Wow

Having written a fairly negative post on my experience at the Crystal Palace game I thought it was just as important to write something on what an incredible night Tuesday was. I had to work late so attending in person wasn’t possible for me — boy, do I wish I’d been there though. From the tele our fans sounded incredible, and the stadium looked stunning, and the match went our way. What a night.

All of my friends who went tell me that the atmosphere was incredible — so much better than the Palace game. Not just that, but the queue situation was better, and even travel was easier. The club are responding to feedback, people are slipping into their routines and everything is calming down. By all accounts, the only slight downside was some overzealous stewarding, but hopefully that can be resolved too.

A quick mention of the team. I’ve been down on certain players at various points through these past two years, particularly Kieran Trippier and Moussa Sissoko. I thought both played fantastically, especially Sissoko. Harry Winks was my Man of the Match but Sissoko ran him close, in what as a famous win. He gave a really fitting interview post-match that was music to my ears.

Sissoko’s comments – a delight

I am guilty sometimes of judging players on what they’re not rather than what they are, and I feel both Sissoko and Trippier fall into this category. Neither is my preferred type of player for their position, but ultimately both do have something to offer and they put in exceptional performances in this match.

In fact, Spurs’ narrow four-man midfield when pressing worked a treat, and we pretty much kept City at arm’s length.

I also think it’s worth noting just how much better we’ve looked as a team since Dele returned (NB: not Dele Alli, a reminder that he’s stopped using his surname for personal reasons). He somehow manages to be entirely functional whilst being talismanic at the same time, a rare trait. What a player he is, and still only… oh wait, he turned 23 today! Happy Birthday, Dele!

I’ll stop there — I’m pushed for time — but I wanted to write something positive as that’s how I’m feeling right now, even despite Harry Kane’s latest ankle injury. With or without Kane, I feel confident that we can end the season strongly and the stadium will help with that. COYS!

Unrealistic expectations

Firstly, go and read this by the lovely and wonderful Alan Fisher, because it’s better than what you’re about to read here. Alan, like many, had a great time at the new stadium on Wednesday with his loved ones and writes about it beautifully. You’ll go away feeling uplifted and with that sense of anticipation about the new stadium that you should have.

Warning: you may not feel like that if you read my blog below. If you do not want to read a more negative view of the first match in the new stadium, it might be best to stop reading now. I don’t want anyone to feel like I’ve ruined their excitement.

I had a funny old 24 hours. I posted some very brief thoughts on my (less than positive) experience at the game on Wednesday night on Twitter. I could simply have posted a video that I took of the stadium with a tweet saying ‘So glad to be back home <stadium emoji> <blue heart emoji>’ and I would likely have had three hundred retweets and a thousand likes; but it wouldn’t have been true or representative of my experience. I slept on it and on Thursday morning I posted a ‘thread’ which, for those who don’t use Twitter, is essentially a mini blog. I didn’t realise, though, that Twitter has a limit on the number of tweets that can be included in a thread. So approximately half of my tweets weren’t actually tweeted. They were the more optimistic ones with a bit of humour included (NB: I don’t really do humour, you may have noticed that I’m… just not a naturally funny person). So off I went to a meeting having dropped a very negative, very unfinished thread, and the response was… interesting.

I’ve since deleted the lot and considered not commenting on my experience any further. Mainly because — as some of my friends rightly said — what did I hope to add to the discussion about the new stadium? But quite a few people have subsequently asked nicely whether I would blog about my experience for balance and because they’re genuinely interested, so after some thought I’ve decided to write. It’s cathartic for me to write about it and to try to articulate this bizarre sense of regret I had on Wednesday night and subsequently on Thursday morning, when I genuinely felt really down. For context, I am typically a very upbeat person and am fortunate enough not to suffer from low mood or anything similar. I have to say as a caveat at the start, that this is only my experience. Others, like Alan, had a fantastic time, and I’m genuinely glad to hear that and hope that that’s me in the future.

Firstly, I went to the first test event and had a brilliant time. The stadium looked magnificent, there were a few nice surprises, and things mostly went smoothly. I had a long walk around the whole place with my buddy Dan (who, in fact, built this very site); we took it all in and loved what we saw.

I would have begged, borrowed or stolen a ticket for the opening Premier League match but I didn’t have to because my fine friend Alex (From Bristol, if you know your Fighting Cock Podcast) gifted me his season ticket. South Stand, fourth row. AKA the noisy section. What a man. Thank you, Alex! In my head I’d turn up, have a lovely pint of Neck Oil (my Beavertown draught beer of choice) with my mates, grab some food, catch the opening ceremony and then watch us pump Crystal Palace. All within a cauldron of noise, excitement and passion.

So I left work (which is around 25 miles from Tottenham) at 16:20. In years gone by I’d have left around 17:15 to get to White Hart Lane for a 19:45 start, so it seemed like a reasonable adjustment. Traffic was ridiculously heavy. I use the sat-nav app Waze, which normally beats traffic. It didn’t. That was a slightly ominous sign for me. Anyway, I was meeting a pal in the North Middlesex Hospital car park. Our walk and chat from there to the Lane is very much part of my Tottenham experience. Familiar streets, familiar sights, the excitement building. We arrived at pretty much the same time and we found that the car park was full. I’ve been parking there for more than ten years and have never previously found it full. Of course, with the increased capacity, I expected everywhere to be busier. But I thought given it was now 18:15 and kick off wasn’t until 19:45, we’d be fine. Lesson well and truly learned.

We realised we’d have to find another car park because parking on the street in Tottenham or nearby on ‘event days’ is no longer anything like feasible; there are traffic wardens galore walking the streets and lots of parking tickets being handed out.

Neither of us had cash (it’s a cash-less stadium, after all!). We pulled over outside a shop temporarily and managed to get some money out without getting a ticket. We then drove around in the building traffic looking for an alternative car park with space for two cars. We tried five or six, and ended up going up and down the now very busy High Road. After a stressful search lasting 35 minutes we found a car park with spaces left near the Redemption Brewery. Shout out to Hopspur!

By this point it was getting close to opening ceremony time. As we got out of our cars, an enormous hail storm erupted in a near-biblical fashion. We ran towards the stadium, getting soaked along the way. As we approached, we went our separate ways to our seats.

The first bank of stewards were great. There was barely anyone around, they checked my ticket in seconds, and I went through to security. Security at Spurs now resembles airport security where you walk through a giant scanner. Again, there was nobody around so I had the pick of a huge line of scanners; I walked straight through and into the stadium. It was rammed.

By this point I was starving hungry, gagging for a pint and I needed to pick Alex up a programme. None of these were possible if I wanted to catch the opening ceremony. The queues were enormous, and the concourse was totally full, having to squeeze past people to get anywhere. At the old Lane, the concourse was busy right before kick-off and at half-time, but queues for food and drink were generally not too bad and I don’t recall ever waiting for more than five minutes pre-match for a coffee or a beer. Conversely, at the first test event, some friends of mine waited over thirty minutes for a burger… realistically, not many people are going to queue thirty minutes for an £8 burger at a football match, so that is an issue to resolve.

Anyway, I queued for the toilet and then made my way to ‘my’ seat. I was finally there! After what had felt like a long 18 months, I was there! After what had felt like a hell of a long journey to Tottenham from work, I was there! Relief. Now just soak it up. Look around, take it all in, sing your heart out.

Pre-match there was a smattering of singing, and then the ceremony started. The ceremony was the ceremony. I could say a few things about it but it’s personal taste and some people loved it. The local school choir were lovely. We move on.

Kick off. A roar to open, a couple of the old favourite songs (‘Oh When The Spurs…’, ‘We Are Tottenham…’, etc) and then… and then Crystal Palace’s fans kicked in and a few minutes later they’re singing ‘just like the Emirates’, ‘can you hear the Tottenham sing?’ and ‘your support is fucking shit.’ To no response.

And I was part of that no response. It was freezing. It was midweek. I was knackered. The team were on their worst run of form for seven years. I get it, I get it all. I thought the new stadium would supersede all of it but we’re only human. It wasn’t great. The wall of noise I expected in the South Stand just wasn’t really there. And I found that desperately disappointing.

In hindsight it all makes total sense. The routines and connections are not established yet. Everyone’s getting to know their new neighbours. Getting to know the acoustics. Learning how to sing as one again after Wembley (where songs are essentially competing). Besides, we’re not a Palace who will sing constantly — we never have been, never will be. We sing in fits and starts, and we take the roof off when we do. But the roof didn’t come off. And that was why I felt disappointed. That’s on me, not everything is Hollywood perfection.

For the whole of the match I was thinking about how I’d have to leave early. Getting away from the parking space I was in was going to be a nightmare if I didn’t, and I had a 6 o’clock start in the morning. ‘Maybe I could just run on the whistle?’ — ‘From row four, are you mad?’ –‘Maybe I could just go a couple of minutes early?’ — ‘You and half the stadium.’ I convinced myself. And for the first time in twenty-five years of football-going I made the decision to leave on 80 minutes… Christian Eriksen scored the second goal just as I got into the concourse and was in the process of buying programmes. Spoiler: I probably made the right call; my friends didn’t get out of the the carpark for nearly an hour, whereas I got away pretty quickly and was safely tucked up in bed with a hot milk* by 23:00.

*I have never drunk hot milk in my life.

I spent the journey home wondering why I’d not had the best night of my life. I felt like a fraud. Someone else could have had that ticket and had a wonderful night. I knew I’d look back in years to come and be delighted that I went to the first proper game at the new Lane. But at that moment I felt low. It wasn’t what I’d imagined; the journey, the atmosphere, the vibe, the experience… not to mention not getting to see my pals, have a beer, have some food.

It’s all of my own making. I’d built it up into something it couldn’t possibly be. I’d been caught out with the travel. Of course it was going to take time to be perfect. Of course there would be teething problems. Of course with everyone getting in early for the ceremony the bars would be full. It won’t always be that way.

For clarity: once it clicks it’ll be magnificent. It looks stunning, the acoustics are stunning, it’s still in Tottenham. The three key ingredients are there.

The travel? That’s going to take some time. I learnt a tough lesson. If I want to go to an evening game again I’ll need to take a half-day off work to be sure I make it. I’d recommend to anyone planning on driving to White Hart Lane in the near future that you leave an extra hour and a half to two hours to get there and get parked safely. Plan ahead — have a back-up route, have back-up parking, have cash on you.

Public transports was, by all accounts, just as much a nightmare (though Tottenham Hale station was apparently far better than the alternatives). I honestly don’t know what the answer is there.

So there we go. My experience. It wasn’t what I’d hoped but ultimately I saw Spurs win in their first proper match in the new stadium. And I’m moaning. The entitled, modern Spurs fan.

Edit: It’s been pointed out to me having written this that using the hospital car park to go to a football match is not right. To add context, for the years we’ve been going there the car park has mostly been made-up of Spurs fans and has never been full, and so it has never even occurred to me or my family or friends that this would be an immoral thing to be doing. Instead, I hope that we’ve slowly been giving hundreds of pounds to the NHS that they’d otherwise not have had, and at the same time not stopping anyone parking to visit a friend or relative or drop someone off at A&E because there were plenty of spaces left. Obviously now I know that football fans *will* fill up the car park, potentially stopping someone getting access to the hospital, I won’t be using it anymore.

Sign him up

Last night I watched a 20-year old midfielder come off the bench and totally change the game in a Premier League 2 match. Until his introduction, his team had struggled to put more than five passes together, had offered no threat, and had no assuredness in midfield.

He made an instant impact, being heavily involved in two chances within minutes of coming on. He then scored two goals to totally turn the match around, winning it for his team; the second was an outrageous finish (albeit from close range). These were his ninth and tenth goals of the season. He also has six assists. From midfield!

Spurs should be trying to steal a march on other clubs to sign this player as he has that intangible quality that very few players have of always being in the right place at the right time. It’s a trait that I associate with Dele, and before him I associated with Thomas Müller.

The player was Jack Roles. He’s a Spurs fan who went to Enfield Grammar School and has been at the club since he was six years old. He is out of contract at the end of the season and looks set to leave on a free transfer.

Watch Roles’ goals here, and pay particular attention to the second:

Jack Roles’ goals vs Leicester City

Caveats

Before I go any further I just want to outline that I feel a little subconscious in writing this blog article. I can almost hear the groans and cries of ‘oh, Windy’s banging on about young players again’ or ‘another agenda-driven article about lack of opportunity’. That’s because I regularly get the @s on Twitter telling me that this is the case (woe is me, etc etc).

So, to clarify, I totally understand that Spurs are operating incredibly successfully. I also understand that it’s difficult to integrate youth players when you are competing for titles. I also understand that the development of youth players can be seen as a ‘nice to have’ by fans and that that is a legitimate view. I am not suggesting for a second that I know better than Pochettino and his team and if their method is their chosen solution having analysed all other possible solutions, then so be it: in Pochettino we trust, ad nauseam. I am also not suggesting that all youth players should get first team minutes. There are many of our Academy players who I feel will ultimately not be good enough for the Premier League, let alone Spurs.

I am a Spurs fan above all else, and being a watcher of academy football, appreciator of clubs that develop their young players, and England fan all sit beneath that. What I will go on to suggest, though, is that — from an outsider’s perspective — it seems to me as that we could make small tweaks which could have a positive impact on all aspects of the club from squad development to financial sustainability to ethos-nurturing.

Talent drain

Premier League clubs are developing a reputation for losing young English (or English-Cypriot in Roles’s case, he qualifies to play for both England and Cyprus) talent and Spurs are no different. We have already seen Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts and Noni Madeuke move abroad (as I mentioned here, along with Miloš Veljković). Should Marcus Edwards not get an opportunity on the first team’s pre-season tour next year I expect he won’t be far behind given the reputation he is building in the Eredivisie. Perhaps Roles will also be considering a move to a European club this summer.

For more information on the talent drain, I suggest reading Miguel Delaney’s excellent article ‘How the Bundesliga is attracting the Premier League’s best young players and why it’s just the beginning‘ which includes one killer quote from the director of football at a Ligue 1: “English clubs seem to give the least amount of respect to the same players they’ve spent years developing.”

Lilywhite Rose’s tweet on Roles contract situation

The well-known and reliable COYS Twitter account Lilywhite Rose has stated that Roles is yet to be offered a contract extension, which (assuming it is true) can only really mean three things:

  1. That the club are waiting until the summer to discuss contracts with young players. A high-risk strategy if true.
  2. That the club do not rate Roles as highly as I do. This is plausible, particularly as he has rarely — if ever — been seen training with the first team.
  3. That there is a stand-off between the club and Roles (most likely around a pathway to the first team).

Re: the third suggestion, which I believe to be the most likely: we’ve been here before with Veljković and with Griffiths. In each case, the player would not sign a contract until they were given assurances about game-time, and they would not be given game-time until they had signed contracts. You can see the logic from both sides. Players will have seen Kyle Walker-Peters sign a contract, train with the first team squad and ultimately waste the best part of three years playing little football at any level; they will understandably be nervous about committing. As an aside, Walker-Peters has staggeringly played nearly as many minutes for the England Under-21s as he has at any level for Spurs since August 2017.

Mauricio Pochettino this week laid it on thick about how much he has done for English football. These comments were in response to his two-match touchline ban.

“When we were talking about the suspension about the FA, I remember we started to provide the belief at Southampton with young players, we provide English football and U-16, U-18, U-21 the possibility to grow.

When we start seven years ago there was a massive mentality change in this country. People talk about the young players through the Southampton academy and then here at Tottenham. It’s a massive thing. Your identity is through young players.

It was fantastic to see Manchester United players come on for their debuts [in the Champions League on Wednesday]. It is amazing. That is the identity of English football. I am in England. I have double nationality but my responsibility as a manager here its to provide the best thing for English football to build players and provide talent. That responsibility was one of my priorities to provide back the opportunity English football gave to me.”

Mauricio Pochettino ‘in shock’ over touchline ban as Tottenham ask FA for answers‘, Dan Kilpatrick for the Evening Standard

This season Pochettino has given 418 minutes to four players aged under 21; 373 of these minutes have gone to the youngest, Oliver Skipp (and credit to Pochettino for that). Timothy Eyoma, the latest debutant from the Academy, was the fifteenth Spurs academy player to debut under Pochettino, but that impressive figure perhaps doesn’t tell the full story. The list below includes each of those 15, the number of minutes each has played and is ordered by when the players made their debut.

  • TJ Eyoma: 11 (January 2019)
  • George Marsh: 25 (January 2019)
  • Oliver Skipp: 373 (October 2018)
  • Luke Amos: 2 (August 2018)
  • Kazaiah Sterling: 9 (December 2017)
  • Anthony Georgiou: 6 (September 2017)
  • Tashan Oakley-Boothe: 0, added time sub (September 2017)
  • Kyle Walker-Peters: 880 (August 2017)
  • Filip Lesniak: 4 (May 2017)
  • Shayon Harrison: 7 (October 2016)
  • Anton Walkes: 10 (September 2016)
  • Marcus Edwards: 15 (September 2016)
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers: 360 (September 2016)
  • Josh Onomah: 807 (January 2015)
  • Harry Winks: 5366 (November 2014)

The total number of minutes for Academy players who were given debuts under Pochettino is 7,875. According to Transfermarkt, since Pochettino has been at Spurs we have played 262 matches. That’s 259,380 minutes available. Thus we can say that 3% of available minutes have gone to Academy players given their debut under Pochettino*. If you take Winks out of the equation that comes down to under 1%.

*NB: if you add in Ryan Mason, who Pochettino arguably ‘trusted’ first then it goes up to 4.5%, though as we know Mason was 23 by this point and had clocked up nearly 5,000 minutes of football league action prior to his opportunity.

There are, of course, reasons for this. Some rebuttals may be:

  • The young players that our Academy produces are not good enough.
  • We can’t take risks, we’re challenging for the title.
  • We have too many older pros needing minutes.
  • Developing young players is not our priority.

Some of these are legitimate rebuttals. Some of them are legitimate in relation to certain players/contexts.

Again, to clarify, I am not here to criticise Pochettino’s overall management of the club. He is the greatest manager we have had in my lifetime. I love this man and what he has done for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Indeed, one could argue that the success of the first team should come as a priority over all other aspects of running the club. But Pochettino himself doesn’t argue that: he says (*scrolls up to check quote again*) ‘your identity is through young players.’

In the context of developing young players he doesn’t practice what he preaches and, as a result, more young talent will continue to leave. Whether you believe that to be a problem or not depends on your perspective but, at the very least, it can and should be seen as a waste of resource in terms of time, effort, money and an opportunity cost in terms of not playing them.

For example, we can look at the £11m and 590 minutes wasted on Georges-Kévin Nkoudou and the £10m and 386 minutes wasted on Clinton Njié as a case study. If we had given those 976 minutes to an Academy player, we could likely have created a selling value for that player of £5m+. It would be difficult to argue that that player would have done any worse than either of the two players mentioned. Best-case scenario, they become another Harry Kane or Winks. Worst case scenario, they are the cause of us losing a match or two and are never seen again. Even if you assume, conservatively, that a thousand first team minutes would lead to an academy player having a value of just £1m, that’s still a swing of £22m (and that’s ignoring wages). The value would more likely be higher, though: I’d argue that Kyle Walker-Peters’ market value is at least £8m (probably more as an England-U21 international with five Premier League assists in just 292 minutes), and that’s after just 880 first team minutes.

There is another point worth making that is specific to Pochettino and to the list of players given debuts. There’s a common trait amongst many of the players: they’re mostly worker bees. There’s a feeling that under Pochettino if young players ‘work hard’ then they will get their chances. What characterises ‘working hard’ is different depending on the type of player, though and, as such, I have a theory that Pochettino is pretty good at giving opportunities to hard-working midfielders (Winks, Skipp, Amos, Marsh, Lesniak, Walkes) but that he struggles to bring through the more mercurial players, of which Roles is certainly one.

My theory is that combative midfielders find it easier to ‘show character’ since that is one of the traits that they have been led to develop over the course of their fledgling careers. Indeed, these are traits that could come naturally to them and have led to them becoming central midfielders in the first place. So if George Marsh — a bloody hard-working, tenacious but ultimately limited player — charges around in training putting tackles in, doing the hard yards, catches the eye and gets minutes for the first team ahead of, say, Sam Shashoua, a technically-gifted, creative, door-unlocking but undoubtedly mercurial player, then in my opinion something has gone wrong. This is not meant to be disrespectful to Marsh who I hope will go on to have a good career himself (and who is clearly a good lad, and a proper ‘team man’), but Shashoua’s ceiling in terms of technique and overall ability is far higher. Lesniak, who Pochettino used, now plays for AaB in the Danish Superliga. Walkes for Portsmouth in League One. These are not elite-level players but they were prioritised over others.

Some people will point towards attitude. Perhaps Lesniak and Walkes ‘had the right attitude’. Perhaps they were better professionals than others. And that could be true (though I suspect attitude is in the eye of the beholder), but then it is up to the club to develop these professional behaviours better through their Academy structures: after all, they have them from when they are children in many cases.

If Jack Roles leaves this summer he may go on to have a mediocre career at a League Two club, scoring the odd FA Cup goal and Spurs may not regret a thing. But the development of young players is not linear, is not straightforward, and key choices at key times can change everything. For example, Connor Ogilvie was an outstanding left-back as an Under-18 at Spurs and was regularly in England squads as a result. He subsequently slumped — as so many do — when caught between the Under-18s and the first team. Had he been given a few minutes for Spurs or out on loan at 18 he may now be a very good left-back at this point. As it is, he’s 23 and is on-loan at Gillingham in League One (admittedly producing a League One player is not to be sniffed at). The point is that ability needs to be harnessed, we need to take advantage of the crests of these waves. Opportunities need to be dangled, loans found, work done to stop players taking their scholarship and moving on.

There’s a wider piece here about the cesspit that is the Premier League 2 and post-scholarship life which I’ll probably write soon, but for now my point is this: if we do not give opportunities either in our first team, or by utilising the loan system, we will continue to lose our best talent and then need to buy similar talents back for a lot of money years later. In fact, we’ll end up buying lesser talents in some cases — Njié was never a youth player for the Cameroon national team, he just happened to get an opportunity and suddenly was ‘worth’ £10m and ‘worth’ prioritising over an Academy player.

I personally hope that Pochettino has a change in approach next season, and either appoints someone to fix up some loan deals (I’d like a Sporting Director/Director of Football as discussed here) or gives young players the odd bench place based upon in-game meritocracy: if you play well for the Under-18s you get to play for the Under-23s; if you play well for the Under-23s you get on the bench in a League Cup match against Grimsby; and so on. This subtle change would lead to a burgeoning culture of opportunity and would totally change the perception around young talent being wasted at Spurs. And, who knows, we might end up with another Kane or Winks on our hands.

To finish on a high, there were other promising performances from some of our youngsters in last night’s victory over Leicester. The team list with the year of their birth is below; I think this illustrates nicely how young a lot of these players are — Dennis Cirkin is not 17 for another month, as an example.

Starting XI, 4-2-3-1: Austin (1999); Hinds (2000), Lyons-Foster (2000), Dinzeyi (1999), Cirkin (2002); White (2001), Marsh (1998); Oakley-Boothe (2000), Maghoma (2001), Bennett (2001); Tracey (1998). Substitutes: Roles (1999), Duncan (1999), Walcott (2002), De Bie (2000), Markanday (2001).

The best players on the night other than MOTM Roles were J’Neill Bennett, Dennis Cirkin, Tariq Hinds and Harvey White.

Magician

Each time I begin to believe that I’ve seen it all from Mauricio Pochettino, he performs one last trick that The Magic Circle should send their Chief Investigators out to … er, investigate.

When we played top-of-the-Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of our tie, they had the excuse that key players were missing (as if we didn’t). Well with the majority of their key men back, we beat them again. We didn’t just beat them again, though. We first frustrated them like I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a Spurs team frustrate anyone, before hitting them on the counter. And we arguably should have had a penalty too. And we had Moussa Sissoko in midfield!!!

And we din’t just have Moussa Sissoko in midfield — we had Moussa Sissoko, having undergone one of the greatest transformations I’ve ever witnessed — instrumental in our midfield, and getting the vital assist. A magician, I tell you.

Pochettino made a slight tweak for this match, switching from a back three to a genuine back five. Ahead of them, we started with the 3-2 shape, but this was quickly switched to a 4-1 shape. Marco Reus was finding pockets of space behind Sissoko and was looking like he was building up to a goal. Time after time I’ve seen Pochettino do nothing, believing that his tactical set-up will ultimately come through (more often than not to positive effect). This time he made a bold decision and he made it early and it worked a treat. Son moved to play narrow on the left, Eriksen played narrow on the right, and Sissoko joined Winks in the middle of midfield. Reus stopped finding those pockets.

Spurs saw out a flurry of early attacks, with crucial interventions from various players, but particularly Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris, and gained a foothold in the match, ultimately restricting Dortmund to what pundits might refer to as ‘half-chances’ and what analysts may refer to as ‘low-xG chances’.

xG for Borussia Dortmund vs Spurs

I’ll stop talking tactics as this match went beyond that and into the intangibles that Pochettino has made tangible. I have rarely witnessed, in my time watching Spurs, such drive, determination and sheer will to win in a Spurs side as was present in this match. It reminded me of Juventus’ performance at Wembley last season.

There were bodies flying at the ball, last ditch slide tackles, 10 outfield players supremely focussed on getting back into their position any time they vacated it, and a goalkeeper with the most stunning reflexes.

Pochettino’s Spurs are generally known for their attacking swagger, their incessant press (though less so in recent times), and for goalscoring pin-ups like Harry Kane, Dele and Son Heung-min. This was the defence’s time to shine (though Kane still stole some of the headlines, as ever *heart eyes emoji*).

Despite a terrible run of recent form, preceded by a terrible run of luck with injuries, Spurs progress into the Quarter-finals of the Champions League, are still clinging onto third place in the table, and are making noises about moving ‘home’ in the not too distant future.

Our glasses are half full again, and Pochettino’s handkerchiefs are back up his sleeve… until next time.

Succession

Spurs’ squad is in a real mess.

I’m not normally one to catastrophise or get hysterical but the failures of the recent transfer windows have arguably had less of an effect this season than they will in future seasons. Spurs have major squad surgery to do over the coming year which could significantly set us back if it is not managed carefully. This will be Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest challenge yet.

Our squad has all of a sudden become remarkably middle-aged to old (in football terms). At the top end of the age spectrum are the following:

  • Michel Vorm (35)
  • Fernando Llorente (34)
  • Hugo Lloris (31)
  • Jan Vertonghen (31, turns 32 in April)
  • Toby Alderweireld (30)
  • Moussa Sissoko (29)
  • Danny Rose (28, turns 29 in July)
  • Kieran Trippier (28)
  • Victor Wanyama (27, turns 28 in June)

We had become so used to Pochettino using young players and having a young squad but this has crept up rather suddenly. At this point, the only squad players (that we use) under 22 are Foyth (21) & Skipp (18).

The excellent Daniel Storey pointed out that this season we’ve tended to use older players more than younger players:

League starts this season by players currently 24 and under: 57

League starts this season by players currently 30 and above: 72

Ignoring the fact that Pochettino historically prefers working with younger players, this shift in age within the squad brings with it other issues too, such as: a higher wage bill; more tired/injury-prone bodies; less certainty, as players start looking for ‘one last payday’ towards the end of their career; and less motivation for other young players if they cannot see an obvious route through to the first team.

From the list at the start of this piece, I would argue that only Lloris, Vertonghen and Sissoko are all-but-guaranteed to be at the club for the start of the 2019/20 campaign, and so this issue of having a squad tipped towards older players may become less of a problem. But that turnover in itself is a major issue.

I wrote a Twitter thread about this earlier (@WindyCOYS)

Squad surgery is very achievable when it’s properly planned and undertaken at regular intervals. We are left, however, with a summer where we have three windows of surgery to do in one. Not only is that hugely challenging practically in terms of actually getting the deals done, but it brings with it the knock-on effect of having multiple players to acclimatise at one time.

It also means that you cannot be so opportunistic. For example, I cannot imagine that the club are overly concerned about keeping Lucas Moura, who we could probably sell for £20m+. But presumably we would think twice about selling him simply because we would be at risk of running out of players given all of the other outgoings that we can expect.

If you begin to start looking at the players likely to leave in the summer, it becomes clear that our squad is going to be left remarkably thin without significant re-investment.

  • Toby Alderweireld (contract allows him to leave for a set fee this summer)
  • Christian Eriksen (only a year left on his contract with rumblings that he’ll look to move on)
  • Vincent Janssen (assuming we can find a taker)
  • Michel Vorm (contract expiring)
  • Fernando Llorente (contract expiring)
  • Georges-Kévin N’Koudou (…)
  • Victor Wanyama (unable to play at the highest level after a series of injuries).

If you start to consider other areas where we need upgrades, this widens out from seven outgoings to potentially 11:

  • Kieran Trippier (a possibility to cash in whilst his stock is still high-ish)
  • Serge Aurier (not progressing as hoped, opportunity to recoup £20m)
  • Danny Rose (unable to play more than once a week and struggling to put together consistent performances)
  • Ben Davies (more likely to be kept as a squad player, but ultimately shouldn’t be troubling the first team of a team with aspirations of winning the league).

And then we have a series of young players who at this point seem likely to move on:

  • Josh Onomah (22 in April and needs to leave in search of regular first-team football)
  • Kyle Walker-Peters (as per Onomah; ultimately he’s now wasted three years of his career waiting for opportunities)
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers (a little below the required standard for Spurs, though should have no problems finding a decent club)
  • Luke Amos (perhaps he’ll get another year after being so unfortunate with his injury, but he would need assurances)
  • Marcus Edwards (building quite a reputation in the Eredivisie but one may assume his bridges have been burned at Spurs and Pochettino does struggle to integrate more mercurial young players)
  • Anthony Georgiou (22 now and it’s time to find a permanent home)
  • Connor Ogilvie (23 and a constant loanee – time to make that permanent switch)
  • Shayon Harrison (perhaps that Melbourne City loan will become permanent)
  • George Marsh (unlikely to ever make the grade)
  • Jack Roles (having another prolific season from midfield but out of contract in the summer – why would he stay?).

11 becomes 21 and that is without mentioning other young players who could also leave (Japhet Tanganga, Dylan Duncan, Jon Dinzeyi). That is a hell of a lot of work to do, and that’s without even considering how many incomings we may need to repair/bolster the squad.

As we have not been consistently giving even our best academy players chances (let alone others), academy players are starting to get to the end of their first professional contract (or end of scholarship) and are looking at leaving. This means that where we had previously hoped to reap the rewards of our investment in the training centre with a conveyor belt of talent, that conveyor belt will begin to head the way of Germany, France or The Netherlands, countries who have recognised that there is huge value to be found amongst young, English players. It’s important to note that this is not an issue just at Spurs, but across the Premier League as a whole, but Spurs are suffering as much as any, with Miloš Veljković, Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts and Noni Madeuke already having moved abroad in recent seasons and others likely to follow this summer.

One would like to imagine that a lot of pre-summer work to line up outgoing and incoming deals can take place, but with Daniel Levy’s energy targeted towards the new stadium for so long, perhaps some of this focus has been lost. I mean, we’d have hoped for the past two transfer windows that deals would be in place, and yet nothing has materialised. The obvious solution would be to bring in a Sporting Director/Director of Football to manage our squad restructuring process, but I fear Spurs have left that too late too. Besides, is Levy trusting enough to leave these decisions in the hands of someone else? Would Pochettino be comfortable with this extra layer of management?

Instead, Pochettino will be left to prioritise which positions he wants to focus on. Central midfield and the full-backs are the most obvious areas for improvement, but replacing both Eriksen and Alderweireld would undoubtedly have an impact on those priorities, particularly if Pochettino intends to continue playing with a back three.

The club has some major decisions to take in the summer: what kind of buyer do we want to be? Do we want to simply sign ‘proven’ Premier League players (James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, David Brooks), who will cost a fortune due to their homegrown premium? Do we want to dig deeper into the football league (Max Aarons, Jack Clarke, Tom Bayliss) to try to find value? Or do we want to use analytics-based scouting to try to find similar value from across Europe (Sander Berge, Denis Zakaria, Marko Rog, Soualiho Meïté)?

Of course, some of these issues could be fixed with a simple change in approach. We can fix some of the problems right now. Offer Eriksen and Alderweireld huge contracts. Fully integrate the likes of Walker-Peters, Onomah and Edwards. Give Skipp and his 18/19-year old peers significant minutes. Suddenly the situation would look more rosy. We could play Walker-Peters between now and the end of the season and potentially fix our right-back problem. But there is a stubbornness within Spurs’ ranks (and I include Pochettino in that just as much as Levy) that makes me think we’re beyond that point. Besides, we may have left it too late; the time to fully integrate some of these young players was two to three seasons ago. The time to tie Eriksen down was last season.

What we must ensure is that Pochettino is appropriately backed because (Kane-aside) losing him would be worse than losing any player.