It’s perfectly possible that Tottenham may be proven right in their decision to keep the powder dry across the summer. While the improvements that have taken place at Anfield, The Emirates and Stamford Bridge all look impressive in pre-season, it could yet be that Spurs’ continuity is the most valuable asset.
It’s not too fanciful either. Mauricio Pochettino has developed many players beyond their assumed limits before and, as a result, has been able to achieve beyond his means in each of the past three seasons. As is also being (rather sanctimoniously) observed across social media, they’ve also managed to tie important players to new contracts and have avoided selling any of their most coveted assets. Retaining those players really isn’t the same as actually adding to a squad, in spite of what the platitude suggests, but it’s still important.
Nevertheless, relevant as those developments are and real as Pochettino’s effect is, the more likely scenario is that Daniel Levy is now flirting with a worse-case scenario. Should his club under-perform this season and finish outside the top-four places, it seems highly unlikely that Pochettino would resist any serious effort to tempt him away. Should Julen Lopetegui fail at Real Madrid, for instance, Florentino Perez will knock on the door once more and, this time, Levy won’t be in a position to appease Pochettino with promises about transfer budgets and ambition.
And then what?
This time next month, Spurs will be moving into their new stadium and that, cosmetically, will make them more attractive, but for all their recent progress they remain a club for whom there is clearly a limit to ambition. Other head-coaches will see Levy, note his failure to properly support Pochettino in spite of his progress, and likely reason that there are easier, better-paid jobs elsewhere. Similarly, while recruitment has clearly been tricky this summer, it would be a good deal harder without the combined allure of Pochettino and the Champions League and, most importantly, with many of the same wage restrictions still in place.
So, while it’s true that some of the current supporter angst is rooted in unfulfilled transfer lust, much of it stems from that realisation. These fans have seen their side battle up the table to become something resembling a top-four regular, but they still recognise that the foundations of that growth are fragile. They also understand, quite rightly, that the loyalty of the contemporary squad is with Pochettino himself and not with the shirt, meaning that the double-punch of Europa League football and the Argentine’s potential departure would likely hasten several key sales. Harry Kane is a special case, of course, but one imagines that Dele Alli, Eric Dier, and Christian Eriksen would all be targeted and, most likely, sold.
Momentum is critical at Tottenham. Pochettino is an idealist and the club’s ascension to this point has tallied with his desire to create. It’s also clearly helped him to foster internal commitment, too, and has allowed him to build a squad out of players who could all be earning far larger basic wages elswhere. The worry is in recognising what might happen if that motivation were to dissipate. Would he be able to convince those same players that the club hadn’t reached and regressed from its peak. Would he be able to covince himself of that. Maybe so, but it’s not an unreasonable concern.
It is a worst-case scenario, a doom prophecy, but it’s not so difficult to imagine. It also explains why the summer inaction has provoked such a fierce response. It’s not because of any entitlement or an insatiable appetite for glinting world-class players, but because it has been such a grind to get to this point and this current high has been instructed by so many past failures.
Hopefully it’s a false alarm. Maybe – against expectation – Pochettino can perform another miracle and plug the gaps in his squad with pliable youth players and grow himself those new resources from within. But it’s worth stressing that that would be unexpected and that, realistically, there is no tangible reason to believe in many of the players who are now being presented as cases for the defence. They may not be write-offs, but they are unknown. While faith in Josh Onomah and Cameron Carter-Vickers is admirable, for instance, it’s not actually based on prior performance. Neither has ever definitively shown that they have a Premier League future. Nor have Luke Amos, Oliver Skipp or, obviously Marcus Edwards. They might be excellent, but they might also all be playing in League One this time next year.
It’s also important to understand the frame in which this pre-season has occured. This has come at a time when ticket prices are rising sharply and at the very moment when some fans are realising that they simply won’t be able to afford a seat in the new stadium. To use the club’s phrase, White Hart Lane’s successor is a “gift” to supporters – and yet it’s one which Tottenham have and are continuing to make the fanbase pay through the nose to receive. That might well be a savage reality of professional sport, but it has still proven a PR failure and helped to create the conditions under which an inactive summer was inevitably going to be antagonistic.
Negativity does tend to be contagious at this time of year and it is slightly absurd to be looking so far ahead, but there’s a legitimate grievance here and, as per the Supporters’ Trust statement issued late on Thursday night, it’s not a situation which the club should meet with silence.