Spurs Transfer Window: Progress But We Won’t Know How Much Until the Summer

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.

10 thoughts on “Spurs Transfer Window: Progress But We Won’t Know How Much Until the Summer

  1. Bang on, again, Alan. I’m not too bothered about missing out on Traore and Diaz. I’d much rather have someone who wants to play for us than someone who couldn’t care less, e.g. N’Dombele, Lo Celso and others. With Levy compressing the January transfer window into a 24-hour sliver, we too often made panic buys and purchased second or third choices, only to repent at leisure. With these newest acquisitions I’ll simply trust Toni C’s judgement – if they’re good enough for Toni then they’re good enough for me. Assuming that Dele enjoys a couple of good seasons at Everton, we should get around 30 mill for him – eventually. So when you swap Betancourt for N’Dombele and Kulu for Lo Celso plus a couple of other departures, Levy will emerge from this window potentially 30 mill to the good. Don’t forget that we have another prospect in Sarr still to arrive this summer leaving Toni to focus on building on this platform. We have a long way to go. Each time we played Chelsea I compared their team to ours and we’d struggle to get two players into their team: Kane certainly, but I’m struggling to think of another one. Even their subs bench would step into our team. But progress, certainly, and a thankful step in the right direction from those days when we allowed transfer windows to slip past us without any additions. Criminally (sic) decisions that are the root of our recent decline.

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    • Thanks for contributing David. Agree – your comments re Chelsea echo my thoughts at the time, a huge gulf between us. After I wrote this piece, the Athletic and others spoke of how surprised Conte was when he arrived at the poor state of the squad. He’s working hard to put this right, not just with new players but teamwork and shape to compensate for the quality of players, as we saw last night, in the first half especially.

      Regards, Al

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  2. How could we deteriorate so much since that summer of 2019? On the slide from Xmas 2018, we rode our ‘Glory’ and luck to get to the near-pinnacle six months later, before everything sort of ..crumbled! I remain certain much of it was due to the decline (re form, contract debacle, and eventual sale for a pittance) of Eriksen. Although, how I hope, after his health setback, he succeeds at Brentford, just as I hope Alli gets the on-field respect he deserves again, at Everton.
    Players come and go, but I’ve no doubt the knock-on effect throughout the team, with the loss of our one (world class) playmaker in Eriksen, was horrendous, the worst aspect being the wholly ‘unnecessary’ decline of Alli. How did Levy and his team, and coaches, never learn from this!! ..as our hard achieved team balance faded, with tactics becoming uncertain/inconsistent, and other players losing their mojo? Verts/Toby aging aside, there was also Walker’s premature departure, Dembele not being replaced, Rose’s moans/injuries catching up with him/us; Tripps’ dip in form (deemed permanent by Levy and many fans) absurdly resulting in him being sold in his prime, and for even less than the purchase of the disastrous Aurier! Mistake after mistake! Levy simply bought poorly from 2018/19. or didn’t buy at all, as in that key transition summer of 2018. Yes, I know the man loves Spurs and has tried hard. He brought us a wonderful stadium and training ground, later taking an awful financial hit from the ill-timed pandemic, but he took our 2015/2019 football for granted and, in his search for that elusive trophy, he made catastrophic mistakes where we couldn’t even sustain the quality of football. Poch lost vision and began talking himself out of his job soon after the CL Final, but he still had enough ‘in the bank’ to regroup and continue (with Levy’s backing, rather than knee jerk sacking). Mourinho meanwhile proved to have no idea, the guaranteed ‘trophy bringer’ fixating (after a promising start) on playing to our defensive weaknesses, rather than our attacking strengths; even against mid and lower PL opposition which grew emboldened in matches because of the ‘chosen one’s’ negative tactics in attempting (unsuccessfully) to sit back on 1-0 leads. Genuinely, Xmas 2020 to April 2021 was some of the most horrible football I’ve witnessed Spurs play (and I’ve seen a lot since the early 1960s) and in complete contrast to some of the ‘best’ I’d seen just two/three years before! Levy had screwed up in 2013 with awful purchases (Eriksen apart) from the Bale proceeds, but even with the loss of two world class players in successive seasons (Bale and Modric, who admittedly wanted to go), the lesson of ‘planning ahead’ was never learned when we DID somehow end up with a beautifully balanced side. We got lucky with Kane and Alli who cost us ‘nothing’ ..and, along with Eriksen, they soon each hit the £100m+ world class bracket. Eriksen’s situation and/or replacement should have been prioritised long before his departure, and certainly above most signings since, eg DMs, central midfielders, full/wing backs, centre backs, wingers et al.. Incredible isn’t it? A playmaker in the mould of all our greats ..never replaced! And a decent striker to cover and/or play with Kane, never bought or developed! Our once four brilliant full/wing backs (a system Conte apparently prefers over a central playmaker, even though we thrived on all parts of the pitch back then) were also never replaced properly. I mean, Reguilon is developing and Davies is still OK, if no longer brilliant, but Emerson/Doherty/Aurier or even Tanganga?? Best of luck with that preference over central attacking ‘creativity’, Conte. I think we’ve all see the useless crosses and dithering in defence. It’s all too much. too wasteful and too sad, and now Alli’s finally been driven out! Levy, his post Poch coaches, and even players like Kane (who should have demanded investment in a top playmaker, both for him, Alli and other players) should have seen all this coming. And stupid punters, who never understood what made Tottenham tick between 2015 and 2019 anyway, could never answer on TV or radio why Alli had faded from sight. Well, he faded because he was a unique player who (like the great John White, and even Martin Peters) was often ahead, imaginatively, of his teammates, but who sometimes looked out of sync with them. Because he was a man who NEEDED to play in front of an Eriksen type, and just off the shoulder of a Kane, but who could also create and score himself, as well as making space for himself and those around him. Just because he couldn’t always adjust to different, more boring and negative systems/tactics, or play his best in matches where a second string had been cobbled together (like Europa Conference/League Cup etc.) with inferior players not used to his wavelength, or to the sheer hard work of getting up and down the pitch as a winger or central midfielder, did not make him less of the player he was. He was a genius, and (despite his personal problems after 2018, combined with all I’ve said) he didn’t deserve this. Didn’t he play well against Liverpool when he got his chance recently? ..or am I imagining it? We let him down, not the other way around, and what could have been for Spurs after the CL Final seems to be receding by the each transfer window. Oh well, we have yet another DM and winger who’ve joined our squad, while our wait for another playmaker and striker goes on and on and on. Either way, we won’t find another Alli! Players come and go, yes, but just a small few, especially with so much left to give, makes it very painful.

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    • Thanks as always, you should really write stuff about Spurs of your own, my friend. Agree about Dele – sad he’s gone and sad, how we could and should have made so much more of his phenomenal talent. Wasted opportunities a theme of Spurs in recent years, I’m sad to say. I hope he prospers.

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  3. Very thought provoking, thank you. Much is being made of the midfield clear out but Ndombele and Lo Celso are loans with no obligation to buy and I suspect at least one of them will become our problem again quite soon.

    What is the point of loading Gil to a Spanish club? I would prefer him to have been loaned to Burnley.

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    • Thanks. Know what you mean but Gil was always one for the future. It could be an expensive investment that won’t pay off. He would not want to go to, say, Burnley, and frankly I doubt if Prem teams would give him any game time. Maybe in a year or two, but suspect Conte does not have him in his plans.

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  4. Always good to read your reasoned comments, Alan. If I could pick just one of them to highlight it would be this:

    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.

    I observe a lot of anger and hate from many Spurs fans online. I don’t want to be part of that. We all need to understand where we are and who we are before we can plan where we are going. We’ve moved from a regular spot in mid-table to now regarding 7th as failure. We played Champions League four years in a row then slipped a bit. We’ll be back.

    It’s overwhelmingly sad to see Dele moving on but here was no room for him in the team any more. It was in his best interests as well as the Club. I felt the same way when Aaron Lennon left. He went to Everton, too.

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  5. I think we have the chance to get back, although our best opportunity went with Poch. As you know, I engage on twitter but to survive, I let the extreme reactions go over my head. It’s not just Spurs – so many fans seem to think that buying x number of players and getting this or that manager means instant success. A slow and sometimes painful build is the only way.

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