Spend some money. Any money. On anyone. Just sign somebody.
To all such talk, Mauricio Pochettino and Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy have calmly said no. As a whirlwind transfer window rumbles on, Spurs have chosen to stay away from the storm. The frenzy has made only faint overtures to the North London club.
Spurs’ fellow title contenders have responded in confused tones. Why would Pochettino and his staff not join this party? Everybody they know wants to go to this party. But Spurs keep the door shut, only letting Kyle Walker go out when they got the desired value for him.
Antonio Conte spoke about Tottenham. He thought that if Spurs do not make the Champions League next season, “it’s not a tragedy.” Pochettino and his side’s ambitions exist on a lower plane, according to the Italian.
Jose Mourinho spoke about Tottenham too. Unlike Conte, he’s impressed that Spurs has managed to keep all their top players. Mourinho expects the Lilywhites to be in the title mix.
Pochettino, of course, has spoken about Tottenham. He’s not worried, not just yet. If Pochettino’s work is to be trusted, there is plenty of room for optimism. Spurs finished second last season with 86 points; Leicester City won the league with five fewer points the season before. Every campaign under Pochettino has brought conspicuous improvements.
But the Argentinean manager knows the rules of the game. You spend to improve. Spurs may have chosen to keep quiet till now but it would be quite remarkable if that does not change by the end of August. Kieran Trippier’s injury in the friendly against Juventus on Saturday laid bare the issues in the right-back department.
Walker was sold for a hefty sum and if Trippier is out for a few weeks, next in line is the ironically named Kyle Walker-Peters. He won the under-20 World Cup this summer but the youngster is yet to make his senior debut for Spurs. Pochettino’s diffidence over Walker-Peters’ readiness may finally force his hand in the transfer market.
It is unclear whether Spurs will also need to replace the trio of Nabil Bentaleb, Clinton N’Jie and Federico Fazio, who returned to clubs where they spent time on loan last season. Pochettino has insisted that he will look to strengthen the squad’s depth only if the incoming player can put pressure on his first-choice XI.
But to improve the squad, Spurs will need to break the bank. It is true that the north London side’s financial might is not comparable to their title rivals. The wage ceiling at Spurs is set at £100,000-a-week while Moussa Sissoko was the club’s record signing last summer at £30 million (and he may leave too after falling out with Pochettino earlier in the summer). The stratosphere is not where Tottenham reside.
Although Ross Barkley has been constantly linked to Spurs over the summer, it is unlikely that the club will break the bank for him. As for the other options, there are not many. Pochettino discussed the problem a few days ago.
“We have to find the right balance but I can honestly say it is not impacting us on transfer activity because we are not yet in a place where we have found a player that we want to buy who we cannot afford to buy.”
Even the link with Alvaro Morata was exploratory as the Spaniard was not sure he could replace Harry Kane as Tottenham’s prime striker, according to Pochettino. Indeed, if a player’s so good that Spurs pay big money for him, why would he want to sit on the bench? That explains the core tussle which has marked Pochettino’s transfer activity. The exceptional performance by his preferred XI has left very little room for new arrivals to break in.
Not many would be willing to bide their time like Ben Davies or Trippier. Davies finds himself in the starting XI now on account of Danny Rose’s extended absence owing to injury while Trippier is the first choice right-back after Walker’s departure. Under Pochettino, patience has been rewarded. However, it remains to be seen whether the manager’s patience will wear thin if Spurs end the summer transfer window with zero acquisitions.
Of course, this season, it will not just be the new arrivals who will have to adjust. Looming large over Spurs’ campaign is the Wembley question. Last season, Pochettino’s men managed to win only one of their five matches at the venue. The upcoming campaign will be played entirely at the Wembley Stadium but Pochettino has suggested that the issue is a red-herring.
Even last season, the manager was not sure Spurs’ poor displays could be explained by the pitch dimensions at their new home. “Remember when I first came to Tottenham and I was criticised for saying the White Hart Lane pitch was too small for us? And now, people are saying that Wembley is too big?”
But it might be. While the White Hart Lane sleeps for a year, the pitch dimensions have enlarged from 100m x 67m to 105m x 69m. With a greater surface area to be covered, there are questions to be asked whether Spurs will be able to impose their usual pressing style with the efficacy of old.
Of course, Pochettino and the club faithful will point to the club’s displays on the road under the manager. But Spurs struggled against fellow members of the Premier League top six in away matches last term, drawing twice and losing the rest. On the upside, though, it might be easier to break down deep-sitting defences at home on a wider pitch as it will allow Spurs to play an even more expansive style of football.
The answer, if Pochettino is to be believed, may lie in the training schedule. Currently the team is preparing at their old training ground in Enfield with reworked pitch dimensions. But the manager would prefer if Spurs were allowed to train at their current home stadium instead.
“It is in our plan to start to train at the training ground and then to try to move there [to Wembley] for a few days to train — not just for two days. We need to plan the training sessions with the organisation at Wembley,” said Pochettino during the pre-season.
It is not a possibility that can be ruled out but any such plan will not be ready in time for Spurs’ first league game at Wembley on 20 August when Chelsea will pay a visit. It will be an early test of the team’s relationship with their new home. Six draws in the first 11 league games last season eventually hurt Tottenham’s title push. If Pochettino wants the club to reiterate the gains that have been made, a win over Chelsea in the opening home game might be one way to go about it.
Although a major slip is not foreseen for Spurs this season, a defeat against Chelsea will give rise to familiar doubts. Perhaps then the answer will be to spend some money. Like everyone else. Some part of Pochettino wants it too.
Updated Date: Aug 10, 2017 16:02 PM