Tottenham Hotspur is a team eternally on the precipice. They sit on the precarious razor’s edge between greatness and obsolescence, fame and obscurity, goals and misses, and success and failure. Tottenham is constantly striving forward, trying to play with the big boys while simultaneously being pushed backward. They are swimming upstream. They are running against the wind. They are walking up the down escalator. Use whatever metaphor you would like, but leave it to Sir Alex Ferguson to describe them perfectly: “Lads, it’s Tottenham”.
The past two seasons at White Hart Lane have been interesting to say the least. Gareth Bale was sold, that money was spent, Andre Villas-Boas was sacked, Tim Sherwood was sacked, Mauricio Pochettino was hired and finally, Harry Kane ascended. The great irony of the past 730 days is that, despite all the turmoil and hand-wringing, the results were ultimately the same. At the end of the 2014 season, Tottenham sat sixth in the table with 69 points, while at the end of the 2015 season they sat at fifth with 64 points. How very, very Tottenham.
As the transfer window begins to enter full swing, the questions facing Tottenham, Pochettino and chairman Daniel Levy loom large – where are we going, and how are we getting there? The first part of that question is deceptively easy to answer. Tottenham should be competing for the top four every year. The second part is far more difficult to rankle with. The approach in the past has been to spend, spend, spend, and not always in intelligent ways. Since 2009, Spurs have brought in 35 players. Of those 35, 15 have already moved on with the recent exit of Paulinho after an incredibly disappointing time at White Hart Lane. The problem with this is that it erodes stability, of course, but also that these moves seem to be occurring with no rhyme or reason. It’s as if the top brass uses the same method to sign and sell players as the writers of ‘Family Guy’ use to craft jokes.
For once, it would serve Tottenham well to exhibit some restraint this off-season. They have a good core of young players, highlighted by Kane. We know they believe strongly in the futures of Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason, although both players had their struggles this year, especially Mason. Christian Eriksen was a revelation last season, and he is just 23. Danny Rose is 24 and certainly showed he has potential if he can be more consistent. Eric Dier is a question mark at full-back – his season was marked by moments of brilliance interspersed with far more frequent shortcomings. All of this is to say that Tottenahm is young and raw and has a lot of potential. The best way to turn that potential energy into kinetic energy is to let these players play. Give their young minds and legs some stability and guidance, and good things will come. Spend and sell rashly and risk sending the entire team into a state of tumult.
Thus far, Tottenham seem to be doing just that, surprisingly enough. While the transfer rumor mill is never to be believed in full, it is still useful if you can remember the difference between smoke and fire. Rumors do not come from thin air; that is to say, if you hear your team’s name or your favorite player’s name being thrown around a lot, something is likely afoot. Tottenham have not been on the mouths of many pundits, and that is a good sign. They have made two very intelligent signings thus far, Kieran Trippier from Burnley and Kevin Wimmer from Cologne. Neither of those players are big names, but both are young, came at a low price and played regularly for their respective squads last year. These are the kind of signings that Tottenham need to continue to make – low risk, high reward.
The other reason these were good signings is simple – defense. Despite the fact that Tottenham employs a world-class keeper in Hugo Lloris, they surrendered an astounding 53 goals this past year, tying them with Burnley as the fifth worst defensive side in the Premier League. Tottenham desperately needs to improve their defense this off-season. Wimmer and Trippier are both good additions. Trippier has a chance to start at right-back, especially if Kyle Walker makes an exit this summer, which is rumored and does seem somewhat likely, but is far from guaranteed. Wimmer will find an entry into the starting lineup a more difficult endeavor, as Dier, Younes Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen all stand in his way at center-back.
Tottenham still should add one more full-back this summer. DeAndre Yedlin is not yet ready to start every Saturday, although there is definitely potential there. The speedy Rose is their only surefire starter on either side of the defense and his play can at times leave Tottenham open to easy counter-attacks on the flank. They need to strengthen their defense around the edges, which will hopefully stabilize their central defense led by Vertonghen, their only legitimate Premier League starter in defense.
Moving up the field, their number one need, now that they have at least added two defensive backs, is a defensive midfielder. Benjamin Stambouli and Etienne Capoue are incomplete players at best. Neither can shoulder the entire brunt of the defensive midfield work, and Capoue is one of many Spurs players rumored to be on his way out. The two made a total of 24 combined appearances last year, making minimal impact. Tottenham needs to have a strong spine, and they need at least once consistent defensive midfielder to help build that spine. Besides Vertonghen, the back four will inevitably be inexperienced and prone to getting run over by some of the league’s best strikers. The best way to hide these weaknesses is to win battles in the midfield, especially in their own half.
The rest of the midfield provides more stability. Pochettino clearly believes in central midfielders Mason and Bentaleb, and reasonably so, both showed enough flashes of brilliance (or at least competence) to give the Spurs faithful hope that they can develop into an adequate central midfield battery. They have Eriksen to lead the midfield, but he cannot do the job entirely by himself. Spurs would be wise to augment him with another young creative attacking midfielder, and luckily they have one already in Alex Pritchard, who will be returning from a successful loan at Brentford. Pritchard is probably not ready to make an immediate impact, but pair him with Eriksen and give him Kane to feed the ball to and expect his ascension to occur sooner rather than later.
Finally, we arrive at the front, where we join Sir Harold of Kane himself. Enough ink has been spilled over the past season praising Kane that I will avoid doing too much of that here. Quite simply, Kane is their attack, and there does not need to be much more of a conversation than that. They can play him in a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or even a 4-3-2-1. It does not matter. He will score. Tottenham do need to add at least one more body in the front though. Andros Townsend is probably out. The less said about Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado, the better. This leaves Nacer Chadli, who can contribute, but is far from a sure thing, and the biggest wild card in North London, Erik Lamela. No player has tantalized and tormented Spurs’ faithful as much as Lamela. The mercurial winger is equal parts unbridled potential and infuriating failure. It is impossible to separate one’s personal feelings on the player from a realistic assessment of whether or not he can become a successful Premier League player. The talent is there, though, and when it shines through it is blinding. Give him some stability and make sure he stays healthy for an entire season and hope that he takes the steps forward that are necessary.
It is fitting that Lamela is a Lilywhite. There is no player in all of soccer that personifies Spurs’ current plight than Lamela – young, talented, at times brilliant, at times very obviously youthfully impetuous and foolish, full of potential and on the precipice of either great success or great failure. It is impossible to divine which way either player or team will go as we approach the coming season. What is clear for both is that now is the time for rationality in favor of rashness and for a deft hand rather than a heavy one. The white and blue side of North London has many reasons to be hopeful for the first time in a long time, and some of those reasons do not wear number 18.
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