This is Conte’s time. Levy and Paratici are self-evidently key figures at Tottenham but this window was about a solitary imperative – give Conte the squad he wants. As to whether Spurs have been successful, only he knows the answer. He said a while ago that we can’t make a final judgement until the summer window is over, but the stakes are high. He can get to work with what he has right now, but summer will overnight turn to a dark winter if he’s not happy and walks.
Welcome Kulusevski and Bentancur, two useful additions to the squad. They bring considerable experience for players who are relatively young and will welcome the chance to develop under Conte’s wise tutelage. Reports suggest they are both willing to adapt to a manager’s style of play, and those same reports suggest these are players Conte is happy to work with. Kulusevski’s flexibility is significant in a squad that still lacks real alternatives in places. They should slot in relatively easily. I’m all for developing players but right now, we need men able to meet the demands of the Premier League straight away.
Staying positive, we now have cover in every position bar central striker. That’s a big but, and I remain incredulous that Spurs have left the side so vulnerable to an injury to Harry for so long. However, Conte can do something with a permutation of Son, Kulusevski, Bergwijn and Moura if the unthinkable happens. He has no choice.
Whether this cover is good enough is another matter. Spurs have a competitive first 15 or 16, essentially Conte knows his best team. However, it’s clear to everyone, including Emerson and Doherty, that he’s not content with right wing back options, Rodon hasn’t had a look in, Sanchez has bucked up but is still wanting, and while I can see a real player waiting to emerge, against Chelsea Sessegnon looked like a boy playing in a man’s game.
Conte has a proven track record in getting the most from his squad, and it’s here that ther are grounds for optimism. The two newcomers will not only bring something extra, they could bring more from the players we already have, plus we have the huge positive of the return of Romero, which feels almost like a new signing. For instance, on the right Kulusevski should be able to both protect that flank when we don’t have the ball and as a left-footer readily step inside in attack, giving space for the RWB to advance. Also, Romero on the right of a three adds to defensive solidity, thereby also giving the RWB more confidence when he makes the decision to go forward or stay back, part of the art of the wing-back. Both Doherty and Emerson will benefit from that, Doherty in particular who is more effective if he has freedom to advance, as he showed against Leicester. He looked better at Wolves because he could rely on their back three.
Also, Dier for all his limitations is becoming the central figure and organiser in defence who other defenders can play around. Sanchez certainly looks better with Dier close to his left shoulder. Again, players improve if they can be sure about what is going on outside their eyeline. Up front, Bergwijn has rediscovered who he is and what he can contribute.
Similarly, while we’re short of lock-picking tight-spot creativity in midfield (the very best of luck at Brentford, Christian Eriksen, the best news of the week), Bentancur could enable others to be the best they can be. Skipp will have more freedom to get forward, a role Conte has encouraged of late. Winks is not a natural defensive-mid. His strengths lie in being available and circulating the ball, plus he has a decent forward pass, he does you know. I don’t subscribe to the negativity around Hojbjerg, a good player who will be better if he didn’t feel compelled to be two players at once, running around like a Tasmanian devil chasing Yosemite Sam, and instead had the security of knowing that if he misses a tackle, there’s something and someone behind him.
Staying with Conte, as if it’s not all about him as it is, this has been a great window for sorting out the players he doesn’t want, as important a move as any incoming transfer. Spurs are not going make more of Lo Celso, Dele and N’dombele. It’s a risk, dispensing with such creative potential, but for different reasons they just don’t cut it. Everyone is now pulling together and can work within Conte’s approach, both in terms of tactics and motivation. The outpouring of joy around 95:30 at Leicester felt like something was shifting, something good, with fans and players as one in their jubilation.
And significantly, if we’re looking for signs that things are changing at Spurs, Conte and Paratici have persuaded Levy to take the hit on these players. The notion of Levy as the ace dealmaker is a decade or so out of date. When he could use Spurs’ power in the market as leverage, it worked, until sides especially those in the Premier League realised they were wealthy enough to stare him down, revealing that he had nothing up his sleeve. Now, he’s accepted the losses, taking a realistic view on loan fees to soften the blow. Perhaps the Dele deal is a sign of a developed grasp of the modern market, low up front money to enable Everton to make the deal happen with bigger figures to come if he plays regularly, as surely he will.
Levy’s shallow understanding of the game, even after 20 years of running a football club, created a legacy of missed opportunities and misguided senior appointments, culminating if that is the right expression in the era-defining decision not to fully back Pochettino in the transfer market when Spurs were at their peak. Appointing his successor was another gross error.
Spurs’ owners stand alone amongst top clubs in not putting any of their own money into their club. That won’t change, but other aspects of his approach have. Money for transfers and wages has been available. It’s been largely wasted because of the managerial churn. N’dombele and Lo Celso have been failures, I don’t know how things might have turned out but players catch the eye of one manager, Poch in the case of this duo, his successor in the case of Emerson and Doherty, only for the next man to not rate them. I would dearly like to see the scouting report on Tanguy. What do we know about players’ self-motivation and resilience before we buy them? How can that be assessed? Is it seen as important? Because it should be, it can make difference between success and failure.
Paratici came as the guy with the contacts who could change everything, working within a limited budget to find gems for the manager to polish. So how’s he doing? For this window, we lost out on Traore and Diaz. Of course we will, it’s Barca, it’s Liverpool. Diaz appears to be an opportunistic deal rather than part of a plan, as he and Son have very similar styles. Fair enough, we offered similar wages and fee, can’t complain.
If Paratici is to be effective, his work has to be part of a longer term strategy, and the jury’s out til summer on this one. Kulusevski and Bentancur are good deals in terms of ability, fee, improving the squad and offering potential for the future. Also, presumably Paratici played a key role in those outgoing deals. It’s just that this ace fixer and broker has brought players from his old club and nowhere else this window. Granted January is the hardest time but there’s nothing else around, no other bargains in Europe, nothing to bolster the squad up front and at RWB…where his manager asked for reinforcements… Also, the Bergwijn to Ajax deal feel through because they offered three million Euros under Levy’s valuation, but Conte has said he wants to keep him, so why in that case are we even thinking of selling him? That doesn’t seem like joined up thinking.
We’ll see come the summer but as yet I’m not convinced we have that strategy in place. For a club like Spurs, that’s essential if we are to compete. We, and by we I mean club staff and fans, have to take on board a realistic perception of our place in the football firmament. We aren’t in the Champions League, not in Europe at all any more, we don’t pay ludicrous wages or inflated transfer fees.
This is realism not negativity. Build and take the chance to improve, as we have achieved before. Find the right blend, bring on younger players in the background and bring them when they are ready, upgrade over a period of time rather than in one giant thunderclap of transfer turbulence. That’s why Paratici’s role is vital, to find the right players. Get it right and maybe he’ll keep Conte happy, or better still, simply keep Conte.
And as a postscript farewell Dele. Players come and go, and the gap between fan and club has widened again in the last couple of years, but in Dele’s golden years, he pulled us closer. Dele epitomised the new Tottenham, Poch’s Tottenham, full of hope and flair, ambitious and fearless. We roared his song pre-game when the stadium opened, because it meant something about our Spurs. Young, daring, take them all on, all achieved without spending beyond our means.
When the ball came near to him, anticipation crackled in the air. The goal at Palace was wonderful, I adored the first-time touch at Arsenal, the Chelsea goals on the end of Eriksen’s passes, rocking European nights at Wembley as he casually matched Europe’s best, the most sublime two metre pass at Ajax. Tottenham aren’t the same any longer and neither is Dele. Sad that he’s gone, sadder still that his spark and strut have been extinguished. I hope he finds himself again, I miss him so.