Have Tottenham already abandoned their new grand strategy?
Tottenham stole the deadline day headlines with their audacious last gasp swoop for Newcastle United’s much coveted French midfielder Moussa Sissoko. The north London club edged out Premier League rivals Everton in their pursuit of the former Newcastle United star.
In doing so, Tottenham matched their club record transfer fee of £30m, which was paid to Roma for the services of Erik Lamela during the summer of 2013. That summer again was something of an anomalous period for the club, with their club record fee broken on three occasions as the ‘Bale money’ was cursorily spent on an array of apparent replacements.
Since then there has been a definite change in tact from Tottenham, one that has largely coincided with the appointments of both Mauricio Pochettino as Head Coach (now Manager), and Paul Mitchell as Head of Recruitment. The onus has been on the introduction of young, predominantly British talent, as opposed to endless spending on ready-made foreign imports. For many this is seen as the beginning of a period of austerity for a club that has just completed the building of a state of the art training complex at Bulls Cross and has just started construction on an ambitious stadium project on their existing north London site.
Pochettino was open about the challenges and indeed mid-term outlook for Spurs when he spoke to the Independent in February of this year, suggesting that the club had ‘changed vision’ since his arrival in 2014:
“Our people need to understand how Tottenham has changed vision, not of football, but in the way that we take decisions.”
“To improve our squad is a very difficult job, and it is easier to find different names on the market. But that is not the way we decided to take 18 months ago.”
“We have in front a very tough period,” Pochettino said. “I read a lot that Arsène Wenger says the most tough period at his club was when they built the stadium. You need to know, and the people need to know, that this is a very tough period for us.”
“If we do not believe that we can improve the squad, then why spend? We have many players that can play like a striker, like Son Heung-min or Nacer Chadli. After, we have young players that train with us, like Shayon [Harrison] or [Kaz] Sterling. We need to believe in the younger players because for our future they will be very important.”
Symptomatic of this strategy has been the acquisitions of Eric Dier and Dele Alli, two heralded young stars plucked from relative obscurity and allowed to thrive in a youthful first team set-up. It is no surprise therefore that Tottenham’s English contingent make up the main core of a fledgling England side, albeit one that is perhaps yet to realise its own full potential.
The relative parsimony has also been evident in Tottenham’s player trading, which has consistently seen a net inflow on financial balances up until this summers window. This is evidence that Spurs remain a side that develop prospects only to consistently sell them on for a profit; the retention of footballing assets being the common criticism of Daniel Levy era Spurs.
So why the sudden change of character from Spurs?
First of all, it is important to note that Spurs still only ended in 6th place with regard to a net transfer spend this summer (£29.88m), negative before the Sissoko deal owing to a number of astute sales that notably included Nacer Chadli and Ryan Mason.
Also of relevance is the structuring of the deal, £6m a year until the end of the midfielder’s five-year contract; one that he is perhaps unlikely to ever complete. An apparent masterstroke from Levy, but one that is now commonplace with regard to modern transfer deals; do you think Spurs ever paid the full reported amount for Roberto Soldado? Performance related payments and financial structuring are now key bartering tools in any modern player acquisition.
However, an inconsistent 27 year old is still some departure from the recent norm for Tottenham Hotspur. The players age being a likely deterrent for Levy, and indeed the departing Paul Mitchell who was tasked with implementing the Chairman’s plan.
The only explanation, and it is one that a number of fans and pundits have come to accept, is that this late acquisition was at the request of the manager himself. Pochettino had seen a number of his so-called ‘squad’ players depart and was keen to further increase his options ahead of a gruelling Champions League campaign as well as the perennial domestic exertions. If anyone is able to get the most out of a supposed rough diamond like Sissoko, it is likely to be the Argentinian. A tough tackling, powerful and flexible midfielder; Sissoko fits the requirements and on the evidence of his Euro 2016 performance is a player with the potential to excel at Spurs.
Moussa Sissoko is a definite gamble from Pochettino, but he also represents a rare show of faith from Daniel Levy; a man who seldom shows such unrelenting confidence in his appointed managers.
Masterstroke or transfer gaffe, what do you make of the Sissoko signing?