Now, perhaps more than ever, the Tottenham Hotspur squad is a work in progress. It’s frustrating to have to admit, but that’s the long and short of the matter in hand. With another summer transfer window opening its rumour ridden floodgates again today, now is as good of a time as any to assess the players currently on the books, and decide on which players should be kept, and which players should be sold.
You should notice a few patterns emerging across the analysis, the main one perhaps being that none of the players acquired last summer are being written off. The reason being, upon arrival, those players will have been sold a project at the club involving André Villas-Boas and a certain style of football. That was thrown out of the window within months. Additionally, most of those players had other circumstances, both professionally and personally, which effected their integration and performance. It would, in my opinion, be grossly unfair to judge them on a season that can at best be described as ‘turbulent’.
Using a fairly self-explanatory chart and scale (created over a month ago) ranging from ‘keep at all costs’ to the wonderfully blunt ‘for sale’, here’s what we think is a rough idea of how Tottenham’s summer business might be shaping up to look like.
Keep At All Costs
Hugo Lloris - Quite possibly the most important member of the squad, Hugo Lloris has made himself both undroppable and damn near irreplaceable since joining the club. The number one shirt has now been vacated at the club, and there’s no finer man to inherit it. It is both imperative and an express priority that he remains at the club for as long as possible. Quite simply one of the best goalkeepers currently playing the game anywhere in the world, and that’s far from an overstatement.
Jan Vertonghen - Amateur body language analysts on Twitter will tell you how much Vertonghen doesn’t care about the club or his defensive responsibilities when playing. That, however, is far from conclusive, no matter how many times it’s tweeted. When played regularly in his favoured position in the heart of the defence, we’ve seen Vertonghen at his best, impossible to beat and fantastic on his feet. A threat from set-pieces, excellent bringing the ball out of defence and a reluctant choice at left-back, he’s still an incredible asset to have.
Vlad Chiricheș - Young and exciting, Chiricheș reminds me of Younes Kaboul when he first joined the club for his first spell many moons ago. Occasionally suspect due to failure to concentrate and over- exuberance when joining the attack, these are all traits that will be honed and improved as he learns his trade in defence. A rough diamond, and one that could well be exceptional given the correct attention, Chiricheș is captain of his country at 24 and a player we need to be far more patient with the development of. He has everything he needs to be a top class central defender.
Kyle Walker - After a poor season in 2012/13, we saw Kyle Walker getting back to somewhere like his best this season, which was an extremely welcome sight. Unfortunately injured towards then end of the season, meaning he missed yet again another international tournament with England in which he would have been favourite to start, Walker was one of Tottenham’s better and more consistent performers in 2013/14, showing much better awareness defensively and an attacking impetus and forward outlet down the right that was often lacking without him. Fingers crossed he grows again and goes from strength to strength again next season.
Sandro - Plagued by several serious injuries and bafflingly marginalised by Tim Sherwood, he remains the most natural defensively minded midfielder in the squad and an indispensable presence. His off-field antics may well endear him to us, but his form on it is what first brought him to our attention. Fantastic in the first midfield band at regaining possession and breaking down opposition attacks, his role is one of the most important in the modern game. His injury proneness is a definite worry, but he’s still young enough to overcome that particularly trait and return to being the raging bull we know and love. Rumours of his imminent departure don’t sit well in the slightest, and it could be a sale we’ll come to regret in the near future if that does somehow come to pass.
Christian Eriksen - Without question the most successful summer signing we made this time last year, Eriksen has made the Tottenham attack his own, slotting in and adjusting almost instantaniously to the pace of his new side and league. Frighteningly effective from the dead ball, wonderfully creative in open play and a more than welcome tendency to pop up with a goal every now and then himself, Eriksen swept the board with the clubs’ end of season awards. There is a slight worry that Eriksen may struggle under the pressing intensity of Pochettino’s system in a similar fashion to what Gastón Ramírez at Southampton did, but all fingers and toes are crossed that he picks up where he left off from next season.
Erik Lamela - Anyone who expected Erik Lamela to have walked in to the club at 21 years old and immediately filled the shoes left by Gareth Bale was showing signs of borderline delusion. That said, however, nobody was expecting him to have such little impact, either. He was unfortunately mismanaged and oddly used - when poorer sides came to White Hart Lane, he was left on the bench, but when we travelled to the Etihad against an in-form City side, he was inexplicably started. Now with a summer of fitness training behind him, a full pre-season with a manger who will give the side an identity again, a settled environment in London with his family and deeper understanding of English and the Premier League, we may finally get to see the player we paid all of that money for.
Roberto Soldado - At the start of the season, Soldado was victim to the side playing indecisive football around the box, which is where he was bought to operate. Goals dried up, confidence drained and he soon lost some of the bite he was known and loved for as Valencia captain. Around the same time his first team place was being directly and publicly threatened, his wife sadly had a miscarriage, and we saw a shell of the man that had been knocking in penalties for fun at the start of the season. However, he never stopped fighting. He ran channels, he ducked in behind defences and argued with referees in a language he’s not yet comfortable enough speaking in to be interviewed on camera. He continuously tried his best, and one of the moments of the season was his celebration against Cardiff after scoring. This season has been difficult for Soldado both on and off the field, professionally and personally, but there’s nothing to suggest renewed confidence next season under a new manager won’t unleash the player he’s shown the potential of being in a Tottenham shirt.
Younès Kaboul - Once captain, once defensive rock and once undroppable, but the past season or two have been extremely difficult for Kaboul and his fitness. Repeat injuries, continued set-backs and more hours spent in rehabilitation than training, there were shades of Ledley King about his situation and even rumours surrounding the chronic nature of his knee problems. However, last season he came back and showed flashes of being able to return to the level he once operated at. Obviously rusty, and directly responsible for a couple of goals conceded, Kaboul’s comeback has been far from easy or ideal. That said, however, a pre-season working on his fitness and the ability to perhaps rotate more often with centre-backs of a similar level, there is still more than enough room for him in the squad.
Paulinho - Much derided, much criticised and flavour of the month on Twitter to be hung drawn and quartered, it’s fair to say Paulinho hasn’t set the world alight since joining the club. However, it must be remembered and taken in to account the obscene amount of football the man has had to play over the past couple of years, with his only breaks coming when injured, which is hardly time he’s taken for a spa holiday and rest and recuperation. A full season in Brazil and campaign in the Copa Libertadores followed by the Confederations Cup was his preparation for his first full season in the Premier League and Europa League. During his best run in the side, and specifically his best game, in which he was waltzing through Stoke at home with the Brazilian flair we’d only seen in fits and starts until that point, he was sized up and chopped down by Charlie Adam in disgusting fashion, halting his form yet again. There is still a fantastic player in there somewhere, and we’d be wise to give him time to show it.
Mousa Dembélé - A player who is great in any number of positions without yet showing which he’s most comfortable in, Dembélé is somewhat of an enigma. Shifted from a forward to a number ten, and then deeper still in to central midfield at Fulham before settling at Tottenham as more of a deeper lying playmaker, there is a threat of him becoming jack of all trades but master of none. However, we still need a player like Dembélé at times in our midfield, his ability to carry the ball forward whilst still being capable defensively saw him and Sandro combine in one of the best midfield bands in the league when he first joined the club. Pochettino comes advertised as being able to improve players and make them exponentially better, so if he works with Dembélé and makes him more effective when passing and more urgent in transition, we may well finally see the best of him yet.
Étienne Capoue - During the first few games of the season whilst Sandro was injured, Capoue played the defensive midfield role fantastically, and was a major factor in just how well we defended in those handful of games at the start of the year. Away at Arsenal, however, he was challenged recklessly and badly injured after having another fantastic match, and we didn’t see him play again for some time. Rusty upon his return, visibly unfit and reluctantly played by Sherwood who decided against the use of defensive midfielders, he ended the season in the opposite fashion to how he started it. His role in the squad though remains essential, as we desperately need two natural defensive midfielders in order to rotate them effective throughout the season across four different competitions, keeping them as fit as possible.
Lewis Holtby - Holtby started last season wonderfully, playing extremely well across the cup competitions in a free-role around the ten position, picking up a couple of goals and creating plenty more. However, come Sherwood’s appointment, he was deemed surplus to requirements, and joined Fulham on loan for the rest of the campaign. He was instrumental in Fulham’s attacks immediately after joining and remained so until the appointment of Felix Magath, who already held negative opinions of Holtby from previous encounters in German football. He is a rare breed in the modern game; extremely passionate, fiercely competitive and tireless in both attack and defence for as long as his legs can carry him. With the option of moving him deeper rather than playing him as a ten one he promotes, and his style of play in line with what Pochettino may require from his players, Holtby could have a big future at the club yet.
Gylfi Sigurðsson - Frustratingly slow but technically gifted, defensively questionable but reliable in front of goal, Sigurðsson divides opinion almost 50/50. He’s scored some fantastic goals while at the club, and some important ones too, but hasn’t shown anywhere near enough to be considered as the starting number ten over some of the other players at our disposal. This has meant he’s been shifted wider, often playing as an inside forward from the left, which comes with its own set of defensive drawbacks. He’s operated effectively through the middle in a three-man midfield, which could be his longer-term future at the club. His utility player status is why I’d want to be selfish and keep him, with no real intent of ever starting him, but he may well want a move to further his career.
Nacer Chadli - On the odd occasion Paulinho isn’t the butt of some bandwagon driven joke, it’s usually Nacer Chadli in his place. He started the season injured, meaning we rarely got to see him play in the opening weeks, and his transition in to a new team was already disturbed. When we did see him, however, he was moved around position week on week and looked like the sort of player who didn’t really know what his manager wanted from him. Apparently comfortable both cutting inside from the left wing and attacking centrally, the intention when we signed him was to use him as an inverted winger, but that system was abandoned before it really got any chance to flourish. Clearly talented and a threat going forwards, hopefully we can see the best out of him in a much more clearly defined system and position next season.
Brad Friedel - In all honesty, I’d happily have him down to be sold, but the club keep him handing him contract extensions, so that’s gone out of the window. Fantastic in his first season when we played a deep defence in the most simple system possible, but as soon as we tried a more progressive manner of defending with a higher-line his limitations were shown for all to see. Glued permanently to his line, to an almost hilarious degree, his failure to anticipate has cost us countless goals, most notably in the Europa League campaign he played most in, the Leeds United game in the FA Cup and Newcastle at home this season. He’s a liability, and makes us a significantly weaker side when he’s in it. The sooner he’s either moved on or moved along in to a non-playing coaching role, the better.
Aaron Lennon - A season away from completing a decade at the club, Aaron Lennon has slowly lost his stranglehold over right-midfield as the years have progressed. Now as good as he’s ever going to be, if not having already peaked in previous seasons, Lennon has a similar season every year to what he always has. He’ll terrorise below par left-backs - although that’s becoming less of a feature of his game - and work tirelessly in defence, often helping his right-back to a much larger extent than he’s ever really gotten credit for. However, his pace is diminishing and the muscular injuries he’s consistently suffered from season after season are catching up with him, meaning his effect in attack has severely lessened over the years. He still has a bit part role in the team should he want it, but now might be time for him to take a move down the league for first-team football should somebody come knocking.
Andros Townsend - He ended the season before last attracting attention playing well in a relegated QPR side, and forced his way in to the Tottenham side post-Bale, and in place of a struggling Erik Lamela down the right flank. His good form continued at the start of the year, with plenty of runs making highlight reels and an England call-up coming soon after. A goal for England and plenty of endearing running made him a tabloid darling for a good five minutes and the hype machine had captured him up whole. Most people bought in to the Townsend bandwagon, but I’ve genuinely never really been impressed, and put noses out of joint when saying so at the start of the season on our podcast. However, time has proven me right, and the limitations of Townsend’s game are clear for all to see. His decision making is sub-par, his defensive work rate is patchy at best and his tendency to be one dimensional for long periods by aimlessly cutting inside and shooting horrendously hamper the rest of the side. Additionally, I don’t think Pochettino will be keen either, with a preference for much more multi-faceted and technical footballers, Townsend will likely be marginalised, or sold if we get the right offer. A solid, if somewhat paint-by-numbers, Premier League winger, he’ll make a career for himself further down the league.
Michael Dawson - Merely months away from having been at the club for ten years, and thus qualifying for a testimonial, time is fast running out on Michael Dawson’s career at Tottenham. It’s sad, and probably the most emotionally tinged transfer that is likely to happen all season, but it’s come to a point where it has become inevitable. His ability on field though has sadly come to the stage where compassion can no longer rule the decision we make professionally. I recently compared it to having a pet put down at the vets: you don’t want to, but you know you have to for the good of everyone involved. A captain and someone who genuinely loved the club, was proud to represent us and someone you were proud to see represent the club all the same. Dawson will leave Tottenham with every last best wish in the world, and more than deserves to. A rarity in the modern game now sadly, Michael Dawson was one of the few good guys left, but he should make one last move down the league now to prolong his first-team career and know that he’ll always be welcome back at White Hart Lane.
Kyle Naughton - He genuinely struggled against a semi-professional side in the Europa League earlier this season, and a decent run in his most favoured position hasn’t shown us much else either. I know he’s not good enough for Tottenham, but, in complete honestly, I’m even not sure if he’s even Premier League level or not. A priority sale to anyone daft enough to want him.
Danny Rose - Sunderland said he was one of the best left-backs they’ve had in years when he was there on loan, but that tells you more about how shit Sunderland have been rather than anything about Danny Rose or his ability. Defensively a complete liability, uncoordinated in attack and injury prone to boot, there’s not much going for him in reality. Thanks for the goal against Arsenal lad, but that’s the last and only thing of note you’ve ever done in a Tottenham kit.
Benoît Assou-Ekotto - Remember when he started fights with our own fans in our ground? Or how about that time he undermined a manager to such an extent we had to send him out on loan? There’s that time he publicly supported an anti-semitic gesture and got fined for it too, don’t forget. Oh, and he planted a nut on his teammate in front of millions at the World Cup and was dropped for the next game as a result. When he’s not being an embarrassment to the club with his often distasteful behaviour, he’s getting beaten in the Championship and doing woefully bad Cruyff turns on the edge of his own box. Sell him anywhere for anything, just don’t let him back in at our club.
Jake Livermore - Sold to Hull for £8m, which is quite frankly astoundingly good business.
Iago Falque - In complete fairness to Iago Falque, he’s coming off the back of a fantastically promising season at Rayo under the wonderfully attacking Paco Jémez, but still doesn’t really have a place at Tottenham going in to next season. No longer a young player at 24 going 25 years old, if he’s to remain at the club he’ll have to have an exceptional pre-season, which seems unlikely. Expect him to be sold on for a nominal fee in Spain.
Emmanuel Adebayor - A new manager has just been brought in at Tottenham, so knowing how well Adebayor will behave or react is sheer guesswork. He showed last season that he only likes to perform to the best of his ability when he’s made the focal point of the team, which isn’t a situation we should be looking to replicate, and not what we’re paying his considerable wages for. The last window we’re likely to be able to sell him for a fee that will recoup what we paid him in wages and to Man City, he’s an ageing forward that is more trouble than he may be worth. Even when he was at his best last season, he tended to drift in and out of matches as he liked, showing the inability to be on task and fully concentrated for an entire 90 minute period of play. Sell him to Monaco or QPR and rest assured knowing that the team spirit will likely be improved with the sale of an ego and Pochettino will have less players looking to undermine him the second they find out they’re on the bench.
Jordan Archer - Good young goalkeeper still learning his trade, saw him playing in an U21 fixture for Scotland vs Netherlands in which he looked a good, natural shotstopper, but some of his decision making is yet to be perfected. Probably a season too soon for him to be made second choice.
Zeki Fryers - Recently converted from a left-back to centre-back, which actually appears to have done him the world of good. His form at left-back was questionable given the lengths we went to sign him, but moving central has given him less time on the ball and more time to concentrate on actually defending, which looks to be his strong suit. Isn’t yet ready for regular first-team football, but may well be in a season or so. Premier League loan might be an idea.
Nabil Bentaleb - An absolute revelation last season, he’s been judged unfairly because of a forced association with Tim Sherwood, who most of us couldn’t abide. Played well in the World Cup for Algeria when selected, but is still far from the finished product. Needs to sort out his defensive decision making and the progressiveness of his passing and urgency in transition, much the same as Dembélé.
Tom Caroll - A hit and miss season at QPR who played some quite direct football last season in the Championship, which may not have suited his somewhat more intricate and technical style. Still a prospect who had some outstanding moments in the final third creatively at QPR despite the football, and would highly benefit from regular Premier League football on loan at a club that plays good football.
Alex Pritchard - A rough diamond halfway between Lewis Holtby and Christian Eriksen, he’s yet to show enough to be considered Premier League quality, and may well never do. Imagine he’s likely to be sold on for a decent fee to an aspirational football league club.
Ryan Mason - Much the same story as Alex Pritchard in all honesty, there’s not much more to add. Players at that age either need to show the promise and potential to be able to perform dramatically better in a short time period ahead or run the risk of being sold.
Harry Kane - Ended the very season well, scoring goals in the Premier League for the first time consistently, albeit against some of the poorest sides in the division. He’s earned himself a place on the bench next season with the chance of coming on a sub on a regular basis, so long as Pochettino rates him accordingly. There were whispers that Pochettino had try to buy him in January, so that could be a major bonus for his prospects if true.
Name - Raj Bains
Twitter - @BainsXIII