In hindsight, the benefit of Tottenham’s late transfer flurry was the impression of activity. Players arrived and some needs were filled, but the international break has allowed for more dispassionate reflection.
Having paused for thought, most Spurs supporters would conclude that their side has only marginally improved. Serge Aurier has replaced Kyle Walker, returning Mauricio Pochettino to par in the full-back department, Davinson Sanchez looks a hefty risk given his fee, and Juan Foyth has clearly been signed with the future in mind.
Perhaps, for now at least, the addition of Fernando Llorente – a genuine necessity who offers a real attacking variation – represents the only true improvement.
Of course, in time both Sanchez and Foyth could become excellent players well worth their respective fees, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Tottenham have done little to affect their here and now. The substitutes’ bench has been deepened, but the variations which were needed (pace in wide areas) have been neglected and the players who most needed understudies (Eriksen, Alli) remain unprotected.
That’s not necessarily a problem. It’s disappointing and nobody should be tricked by that late burst of action, but Pochettino retains a talented side who could yet retain a top-four place. The volume of spending elsewhere makes a title-challenge almost impossible, but retaining a sense of perspective is important: finishing fourth in this league, at this point in its history would still be a significant achievement.
Nevertheless, the irritation remains – and it was multiplied by the late, unsuccessful pursuit of Andre Gomes.
Barcelona’s failure to secure a replacement for Gomes prevented a prospective loan deal from being completed, but Tottenham’s intent was revealing. It showed, for instance, that Pochettino is aware of a deficiency in his side and that he felt he needed Gomes’s attributes in his midfield.
Supporters will be justified in wondering why that wasn’t addressed earlier in the window. Gomes is a flawed player whose self-belief has been all but destroyed at Barcelona, but he might have been an interesting reclamation project and his spidery ball-carrying would have added a different ingredient to the midfield. Whatever his worth, he was being pursued with a weakness in mind – a weakness which, because the loan offer was received so late, the team will have to bear until January at the earliest.
Late moves are determined by a variety of factors. Sometimes, the first few results of a league season can unearth hidden weaknesses. Occasionally, a serious injury in August can drive a manager back into the market. Most commonly, a late sale demands that a replacement be bought. None of those scenarios apply to Spurs, though, who were seemingly attempting to address an issue which they must have been aware of since the end of last season.
While conceding that Daniel Levy has been negotiating from a tough position and also acknowledging that the club’s wage structure and financial priorities have made this summer unusually complicated, it’s reasonable to ask why little attempt was made to cure the issue before the final days of August. Levy likes to negotiate late and, yes, clubs in his position are sometimes forced to capitalise on the twilight chaos, but it’s hard not to conclude that this again – yet again – shows the pitfalls of trying to be the smartest person in the room.
The accepted logic, which should be questioned far more than it is, remains that deals which occur late in the window offer great value. Selling clubs, apparently, become overly-eager to offload players and agents, desperate to push through a transfer, are coerced into accepting lesser terms on behalf of their clients.
However, none of Tottenham’s dealings last week supported that logic. Sanchez, good or excellent player though he might prove to be, was bought at the very top of the market, Foyth was signed for (what is thought to be) eight figures, and Llorente (approaching his 33rd birthday) was contextually very expensive. Signing Aurier for less than half of Walker’s transfer fee is, in anybody’s book, good business, but it’s accepted that the club are taking a mighty risk with an immature personality. Moreover, in spite of Walker moving to Manchester City months ago, Aurier was signed too late to take part in any of the first three games, will likely miss the trip to Everton this weekend, and will be tactically unprepared for the tone-setting Champions League tie with Dortmund next week. As ever, a smart-looking move comes with a batch of frustrating asterisks.
In eight months’ time, the worrying may well prove baseless. Perhaps Spurs will go through the entire season without suffering any injuries, inhibiting fatigue, or downturns in form in key positions and having successfully mined a hefty points total from the same methods they used last season – relying on the same players winning games in the same way while depending on all the same old combinations.
It’s more likely, though, that they will look back on this summer with regret and conclude that improvement and diversification imperatives were neglected and that far too much focus was afforded to the kind of perfect deals which seem to be a figment of their chairman’s imagination. Not every club can behave like Manchester City or Real Madrid – that’s certainly fair to point out – but there are very few who behave like Tottenham do and continue to improve in spite of it.