How I Feel

I’ve called this ‘How I Feel’ because, for me, football and the conversations around it impact on my feelings. What a snowflake. When Spurs were playing well and it felt like the club and its fan-base were together, I felt great! We all did. Now things are not going well and divisions have set in, I feel sad about it. I feel helpless, powerless, I’m not enjoying the football, I feel like part of my weekly or bi-weekly escapism has become a chore.

I don’t mean to be alarmist – I’m fine! Fortunately, I am a resilient person who has good mental health and I look after myself. But many fans are not, and this period is going to be difficult for them.*

I knew that José Mourinho was a divisive figure. But I didn’t realise quite how quickly those divides would appear. A large portion of our fan-base struggled with the idea of his appointment, not least because he followed an almost universally popular manager.

Our exit from the FA Cup at the hands of Norwich, as well as Mourinho’s handling of the Tanguy Ndombele predicament this weekend are allowing those who don’t want him at the club to vent with some legitimacy.

The position I have arrived at is that, without Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, and with other constant injuries cropping up due to a necessary over-reliance on other players, this season is not going to get any better. So I am over it. I have mentally moved on and accepted that this is a bad football team for the rest of the season.

I am ready for the summer, ready for our best players to get fit again, ready for us to sign a defensive midfielder, a centre-back, a couple of new full-backs and another striker. I am ready to see what team and what tactics Mourinho can put together for next season. I will judge him at Christmas when he has had a pre-season with his own squad.

But, in the meantime, the constant squabbling, finger-pointing and point-scoring amongst fans is almost as draining as watching this bad Tottenham team play 120 minutes against Norwich.**

It’s a bit like having a discussion about Brexit on Twitter: the two sides of the argument somehow become more entrenched, there is absolutely no progress towards a resolution and, instead, everybody comes away from the discussion feeling worse about it. So, ultimately, it’s probably better not to have it in the first place, or certainly not in this way.

If you think Mourinho is not the man for Spurs – and that’s absolutely fine, of course – then using the rest of the season as a stick to beat Mourinho with as if you’re some kind of soothsayer seems fruitless. We are playing without Kane and Son and with the decomposing corpse of Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur squad. It’s not like Mourinho is suddenly going to invent a new system which fixes these major problems and immediately turns around the mindsets of the players after a year of gradually declining self-belief and confidence. And, crucially, telling everyone else over and over just how badly you think Mourinho is doing is probably going to make you feel worse. And it’ll make everyone else you’re communicating with feel worse too.

Equally, if you feel that Mourinho is absolutely the best man for Tottenham (also fine) and you continue to beat that drum despite any tangible evidence that he’s actually making a positive change, then be aware that you are rubbing it in the face of all of those fans who did not want him in the first place and now absolutely do not want him.

The football is bad enough without two sides of an increasingly toxic debate splitting our (briefly cohesive) fan-base any further. Much like our society is bad enough without two sides of a toxic debate causing yet more division, more hate, feeding into a situation which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Or, frankly, maybe I should just mind my own business. Shout into the void if you want. Get the negativity out and share it amongst your friends and followers, watch it spread.*** Because my way of dealing with this run-in is, most likely, going to be to withdraw from social media anyway. I think we’re all going to need some coping mechanisms because it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Enjoy your Spurs-free Sunday!

*If you are struggling you should know that there are people there to help. Reach out to a friend – you’ll be surprised how receptive they are. Alternatively, consider calling CALM or The Samaritans.

**I’ve already had my say on where I personally think the blame rests.

***Let it be said that I am stopping short of a Coronavirus analogy here because, frankly, some things are way more important than football.

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Where We Go From Here


I convinced myself that we would beat Chelsea, that we would move into fourth and that the absence of our two star strikers, two best players would be less keenly felt than anticipated. I’m an idiot.

Jose Mourinho pre-warned of rotation for the run of three games in six days, and this team selection reflected both that plan, and a plan to match up to Chelsea’s back three. But whereas Chelsea’s was a definite back three, Mourinho set up in a flat back five. Japhet Tanganga had not played full-back before moving into the first team, but was deployed on the right of a back five here.

Serge Aurier had two poor games against Aston Villa and RB Leipzig and was overdue a rest, but this didn’t seem an ideal use of Tanganga’s skillset. Whilst he was not asked to run forward with the ball or be particularly progressive, the ball was regularly shuttled out to him as Chelsea pressed from the front. He tried three things to get out of trouble: finding an angle for a pass inside (easier said than done); winning throws by playing up the line; stepping inside to commit the pressing player. He had limited success with each, such is his skillset and he endured a difficult afternoon. Unfortunately, Juan Foyth, who is better in possession and may have been a better selection, is still recovering from injury, so Mourinho’s choice was ‘keep flogging Aurier and pray he doesn’t get injured from fatigue’ or ‘try Tanganga’. On the other side, Ben Davies was just as ineffective, playing his third game in the period – not ideal when just returning from injury.

The full-backs weren’t Spurs’ only problem, of course, but the inability to beat the press was playing into Chelsea’s hands. As Mourinho pointed out post-match ‘If they press us high, they know that if we go long we don’t win a single ball against the opponent’s defenders, If they drop the block and go with low block, they know it’s difficult for us to get into the box, especially from the sides. So opponents they know if they score a goal before us we’re in trouble.’

Frank Lampard certainly motivated and organised his players well but, essentially, without Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, we are easy to plan for.

Mourinho tried to do his best to find solutions to the press – namely by selecting our most ‘press-resistant’ midfield in Harry Winks, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, but then he played Lo Celso from the right, in a curious move. He still had more touches (87) than any other Spurs player on the pitch but we struggled to get him involved in the first half when his presence was badly needed to help move the ball through midfield.

Ndombele looked – as ever – unfit whilst Chelsea’s midfield of Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, with Mason Mount and Ross Barkley snapping into tackles and closing space quickly ahead of them, looked the opposite: fit, sharp, spritely, motivated.

One positive came in the shape of Steven Bergwijn. Though these were small steps towards finding a solution to missing our two best goal-getters, he showed an ability to be able to play with his back to goal. Bergwijn is excellent technically – an immaculate first touch, neat turning circle and – crucially – a real awareness of those around him. His lay-offs and link-up play were impressive, particularly given he was up against three centre-backs with little support.


And thus we move onto Lucas Moura. Lucas Moura is a club legend in my eyes – his name will never be forgotten at White Hart Lane. That display against Ajax will be recounted to new fans for generations. But Mourinho’s persistence with Lucas as a starting player is hurting us.

Lucas’ first touch is an issue in itself. It’s not consistent enough, often ending up with his second being a tackle as the ball gets away from him. But it’s decision-making that’s so problematic. Like Son, Lucas dribbles with his head down. He’s an effective dribbler – those quick feet and that burst of acceleration – but the fact that he’s got his head down means that he 1. often runs into defenders, and 2. is unaware of his teammates. But, unlike Son, there’s little of note at the end of his dribbles.

Whilst Lucas’ effort levels are tremendous, they are not matched by his output. In his last ten starts he has one goal and one assist. And let’s remember that he has mostly played up front in that time.

But it isn’t just the last ten games – it’s Lucas’ productivity across his Spurs career. A goal or assist every 184.6 minutes; it takes more than two matches for Lucas to get a goal or assist. This season it’s 227.9, or 257.8 in the Premier League; this is very bad.

Lucas has nine assists in nearly 6,000 minutes played for us. It seems cruel to compare his 184.6 mins per goal/assist ration to Son’s 109.1 minutes, but even the oft-criticised Lamela manages a goal or assist every 152.9 minutes.

Of course, the other reason for removing Lucas from the starting XI for a while is that he’s a genuinely useful ‘change up’ option to have on the bench. When you need an injection of pace against tired legs, he’s ideal.

Lucas seems to be a Mourinho favourite – we all remember those quotes at the beginning of Mourinho’s tenure about wanting to sign him previously. Plus, removing him from the team now will be seen as madness, given our lack of other forward options. But, in my opinion, it’s essential that we try something new if we want to start scoring regularly again.

Mourinho’s impossible situation

It didn’t take long for sections of the fan-base to turn on Mourinho – plenty were never fully ‘for’ him in the first place. But it seems to me to be the wrong time to be judging him.

The team that Mourinho inherited was fundamentally broken. On a downward turn that – if we’re honest – had been going on for the best part of a year (the Champions League run tricking us into thinking everything was okay). There was no structure or cohesion on the pitch, team unity seemed to be lacking. I think he did the right things in letting Christian Eriksen leave, in getting rid of Danny Rose, in tying Toby Alderweireld down to a new contract. The January signings seemed sensible, albeit more reinforcements would have been nice (more on that here).

The number of matches since he arrived three months ago has meant that he has had limited time on the training ground to implement tactical improvements and, when he has had that time, he has been hit by injury after injury: Hugo Lloris, Ben Davies, Moussa Sissoko, Harry Kane and now Son Heung-min. Giovani Lo Celso wasn’t available at the start. Tanguy Ndombele has barely been available either.

I understand that fans don’t want to see a low to medium block, inviting teams that we feel we are on a par with onto us, and trying to counter-attack them. But I believe that Mourinho has very few options at the moment that don’t involve doing that. Had he attempted to play through midfield against RB Leipzig they would have picked us off at will. Chelsea pressed us effectively and forced us to play long and then mopped up those long balls. When we tried to play it into midfield, they got bodies around us and won the ball back. These are not easy matches when you have so many limiting factors at play at once. It’s not like we had a working system pre-Mourinho and he just needed to tweak things: he had to go back to basics and try to re-build the team structure from scratch.

We now have a comparatively favourable run of fixtures in March (though it involves six matches in 20 days):

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers (H) – PL
  • Norwich City (H) – FAC
  • Burnley (A) – PL
  • RasenBallsport Leipzig (A) – CL
  • Manchester United (H) – PL
  • West Ham (H) – PL

What I hope to see from these matches is a solution forming up front that does not involve Lucas. I’d like to see Bergwijn continue through the middle, with Dele from the left and Lamela from the right, but both close to Bergwijn to try to connect with him and create opportunities through clever movement and interplay.

I’d like to see some more rotation of and experimentation with the full-backs – I’m happy with Tanganga on the right if it is the ‘withdrawn full-back’ role and Ryan Sessegnon comes in on the left. Foyth could also play there too. Aurier’s performances are so mixed, whilst Davies is clearly not the silver bullet that Mourinho hoped he would be.

I’d like to see Ndombele get a run of games to build fitness – he’s one of our biggest hopes. Keep that midfield together and make it gel.

And I’d like to see us work on set pieces. I have been shouting it into the void on Twitter, but Tanganga needs to be in the box for every corner. He is one of our best players at attacking the ball and he is always held back to cover the counter. We need goals from all possible sources, and set piece goals would be incredibly useful right now.

Fourth is still possible if we can eke out some results, and fifth may yet get us Champions League football. The run-in won’t be pretty, but there’s plenty left to aim for.

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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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