This time last year, Tottenham were gearing up to make their biggest mistakes of the season.
While no one can doubt that Spurs were one of the most exciting of the Premier League’s teams, and that they are currently one of the most exciting young squads in Europe, last summer’s recruitment has proven a case of hits and misses.
On the one hand, Victor Wanyama has proved to be a masterstroke of a signing, especially given his relatively low price tag, but on the other, Vincent Janssen and Moussa Sissoko turned out to be a pair of £50m bench warmers.
It seems that when Spurs pay big, they end up flopping. And if Mauricio Pochettino’s team is to take that extra step and actually win the title this season, you get the feeling that this is a trend that will have to change this summer.
That’s because it will be harder this time. Spurs fans have heard that before, of course. Last summer, the pressure was ratcheted up on everyone after the arrivals of Antonio Conte, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola into the league: each of the top six clubs now had a stellar new manager. And yet that didn’t stop Spurs progressing further and even finishing ahead of all but one of those sides.
But this time, expect fireworks.
Manchester City have already signed one new player for a big money fee. And Bernardo Silva will surely only be the tip of a giant iceberg, with others expected to sign up imminently. Manchester United will surely follow, whilst Liverpool and Chelsea will both need to bolster their squads for Champions League football, having had no European competition to deal with last year.
But all of the buying surely means selling, too. And although big Premier League sides are often reluctant to pick up the leftovers discarded by their rivals after a squad overhaul, sometimes the right player could be among those offloaded; the baby having been thrown out with the bathwater.
That could happen at Manchester United.
Throughout his first season in charge, Jose Mourinho has appeared to decide that Anthony Martial is unworthy of a place in his starting XI. The young Frenchman burst onto the scene to become one of the few bright spots of the Louis van Gaal reign, but since the Portuguese coach has arrived, Martial has been sidelined. Despite the transfer fee United paid for him recently, it’s starting to look like he could be a name on the exit list.
It would be wrong to suggest that money is no object for Tottenham this summer, and as a result simply suggesting that they should go out and sign Martial is probably somewhat fanciful, certainly given that the club will want to sign other players, too. But you get the feeling that with so much interest around players like Kyle Walker and Eric Dier – players few would consider amongst the most indispensable in the Spurs setup – there certainly will be an opportunity to raise extra funds in this transfer window.
And then there’s the inescapable fact that Martial would provide exactly what Pochettino should be looking for this summer.
Martial adds pace, directness and the ability to beat players as well as being able to finish. And whilst Harry Kane brings the final attribute, few of Spurs’ attackers can boast anything like this skill set. Indeed, it’s probably one of the reasons why Spurs didn’t win the league this season.
The ability to break down stubborn defences is a quality Pochettino’s side lacked this season, especially early on. In order to do that, you usually need a plan B, offering something different. In the second half of the season, the form of Son Heung-Min helped solve this problem to a certain extent, taking some of the creative pressure off Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. They are players who play in front of the opposition defence, looking for runners up ahead. What Son provided at times – and what Moussa Sissoko never provided – was an option to be found either between the lines or on the end of through balls. That’s something that Martial can provide perfectly next season.
More importantly, though, the French international seems to fit very well into the Pochettino type of young, exciting players who can be moulded by the manager to play in a certain way. With Harry Kane now established as the Premier League’s best goalscorer (two golden boots in a row surely puts him in that category), it’s also time to look at his qualities, too. And aside from finishing, the one that stands out is his link-up play, bringing others into the attack. With Martial playing off him, and maybe coming in from a wide position, Spurs could have – theoretically – the perfect partnership.
There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion that Spurs might look to sign the Manchester United attacker this window – not yet, anyway – and there hasn’t been too much chatter since The Independent linked the two parties together back in February. But that doesn’t mean Martial wouldn’t be a top signing for the north London club.
Last summer, Pochettino put his money on the table to sign Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen in deals that didn’t work out in the end. This summer, he shouldn’t be discouraged from trying again, and if Anthony Martial is a possible signing, Spurs should do everything they can to get a man who can add something different to their attack. And if they do, a league title doesn’t look out of the question on the basis of this season’s performance.