analysis that I will be doing for part two, so be sure to look back in a week or so to catch that.

This is part 1.5. Because what I wanted to achieve was a bit more difficult than I thought and I need your help!

I’ve been working on a little project, looking at all of our youth players going back to the 2007/08 intake which was when I started really getting interested in our youth development (that was the youth intake with Mason and Townsend in). Part 2 is going to be some analysis on what I’ve found; I’ve already started thinking about how this will look.

But I am sharing some of the data here, firstly to give you a first glance, and secondly to see if anyone can help fill in outstanding gaps. This leaves this open to people jumping in and using my data to do their own analysis before I’ve even got out of the starting blocks, but so be it.

The reason I’m asking for help is that I know a lot of Spurs fans have old Spurs handbooks, which tended to record the academy intakes in full. So here’s what I’d love: if you have any Spurs handbooks, would you mind checking my lists of academy players from the year in question against what’s in the handbook for that year, and letting me know if I’ve missed any players?

If anyone has the intake years/dates of birth for these two players I’d be really grateful as I’ve not been able to find any information on them:

  • Samuel Smith (2011/12 intake I think)
  • James Dalton (2007/8 intake I think)

The spreadsheet is here. All data used was available in the public domain.

Please leave me a comment or drop me a note at windy at windycoys dot come if you can add any information! I’d be super-grateful!

Not Panicking

I’m not panicking. I’m not panicking because I think we can explain away the last couple of matches. Am I huffing copium? Maybe, but hear me out.

It’s really easy to make sweeping statements about the rotten mentality of the club, the same players letting multiple managers down, how unacceptable it is to lose to lesser teams at home. It’s easy to boo at half-time, to be absolutely sick of the sight of Ben Davies and Harry Winks and even poor Matt Doherty (who has, astonishingly, now made 46 appearances for us). But Ben Davies was rejuvenated and playing genuinely really well in a back three including Eric Dier and Cristian Romero. Harry Winks put in some excellent performances in matches where we actually had possession of the ball. Doherty was even starting to look okay at times. Who are the players that let the previous managers down — Hugo Lloris? Son Heung-min? Harry Kane?

Southampton caught us off-guard. Ralph Hasenhüttl doesn’t do things by halves — it’s all or nothing. Typically they press themselves out of gas as much as they smother opposition teams. They expose themselves defensively in the same way that they expose their opponents. But, in this game they maintained their press, they got let off the hook a couple of times with our counter-attacks failing, and they were clinical when it mattered through James Ward-Prowse’s outstanding and deeply-specific skill not being managed at all well.

And Wolves? Well, I think I’m willing to put this mostly down to Hugo howlers. I realise that, even aside from Lloris’ blunders, we had a ropey first half. And I do think we were outnumbered in midfield until Conte brought on Dejan Kulusevski to play as a ten (and, thus, add another body to the midfield). But I think the second half performance was pretty good. And, had we not had those two comically poor moments in quick succession, I really believe it would have been a different game (albeit tricky against a stubborn Wolves defence).

If you take a step back, the level of performance and the data that those performances have delivered have improved significantly since Antonio Conte stepped in. And I strongly believe that will continue (maybe after the City game, lol). Kane is still under-performing his expected goals, but he has had 31 shots in his last six matches, which is highly encouraging. He is playing very well.

I’m not happy with how the last week has gone. I’m also, if I’m honest, completely taken aback by it — I had these down as two home wins. I was genuinely so adamant that we’d stride towards fourth, with those six points very much included in my thinking. But I don’t think we need to tear anything up and start again, I don’t think top four is off the table (far from it, I still feel pretty confident about our chances) and I definitely don’t think our squad is useless.

I do think, though, that Conte has made some mistakes. I’ve been a little obsessive about my belief that 3-5-2 suits us best (based, mainly, upon Liverpool and Leicester). And I really believe that the continuing selection of Davinson Sánchez has hurt us, previously primarily for his inability to participate effectively in build-up, but in these last two his defending was also particularly poor. My reading of the post-Wolves press conference was that Conte is also coming round to this way of thinking — when asked about Joe Rodon, he said “But in this moment maybe I make mistakes to pick different players maybe. Maybe. My evaluation is to try to put on the pitch the best players at the moment.” I believe that Rodon is significantly better in possession than Sánchez.

Dier’s return should mean that Cuti Romero moves back out to the right centre-back role which should, in turn, help Emerson Royal, who also really struggled against Southampton, but who I generally think is okay. Oliver Skipp should hopefully be back soon but, even if he’s not, I think there are decent enough combinations from Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Rodrigo Bentancur and Harry Winks (and I’m not against Dejan Kulusevski playing in midfield in a 3-5-2).

I’d love to see us switch to 3-5-2. I’d love for Sánchez to only be used in an emergency for the rest of the season. I think everything’s going to be fine. But, if the next three don’t go so well, I’ll pop back in March to apologise for spreading my copium.

Dilan Markanday… And What It Means (Part 1)

Here’s the headline. If Dilan Markanday had two and a half years left on his contact, we would not be entertaining bids below eight figures. Instead, we have reportedly accepted a six figure bid.

I could happily write this blog from the perspective of an advocate of academy players who wanted to see Dilan Markanday play more first team football for Spurs. But I think that it would be written off as agenda-driven youth football extremism, perhaps rightfully.

So, instead, I’ll write it from the perspective of a fan with no interest in promoting academy players, simply frustrated at the potential loss of revenue from the sale of (currently) our highest-performing academy asset for an up-front £500,000 according to Dan Kilpatrick.

Tweet from Dan Kilpatrick, the Evening Standard’s Chief Football Correspondent

The reason we are selling Dilan Markanday for an up-front £500,000 is because his contract expires in a matter of months. And the reason that his contract expires in a matter of months is because we couldn’t get him to sign a new contract. And the reason that we couldn’t get him to sign a new contract is: why would he sign a new contract?

Markanday can go to Blackburn Rovers, who are currently third in the Championship, and can play first team football between now and the end of the season. He might get promoted to the Premier League — at least, that’s what he’ll be thinking. He could be a Premier League starter next season. I’d imagine he’ll be on better money, and will benefit from receiving a signing-on fee too. This is clearly win/win for him.

In his five years at Spurs, Markanday has accumulated 15 minutes of adult football. At any level. This is an absurd situation. And those 15 minutes came in what now looks like a token appearance in the Europa Conference League which was, presumably, a last ditch attempt to encourage him to sign a contract. I suspect that he and his agent were too smart to fall for that old trick!

The closest comparison I can reasonably make to Markanday’s situation is Alex Pritchard’s, though I personally believe that Markanday has a higher ceiling than Pritchard (when compared with Pritchard at the same age). Pritchard left Spurs in February 2016 having actually played three fewer first team minutes for Spurs than Markanday has! 12 minutes in the Spurs first team. But he left for a reported £8 million.

The main difference between the two — the thing that added value to Pritchard (aside from the obvious, i.e. his having a longer contract in place) — was that, unlike Markanday, who has only played youth football, Pritchard had played 262 minutes in the Championship for Peterborough United, 3,645 minutes in all competitions for (at the time League One) Swindon Town, 3,869 minutes in all competitions for (at the time Championship) Brentford and and a handful of minutes for (at the time Premier League) West Bromwich Albion.

Nearly 8,000 minutes of men’s football made Pritchard much more of a sure thing but, more importantly than that, that initial loan move in 2013 when Pritchard was 19 and a half, and, presumably the discussions around what that move would lead to, gave him the exposure and career path that made renewing his contract at that point a no-brainer.

Markanday and Pritchard are similar in many ways. They play in similar positions on the pitch (attacking midfield), they were both late developers physically compared to their peers, and they both drew plaudits for their performances in youth tournaments. Markanday was named ‘Best Overseas Player’ at the Under-17 Borgaro Maggioni Righi tournament in Italy in 2018 as a 16-year old, whilst Pritchard lit up the NextGen Series in both 2011/12 and 2012/13. Anyone who watched either of them at 16 or 17-years old could see that they had excellent close control and dribbling ability, which made them stand-out.

Personally, I was unsure whether Pritchard was a Premier League level player but what was always clear was that he would make a good career for himself, and he is now excelling for Sunderland in League One, as one of the division’s best players who is clearly able to play at a level above (and probably will next season!). But this is all beside the point. Whatever he ended up as was secondary to what he was worth at the time, and creating value was done through exposure to actual first team football.

Markanday’s developmental explosion happened around eighteen months ago, when his physical development started to match his technical development, and he visibly bulked up and began to hold his own at Premier League 2 level against players who would previously have been able to dominate him. The mistake was to not tie him down to a longer contract and send him on loan at that point. Rather, we left him in the PL2.

If we look at Markanday’s goal and assist productivity across his five years of Scholarship and subsequent contracts at Spurs, we can see that 2019/20 and 2020/21 saw him struggle to adjust to the Premier League 2. But, for context, I would add that the Spurs PL2 team was generally struggling during that period, and that this season benefits from Spurs’ changed approach to youth development, i.e. having Harvey White, Jack Clarke and Nile John (and Markanday) in the side, players who I believe are all far too good for the level. The previous two seasons saw Covid disruption, key players on loan, short-term signings to fill gaps, and – frankly – some poor players playing regularly. Am I making excuses for Markanday’s performances in 2019/20 and 2020/21 knowing what I know now? Probably. But there were reasons.

What we know is that Spurs have offered Markanday a contract this season which he has rejected. We also know that he signed a new contract this time last year, though we suspect that this was the club exercising ‘an option’ to extend. What we don’t know is whether Spurs wanted to tie Markanday down to a longer contract last year, or whether they had concerns about his productivity. Or whether it was simply that we didn’t offer him a lucrative enough contract.

2021/22 PL21,219 (to date)171.3
2020/21 PL21,56960.3
2019/20  PL21,29770.5
2018/19 U18 PL1,743150.8
2017/18 U18 PL1,09180.7
Dilan Markanday’s goal and assist record 2017/18 to date

If the club were not sure that Markanday was worth investing in (and, let’s remember, he would not have been on big money, far from it), the best I can say was that it was short-sighted given his previous levels of productivity.

Spurs now have a significant history of getting themselves into these contract stand-offs with young talent. Milos Veljovic, Marcus Edwards, Luis Binks, Jack Roles and presumably Dennis Cirkin. I’m sure there are many others that I have not remembered at this point. Then we have the likes of Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts, Elliot Thorpe, Omari Forson and Noni Madueke who all left in search of a better career path. When I make this argument people typically say ‘yes, but only Madueke has made anything of himself’. And my response to this is two-fold. Firstly, progression isn’t linear. And secondly, and more relevant to this particular blog piece, their value at the time was significantly more than what we got for them at the time which, in most cases, was nothing or a pittance. So what they became is somewhat irrelevant, because we were still losing out on potential income.

My tweets (from @WindyCOYS) about Dilan Markanday’s likely departure

We can look at the sales of Jake Livermore to Hull City (£10m), Steven Caulker to Cardiff City (£8m), and the aforementioned Alex Pritchard to Norwich (£8m) as a job well done, selling players who were ultimately seen as not good enough to help the squad for good money which could be re-invested into the squad. But, alongside these, there are countless players who have been sold well beneath their peak value.

Josh Onomah, Marcus Edwards, Milos Veljkovic, Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts, Ismail Azzaoui, Jack Roles, Luke Amos, Luis Binks, Dennis Cirkin, Omari Forson, Noni Madueke are all players that should have collectively made us tens of millions more than they ultimately did. There will be more that I am forgetting. Cameron Carter-Vickers (when he goes) will go for a reduced fee. I even believe that Kyle Walker-Peters was sold beneath what his value should have been at £12m, though some see that as a good deal. On the point of Walker-Peters, I think it’s also worth noting that we spent over £60m on Serge Aurier, Matt Doherty and Emerson Royal in trying to replace Kyle Walker (or Kieran Trippier if you’re being charitable) whilst Kyle Walker-Peters played pretty much no football – is he significantly worse than them? If we had just played him during that period and not spent that £60m would we have been any worse off? Did we get £60m of value?

Aside these financial losses, it is also objectively Not A Good Thing that our best youth players, like Markanday, are choosing to leave us. It cannot be a good message for other youth players that the peers that they see as the best in their group are choosing to leave because they cannot see a path to first team football. It will encourage more players to do the same, and will also deter prospects from joining us for their scholarships. You can you imagine what all the dressing room talk is right now amongst those academy groups, the conversations that will be had between parents and agents over the coming weeks. This constant cycle significantly weakens the club’s negotiating position.

Ultimately I think the club need to take urgent action to stop this happening, because it is has become an ingrained pattern. We have a habit of focussing our efforts on the very best players in the Academy and forgetting about some of the others. For example, we have now got Dane Scarlett, Alfie Devine and Jamie Donley all tied down to contracts. This is truly excellent news, they are the jewels in the Academy crown right now, the players that everyone has very high hopes for. But there are other players who could well become Premier League players, and who we should not neglect, and Markanday was one such player.

I’d like to end by wishing Dilan Markanday all the very best at Blackburn should the move be completed as expected. I have really enjoyed watching him at Spurs over the last five years; he was the first British Asian to make a first team appearance for the club, which will be a source of immense pride for him, his family and his whole community. I think he will go on to have an excellent career.

This is part one of a two part look at where Spurs are going wrong. I’m quite excited about the piece of analysis that I will be doing for part two, so be sure to look back in a week or so to catch that.

If you’ve enjoyed this or have any interest in Spurs’ academy, I released ‘Windy’s Youth Update – Episode 6‘ yesterday, 48 minutes of chat on the Markanday situation.

Happy New Year – We Back

Happy New Year to all; I hope you’re well, had a healthy and happy holiday period, and I wish you all the best for the year ahead.

It’s good to be Spurs, again, folks!

Our friend Rhys has been tracking the ten match rolling expected goal difference, and it turns out that Antonio Conte is quite a good manager. Stonks.

Ten match rolling expected goal difference by @rtjenky

It’s wonderful to go into the start of 2022 absolutely brimful of optimism about the club, even after a frustrating draw against Southampton.

There are some interesting take-aways, I think, from the start of the Conte era at Spurs, and the shape he seems to have settled on (so far). Here are a couple of expanded thoughts.

Lucas Moura / Son Heung-min

In researching for the video I made about Lucas’ performance against Crystal Palace, I found that this is his best year so far at Spurs in terms of ‘expected’ productivity. He’s currently at 0.37 xg+xA/90 (expected goals and expected assists per 90 minutes), which he is currently slightly over-performing with 0.40 actual goals and assists per 90. His previous Spurs seasons saw him achieve 0.29, 0.33 and 0.32 xg+xA/90 (roughly Andros Townsend levels). If we just take the period for which Conte has been in charge it goes up to 0.43. This higher figure puts him level with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Ollie Watkins, and below Ademola Lookman and Armando Broja. And well below Son Heung-min’s 0.58, Harry Kane’s 0.65 and even Steven Bergwijn’s 0.49 during that period.

None of this is to say that Lucas isn’t playing well. Clearly he is adapting well to Conte’s system and is adding value, and we can also expect him to continue improving under a coach who has created a system in which the players he selects tend to flourish. But we do need to acknowledge that Lucas at his most productive does not come close to touching Son’s goal and assist productivity.

Where I do think Lucas is doing especially well, though, is in the ‘ball-near’ part of his role as one of two dual ‘tens’ (as Conte calls them). The role requires the one of the two closest to the ball (hence ‘near’), to drop deep to receive, either from the centre-back, central midfielder or right wing-back. Lucas is doing this very successfully, showing good control and strength with his back to goal (and, therefore, under pressure from opposition players). The idea seems to be that the receiving ten either makes a first time lay-off if the conditions are not quite right, passes sideways if it can open up a passing lane for a teammate, or take a touch, turn and play forward. It’s the latter which Lucas has done really successfully, turning his man and bursting forward. This was noticeable against Palace in particular.

I believe that Lucas has, so far, looked better at this part of the role than Son, who can look quite cumbersome and awkward when dropping deep to receive to feet. Son, however, is far better at the ‘ball-far’ aspect of the role. In possession, the ten who is furthest from the ball of the two is expected to make a run forward between the full-back and centre-back to create space both for the other ten to receive in, and for the wing-back to run into. We saw a lot of this against Crystal Palace where our wing-backs received a lot of the ball in the final third. This is where Son is so effective and probably why his data looks so much better than Lucas’ — those shoulder runs are great for his productivity.

But the fact that Son is *so* good at this part, and can help Kane out with some of the hard running, is why I hope to see us use the 3-5-2 more as time goes on. That performance against Liverpool was our best so far, and I think Kane and Son up front together is us at our best and that we should try to maximise this as much as possible. I think it also better suits the majority of our midfield players too.

Harry Winks

It is astonishing how the narrative around Winks has changed based upon two 90 minute appearances. Every Spurs fan has a list of players in their head who they think we should look to move on at the next possible opportunity. Harry Winks would have been on most of those lists until the Liverpool match (note: he did actually play quite well against Leeds a few games before too).

Here’s me back in October wondering where he can re-find some of the ‘old’ Harry Winks:

Tweet from @TheExtraInch (me) about Harry Winks

Turns out it’s here, under Conte. He’s been playing a lot more like *that* Winks (do watch the video) than the more risk-averse version we saw from when Mauricio Pochettino tried to convert him to a defensive midfielder alongside Moussa Sissoko (man, that was such an awful combination).

Hopefully Winks will continue this form — I see no reason why not — as it is hugely beneficial to us to have a pool of midfielders to select from, rather than just playing Pierre-Emile Højbjerg until his ankles fall off.

I think we also need to use this insanely quick turn-around as a lens through which to view our other, less-fancied players. Conte has transformed the perception of Ben Davies and Eric Dier (plus the aforementioned Lucas) too, and in all cases he’s done it by putting them into a system which accentuates their strengths, and minimises their weaknesses. Dier, for example, is trusted to play passes out from the back, win his battles and cover in behind the wide centre-backs, but is rarely having to turn and run towards his own goal.

There is no reason why Conte cannot transform the fortunes of others so long as they buy into the tactical plan.

This year has largely been a pretty miserable one as a Spurs fan. After sacking He Who Must Not Be Named (I only use this rather than his actual name to avoid his weird cult causing me admin) it felt like a weight had been lifted, but some of the weight was slowly… un-lifted (what’s the opposite of a weight being lifted?!) through a dreadfully unedifying manager hunt and the subsequent appointment of poor old Nuno Espírito Santo, who was never the right man for the job.

But, throughout this whole period, I have always maintained that we had good players, and that we just needed to make the right managerial appointment again to show that to be the case — and to have got to where we are now from there really does show how quickly things can change when you have significant resources at your disposal. It’s why I believe that Spurs are largely well protected, and that we are basically only one good decision away from fun at all times. Credit to Daniel Levy for getting us to this point, albeit obviously he loses plenty for the previous very bad decisions!

We move into the new year with hopes of a top four finish (I am absolutely adamant that we will do it, with or without signings), and then we build for next season, when I believe we can set our sights higher. Over the next two transfer windows I would like us to sign a centre-back (ideally left-footed or at least left-sided), an elite right wing-back to compete with Emerson Royal, and another forward to allow us to be able to rotate Kane and Son and remain competitive. It also seems that we are targeting Milan’s Franck Kessié and I think that would be a smart move.

Alongside my renewed optimism for Spurs, The Extra Inch (Spurs Podcast) continues to go from strength to strength. If you’re reading this and you’ve not listened yet, ask yourself why, because it’s basically this but in audio form once a week! More people are now listening than ever before, but it’s difficult to get complete listener numbers, partly because over 1,100 people are now listening to an ad-free version via their unique Patreon feed. We currently have 16% off the annual Patreon subscription, ending today. Additionally, Spotify now allow you to rate podcasts — it would be great if you’d consider leaving us a 5-star rating.

For some reason, bonus episodes never get as many listens as the regular, weekly episodes. If you have not yet listened to some of our recent bonus episodes, I strongly recommend these — some of our best ever content in my humble opinion!

Thanks to everyone has supported me this year, either on Twitter or via reading and sharing this blog, listening to the podcast and telling your friends, or being an xSub. It honestly means the world and it has allowed us to create a full-time job, essentially, for my dear friend, Nathan A Clark, who I strongly believe is one of the best analytical minds working in football. Thanks also, as ever, to Bardi for being Italian. HNY everyone.