As has been written by many other people in dozens of other places, the transfer window is not just about raw accumulation. In fact, believing otherwise can do a lot of damage. Those shiny, expensive faces may look good in July, but by October and November they can present a real threat to squad unity and team chemistry.
Unquestionably, it is better to do nothing than to sign a player who isn’t needed.
That’s the kind of logic that Tottenham fans are having to take comfort from. The new Premier League season is now three weeks away and, at the time of writing, the club has failed to add to last season’s squad. Kyle Walker has now gone, sold for an enormous fee to Manchester City, and a couple of exiled players have had their loans made permanent.
It’s hard. These supporters are surrounded by rival clubs making bold steps while their own side appears to sit on its hands. Worse, at the time of writing a proposed move for centre-half Juan Foyth is reportedly on the brink of collapse, with an £8m asking price deemed too hefty to match. Paris Saint-Germain are now expected to complete the signing instead.
One consolation, of course, is that Spurs need very little. There are few holes in Pochettino’s side and they are arguably the most balanced team in the country.
However, to pretend that Tottenham had nothing to do this summer is plainly wrong. Levy and Pochettino are admittedly in a tricky situation, stuck between knowing that it would take a special player to improve their first-eleven while having to accept that such talent could never be accommodated within the existing wage structure. Simply being an upwardly mobile side and offering pure footballing benefits will never fully satiate the modern professional – he wants money, always.
Regrettably, Kyle Walker has provided a timely reminder of just that. Before Pochettino’s arrival at White Hart Lane, Walker was little more than an above average full-back. He has improved exponentially over the past three years, benefitting from the Argentinian’s one-to-one coaching and also the tactical safety nets (Wanyama, Dembele, Dier) which had been strung beneath him. Tottenham returned him to the England team, allowed him to play in the Champions League, and would have assured him of a place at next year’s World Cup.
It didn’t matter. Walker may currently be telling any journalist who will listen that he moved to Manchester City for the opportunity to win silverware, but he ultimately allowed his focus to drift towards that bigger contract before last season even finished – at a time when his current club were in an FA Cup semi-final and still retained an outside chance of winning the Premier League.
Overcoming the problem represented within is the challenge. It also helps to explain why Spurs have been inactive. What it doesn’t do, however, is justify the failure to garnish the secondary layers of this squad. One of the defining points of last season occurred at Wembley during the FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea when, with the game in the balance, Antonio Conte introduced Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard from its substitutes’ bench. When Pochettino opened his own cupboard, it was bare. No contrasting attacking options and no mechanism for altering the style of play. Tottenham are not Chelsea and they will never have quite the same strength in reserve, but their failure to learn from that moment – such a pivotal one within the context of their year – is very hard to explain.
It’s not quite time for the locals to light their torches and march down the High Street, but they could be forgiven for showing concern.
Similarly, while great faith is now placed in the fertility of the club’s academy, it cannot be expected to graduate players at a consistently prolific rate. It shouldn’t be assumed, for instance, that two or three viable Premier League prospects will emerge each year and that, as a result, the club is excused the responsibility of strengthening from the outside. With the current financial structure in place, the summer of 2017 was never likely to bring an army of £30m players to Wembley, but it should still have been a time to slightly broaden Pochettino’s contingency plans.
It is not a secret, for instance, that long-term injuries to Christian Eriksen or Dele Alli would severely blunt this team, or that Georges-Kevin Nkoudou is not trusted enough by Pochettino to provide adequate back-up to any of the wide players. In the past, Tottenham have survived the absence of important players – Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose all missed significant time in 2016/17 – but usually only in isolation. Losing two or more of those players simultaneously would be dreadful luck, but it’s still an eventuality which needs preparing for.
Yes, Tottenham are capable of winning the division and, no, they don’t necessarily need more star power to cross that line. Sir Alex Ferguson’s familiar refrain in summer, at least before his questionable David Bellion/Liam Miller phase, was that he would only buy players who he thought would actually improve his Manchester United team. Spurs don’t need to abide by that logic, they don’t have to trade in the £50m, £60m or £70m market. But by the time September arrives, they do have to have added another full-back, a passing-orientated attacking-midfielder, and a winger. They needn’t be stars of the game and they don’t have to be operating at their prime, just the kind of player who could provide support and also challenge for a place over a two or three-year period. Sandro Ramirez would have been an excellent signing, for instance, so too Jacob Murphy. Not because either would have been a first-team revelation, but because each would have offered something in reserve that the side doesn’t currently have.
Pochettino has been shown capable of extracting great gains from unlikely places. Rather than being chequebook dependent, he sees the situational relevance of under-valued players and maximises their value. For that to continue to work, though, he needs these extra pieces on his chessboard. Not necessarily Queens and Rooks, but at least a couple of extra Knights or Bishops. On the basis that there will be no incoming players between now and the first game of the season, Pochettino will enter his fourth Premier League year with a reliable core of just twelve outfielders. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain injured, Moussa Sissoko, Vincent Janssen, Kevin Wimmer and Nkoudou are all peripheral figures, and neither Josh Onomah nor Cameron Carter-Vickers are ready to start domestically or in Europe. Kyle Walker-Peters is expected to be promoted full time to the senior squad and, maybe, another under-23 player will follow, but the chances of either player becoming more than an emergency option in their first season would be slim.
The summer is a time of silliness and, incontestably, there exists now a sub-set of supporters who crave additions for the sake of novelty. In Tottenham’s case, those demands are animated by plain consumerism or boredom though, instead by a reasonable fear that their club are over-exposing themselves to the law of averages. Eventually, thrift comes at a price.
Maybe, once again, this group will defy the odds. Perhaps they’ll even skip gracefully through the Premier League minefield and miraculously escape injury and suspension. Whatever the next season brings, though, it’s hard to argue against the perception that Tottenham are taking a mighty risk with their recruitment and gambling their recent advancement in the process.