Tottenham & the illusion of transfer-window failure

Tottenham’s post-window clarification statement will not, you suspect, be quite the cooling breeze that Daniel Levy wants it to be.

The Summer transfer period ended just over twenty-four hours ago and the club’s twitter following is still largely incandescent over the failure to recruit another forward.  To make matters worse, international football has hijacked the domestic season and there is now nothing on the immediate horizon to which the fanbase can avert its rage.

When clubs issue statements, they are typically PR’d to within in an inch of their sincerity.  Still, tempting though it may be to read Levy’s communique as self-serving rhetoric, it does make some very reasonable points.

Tottenham have spent the Summer de-cluttering their squad and unpicking a web of unnecessary signings.  Part of that off-season exodus may have comprised players who had been bought to fill specific first-team functions, but the majority were products of a flawed transfer policy, signings who were made with a “players for the sake of players” mindset and who only provided the illusion of squad-depth.

If a targeted player wasn’t available, Spurs were the sort of club who would buy a cheaper, inferior alternative irrespective of whether he filled an actual match-day function.

Superficially, there isn’t an awful lot wrong with that.  Depth is generally a good thing and, even if they aren’t all suited to purpose, having a lot of players in every position can provide a degree of reassurance.

There are consequences, though.  Most obviously, employing a large playing staff will lead to a heavy wage bill and that can, in time, handicap the pursuit of other, more valuable talent.

Additionally, though, a bigger squad which isn’t built precisely for purpose can do as much harm as good.  A group of players who are centralised - and capable of adhering to - a set of governing principles are, one assumes, far more likely to succeed than one which isn’t.  Every squad in the professional game is tiered and some members will have more day-to-day relevance than others but, outside of the necessary variation, it’s clearly preferable for there to be a common, binding culture.

In a perfect world, every player who trains with the first-team should feel as if match-day selection is achievable.  There should be no cabals or cliques and neither should there be any tactical outcasts. Every player, to varying degrees, should have a pertinent value during a season and all should encompass qualities which are relevant to a coaching staff’s approach.

That’s what Tottenham are aiming for and that’s the proper context within which the recent months should be judged  This Summer has framed by the financial limitations associated with the new stadium’s construction but, beyond that inconvenience, there’s actually a lot to like about what’s taken place.

As the club’s statement alludes to, the approach is now purposely different to what it once was and Levy, Pochettino, and Paul Mitchell are, together, moving towards a more targeted recruitment model. There are no more Etienne Capoues or Benjamin Stamboulis, because the world is now divided into players they do want and players they don’t.

There is a method here and that shouldn’t be factored out of the post-window assessment.

Saido Berahino wasn’t available for transfer - or, if he was, he wasn’t available for an asking price that the club felt able to meet.  In the past, Daniel Levy’s response to that would have been to find a cheaper, less suitable alternative and to hand his manager a body rather than a viable option.

Maybe, for the sake of an example, 2015’s version of that situation would have involved Charlie Austin and possibly, in years gone by, Tottenham representatives would have gone hurtling down the Central Line with £15m in black briefcases at 5,30pm on Monday night.

“There’s your forward, Mauricio…”

To some, Austin would have been preferable to nobody - and, yes, he would have provided a degree of back-up.  Longer-term thinking implies, however, that spending large sums of money on an imperfect option when finances are relatively tight would not only have been an error, but would also have limited the club’s future reach.

The transfer window re-opens in three months’ time, so Tottenham have actually been smart in keeping their powder dry.  They have not re-created the very situation that they spent the Summer extricating themselves from and they will now carry greater purchasing power into January and next Summer.  Football may have done an efficient job of trivialising very large sums of money, but spending eight figure transfer sums is never incidental - and, specific to Tottenham, especially not now.

It’s very easy to challenge that and it’s equally simple to glance at the current squad and panic.  For every concern that has been verbalised, though, there is an opposing benefit.

The lack of defensive-midfield cover will give Eric Dier the opportunity to grow further into a role which, so far, he has filled admirably.

The paucity of forward options will provide Clinton N’Jie with more game-time than he was probably expecting in his first season.  Alternatively, maybe an academy graduate might be granted an opportunity that he would otherwise be denied.

That’s hypothetical, but then so is all the worry.  The hand-wringing over Kane is all rooted in theory at this point and, given the remarks attributed to him today, Mauricio Pochettino evidently doesn’t believe that he’s heading into the season with just a single forward to his name.

Tottenham are limited in what they can achieve at the moment and the top-four is beyond them.  At the same time, however, they are not a team who are being built for the present day and the consequences of minimal squad-depth between now and the New Year are relatively incidental.  This transitional period will be a tricky balance for the club and, ultimately, it’s more important that the recruitment decisions are right than that they are made with false, fan-appeasing conviction.

Being proactive is only a virtue if the action is proven to be correct.

The healthy approach is to embrace this squad for what it is.  It’s small, but it’s young and talented. Everybody will get an opportunity to play and the group as a whole will almost certainly benefit from the experience.

In a situation such as Tottenham’s, were resources are finite and the premium on mistakes is higher than before, it’s better to definitively identify what exists before committing to change.  It’s preferable to stretch the squad to capacity now and supplement it later.

No, there is no title in the near future and neither this season nor next will likely end with Champions League football, but the growth towards a better tomorrow can still be enjoyable.


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