Just before the last summer transfer window opened, Tottenham’s main target appeared to be Wilfried Zaha.
At Crystal Palace, under Sam Allardyce, the Ivory Coast international started to thrive, progressing into the kind of player everyone thought he’d be when he first signed for Manchester United just before the retirement of Alex Ferguson. It was only a matter of time before a bigger club came calling.
That hasn’t happened yet, but the biggest losers there have clearly been Tottenham.
Zaha was exactly what they needed. His pace would have been an important factor, as only Son Heung-Min has really provided that this season. But more important is his ability to take players on and actually beat them. This is something Spurs have simply lacked throughout their entire team. Though last night’s comeback goal from Erik Lamela might add another player of a similar stature back into the team. The Argentine hasn’t been around much of late, and certainly isn’t on top form yet, but if he does get there, he’ll be another option.
Zaha, however, was supposed to be Tottenham’s Plan B. Pochettino’s side are so good when their system works, but if there’s been a criticism of the Argentine manager so far in his time at Spurs, it’s been his ability to change games when his original plan hasn’t worked. His side can often be formulaic, relying so heavily on patterns and the attacking work they’ve done in training, but that means changing it up is difficult.
What he needed was a player who can make it up on the fly, one who can take players on and beat them himself without being confined to what was drilled into him in training.
Instead, as he was unable to get Zaha, Pochettino went for Plan C instead: Fernando Llorente.
When his side were struggling, instead of throwing on the livewire Zaha, the idea was that Pochettino would reach for the Spaniard’s aerial threat. With the likes of Christian Eriksen, Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies capable of finding him with pinpoint crosses from wide areas, that was a way of mixing it up. If you feel like your side is looking limp and one-dimensional in a particular game, you can bring on a skillful player to break things up, or you can attempt to throw in high balls. One might seem less sophisticated than the other, but both are effective ways of changing your style of play.
But it didn’t work. And just a few months later, Spurs were left looking for a similar player to Zaha. If not the Ivorian, someone else. In the end, that someone was Lucas Moura.
Perhaps this is the first time in his Tottenham tenure that Pochettino has admitted a real transfer mistake. It wasn’t so much missing out on Zaha – that can happen to any side – but it was the fact they decided to go in for a completely different player which was the mistake.
In January, that may have been rectified with the signing of Lucas. The Brazilian is a player who is capable of beating a player and creating space in an attacking situation in a way that few others in this Tottenham side can, and that will only be an asset to the team for the rest of the season. And at £25m, he could well turn out to something of a steal in this inflated market, certainly if he performs to his potential over the coming years.