The international transfer window is only into its second week and a significant chunk of Tottenham Hotspur fans are already in meltdown over the club’s limited activity in the market, especially when compared to their divisional rivals.
At first glance, the frustration is understandable; whilst the Lilywhites are just one of two Premier League clubs yet to make any signings – in fact, their only business thus far has been one loan deal and one release on the outward front – Arsenal and Liverpool have set new club-record transfer fees, Manchester United have splashed out £75million on Romelu Lukaku, Manchester City sealed two signings pre-July and Everton have shelled out the best part of £100million on seven players.
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They say standing still means going backwards in the Premier League and while Tottenham appear to be stuck in neutral, the five clubs that finished directly below them last season are all strengthening, in many cases bringing in new recruits in time for pre-season to maximise their chances of bedding in. Tottenham’s training for the coming campaign started last Monday.
Yet, those Spurs fans cursing Daniel Levy daily on Twitter need a reality check. There’s still over six weeks to get business done and although Spurs have more than kept up on the pitch in recent seasons, they still don’t have the finance to compete with some of the aforementioned clubs in the transfer market – especially amid the rebuilding of White Hart Lane.
In fact, the last time the Lilywhites tried to, they wasted their profits from Gareth Bale’s move to Real Madrid with a raft of underwhelming acquisitions. And when you don’t have the finance to compete, you more often than not have to wait your turn in the summer, letting other big deals go ahead until the players you’re after become freed up and cheaper. That’s simply the way the world works.
Furthermore, as Spurs fans will know, this is nothing unusual from Levy. Over the last five summers, Tottenham have signed just three of 30 players before the start of July and just eight before the second week of July.
Yet, in that time, the north Londoners have risen from a fifth-place finish to being the Premier League’s incumbent runners-up. Clearly, signing late in the window as a strategy – although an understandable annoyance for fans watching rival clubs move quickly – isn’t as detrimental to Tottenham’s successes as widely believed.
Of course, the majority of that rise has taken place under Mauricio Pochettino, largely through his investment in young players and ability to revolutionise those he inherited from Andre Villas-Boas via Tim Sherwood. But that also highlights exactly why Tottenham don’t need to be the Premier League’s most proactive club or biggest spenders this summer; as we saw from 2015/16 to 2016/17, Spurs’ young cohort are naturally improving at an impressive rate.
Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen all jumped up a level last season and there’s no reason they won’t again next term; if anything, benefitting from the familiarity they have as an attacking trio and their continually increasing experience in the Premier League.
The same can be said for Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld as well – centre-back partnerships tend to get better the longer they’re in tact – not to mention Danny Rose and Kyle Walker who are now into their peak years. Provided they stay fit, we could well see the best campaigns yet from Spurs’ philosophy-defining full-backs in 2017/18.
And that natural improvement begs another question – what positions can Tottenham actually strengthen? Their backline is the envy of practically every Premier League club, conceding the fewest goals in the division last season whilst making huge contributions on the ball, Hugo Lloris and Kane are easily amongst Europe’s best at their respective ends of the spine, Eriksen’s just come to the end of his best season to date in England and Alli is at a different level altogether.
Likewise, was there a more dominant midfield two in the Premier League last season than Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama? They even demolished Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic during the 2-0 win at White Hart Lane in January.
Of course, no team is perfect and Tottenham would benefit from additions here and there, giving Pochettino different options in certain departments. A playmaking central midfielder who can thread through double banks of four would be a welcome bonus, as would an attacker who can provide width and speed going forward.
With Kevin Wimmer struggling to make his mark, another option at centre-back who is well acclimatised to operating in a back three would be a useful weapon in Pochettino’s armoury for next season as well.
But all of those are very much bench additions, players who will come in and out of the side for certain games, and being offered a bit-part role is never an easy sell for potential signings.
It’s logical that players of good quality will want to wait until the end of the transfer window and assess their options before committing to a club where they’ll have to disrupt a well-oiled, finely balanced starting XI to have any chance of playing week-in, week-out. In fact, waiting until later in the transfer window actually gives Tottenham a bigger chance of attracting quality for those roles, rather than moving for younger, lesser proven players early in the summer.
And considering how young Tottenham’s squad is – academy products like Harry Winks, Josho Onomah and Cameron Carter-Vickers are likely to be used even more next season – it could even be argued the Lilywhites don’t really need to make any signings this summer at all.
Of course, a top-class talent would be well-received, but it could also disrupt what is proving to be an incredibly effective and balanced team, whilst some of those aforementioned bench roles could well be taken up by Tottenham’s impressive batch of youth players – Pochettino is one of the best in the business when it comes to turning potential into first-team quality.
No doubt, that wouldn’t go down well with the fans lamenting Levy and co. on social media. But that in itself highlights how populist, short-sighted and sensationalist the Premier League has become. Fans want buying for the sake of buying these days, even when the international transfer window is less than a fortnight in – and in Tottenham’s case, even when their starting XI has no areas requiring obvious improvement.