When I was a young boy, and indeed, even into my mid-teens, I often found comical enjoyment out of Tottenham’s roster. The Lilywhites have always had a knack of supplementing a strong starting XI with a wide berth of substandard players from seemingly every corner of the globe, from the likes of Steven Carr and Jose Dominguez in the late 1990s to the Martin Jol era, in which the current Fulham boss had the inane ability to sign players whose name alone suggested incompetence, such as Hossam Ghaly and Grzegorz Rasiak to name a few that are just the tip of the ice berg.
The club’s ability to attract humorously poor Premier League treasures, such as Mido, Erik Edman and Michael Brown appeared to die out during Harry Redknapp’s tenure, in no small part due to the fact he purchased a strong contingent of White Hart Lane rejects whilst Portsmouth manager, in a bid to steer them clear of relegation. But whilst at the helm in North London, the cockney wheeler-dealer managed to shift much of the deadwood out of the club, and during his final year as Spurs gaffer, possessed a side that not only had a consistent first team but also a squad of considerable depth.
Upon the signings of Hugo Lloris, Moussa Dembele, Clint Dempsey, Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the summer, the club were further praised for having one of the best rosters throughout the Premier League in terms of widespread quality. But the true test does not come in the first few months of a new season, it comes during the business end of the campaign – where results are crucial and the injury crises have truly set in – and overall, Tottenham have not passed with flying colours as many expected.
It seems the Spurs roster is more reminiscent of a house of cards, with a few key individuals being sidelined, mainly Aaron Lennon, Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale, disrupting Andre Villas-Boas’ simple game plan of speed and width at its foundations, and the backup players failing to do the business for the Lilywhites in the Europa League.
Could it be that Tottenham have once again fallen into their age-old trap of quantity over quality, and is the deadwood piling up at White Hart Lane? Does it stand in the way of the club’s ambitions to skyrocket up the Premier League table, and will it limit their actions in the summer?
The first port of call will surely to be get rid of the epitome of the word ‘deadwood’ in Emmanuel Adebayor. Daniel Levy should have predicted that signing the Togo international on a permanent contract would only lead to a complete u-turn in form from the 17 goals and 11 assists he recorded last season, but nevertheless, the former City forward was brought in on an excessive contract, going on to prove that he in no way has the right attitude to be a professional footballer.
However, having recorded just three goals in twenty Premier League appearances, and more often than not being completely non-existent during matches, will Spurs actually be able to find a potential buyer for their lacklustre forward? He’s certainly scuppered his chances of playing at another elite European club, having failed to make the best out of his opportunities at Manchester City, Arsenal and Real Madrid, rubbing his managers, team-mates and fans up the wrong way in the process.
There have been murmurings of a return to former club AS Monaco, it seems little more than paper-talk considering Adebayor currently sits on a healthy wage package of 100k per week, which does not expire until 2015. With Spurs also light of personnel in the striker department, the 29 year old could easily slip into the background as unwanted but necessary cover, becoming White Hart Lane’s answer to Sebastian Squillaci.
Similarly, the transfers of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey have been lukewarm at best. Although both have found decent form in patches after unceremonious starts, both have failed in the ultimate test of providing cover for Lennon and Bale, neither being a like-for-like replacement, or donning the pace currently required of a Spurs winger. Similarly, neither of the two are yet to make the position as a supporting striker their own, despite possessing reliable goal records at their previous clubs. Their future at White Hart Lane, in terms of where they slot in position-wise, remains uncertain, and has been further complicated by the acquisition of Lewis Holtby – another new recruit yet to fully shine.
The English-blooded German international could be utilised further back in the Tottenham midfield, however the middle of the park is also an area where lower quality personnel are building up in the Spurs squad. Scott Parker’s tenure in North London appears to be coming to an end, having reached the age of 32, yet you would not be comfortable offering Tom Huddlestone or Jake Livermore a slot in the starting XI, or having them remain in the vision of the club’s near future, with both coming of age but still short in terms of ability of what many expected of them as youngsters.
At the back, there is also potential for a player pile-up. William Gallas is set to depart under the bosman ruling, having played a bit-part role this year and firmly amid his twilight years, but with Younes Kaboul coming back from injury next year, there will be four centre-backs capable of first team football jostling over two positions. Steven Caulker may remain silent over being knocked down the pecking order, but it seems unfair that Michael Dawson will most likely share a similar fate despite playing out of his skin this year, and with the 2014 World Cup now in sight. At least one of their careers will have to be put on the back-burner next season should they all remain at White Hart Lane.
Furthermore, there are grounds to move on both of the club’s current left-backs, with Benoit Assou-Ekotto reportedly already featuring on borrowed time, whilst Kyle Naughton has not cut the mustard having been given an opportunity to break into the first team at White Hart Lane this season. Meanwhile, Danny Rose, having been farmed out in the summer, has been exceptional for Sunderland on a season-long loan, adding further complications to the mix.
Perhaps not all of the above mentioned players can be categorised as ‘deadwood’, as although Tottenham are often thought of as one of the Premier League’s top clubs, they are yet to actually reach that level, despite the constant feeling of underachievement that appears to surround them. The likes of Tom Huddlestone and Kyle Naughton certainly have enough quality to be playing in the top half of the Premier League, and provide decent cover.
But it is still a lower level of talent in wide numbers throughout the squad that you would not find at the vast majority of Champions League teams, which is where Tottenham wish to be, and furthermore none of the players I’ve mentioned as candidates for the scrap heap have age on their side. Perhaps a summer clearout would be a step too far, and such inconsistency in the transfer market more often than not presents a risk that soon evolves into on-pitch catastrophe, but there is certainly an imbalance within the Tottenham roster which needs to be addressed.
My concern is that with wholesale changes in the summer restricted by available buyers, the business side of the game and essentially the vast amount of the Spurs squad who could be placed on the transfer list, when including those I’ve mentioned with Heurelho Gomez and David Bentley- as it would be near anarchic to move all of them on in the same transfer window – that it will not only limit inward transactions financially, but there will simply be little room for new recruits in Tottenham’s registered 25 man squad. Spurs need to be aggressive in the transfer market in the near future, in order to continue their rapid improvement and planned ascension into the top tier of European football, but the middle-of-the-road footballers, the superficial, overpaid, back up cast could soon stand in their way; just as it did during the days of mid-table mediocrity at White Hart Lane. The issue needs to be addressed quickly and competently, before the Lilywhites fall back into their old ways of quantity over quality, and we witness the second coming of Paul Stalteri.