While it seems all but guaranteed that Tottenham Hotspur supporters will be treated to their club’s perennial last minute showing in the transfer window, the early January swoop for Schalke’s Lewis Holtby offered a refreshing change in philosophy.
Alongside the signing of Standard Liege’s Ezekiel Fryers, the club’s decision to tie up Holtby on a pre-contract agreement at the start of the month saw them ditch the usual stalling and brinkmanship for a swift and enterprising outlook in the January window.
For a set of supporters perhaps a little weary in some quarters of the endless sagas and draining soap operas that usually tend to overshadow their transfer business, they were understandably delighted to get Holtby snapped up barely a week into January.
Yet unfortunately for fans, Holtby’s capture only preceded another transfer soap opera at White Hart Lane. Or to put it a little more bluntly, a battle to make the German midfielder’s switch stick six months earlier.
The common joke swirling around supporters at the minute is that only Spurs could manage to be linked with a player that they’d already signed and the irony of the club trying to pay money for someone that had agreed to join on a Bosman isn’t lost with the Tottenham faithful.
The notion that Holtby wouldn’t be set to cost Spurs a penny is of course a little untrue, with Schalke due a certain amount of Fifa-mandated training compensation given his age. Yet that fee isn’t likely to come close to the reported €2million that the German club’s general manager Horst Heldt, is rumoured to be holding out for to part with the player’s services this month.
As of yet, a deal to take Holtby to North London ahead of schedule is yet to be brokered, although the general school of thought is that the two clubs will agree a fee sooner rather than later. But should the former Mainz-loanee not arrive at White Hart Lane in the next seven days, would it necessarily be the end of the world for either club or player?
In terms of their transfer market priority, Tottenham’s threadbare forward line is in far more urgent need of attention than their spectrum of options in midfield.
Emmanuel Adebayor’s current participation in the African Cup of Nations has left Andre Villas-Boas’ side with only Jermain Defoe as an out-and-put striker in N17. Anything in the way of a long-term injury to the England man and Villas-Boas is left with only Clint Dempsey resembling anything in the way of a potential centre forward. Furthermore, even if Togo crash out to an early exit in South Africa this month, Adebayor will be returning with just the two Premier League goals to his name all season.
Although Tottenham’s woes up the top end of the pitch don’t necessarily sweep the issues they’ve experienced in the engine room under the carpet, either. Sandro’s injury has represented a bitter blow to the Lilywhites’ season and a lack of creativity in the final third has seen them plagued by an inability to break down sides set out simply to stifle the side. An attacking outlet by nature, Holtby has the tools to unlock defenses but such is his versatility in midfield, he also offers a viable option to keep possession in a slightly deeper role, too.
Bringing Holtby in this month seems to make perfect sense should he instantly start replicating the form that he’s been producing in the Bundesliga this season. Yet for however perfect Holtby’s arrival this month seems on paper, it’s by no means an absolute banker for immediate success.
Because while a failure to bring in any form of midfield reinforcement would resemble something of a curse, leaving Holtby’s arrival to its current itinerary could end up becoming a blessing.
His current plans to join the club right at the start of next season, gives him the perfect road map to blend in with his new surroundings and allows him the best possible chance of success within this league. No amount of preparation can substitute for game time when adapting from a different league, but giving Holtby a full pre-season with his new club and the new teammates offers the smoothest route into English football.
It might not seem much, but for however small the issues that a summer arrival might eradicate in comparison to an imminent move to London, Holtby’s talent demands it. This is a player that could potentially form the axis of a Spurs side for Villas-Boas to build around for many years to come. He should only be brought in if it’s both right for the player and right for the club – not as a cheap and convenient stopgap to plug the side’s short-term problems.
This isn’t to say that if Holtby signs this month, he doesn’t have what it takes to make an instant impression within the Premier League. While at only 22 he has plenty of scope to develop even further as a footballer, this isn’t some unproven youth entity we’re talking about here. He’s a gifted midfielder that’s already proven his capability to play within the Champions League and despite his age, Villas-Boas isn’t going to be handling him with kid’s gloves.
Yet ultimately, the club must ensure that they’re purchasing him for the right reasons and not simply because he will prove a cost-effective option. Tottenham have pulled off a huge coup to acquire a player of such youth and already esteemed quality. Throwing him at the deep end mid-way through the Premier League season doesn’t come without its risks – let’s hope it’ll be one worth taking.