Discovering the strategy at Spurs is rather like the search for the Lost Ark, an exciting, mysterious and ultimately futile endeavour chasing something that exists only in the minds of hopeful devotees. When it comes to casting Daniel Levy, Harrison Ford is likely to pass on the role of a lifetime.
But like those pilgrims, despite decades of evidence to the contrary the idea provides me with some crumbs of comfort. Supporters all over the world, proud history, multi-million pound business, I cling to the notion that the board have some ideas about where the club is going.
Not a lot to ask really. Not even mentioned big money signings, top four or, perish the thought, actually winning something. But apparently, it is. I’ve repeatedly returned to this theme throughout the life of Tottenham On My Mind because I’ve never found a satisfactory answer.
This is important for supporters, who will put up with a lot and pay up too if there is something to look forward to, if we are working towards something better than we have at any given moment.
There are variations on this theme. Many would say, with some justification, that Levy doesn’t know what he’s doing, that he takes decisions on the hoof and most of them are lousy. Another suggests Levy does have a plan, it’s just that it’s rubbish. Whatever your refrain, one phrase crops up all the time: “On the cheap…”.
History shows his poor judgement in terms of 2 fundamentals, picking the right manager and supporting him consistently. All this in a context where Levy wants success based on the development of upwardly mobile players, usually bought with some experience and nurtured rather than home-grown, as opposed to investing big money on players. Everyone would agree that whatever he’s up to, it hasn’t worked.
If that’s the plan, fair enough. It underestimates the investment required but the real problem is Levy’s unwillingness to provide the consistency and continuity essential to this strategy. He builds his house then tunnels away at the foundations. As the dust settles on the January transfer window, another strategy emerges from the ruins. The real question is, are Spurs moving in the right direction or is Levy condemned to making the same mistakes?
The significant signings of this window will appear on the pitch only if Paul Coyte interviews them at half-time. The arrival of Paul Mitchell as talent spotter (he will have some management gibberish title to burnish his CV but that’s what he does) has been followed by Rob McKenzie, a highly regarded youth specialist from Leicester City. Mitchell comes from Southampton and is seen as Pochettino’s choice, the clearest sign yet that the Argentinian is here to stay, at least for a while. Levy’s form with new managers is to wait for them to prove themselves before investing heavily in players, an unhelpfully unsupportive message in my view but Pochettino has been rewarded for keeping his head down and making do with what he’s got.
On his record so far, he deserves that backing. He has done an excellent job to bring on Kane, Mason and Bentaleb and to bring the best from Eriksen. These young players have become leaders, showing the more experienced members of the squad what it takes to be a Spur. In the process, they’ve lifted the fans from early season gloom. Spurs play attractive football with a core of young men from the youth set-up. These are our own and it feels good to be a part of it.
Without putting a dampener on all this justified optimism, we’ve been here before. Spurs’ history under Levy is best characterised not by our managers, even if we could remember them all there have been so many, but by our Directors of Football. Arnesen began the policy of buying for the future. No matter that we now sneer at the likes of Atouba or Zeigler, they did a job for a while then we gradually upgraded. Also, even if you see them as failures, vitally they didn’t cost much.
Under Comolli, same policy only a notch or three up in class. Modric and Berbatov cost about 16m and 10m respectively but they had room to grow, as did others. And then there was Bale. Shame about Bentley but you can’t have everything.
Baldini used Bale’s cash to buy silk that turned out to be schmutter. Soldado can’t score, Paulinho can’t smile, Lamela a talent still to mature in the PL but at least with him there’s hope. We’ll never have such an opportunity again but he is still around, presumably doing something over than sitting next to Levy in the director’s box. Looking improbably suave is a worthy achievement but not on the job description. Levy allowed Comolli to undermine his manager: on no account should Baldini’s continued presence mean that this will happen again.
To new signing Dele Alli, an apology. He’s already been saddled with the “wonderkid” tag even before he signed. He’s not a superhero. No doubt his failure to leap tall buildings in a single bound will lead him to be labelled a failure after the first pre-season friendly this summer. He’s a highly promising young player who has prospered amidst the hard graft of Division 1 and frankly I’d rather have that than a “wonderkid”, whatever that is. Football is littered with the ghosts of players who were stars at 16. You will recall John Bostock, a fine player at that age who made two mistakes. One, he had an agent at 14, two, he believed the agent’s hype. Don’t read the papers, get kicked around in the mud of the lower leagues and you shall be a man my son.
Edit: since publishing I’ve read Lyall Thomas’s article who notes Mitchell worked with Alli at MK Dons and recommended signing him.
Pochettino’s Spurs are getting a good reputation all of a sudden for bringing on our own. In a competitive market that will count for something. Once again Kane, Mason and Bentaleb show the way. So as supporters, let’s learn from them – give them time and don’t expect too much too soon.
But no new striker. The sword of Damocles hangs over every match. An injury to Kane and we are in deep schtuk. This problem goes way back – the failure over many years to buy quality strikers is scandalous and once again we are left woefully short. January is not the time to buy the right man – this problem should have been fixed in the summer.
As I have said before, hold back on the Adebayor criticism because he has a role to play for us this season. In any event, no excuse in the world for booing him. All this talk of Spurs not selling/loaning to West Ham out of spite is all hot air. Levy was quite right to refuse the deal – why bolster the chances of one of our biggest rivals?
Very best wishes to Aaron Lennon, a player we stole from Leeds. Whatever your opinion of him, he cost £1m and we got some value there. I loved to see his little legs dashing along at high speed. Always saw them as a blur, like the Roadrunner. And oh how he frustrated – if only his final ball could consistently match his pace.
I’ll remember him fondly. A man out of time, he is a winger in an era full of wide men who are multi-skilled, who tackle back, who ‘do a job’. Azza adapted but remained a guy who did just one job well. “Run at ‘em, take them on!”. And in the San Siro for Crouch’s epic winner, Arsenal at home amid delirium, at their place for 4-4, that’s just what he did. Four years on, nobody left from that San Siro team, he was the last. Thank you and good luck.