Ange & The Magic Door

Ange says there’s no magic door for young players. I think there should be.

When asked ‘Does the Richarlison injury open the door for Dane Scarlett to get an opportunity?’ this is how Ange responded. And, in light of my previous blog, Ange – Small C Conservative?, it made my spidey senses tingle.

‘Yeah but the door is never closed. He trains with us every day and all the players are in the same boat. That door is always open. If you’re waiting for some secret, magic door to open, it doesn’t exist. The door is always open and they have an opportunity every day to put themselves in front of me and the coaches to make an impact and wait for their opportunity.’


I am, obviously, sensitive about this because: 1. I am an advocate for our Academy as a talent pool and a revenue stream and 2. Ange has quite a poor record when it comes to bringing through young players.

What Ange is saying here is what 95% of football coaches in the league system would say. It’s seen as common sense. It is the conventional wisdom. It’s also — I believe — wrong. And it’s what the best modern coaches are starting to reject. Here’s why I believe that. And, caveat, I’m not suggesting for a second that Dane Scarlett should get an extended run in the first team at the moment. Whisper it, but I’m not even 100% sold on Scarlett as a future Spurs player. This isn’t about Scarlett. But it is about the magic door.

Let’s think about the typical journey of a young player. They start playing from an extremely young age and, by 8 or 9, they get picked up by a team — a good local team in their town, a county team, or maybe even a professional or semi-professional club. And the seriousness of their hobby starts to take hold, training a couple of times a week, playing a match every weekend. County trials, Academy trials. And then at 12 or 13 they join an academy programme and it ramps up again, parent or parents shuttling them around to training and matches constantly. Kicking a ball around in the garden every night after school. They give up their social lives and weekends and they become somewhat obsessed with football, eventually moving up the age groups until, at 15, they find out whether they are to be offered a scholarship. They get the nod and they move into digs, attending training daily but also being given a college education and taking exams, all the while still focussed and hungry, possibly having some one-to-one technical coaching on top of their regular routine. All whilst dealing with the challenges of being a teenager. It’s a lot. And then, at 17, they find out if they are to be given a professional contract.

Of course, the work isn’t over then. In fact, it’s likely just beginning. If you’re really good you’re moved up to the Development Squad — now playing against boys and men who are physically more advanced, tactically perhaps two or three years ahead of you in their learning, some of whom will have league experience and the know-how that playing against wily, old pros affords you. Perhaps, if you’re really lucky, you get to join in first team training every now and again and the standard blows your mind. It’s so fast and frenetic and everyone is in peak condition. You’re at Tottenham so you’re training with players who are mostly full internationals, they’re likely in the top 1% of players in the world in their position. You hold your own, you’re still showing your potential, you’re seen as a future star. But in order to get a chance in your position — let’s say forward — you are told that there’s no magic door and instead you have to essentially be as good in training than literal-best-finisher-in-the-world Son Heung-min and Brazilian international Richarlison to get some form of opportunity.

Obviously, obviously that’s not going to happen. And I’ve dragged this out and I’ve made a lot of assumptions about Ange’s quote to lay it on really thick. But this argument taken to its extreme is why I believe there has to be a magic door for young players. Of course all the players are not ‘in the same boat’, as Ange put it. Some have thousands of minutes of experience to show you that they can be ‘trusted’ and others do not.

Without a magic door, young players either have to be outperforming their rivals — likely impossible — or they have to wait for an injury crisis so crippling that all of their competition, as well as all existing first team players that could feasibly play their position (I refer you again to Ange – Small C Conservative?) to be injured or unavailable. This is yesterday’s logic. It is an approach which will hinder young players, not be illustrative of a genuine pathway, and will lead to the decline, over time, of our Academy, as the best talent will see that there is little chance of them making it at Spurs. We’ve just been through one of those periods before Fabio Paratici (rightly) threw money at the situation to resolve it, raising the wages we offer for players’ first professional contracts to make us more competitive and more of a tempting proposal.

My view is that the best young players from our Academy — provided they show the requisite technical ability, mental and physical resilience, and work ethic — need to be given opportunities regardless of injury, regardless of whether they are better than the next best alternative. When we look at the outstanding young players we have signed — the likes of Destiny Udogie, Micky van de Ven, Pape Matar Sarr and now Lucas Bergvall — we see players who obviously had talent, but most importantly had opportunity. Destiny Udogie did not just plop out of the Udinese academy fully-formed. Had he been at Spurs, I’d guess that Udogie would have been in the Under-21s by 17, probably would have stayed there for 18-months to two years before being loaned to Doncaster Rovers at 19, then Bristol City at 20 and then maybe he’d be getting his first start the following season. Instead, he joined us, aged 20, with around five and a half thousand Serie A minutes under his belt.

The argument will go that the stakes are lower at Udinese. The budget is lower too. So there’s less competition, and more space for Academy players. Or maybe it’s that our young players are just not as good as those at other clubs.

Let’s look at Liverpool this week. The front six who played in their Under-21 match against Stoke City on 11 February all played for the Liverpool first team this week. That Under-21 side is 8 points behind us in the PL2. Bobby Clark has been playing some England U19 football with Jamie Donley, Alfie Dorrington, Ashley Phillips, Will Lankshear and Luca Gunter. Clark didn’t get into last two England U19 squads, Donley started both matches. Louie Koumas only got his first Wales call-up at Under-19 level. Jayden Danns has been in and out for England – never called up to Under-17s. Same for Kaide Gordon. James McConnell has never played for England at any level. Nyoni is the exception — he’s a gem and has played a lot for England Under-16s. All of this is to say that Liverpool’s youth players are objectively not better than ours. The only difference is opportunity.

What Liverpool seem to be good at is giving young players opportunity, regardless of whether they see them as long-term prospects. Of these six players, only one or two will become long-term Liverpool squad members at a guess. But there are many reasons why it’s beneficial to use Academy players (as I discussed here and here).

Daniel Levy has made it clear that Ange saw the importance of the Academy (sources: Daily Mirror, Evening Standard). He has made it clear that it is an important piece of the club strategy. I think it’s important to be clear about what this might mean: 1. it’s important that we have a coach that integrates Academy players because we are producing top-level players who can improve our playing squad and/or 2. it’s important that we have a coach that integrates Academy players because we are producing future football league players who can become an incredibly useful revenue stream. I choose to believe both of these statements but, even if you only believe in the second, it’s undeniable that exposure to men’s football increases the value of academy players ahead of onward sales.

Anyway, I’ve extrapolated an awful lot from a throw-away comment in a press conference, and I almost feel guilty about it because I love Ange so much. I wish he had said ‘All I can ask of our talented young players is that they keep working hard to improve and understand our system and, when the right time comes, I will give them opportunities to show what they can do on the pitch.’ I hope Simon Davies can work some magic on Ange over the next 12 to 18 months.

Ange – Small C Conservative?

Nathan put together this really excellent video about why we struggle against the narrow low block and some potential solutions. If you listen to our podcast, The Extra Inch (Spurs Podcast), you’ll know that Nathan is convinced that we are a dribbly winger (or two) away from being a hell of a team. I’m struggling to convince myself that Ange agrees.

Firstly: Brennan Johnson and Timo Werner. He sanctioned the signings of these two fairly non-dribbly wingers. I also do think, in Yago Santiago, we have the dribbly winger profile in the squad but, aside from a few bench appearances when we were down to The Bare Bones™, he has not had a look-in.

Recently I’ve been saying that I think that Ange, whilst being a (somewhat) radical and extremely ideological coach, is somewhat conservative with team selection and substitutions. I think there’s a case that he could be *more* radical and *more* ideological.

What I mean by that is that he could stick more rigidly to the profiles for the roles that he needs rather than selecting from his most experienced players despite them not having the right tactical profile. For example, he could do that by thinking outside the box in terms of using a central midfielder as an inverted full-back. I say this since those roles are more closely aligned than the inverted full-back and more traditional full-back in some aspects, specifically how much they are asked to receive the ball with their back to play.

Or he could use the Academy. Yes, yes, Windy, we get it, you are obsessed with the Academy.

On the former, as a long-term transformation, it would of course require re-training, re-shaping, re-thinking, video analysis, and one-to-one sessions to convert, say, Oliver Skipp into a long-term back-up for Porro. It’s radical. And, even then, who’s to say it would work? I mean I actually don’t think Skipp has the creative passing (like Porro) or carrying (like Destiny Udogie) to be an Ange-ball full-back, and I think having one of those is a necessity. So I’m not sure why I chose Skipp as an example, but whatever, stick with me anyway here. As a one time shot, a 45 minute ‘just get on the ball and progress it’ thing, I don’t see why that’s any more risky than just leaving Emerson Royal on there to struggle as he did against Wolves. And that’s not meant to be a brutal slight on Emerson Royal, who I think is a competent traditional full-back… but one that is totally unsuited to the inverted role.

On the latter — using the Academy — I believe we have had three key occasions this season to utilise young players that are arguably better profile fits than the alternative ‘experienced’ player.

  • The centre-back crisis. We could have picked Alfie Dorrington (18) over Emerson Royal.
  • The injuries to James Maddison and Giovani Lo Celso. We could have picked Jamie Donley (19) over, for example, Oliver Skipp.
  • The lack of dribbly wingers. We could have picked Yago Santiago (20) over *points at all the non-dribbly wingers*.

I’m not going as far as saying I’d be involving brilliant Under-18s inverted right-back Leo Black (18), because I think there’s a strong argument that he’s not physically ready — he hasn’t played Under-21 football yet. And I’m not suggesting we play our other outstanding young players, Tyrese Hall (18, incredibly press-resistant midfielder) or Mikey Moore (16, dribbly winger!) because I think they probably do need more experience at Under-21 level. And, to be clear, I’m not even saying I’d start our young players — I’d have eased them in gradually with a view to testing how they cope with the environment and then starting them if they do okay. Aside from a tiny handful of minutes for Donley, we’ve been so painfully conservative on this.

Whenever I suggest this kind of thing I gets lots of push-back. We’re fighting for the Champions League, we can’t take ‘risks’ with young players. Well, there are plenty of recent Premier League examples to cite. Eddie Howe has used Lewis Miley, 17. Roberto De Zerbi has used Jack Hinshelwood, 18. Pep Guardiola has used Oscar Bobb, 20, Jurgen Klopp has used Conor Bradley, 20. Erik ten Hag has used Kobbie Mainoo, 18. These are all examples of managers — in pressure situations — picking young players over more experienced players because they’re closer to the tactical profile they need for the role they want fulfilled. There are more similar examples too: David Ozoh (18), Rico Lewis (19), Evan Ferguson (19), Luca Koleosho (19), Alejandro Garnacho (19), Wilson Odobert (19), Facundo Buonanotte (19). They’ve all got to start somewhere.

Yeah but their players have had loans at a higher level so are ahead of ours. Wrong. In all but one of the original five examples (Bradley, who had a season in League One) those players have all come in having not had previous experience in men’s football. Like Donley, like Dorrington, like Santiago.

Yeah but our players aren’t as good as those. I disagree. We have comparable England age-group recognition to Mainoo and Miley — Hinshelwood, for example, had received no international recognition before his Brighton debut.

The only difference, in my opinion, is the coach doing the selecting. The opportunities afforded to the young players.

I love Ange dearly. I think he’s the best coach we’ve had in years. As a guy, he’s the best person we’ve had in charge in my lifetime. I urge him to be even bolder, even more ruthless. To stick to his idealogical approach to the max, profile above (nearly) all else. Please, no more Emerson Royal as an inverted wing-back or Oliver Skipp as a number eight.


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.


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:

  • Right-back
  • Left-back
  • 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!)

Transfer Window Thoughts

Forgive me for being a few days late on this, I’m currently on holiday and have been writing it during my limited screen time (which I heartily recommend). As an aside, I could not recommend Hvar more as a relaxing holiday destination.

We went into the summer knowing that there were some critical areas of the team and squad requiring improvement. The appointment of Ange Postecoglou changed these a little, understanding that the new system required specific characteristics and skill sets. For me the key areas for focus were goalkeeper, centre-back, creative midfielder and – particularly if Kane were to leave – a forward.

I think we’ve managed to tackle all of these priorities fairly effectively. What we’ve really struggled to do, though, is add depth — more on that later, but broadly: it’s good that we’re only playing one game a week, as we are going to need to stay fit and injury-free.


Guglielmo Vicario is already proving his worth, his ability with his feet is as impressive as his traditional goalkeeper attributes. This is critical for Ange-ball, and we saw in the League Cup exit to Fulham how much the drop-off is to Fraser Forster in terms of our ability to build up effectively. Vicario was a good price, is a good age and seems a good character. I’m really happy with this transfer.


Micky van de Ven is a baller. He’s a good foil for Cuti Romero because he’s less of a maniac, whilst still being Actually Good At Football. He can pass, he can carry, he can play out of tight spaces. He’s also strong, rapid, a good reader, and seems a great fit for the high line. He’s going to be a huge favourite.

Creative midfielder

James Maddison fits Tottenham like a hand in a glove. We’ve wanted to sign him since he was a teenager but it has happened when he’s at the peak of his powers, and for a knockdown price because he was approaching the end of his contract. We got him for around half what a player of his ability should be worth. He is the closest thing we’ve had to a Christian Eriksen since he left (and boy has he been badly missed). When you don’t have a creative player like this, you can’t always quite put your finger on what’s missing — because your team is seemingly doing all of the football things, without this sprinkling of genius — and you end up getting frustrated at players that simply don’t have it in their lockers. Maddison’s vision and execution are exceptional. He can take the ball in tricky situations and look after it, but he can also pick locks that look impenetrable. He can change the tempo with injections of forward thrusts on the ball or zipped passes or, conversely, putting his foot on the ball. What a player. I know I’m going to love watching him.


I believe, in an unusual-for-Spurs piece of forward (pun intended) planning, we had already signed our “replacement” for Harry Kane last season in Richarlison. We spent £60m doing it, and we got a player who can play both through the middle or wide on the left. He can press and harass but he can also score goals, illustrated both in the Premier League (mainly from the left) and for the Brazilian national team (nainly form the centre). Clearly he is never going to achieve the levels of output that Kane did for goals or assists — few, if any, in world football can — but he’s a good system fit and a solid player (albeit many are currently feeling doubtful of him).

My view is that Ange Postecoglou’s *system* will help to replace Kane. Indeed, the numbers of goals from defenders and midfielders already show this is already true to some extent. We have the ball more, we have the ball in the box more. Son and Kulusevski will take some time to adjust to the roles required of them when out wide. Both will adapt, because they’re very good players, but they might not be ideal for what Ange requires. With that in mind, I’m a little underwhelmed by some of our rotation options.

Brennan Johnson adds electric pace, versatility and a directness that I think will be genuinely useful. A lot of people have raised concerns over his data: it doesn’t look good when compared to other, similar forwards, or even to other similar forwards at Nottingham Forest. When you watch Nottingham Forest or Wales, however, he stands out — Nathan produced some ‘per touch’ data where things look a lot better.

I think Spurs fans who haven’t seen much of him will be pleasantly surprised by what he can bring in terms of running behind and getting onto passes from our creative passers (Maddison and Kulusevski in particular). He doesn’t have one-vs-one dribbling ability in the way you would hope for an Ange winger, but with his pace he will look to play give-and-gos and run in behind at pace. And he has good cut-backs and decent composure in front of goal. I don’t quite know where he fits in yet — right, left or centre — but I do think he’s good, albeit expensive due to the home grown premium.

Ivan Perisic, overall, had a very disappointing time under Conte as a left wing-back. He does already look marginally better under Postecoglou. He is a reasonable match for what’s needed: a winger who can go both inside and out, has the ability to beat his man, and who can cross the ball. But he is an old man now. A rapidly declining old man. A rapidly declining old man who I’m told isn’t exactly a popular member of the squad. I think we’d have let him go had an offer come in.

Despite his very solid showing against Burnley, I have some concerns over the signing of Manor Solomon (and that’s ignoring the circumstances of his transfer). I’ve watched all of his Spurs minutes, all of his Fulham minutes and some of his pre-Fulham minutes and I see a player who is quick footed and can create enough separation to allow him to get shots away when in the pocket on the left. But, he doesn’t do it *that* regularly, and can get doubled up on and crowded out easily. There’s lots of coming towards the ball when under pressure and returning it to where it’s just came from, with him 10 or 15 steps deeper than he was on receiving it. In those situations you want him to be brave and take a touch and try to turn. He’s a very situational player and those situations are: receiving on a counter 1v1 against a lesser player and coming on against tired legs. That skillset has its uses, especially against teams that leave as much space in behind as Burnley did. Glass half full, he’s a right-footed Andros Townsend (which would not be a bad thing). Glass half empty, he’s a marginal improvement on what Lucas Moura had become. Sorry, I know that’s quite a pessimistic take, especially after his providing two assists twice and everyone will yell ‘give him a chance’, but I’ve watched this player and this is what I’ve observed and one match against Burnley won’t make me do a 180 (yet) — though, I trust Ange so much that I frankly think he could get something out of nearly every player.

The most frustrating thing about the Solomon signing for me, though, is that it has clogged up a 25-man squad place, and we’ve ended up in a situation where because we didn’t have enough spaces, we had to put signings on hold. I’d rather have had Conor Gallagher in the squad than Solomon. So, with that, on to midfield.

I think, in terms of our midfield options, in an ideal world we woul want two more profiles — a goal-scoring midfielder (that isn’t the creative one — i.e. not Maddison’s role), and a back-up to Yves Bissouma at six. Conor Gallagher would have given us the profile of the former. Reports suggested that the two players Ange wanted from the off were Maddison and Gallagher. If that’s the case, I think it’s really poor that we didn’t deliver him, particularly if the primary reason we didn’t deliver him was that we did not have space.

The most suitable back-up to Yves Bissouma within the squad is Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, who himself was a central figure in our transfer window. I think there’s a recognition that he’s good enough to start at a lot of teams and, therefore, that he might want to leave in search of a starting berth. It appeared that he’d join Atlético Madrid and, frankly, I think everyone would have been happy with that (assuming they’d have paid a fair price). He’s one of the most divisive players in the Spurs squad and, in the eyes of many, linked to our recent mediocrity. Under Ange, he’s looked really useful as a game-closer, and looked genuinely really good playing as the six in the pre-season friendlies. He seems to have taken his demotion pretty well, but I still expect him to move on in January.

It looked like Bryan Gil was being made available for loan or even a permanent transfer, and there’s a part of me that’s glad that he didn’t end up leaving, since I still believe he has something to offer. He’s certainly one of our few players who has genuine 1v1 ability in wide areas, and his tenacious pressing will be useful. Let’s wait and see once he’s fit.

Ashley Phillips was a ‘one for the future’ signing, but the exit of Davinson Sánchez has made him a ‘one for now’. He has enormous potential and, whilst I’m rolling my eyes a little at how a signing has immediately jumped ahead of our fantastic home grown centre-back, Alfie Dorrington, I’m pleased to see that Alfie’s name has also been mentioned in terms of cover for the first team. I’d have Dorrington — also ‘physically ready’, as people have said of Phillips — ahead of our signing from Blackburn in the pecking order based on Under-21 performances and frankly because it sends a great message to our Academy players, but it’s fairly typical of English football that it works this way instead; Phillips with his 500-odd minutes of men’s football is preferred. How are we providing minutes to our young players? My parochial little rant over, I’m happy to see Postecoglou putting faith in talented young players who fit the system ahead of older, more experienced players who don’t.

There has been a huge amount of criticism of the club, and specifically of Daniel Levy, for the failure to offload several of our players. Even some of those we eventually found loans for were players that sections of the fanbase felt we should have sold permanently or released. I agree with the principle entirely but, from what I know, it’s not as simple as has been made out.

When Mikel Arteta joined Arsenal, he was given permission to get rid of several squad members for little or no money. Within two windows they had sold or released Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Willian, David Luiz, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, Sead Kolasinac, Sokratis, Mesut Özil and Shkodran Mustafi. Mattéo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira were sent on loans and then left on permanent transfers. Héctor Bellerín and Alexandre Lacazette left the season after, both for nothing. This clearing of the decks was seen in the wider community as fairly desperate and wasteful, but we have to accept that the scorched earth policy worked and led to a genuine title challenge.

Ange Postecoglou, it seems, has been given similar permission. The criticism has been that Daniel Levy — operating without a Sporting Director because he has not yet appointed one — has been asking for too much money for unwanted players, or has been unwilling to tear up contracts. I believe that the truth is somewhere in-between. Whilst it is true that we could agree to mutual terminations of contracts, what we would basically be doing is paying players the remainder of their contract value in order for them to not be registered for the club anymore. Lloris, Perišić, Dier and Forster all have a year left remaining, so would have been possible options for this. Spurs were never going to pay off two years of Tanguy Ndombele’s huge contract, though. My understanding is that Spurs were open to accepting offers lower than they were hoping for for some of our players, but that the players themselves rejected numerous moves. In the case of Hugo Lloris, I am told that he rejected at least four moves. Davinson Sánchez rejected several too, before agreeing to move to Galatasaray, who have Champions League football. Eric Dier wants to see out the last year of his contract before moving to a European team on a free transfer in the summer. So, whilst I think that some criticism can be levelled at Levy — particularly for not hiring a Sporting Director in time to manage the huge amount of business required during the transfer window — some of this was outside of his control. Well, I guess you could blame him for signing them in the first place — though, frankly, not many of them were sneered at at the time.

I would also add that the type of re-build that we are doing here is greater than one transfer window. So whilst it’s frustrating that we end the transfer window with players on our books that we’d ideally like to have shifted permanently (Sergio Reguilón, Tanguy Ndombele, Japhet Tanganga and Joe Rodon spring to mind), we have to project forward one window, or maybe two and remember that these players will be gone, creating more capacity for younger, more suited players.

All this being said, and with some distance from the mania of deadline day, I do think this has been a very promising transfer window overall for us, with the age profile of the squad moving in the right direction, and the squad moving towards being one suited to playing progressive, possession-based, high energy, pressing football. We’ve dealt with key issues, and dealt with them well. We have players we can enjoy watching and who are capable of playing the type of football that Ange wants them to play.


P.S. Nathan is currently working on a video about Brennan Johnson, look out for that on The Extra Inch Patreon.

Ahead Of Schedule

I’m so pleasantly surprised by how much the team has picked up Ange-ball (see: Have Spurs already mastered build-up play?). I honestly thought it would take several months for us to successfully transition from the dismal shit that Conte was trotting out to a modern positional play model, complete with intriguingly high defensive line, intense high pressing, inverted full-backs and a single pivot in midfield.

The first three games of the season were — on paper — tricky. And yet, we’ve looked highly competitive and, at times, dominant in each, improving along the way. For example, the latest game saw, in my view, the best use of substitutions yet. Ange Postecoglou changed the flow of the game with his bench options.

One of those that came on and helped secure the win was Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. He has been touted around this transfer window, and I think he’s a useful player to present as a case study for our squad management in this transfer window (and beyond).

Højbjerg is an interesting one as he’s both our best alternative to Yves Bissouma, and also arguably our best ‘game closer’ in the role he was used in against Bournemouth. But he’s also a highly saleable asset: a competent Premier League player with bags of experience and, at 28, probably either peak age or just post-peak. As such, in this crazy market he must be worth around £35m. The amounts we’ve been offered this window, it seems, fall well below that.

So should we sell? Well, I don’t think so. But the predicament we’re in is that we’ve *already* got too many players for the 25-man squad before we even consider adding new players. So we’ve left ourselves potentially accepting bids for players we’d ideally rather not sell (Davinson Sánchez is probably also in this boat) else we risk players being left out of the 25-man squad and, thus, sidelined and miserable until January and, in the meantime, losing value.

So what do we do? The options appear to be:

  • Sell the likes of Højbjerg and Sánchez now for fees probably (significantly?) below what they’re worth.
  • Loan or even release a bunch of players in the final day or two of the window.
  • Accept that we will have to leave players out of the 25-man squad.
  • Possibly a combination of all three.

Højbjerg out of the starting XI with two years left on his contract and one of the older players in the squad. Selling him makes sense from a business perspective, particularly as he is one of our more sellable assets and actually has suitors. However, given his still-important role in the squad, the only scenario which I’d sell Højbjerg and even Sánchez in now would be if we were to replace them… which kinda defeats the purpose unless we get Under-21 players or, possibly (depending on others we can shift), home grown players. So, we find ourselves in a tricky spot.

We’ve been lumbered with more players than we’d have liked because:

  1. A bunch of our players have lost value over the last few seasons because they’ve either been under-utilised, frozen out, set-up to fail, or they were poor team fit signings in the first place.
  2. Wages in the Premier League are higher than in other European leagues and players don’t often actively choose to lose money.
  3. Some of our players are deluded and think they should be playing at a level that, at this point, is frankly unachievable. I’m looking at you, Hugo.
  4. Prices have gone bananas so you better be sure you’re paying up for someone you really want.

But I do think we need to see this window as the start of a longer-term process. It’s going to take us two or three more windows to re-shape this squad, which had become bloated, poorly balanced and was older than I’m sure Daniel Levy would have liked given the choice. We’ve made great strides, and we are ahead of where I expected us to be right now, but there’s lots more work to do. Don’t let ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘good’ as they say.