Transfer Round-Up

It’s been an uncharacteristically busy January for Spurs, with José Mourinho attempting to clear up some of the mess that was left for him, whilst attempting to do some forward-planning. He’s not done all the business that he’ll have wanted to do, but, *shrugs*, I guess that’s January?

Steven Bergwijn is the headline-grabbing new-boy, joining from PSV for £27m, but Giovani Lo Celso’s move being made permanent (£27.2m) is arguably the main event. Gedson Fernandes completes the trio of new arrivals, with several players heading out. Let’s note here that Toby Alderweireld signed a new contract in December (‘like a new signing’!), otherwise he might have been heading out in this window too.

Christian Eriksen *did* finally complete a permanent move away, joining Inter for £16.9m. Danny Rose has left for Newcastle United on an initial loan (but it’s hard to imagine that he’ll play for us again). Kyle Walker-Peters has joined Southampton on loan in search of regular game-time.

Youngsters Tashan Oakley-Boothe (Stoke City) and Paris Maghoma (Brentford) have been allowed to leave permanently whilst we have also sent out some younger players to gain experience on loan:

  • Kazaiah Sterling – Leyton Orient
  • Anthony Georgiou – Bolton Wanderers
  • Timothy Eyoma – Lincoln City
  • Brandon Austin – Viborg FF
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers – Luton Town
  • Armando Shashoua – CD Atlético Baleares
  • Jack Clarke – QPR

I was hoping that both Troy Parrott and Oliver Skipp would be heading out, but it would seem not – the story around Parrott a particularly interesting one. Excuse the pretty technical detail that follows, but I think it’s worth noting.

Mourinho said of Parrott in early January:

“He’s 17 years old. I don’t think at the age of 17 it’s good for you to go on loan to a Championship club or to go abroad to another country. My feeling is one thing is when you are 20 if you need that step when you are 19/20, another thing is when you are 17. When you are 17 you are a baby. 17 you just have to be in your father club where you feel at home, where you are at home, where you train and develop with the first team.”

Shortly afterwards, Dan Kilpatrick wrote that he expected Parrott to sign a new, long-term contract after he turned 18 on 4th February. The suggestion from some (and my own assumption too) was that Spurs were quietly applying their rule, again, whereby players are not allowed out on loan until they commit their futures to the club. This all appeared slightly strange to me because, at 17, Parrott is able to sign on for a maximum of three years, and one would think that tying him down and sending him out on loan to get regular games between now and May would benefit him hugely in the future.

It all got a little stranger on deadline day, though, when Dan tweeted an update on Parrott’s situation:

Dan is an excellent reporter with good links to the club and so we can safely assume that this information is entirely accurate. But it seems like a bit of a smokescreen from Spurs.

The reason I say that is that, in terms of the Premier League, Parrott only needs to be at an FA-registered club for 36 months prior to his 21st birthday in order to be considered homegrown*. He is on-course to achieve this (unless we are planning to loan him out to a European club for three years!).

In terms of the Champions League, Parrott can be – and has been – named in Spurs’ Champions League List A Squad. He cannot be included on List B – the ‘freebie’ list of young players – as, although he signed for Spurs in 2017, there were some issues with his registration** and so he has not technically been eligible to play for Spurs for the requisite two years in order to be eligible for List B inclusion.

If teams name a 25-man Champions League squad, eight of the players must be ‘locally trained’, be that ‘club-trained’ or ‘association-trained’***. Club-trained means that they’ve been at the club for three full seasons by the age of 21 (continuously or not). Association-trained is the same, but any club registered with the FA. Parrott is well on-course to become club-trained, but is not there yet.

Perhaps the club view is that that by stopping him going on loan now they can include him as a ‘freebie’ on their Champions League squad next season; a rather short-termist approach, I would argue.

Having not signed a striker, though, my hope is that Parrott signs a long-term contract when he turns 18 on Tuesday and actually starts getting minutes – he’s more than capable at this point.

At the start of January I would have identified a defensive midfielder, full-backs, and a forward as the crucial positions to bolster, and we have not addressed any of these issues. But things have changed since then, and I certainly feel more confident about midfield and full-back areas (though not so much the forward).

Serge Aurier’s continued improvement, as well as Mourinho’s intelligent use of him (as I explain in the clip below) mean that we should be okay on the right until the summer. The emergence of Japhet Tanganga, and his flexibility in playing well on the left as well as the right (or at centre-back, his primary position), plus the return of Ben Davies add up to give us stability on the left too.

Mourinho has been using Harry Winks at the base of midfield, sometimes in a two, sometimes in a three – I suspect that the three will become the norm as we transition to 4-3-3. Whilst Winks is certainly lacking in some defensive skills, once Tanguy Ndombele returns he will have a midfield partner who can cover some of those deficiencies, whilst Giovani Lo Celso’s tenacity and pressing will significantly lessen the load on Winks too. This three-man combination is – in my opinion – the best we can muster at the moment. Without meaning to be cruel to Moussa Sissoko, his absence means that we are no longer seeing the Winks/Sissoko midfield combination which has haunted me for a year – it really does not work. Once Sissoko returns I would hope that he plays on the right or not at all. Winks, Ndombele and Lo Celso, with Gedson and Dier providing back-up/rotation – is not a disaster by any stretch (though, granted, a top quality defensive midfielder would elevate it significantly).

The lack of striker is the big disappointment from the window, but this statement comes with two caveats:

  1. I don’t think Harry Kane’s absence would be as keenly felt were we playing Dele or Son Heung-min or even Erik Lamela up front and not Lucas Moura who, in my eyes, does a pretty poor impression of a striker.
  2. I would really like to see Troy Parrott get some minutes, as mentioned above.

Whilst it’s a pity that we didn’t get a striker deal over the line, I can appreciate that January is a tricky time to land longer-term targets. So the option seemed to be to get someone in short-term (Krzysztof Piątek, Willian José, Olivier Giroud, etc etc) or no-one at all. Watching Manchester United scrabbling around to sign Odion Ighalo in the last minutes of the window in no way made me feel envious, but it did highlight the real challenge of striker-buying at this point in time. Ighalo may well bang in 8-10 goals over the next four months and make me look foolish, but I’m going to say I’d have rather passed than signed him.

I would like to end by talking about the Development Squad, and the radical change we have seen since José Mourinho became manager. Mauricio Pochettino was seen by some as a keen developer of youth players, but for much of his tenure this was not the case. I have spoken previously about how much he has hindered the development of many players with his rigidity in terms of wanting the best youth players to train with the first team squad rather than play games with the Under-23s or out on loan, and his inflexibility in not letting many out on loan more generally.

Mourinho’s introduction has totally overhauled things already; whether that is of his own doing, whether John McDermott is simply being allowed to do things differently or whether it is a combination of both is unknown, but here are the main changes:

  • Japhet Tanganga was brought into the first team. You can only imagine the knock-on effect that this has in terms of mentality – it gives hope of a renewed pathway into the first team for all of our young players and totally changes the perception around being an Academy player at Tottenham Hotspur.
  • Dennis Cirkin has been on the bench. Pochettino would very occasionally draft in younger players that he liked, but Mourinho identified Cirkin very early on and seems keen to give him prolonged exposure.
  • Tashan Oakley-Boothe and Paris Maghoma have been sold. These are good players who likely aren’t good enough for Spurs and who were taking up spaces in the Under-23s (and, honestly, they were stagnating like you wouldn’t believe) which could go to players who need to step up from the Under-18s in order to develop. This decision allows the two players to go and forge a career elsewhere, which is great for them. We got fees for both, presumably nominal, but a fee is a fee.
  • We have let players out on loan. Kyle Walker-Peters will finally get to play some regular football. We have also loaned out Kazaiah Sterling, Anthony Georgiou, TJ Eyoma, Brandon Austin, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Armando Shashoua, Jack Clarke. Obviously some of these were on loan before, but some are going out for the first time, which is great. All of the 97-born, 98-born and 99-born players are now out on loan or in the first team squad (Tanganga, Whiteman) except for Jonathan Dinzeyi.
  • The knock-on effect of these sales and loans internally is that the Under-23 team can now be remodelled to include some of those Under-18s who need to be tested at a higher-level, including Kion Etete, who is impressing so far since moving from Notts County.

This is quite a remarkable turn-around in such a short space of time and fills me with a lot of hope that we are back on track in terms of developing our young players. Identifying those players who aren’t good enough for us but have some value and can be sold for profit, start their careers elsewhere and become actual footballers as opposed to theoretical footballers is a crucial part of managing the Development Squad. I felt as though Mauricio Pochettino never quite had a handle on it and I am already seeing that Mourinho certainly has.

One final thing. It emerged last week that our Academy players were apparently using social media to say goodbye to our talented 18-year old centre-back, Luis Binks.

I have not quite been able to get to the bottom of whether he’s left permanently or on-loan and it’s odd that nothing was announced yesterday. Binks shares an agent with Thierry Henry and there was a suggestion that perhaps he could be off to Montreal Impact, where Henry is coaching. Watch this space, I guess.

If you’re interested in all of this stuff on the youth teams, I urge you to listen to my friend, and youth football expert Carl Hurst on Ledley Kings Knä.

*You can read about the Premier League homegrown regulations in their 2019/20 Premier League squads confirmed article.

**Credit to Reddit user Imbasauce: ‘Troy transfered to us from Dublin on July 2017 (he’s 15years and 5months). According to Fifa rules regarding ‘Protection of Minors’, EU Nationals can only transfer when he reaches the age of 16. This means he couldn’t register with the club officially during his first year.’

***You can read about the Champions League regulations on club-trained and association-trained players in their 2019/20 regulations.

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Green Shoots

Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham appear to be moving in the right direction, and the introduction of three players over the past month has helped with the upturn, though the general poor-quality finishing is still a hindrance.

Mourinho took over at Tottenham Hotspur on 19 November 2019 though, frankly, it feels like longer ago, such has been the number of matches and, therefore, press conferences in that time. He inherited the team at a low ebb, devoid of confidence, structure and, most importantly, a midfield.

Since taking over he has toyed with a few different formations – plenty of 4-2-3-1, a little bit of 5-3-2, before finally landing on 4-3-3; the rationale for each impacted by the opposition and, just as importantly, the availability of players.

He has been keen to point out that Ben Davies has been missing since his first game – a shame, because he had identified a niche role for him – and he had been without Hugo Lloris for his whole tenure until the win over Norwich. Since Mourinho took over, he has also lost Moussa Sissoko and Harry Kane, barely had Tanguy Ndombele, and has had Harry Winks in fits and starts.

The man whose introduction has made all the different in Giovani Lo Celso. He had only made two starts before Mourinho’s arrival, but since the end of December he has been a mainstay. His speed of thought, speed of movement and speed of action have led to a considerable upturn in Spurs’ attacking fluidity, particularly in the past fortnight, and his transfer is likely to be made permanent over the coming days.

In defence, Mourinho gave Japhet Tanganga an opportunity, and he has not let him down. Tanganga is a natural defender – a very good reader of the game, tigerish, and brave – like Michael Dawson but with natural athleticism. Tanganga has also showed surprising ability to carry the ball out from the back, particularly against Middlesbrough where he played right-back. He was not renowned for his ball-carrying in the Spurs Academy set-up but, equally, he has always been solid in possession and this shows what belief from a manager can do for a technically able player.

And finally, Hugo Lloris’ re-introduction is timely. Paulo Gazzaniga has done as well as one might expect a second-choice goalkeeper to do, including saving a penalty in what could turn out to be his final appearance of the season. But there is no denying that we have missed Lloris and that Gazzaniga’s ability to get down quickly to either side is not what one would hope for from a Premier League goalkeeper. That said, Mourinho was rightly quick to praise Gazzaniga after Lloris came back in, saying ‘To leave Paulo out hurts. The good thing is that he is such a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo that I think he also shared our happiness to have Hugo back as a friend.’

Spurs have now put together a four-game unbeaten run and will have Davies and Ndombele fit to start games soon. Things are certainly looking up if they could just find a source of regular goals. Lucas Moura has disappointed for much of the season, but particularly when asked to play up front. Hopefully a new signing will alleviate that issue or, if not, Mourinho’s next innovation will be finding a new striker from within the squad.

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The Blame Game

My thesis is that Mauricio Pochettino is more to blame for the state of our current first team squad* than Daniel Levy. Hear me out.

I find myself getting irritated reading every thread on Twitter or Reddit or on Spurs forums that blames Daniel Levy and Daniel Levy only for what our squad has become. Of course, Levy placed restrictions on us in terms of our spending. We know that; we are not Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City**. ENIC are an investment company and they operate as such. That is not a point for debate but we could debate (and by god we do, some people even make naff little signs) the merits of having an investment company as our owners. Let’s park that for now — the reality is that we do have an investment company as our owners. And, despite that, we build a top-class squad with a top-class Manager. Mauricio Pochettino is undoubtedly owed a tremendous debt of gratitude.

With Levy’s persona — always lurking in the background at games, rarely communicating to fans, physically looking like a movie villain with his bald head and sharp features, his reputation for being a fearsome negotiator*** — he is a far more convenient figure to blame than lovely, cuddly, handsome, warm, human, front-facing Mauricio Pochettino.

Let it be said that Mauricio Pochettino is, in my opinion, the best Coach that Tottenham Hotspur have had in my lifetime (I was born in 1984). What he achieved with the squad at his disposal was — at times — miraculous. He gave us some of the best attacking football I have ever seen my club play and some of the happiest memories I have as a football fan. I recently wrote an article for this excellent piece of work called ‘A Transformative Tenure’.

But Pochettino was not perfect, and I believe that he was flawed in terms of his role as a Manager and specifically in terms of building/maintaining his squad.

Pochettino was our Manager. He made a big deal about his job title being changed from Head Coach to Manager partway into his tenure because he had felt he was always more than just a Head Coach, that he had always truly had the full remit of a Manager.

Pochettino was also incredibly close to Levy, a point that was reiterated over and again throughout Brave New World****. Levy has at no point tried to “play” Pochettino. This is evidenced by Pochettino regularly briefing the media on our club’s need to operate differently; he was onside, he toed the party line. He was keen to put across the financial confines that he was working within and only late in his Spurs career did he start to lament them. More on that later.

And this is where it gets tricky; some fans will say ‘well Levy should just remove some of those restrictions and back the manager’. I can see the point (I am even halfway to agreeing if I’m honest), but even with all of this in mind — knowing the restrictions in place at the club and being its Manager — Pochettino still had options available to him. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some potential ways of operating given the financial restrictions placed upon him:

  • Develop youth players for the first team – easier said than done, perhaps, but the recent introduction of Japhet Tanganga (and indeed, the success this season of Marcus Edwards in the Primeira Liga*****) arguably shows that the gap between Academy players and first team players is not as wide as perceived, and squad places could be filled by Academy players with the hope that one may turn out to be Harry Kane (or even Harry Winks).
  • Develop youth players to sell and generate funds; by loaning young players and exposing them to first team football, they gain value and can then be sold for large profits which can be used to fund first team signings. Historically we did this with Jake Livermore (£8m), Steven Caulker (£9.25m), Alex Pritchard (£8m), Andros Townsend (£12m), Nabil Bentaleb (£17m) and Ryan Mason (£13m).
  • Use data to unearth under-valued players in other leagues. Arguably this is how we ended up signing Georges-Kévin Nkoudou and Clinton Njié, so this strategy could be said to be ‘risky’; equally, other clubs have unearthed gems for very little money.
  • Sign under-valued players with potential from within the English Football League. Over the past five years we have looked at, and decided not to bid for: Demarai Gray, Ademola Lookman, James Maddison, Ryan Sessegnon (when he was 16 and valued at under £5m), Jack Grealish, Tom Bayliss, Max Aarons, Eberechi Eze. All of these players could have been signed for under £10m each, and well under £10m in some cases. NB: we have recently looked at Jayden Bogle (Derby County), Nathan Ferguson (West Bromwich Albion), and are still monitoring Eze (Queens Park Rangers) who is now said to be worth over £20m.
  • Try to anticipate when first team players may be about to start declining and sell them at their peak value; arguably we attempted this with Kyle Walker.
  • Sell one or two big-name players at peak value and use the money to re-invest, i.e. what Liverpool did with Philippe Coutinho.

With all of this in mind, Pochettino:

  • Dropped £55m (plus huge wages) on Moussa Sissoko and Serge Aurier; he could have signed all of the young, English (with homegrown rules in mind) players that I listed above for less than this amount.
  • Decided to try to patch things up with Danny Rose (after his hatchet job interview with The S#n newspaper) rather than sell him for circa £30m and re-invest that money.
  • Decided to keep Christian Eriksen (with contract running out and no plans to re-sign) and attempt to convince him that he could win something with us.
  • Decided to use a very small, tight-knit squad with limited rotation which put tremendous strain on the bodies of our key players, which has possibly led to long-term damage to the likes of Harry Kane and Harry Winks.
  • Decided to keep our promising young players in-house to develop but not actually play them, leading to many years of stagnation where several of our best ever Academy talents have essentially played no football (at any level).******
  • And, finally, he decided to get rid of Fernando Llorente and not sign or develop a replacement striker. I was no fan of Llorente, but not replacing him now seems very short-sighted.

Latterly Pochettino went to the media saying that we needed a painful re-build, that we had to operate differently. This was his attempt to try to coerce Levy to change his long-established way of operating. This was — in my opinion — largely an attempt to protect himself, protect his ego, because he could see the issues within the squad and was now desperate having not dealt with them over the past two-and-a-half years. But, by then, it was too late; the problems had stacked up over too many transfer windows and were not going to be fixable in one hit. The toxicity of Rose’s situation, of the contract situations of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen had already permeated.

Given what we know about Levy’s negotiations in transfers, some people reading this may say that Pochettino identified reasonably-priced transfer targets, such as Jack Grealish, but that Daniel Levy did not go out and get them. I would answer that in two ways. Firstly, that we should have signed Grealish a year earlier for a lot less money but Pochettino was not convinced at that point. Secondly, that Aston Villa got taken over at just the wrong moment and the new owners pulled the rug from beneath the transfer. If Pochettino really wanted a player, Levy was prepared to back him: £55m on Tanguy Ndombele, £42m on Davinson Sanchez, £25m on Ryan Sessegnon, £12m on an ageing Fernando Llorente, £23m on Serge Aurier, £30m on Moussa Sissoko all speak to that. The net spend is not what you would expect of a top four club, but it’s unfair to say that Pochettino had no backing, and no parameters to work within.

One could argue that Levy backed Pochettino by allowing him to keep Rose when selling seemed the most obvious option, by allowing him to keep Eriksen when we could have sold for £80m+.

I actually think Daniel Levy should have been firmer. He should have insisted that we get rid of Rose and probably Eriksen too. He should have insisted that we revisit the old strategy of signing young, English players and loaning them out to develop (and, just as crucially, build reputation and value). And most importantly he should have put a Director of Football in place to manage all of this. Okay, fine, I think I’ve talked myself round into thinking that Levy’s as much to blame even within the financial constraints because he should have checked Pochettino’s naivety. Okay, as you were.

Ultimately, trying to find someone to blame is fruitless — it’s never as simple or clear-cut as picking your least-liked guy and running with it. There are grey areas and unknowns and constraints. We all moan about senior management at work not having a clue about the realities on the ground — they should have done this and that — but then when you get that exposure at a more senior level you realise that it’s far more complex than you previously thought; you see how focussed they are on a higher, over-arching strategy. As well as having to appease shareholders and managing their own KPIs. Daniel Levy doesn’t look at not paying that extra £5m-10m to sign Jack Grealish as a turning point like some fans do — he looks long-term at the fact that he’s built a world-class Academy base and the best stadium in the world. That he’s delivered years of Champions League football culminating in reaching a final.

Whilst the minutiae will not be lost on him, he is operating at a level where it simply is not so important. We moan about things which, to them, are lower priority than the over arching strategy; they might care and the things we moan about might ultimately feed in but we don’t understand the bigger picture and context they’re working within so our moans are themselves out of context. I am not saying that Levy and ENIC should not be held to account, but we need to appreciate that we don’t have the wider knowledge available to us that they do.

I like to try to end articles on something pertinent, where I wrap up an argument into a cohesive statement, but I don’t think I can here so I will instead offer some hope.

The re-build has started. Christian Eriksen will go this window and with a bit of luck Danny Rose will follow. Toby Alderweireld has signed a contract, and Jan Vertonghen is likely to sign-on for another year as well. We will probably sign Giovani Lo Celso******* permanently, we have a huge, huge talent in Tanguy Ndombele, and Ryan Sessegnon has unlimited potential. We have unearthed a gem in Japhet Tanganga and there are more Academy players who can fill squad places over the coming years (Troy Parrott, Oliver Skipp, Dennis Cirkin, Harvey White, Jneil Bennett, to name a few with many talented younger players hot on their heels). We are two first-team players away from having a very good, cohesive team and five to six players away from having a very good, cohesive squad. This can be fixed across the next three windows. We now have a revenue stream with the new stadium that will allow us to do this at a level where we can punch our weight. It’s going to be okay.

This piece is dedicated to Paul Newman from The Daily Mail.

*A total mess.

**With Financial Fair Play it seems unlikely that we ever could be now. And, frankly, morally I am not sure we would want an owner like any of theirs.

***Which is a good thing to be honest.

****The less said about this god-awful publication the better.

*****Edwards is expected to move to a ‘big’ club in the summer having been one of the stand-out players in the top league in Portgual so far this year for his club Vitória de Guimarães. Spurs have a 50% sell-on clause, but he has a release fee of €15m, so at most we will get €7.5m.

******In some cases, agents and parents of players have literally had to beg the club to let them out on loan in order to get their players exposure. Or they have waited for their contracts to expire and have left or forced moves: Milos Veljkovic, Marcus Edwards, Josh Onomah, Keanan Bennetts, Reo Griffiths. This has a big knock-on effect as parents and agents of younger players clock on. In summer 2018 we lost our best U15 (Omari Forson – Man Utd), and best first-year academy prospect (Noni Madueke – has now made his full debut at 17 for PSV). Other young players will be choosing clubs other than Spurs to go to; it could take us a decade to change the perception of the club.

*******Our Lord and Saviour.

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On Mourinho And Tactics

We are only a few games into the Jose Mourinho era and it’s not a time to draw conclusions about his approach or his tactics, particularly as he is new to working with the squad and has not had ample opportunity to work out what he has and has not got yet. What we can do, though, is note some of the early changes that he has put into place and comment on them.

There are two really obvious changes that were instant. Firstly, he installed Eric Dier, a defensive midfielder, at the base (NB: this may actually be a point of dispute but is factually correct based on average positions!) of his midfield. Dier hasn’t played every minute of every game under Mourinho — he did not play against Manchester United (fitness?) and he was the one sacrificed on 29 minutes against Olympiakos. But both he and his role seem important to Mourinho thus far, and he did a good job against Burnley in particular. I am pleased to see a more defensive-focussed player in midfield and, more importantly, the breaking-up of the Harry Winks/Moussa Sissoko midfield combination, which I have hated from its inception. Whether Mourinho is wedded to Dier or just the inclusion of one naturally defensive-minded remains to be seen. Certainly his return to the team has not been a universally popular one, and he is absolutely not yet where he was pre-injury.

The second obvious change is the lopsided approach to full-backs, which allows us to play a 3-2-5 in our build-up play and commit to a form of Positional Play whilst maintaining defensive structure. Having one full-back — so far, the left back — hang back means — simplistically — that we have one extra player in reserve should attacks break down. For a team that seemed to have lost a lot of confidence and was conceding a high volume of shots, this seemed a sensible decision for Mourinho to make. We had also been struggling with our left-back selections. With Danny Rose a shadow of the player he once was and Ben Davies struggling to get up and down the pitch, this seemed like an ideal compromise. Interestingly, with Ben Davies getting injured, many people have speculated as to whether we might see Juan Foyth play as the more defensive full-back on the right, with Ryan Sessegnon coming in on the left to play the role that Serge Aurier has been playing up until now on the opposite side. In today’s press conference, Mourinho seemed to confirm the possibility of one of those things whilst denying the other:

Of course, the other problem with shifting the defensive minded player from the left-back to the right-back is that Son Heung-min, our touchline hugger on the left, would no longer be playing the role in which he has been excellent so far.

Other points of note so far include:

  • Increased long-balls from defence, particularly Toby Alderweireld, which have proven hugely profitable in most games, and hugely detrimental in the Manchester United match, where the ball kept coming back at us.
  • Dele playing just off Kane and making a lot of runs behind the defence to stretch them. He has undoubtedly been one of the stand-outs under Mourinho so far, though he was less effective against Burnley.
  • Paulo Gazzaniga largely kicking long; the ‘build from the back’ intent is now much more situational and pragmatic, and Gazzaniga is more likely to go long than play short.
  • Harry Winks/Son Heung-min/others on corner duty; keep an eye on this, but we’ve switched up corner taking duty and seem to be playing a lot more ‘percentage balls’ into the box — i.e. beat the first man and put the ball into an area, rather than firing in low, flat corners into the near post.

I am sure that there will be more tactical innovation from Mourinho once has has more time on the training field, and I think he has been sensible in keeping things relatively simple so far. Certainly he made it clear today that he wants to use the time he will get with the squad in January to get to work.

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Hokey Cokey

I feel like each time I root myself in #PochIn, I’m wrestled back towards #PochOut the following week. That I’m even having this conversation in my head is sad; I love the man dearly. Or rather, I have loved the man dearly over the past five and a half years. He’s brought me more joy as Spurs manager than any of the previous incumbents in my lifetime. That there is a perfect solution to the current situation is pure fallacy.

Option one is that we part company with one of the better managers in world football, losing the prospect of our squad being rebuilt by one of the greatest around who built *his* reputation on building an exciting, young team, developing players from relative newcomer status to fully-fledged superstar internationals.

Option two is that we potentially let that man stay long enough to undermine his own legacy. At the moment there seems little evidence that he is able to motivate the squad that — and I think this is an oft-overlooked point — he has overseen and built. His demeanour and language in press conferences have changed over the last year, with him now more likely to throw blame the way of players or to deflect. It certainly felt that way yesterday.

There is no solution right now that does what we all want: flicks a switch and makes us play well again with a vibrant, happy team and manager. It has been years of letting squad-building get away from us that has led to this point, and it may take another two years to resolve the issues. That’s a painful thing to come to terms with. You are left to decide whether 1. sticking with the man who took us to this point (and I’ve deliberately written that in a way open to two interpretations) is the right solution, or 2. whether bringing in a new man who might (and, wow, that’s a gamble) get us back to where we were more quickly through a change in approach is better.

I alluded above to the fact that I think Mauricio Pochettino gets let off the hook too often when it comes to the critique on building his squad. It is very easy to blame Daniel Levy, very easy to blame a lack of investment. But Pochettino’s very deliberately made himself the Manager, not the Head Coach, and we know that he is very selective with new signings. It’s been widely-reported that he turned down Youri Tielemans on loan in January last season. It was also reported that he wasn’t sure about Ricardo Pereira and so went with Serge Aurier instead. Both now look like wonderful bits of business for Leicester City.

Pochettino has called Levy out in public for his style of operating in the transfer market, sure. I don’t think Levy is the easiest to work with, and I don’t think he parts with money easily. But there were other solutions here. Over the past few years we have also turned our noses up at James Maddison, Demarai Gray, Max Aarons, Ryan Sessegnon (when he was reeeeeally cheap), Ademola Lookman, and Jack Grealish (at various points). These players were all available cheaply and fitted Levy’s previous policy of buying young and buying early. I struggle to believe that these deals would not have been sanctioned — after all, we were employing scouts to find exactly these types of players.

Then we had the possibility of developing players already at the club. I wrote about this this past week. Pochettino has not been keen to develop players in any sort of focussed way, instead letting them stay around the fringes of the squad, having a look in training but not actually playing them in matches at *any* level and, thus, allowing them to stagnate. His refusal to let players out on loan has — as I say in my article — led to contract stand-offs and, ultimately, talented young players leaving or not developing post-scholarship.

So if your hands are tied with the big money moves (maybe), you aren’t interested in the ‘cheap, young punt’ transfers and you’re not developing young players already at the club… how do you intend to refresh the squad? Did Pochettino really spend multiple windows hoping that Levy would eventually change his mind and then try to get four windows’ worth of business done in one?

In the meantime, too many players have been allowed to stay beyond their peak without any succession-planning taking place. Danny Rose is the obvious example, but the same could be said for Christian Eriksen. Meanwhile we sold Kieran Trippier at the right time (probably) but did not have a plan on how to replace him. Indeed, the plan was to sell Serge Aurier too and go into the season with Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters as our right-backs, two players largely untested because Pochettino hadn’t really committed to testing them. As it turns out, he’s had to go back on that plan and bring Aurier back into the fold.

I think you could argue that there *was* some succession-planning at centre-back, with Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth being developed to take over from Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. But it’s been left to rumble on and now we’re in this toxic situation of the Belgians both being out of contract. Pochettino’s fall-out with Vertonghen at the beginning of the season felt symptomatic of the situation that he had created.

Central midfield is, of course, the biggest mess, though. Moussa Dembele has *finally* been replaced properly (with Tanguy Ndombele) but a year of the Harry Winks/Moussa Sissoko midfield axis has been a painful watch, and now Pochettino is unsure who best to partner Ndombele with. Winks is probably fine in a midfield three in games where we are going to have most of the ball, and Sissoko is probably fine in a three in games where we need to press and pounce on loose balls. But both have niche skillsets unsuited to being in a two without a more traditional ball-winner, and signing 30-year old Sissoko to a an extended new contract seemed somewhat desperate.

And in all of this I have not yet mentioned our playing style. The ‘Pochettino Press’ has all but gone. The latest example on Saturday showed a team that didn’t know whether they were staying compact or pressing, and got caught in-between. For the Sheffield United goal (in the tweet below) Giovani Lo Celso eventually commits to the press with Son Heung-min ready to pounce, but the fact that they either ‘go rogue’ or are the only players focussed on winning the ball and countering directly leads to the goal.

The ‘painful’ rebuild that Pochettino spoke of is, sadly, panning out to be way more painful than we all thought.

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