I’ve been there before
But I’ll try it again
Any fool, any fool knows
That there’s no, no way to win
Here we go again
She’ll break my heart again
I’ll play the part again
One more time
I’ll take her back again
One more time
Ray Charles’s lament for a love who has let him down time and again is not so much aimed at the object of his desire, more a lament for his inability to let go. So here we go again, but then again, where else would I be?
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino no doubt has something more upbeat on the dressing room wall to motivate his side. Our success or failure turns on his capacity to organise and inspire the players so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As individuals, our men are in the majority of positions not as good as the squads that finished above us last season and probably the remainder of the transfer window will not compensate for that deficiency. Our opportunities, our hopes, lie in the collective, with last term’s drive and commitment with better players in some key roles allied to Pochettino’s teamwork and system.
Pochettino is a highly focussed manager, comfortable in his own skin and certain in his mind that his way is the right way, without being cocksure about it. I enjoy his outings with the media. He mumbles a few words, gives little away, then back to the training ground. He can’t be arsed but plays the game and keeps attention on the football in preference to creating a sensational backpage non-story. It’s funny: say something, anything and the media are apparently satisfied. Yesterday’s deadpanned ‘Soldado is part of our plans’ was priceless.
It’s taken a season but we have managed to jettison the ballast that was holding us back. The Magnificent 7 were going to ride into town, vanquish the reds and the Blues, and save us all. Now I think of them and see only a desolate bomb-site.
We’ve come out of it fairly unscathed, getting decent money for the deadwood, learning in the process that Sunderland last scouted Kaboul in 2011 and the Napoli coach in his own words “doesn’t know much about Chiriches” having only ever seen him for 45 minutes. It’s puzzling which 45 minutes those were because even a showreel of best bits could not have lasted more than 45 seconds, let alone minutes.
I wish Younes well, he could have been our leader but for the injuries that deprived him of pace and flexibility. I’ll miss Lennon, who will surely follow him out the door, and it will be a relief to see Soldado put out of his misery and get some sun on his back in Spain, where I hope he does well.
Given half a squad that’s so poor, given it’s taken a year to rebuild after the last rebuilding (repeat to fade), finishing 5th last season looks better and better as time passes. This is especially so as we did it without a defence worthy of the name and it’s here that Pochettino has concentrated his efforts pre-season. Alderweireld is the sort of mobile centreback with a decent touch that we need and he could bring the best from his defensive partner Jan Vertonghen, who sorely needs a kick up the backside. I’ve never seen Wimmer play but he seems to be ambitious, motivated to be at Spurs. Dier is a fine prospect with a cracking approach to the game who will only get better.
The competition at full-back is healthy. Trippier could be the making of Walker – I still hold out some hope for him and the pressure for his place could finally compel him to focus on his naïve positional play. Davies will find Rose hard to shift. All four strike me as determined and motivated.
Lloris is still here, not something I thought I would be able to write four days before the season begins, although with De Gea’s situation at United unresolved let’s not count our chickens. Major boost if he stays.
So to the problems. Pochettino will not budge from his 4-2-3-1, therefore the two and the one come under the most intense scrutiny. Fine player though he is, and even finer player though he will be become, it’s wrong to put so much pressure on Nabil Bentaleb in the defensive midfield area. Considering Dier to partner him pre-season is surely a desperate measure however willing the young man is and Mason is not really a DM. Neither is Dembele.
Up front there’s only Our Harry. ‘For the life of me I can’t work out why we haven’t bought a striker’ may as well be Tottenham On My Mind’s tagline for the number of times I’ve written it over the past five seasons. It’s beyond anger, just unfathomable.
Levy, the so-called master transfer tactician, foolishly betrayed his hand when he said he’s not prepared to pay more than £12-15m, preferably less. Everyone is after players in that price-range so it means we are going to have to wait rather than achieve Pochettino’s main aim, to begin the season with a complete squad. Coulthurst is not good enough from what I’ve seen. Kane gets a knock in the Audi whatever-nonsense and that’s that. Spurs have the lowest net transfer spend over the last 5 seasons of any team in the PL (including Bournemouth and Watford). This is long-term chronic neglect, resulting in large part from a decade of managerial churn, and not just about what happens or doesn’t happen on deadline day.
That leaves the front midfield three where we have a clutter of contenders. It’s likely there will be no newcomers unless you count Pritchard and Carroll returning from loan and of course Alli, who I am looking forward to seeing. Last year’s conundrum remains to be solved, the balance between attack and defence. Eriksen needs to be more influential more of the time, while if Lamela/Chadli/Townsend/Dembele et al attack they either need cover from others or show a greater willingness to not only run back but hold their position when we don’t have the ball. Pochettino’s system requires discipline, focus and an awareness both of team-mates and the space available that was sorely lacking from these players last time around. It’s not about the ‘distance covered’ stats, it’s about where they run, and when. These are individuals, the system works best as a unit until the final third where their skills can turn a game.
Last season’s over-achievement, finishing 5th with a limited squad, could end up being a millstone around Pochettino’s neck. If all goes according to plan, if we play good football as a team and the predominantly young squad progress both as individuals and as a unit, we could still finish lower as our competitors rebuild too and so the pressure will build.
My hope is that we stay genuine contenders, a team able to challenge and have a decent tilt at the cups. In the EL, pick a shadow squad early and drill them together for at least the away games in the group, and keep the seat prices down too.
Tottenham On My Mind will continue throughout the season, same format, too old to change now. Bear with me as some of the pieces around matches may have to wait a day or two, but they will be there, and later in the year I might need your help with a couple of things.
TOMM’s core readership is very loyal, judging by the comments, number of people who subscribe and people who have bookmarked it. My sincere thanks – the comments section is the most erudite and informed around. At the top of this new theme by the way. Couldn’t do this labour of love without you. I’ll be back on the Shelf, next to my son, for another season, and even after all these years, there’s nowhere else in the world I would rather be.
Let’s finish on a song….