Tottenham & the re-emergence of old habits

Three days to go…

Three days to go and Tottenham are still playing pre-season tournaments in different countries.

Three days to go and Tottenham have failed to properly equip their squad for the season ahead.

When Paul Mitchell arrived at White Hart Lane as part of Spurs’ multi-layer recruitment reforms, it suggested a departure from the club’s old ways. Gone, supposedly, were the days of making signings on a whim and of hunting ‘deals’ rather than advancement.

That was very logical. With the new stadium yet to be built - or paid for - Daniel Levy was installing a set of measures which would help his technical staff to tread the line between austerity and ambition and Mitchell, with his truffle pig nose for value, would lead Tottenham through these narrow financial corridors and into the new ground.

This Summer, however, has been a contradiction. The early weeks of July were very positive and the signings of Kevin Wimmer, Toby Alderweireld, and Kieran Trippier all addressed squad-deficiencies.

Tottenham, defensively, are unquestionably in a far better place defensively than they were at the end of last season. Trippier will provide not only competition for Kyle Walker but also a genuine alternative to him, Alderweireld is an accomplished multi-position defensive player with highly-regarded intangible values, and Wimmer - from his few pre-season games to-date - seems to be bringing a welcome blend of physicality and distribution to the squad.

Spurs are not in a position to solve their defensive issues with a single transfer so, maybe, they sought a remedy in equipping the unit with greater dexterity. Superficially at least, it does now look more durable and far better prepared for the diverse Premier League landscape.

Beyond that however, the club’s inertia is baffling.

2014/15 was a year of discovery for Mauricio Pochettino and, as the Summer sales have suggested, he was very successful in identifying who did and did not possess long term value. High-wage earners have been vanquished, money has been recouped and, rather than being an over-inflated mess of transfer over-indulgence, the first-team group is comprised of players who all possess a role and a purpose.

That’s been a very efficient process and it’s one for which the entire organisation warrants applause.  In hindsight, it was Objective One this Summer: it represented the ploughing of the field, the preparation of the soil…whatever metaphor you choose to represent the stage prior to a growth phase.

Had this article been written in the middle of July, it would talk solely of logic and common-sense and of Tottenham finally taking a mature, situation-based approach to their circumstances. But it’s not mid-July - it’s early August and the season is getting awfully large in the window.

If the club are due acclaim for the diligent attention they’ve paid to the defence, then they’re owed a raised eyebrow for their relative indifference to the rest of the side. While every departure - or imminent sale - has been incontestably appropriate, the failure to replace those superfluous components with something more useful is baffling. At the time of writing, Spurs are set to travel to Manchester United on Friday with one viable forward option in Harry Kane and one central attacking-midfielder in Christian Eriksen.

For a Premier League team that’s astonishing and it represents a risk that needn’t have been taken.

2014/15 was a season of promise, of last-minute winners, and of a whole lot of imperfect fun, but it was also a year in which several players laboured under the physical burden placed upon them. It was assumed then that, having watched Eriksen sleep-walk through the final quarter of the season and having seen Kane’s shoulders sag at roughly the same time, that the club would respond appropriately in the off-season.

But they haven’t.

Not only have viable targets been ignored or allowed to move to other sides, but the existing depth in the squad has either been sold off or pushed forcefully to the periphery. Neither Roberto Soldado nor Emmanuel Adebayor appear to have a future in Pochettino’s side, but it was surely prudent to keep them within the pre-season fold until alternatives had been properly sourced.

Again, they haven’t. Both players are yet to officially depart and the club is yet to receive any kind of fee for either, but having been left out of both recent international tours, neither have had the requisite playing time to be of any kind of use during their final weeks.  Willingly, the club has ensured that neither player is able to help bridge the gap between the old and the new.

Maybe there’s a logic in that somewhere, but it’s difficult to identify. Pochettino is one Harry Kane muscle-fibre away from playing without a forward for these opening weeks and, given that the player has had a congested, football-filled Summer, that is the definition of playing fast-and-loose with available resources.

Daniel Levy’s defence - presumably - would be to say that the end of transfer window brings with it a unique range of opportunities.  As the Summer ends and players and clubs scramble for new homes and more transfer revenue, market forces are suspended and low-hanging fruit can present itself.

But, while that may be true, it’s contrary to the direction that Paul Mitchell’s appointment was supposed to represent. Mitchell is about value, method, and scouting and yet Levy is creating a situation in which Tottenham are leaving their final, potentially season-defining bits of business down to chance.

It’s a contradiction. Yes, there may be bargains to be had in the final hours of a transfer window, but that is only really a half-truth. By leaving necessary dealings until the last-minute, Tottenham are potentially putting themselves into a weak negotiating position - one which exude the kind of desperation that rival clubs will almost certainly take advantage of.

It’s almost an exercise in self-defeat.  While the club were very astute in reforming their recruitment department and equally smart in appointing a Head Coach who adds value on the training ground, this reversion to Tottenham 1.0 dilutes the relevance of both: Pochettino is denied a full pre-season with players who require integration, Mitchell becomes a hostage to bargain-hunting.

At the beginning of the Summer this may have been a half-serious caveat, but with every passing day Levy is now moving closer to having to either pay £15m for Charlie Austin or make it through to January with a perilously thin squad.

And, forgetting the specifics, that’s why the collective frustration is slowly coming to the boil. Tottenham spend the first half of their pre-season clearly demonstrating that they were capable of a mature, adult approach to the transfer-market and that they were committed to their new recruitment strategy. With the end of July, however, it’s becoming apparent that old habits do indeed die hard and that, rather than taking the players they want, the club are still content to buy what they’re offered.

It’s a slight dramatisation, but it’s feasible that such an approach could very well negate all of the work which has been done to-date. Benjamin Stambouli, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue may have departed, but this laissez faire ‘take what we’re given’ approach could very well lead to similar inefficiency and to signings being made for the sake of it.

There are still star names fluttering around the ether and Tottenham are still being linked with some very good players, but when has there ever been a Summer when that hasn’t been the case?

The club promises gold, but it delivers bronze; so far, it seems that the lessons of past seasons have only been half-learnt.

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