‘If you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards’. As with most clichés, this phrase is overused for a reason, and it’s especially true when put into the context of the summer transfer window. Great teams don’t sit back and think their squad is complete, no matter how successful a season they may have had the year before. With both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester all spending big over a record-breaking summer, Spurs needed to move their squad forward too or risk slipping back into the world of Thursday night football.
Coming off the back of a hugely successful 2015/16 season a squad overhaul certainly wasn’t needed but there were clear areas for improvement. Harry Kane, who many feared would have another slow start to the season coming off the back of yet another summer of football, had no real competition up front and so this needed addressing. There was also a lack of a true stand-in/back-up for Mousa Dembélé who was set to miss the first four games of the season. There was also, perhaps most alarmingly, a severe lack of pace in the attacking third with Clinton N’Jie clearly out of favour. On the defensive end things looked well set heading into the new season, with Kevin Wimmer proving himself a more than capable replacement should Vertonghen or Aldeweireld suffer an injury.
The first signing of the summer was a response to the need of support for Harry Kane. Vincent Janssen was brought in for £17m from AZ Alkmaar having finished as the Eredivisie top goalscorer with 27 goals. At just 22-years-of-age he certainly fits both Levy’s and Pochettino’s tendency to go for younger players but he is also a risky purchase. 27 goals in a European top division is impressive, as is his early start to life in a Netherlands shirt, but he also only has one season of top division experience and obviously none in the Premier League. Whilst I’m sure Kane would love to play every minute of every game, the fact is he’s coming off the back of a season in which he played every Premier League game bookended by two European championships (one for the U21’s and one for the senior side). In an ideal world a proven Premier League striker such as Ighalo or Bony would have come in to allow Kane to be properly eased back in to Premier League action. They may both be 5 years the senior of Janssen, but importantly both have double digit goal-scoring seasons in the Premier League and would have needed little time to adjust to Premier League life. Janssen may well prove to be a fantastic purchase but the chances of him hitting the ground running were always slim.
Next up Levy and Pochettino looked to solve the Dembélé dilemma by bringing in Victor Wanyama from Southampton. Unlike Janssen he had already played 80 games in the Premier League and so would have no trouble slotting straight in to the starting line-up. I have already explored the challenges of replacing Dembélé, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but the fact is that finding a direct replacement is almost impossible. No other midfielder in Europe was as successful at take-ons (he completed 92% of his 83 over the season, no other midfielder in the top 5 European leagues comes close) and just one midfielder in the Premier League had a better pass completion (90%). A direct replacement wasn’t possible then, but at just £11m Victor Wanyama has to be seen as an extremely successful piece of business.
How about the issue of an attacking midfield that Pochettino himself described as ‘always wanting the ball to feet’? In the same interview he described how Spurs badly needed a Sadio Mane type, someone who can make penetrating runs and stretch a defence, giving space to the likes of Lamela and Eriksen to work in. Ideally Mane himself would have been brought in. Young, quick, Premier League experience and a proven goalscorer, he would have been a perfect fit. Unfortunately Liverpool brought in the Senegalese winger early on for £34 million, leaving Pochettino searching for a similar player in the market. What he ended up doing was spending just £4 million less on Moussa Sissoko and a further £11 million on Marseille winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. Neither spark quite as much excitement as Mane does at Anfield. Nkoudou has had a couple of seasons in Ligue 1, scoring a total of 7 goals in 56 appearances. He’s undoubtedly got pace, but seems a raw talent and will hope to bring more success than Clinton N’Jie did in his time at the Lane. Moussa Sissoko, on the other hand, becomes Spurs’ joint record signing and, at 27, isn’t exactly one for the future. He may have caught the eye at Euro 2016 but 11 goals in 118 Premier League games for Newcastle says a lot. He’s never recorded a double-digit goalscoring season throughout his time in both France and England, and was hardly a standout in a relegation side last year. £30 million, therefore, seems massively overpriced but that’s what you get when you end up desperate and in a bidding war on transfer deadline day.
Heading out of the door were Nacer Chadli, Ryan Mason and Alex Pritchard for a combined £31 million. Ryan Mason had a successful 2014/15 season but mid-to-lower Premier League seems his level, and Alex Pritchard was never able to work his way into the side despite an eye-catching loan at Brentford two seasons ago. Chadli will perhaps be the biggest loss from the three. The Belgian had clearly fallen down the pecking order, but with 14 goals over the past two seasons he always seemed to threaten. He also managed as many goals (11) in the 2014/15 season as Sissoko has in the past 4.
Around the Premier League sides have got stronger. Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Kante, Batshuayi, Nolito, Gundogan, Mane, Mustafi, Musa and Silmani have all come in to strengthen those that will end up challenging Spurs for one of the coveted Champions League spots. With perhaps the exception of Leicester and Arsenal, every other side is going to be stronger this year. The fear is that Spurs have not done enough to keep pace. Champions League football is an incredible achievement, but the goal should now be to consistently qualify. Wanyama is the only signing that can be viewed as an obvious success, and when you compare that to some of the names above that’s a concern. That being said, there was a similar feeling heading into last season with Aldeweireld and Son-Heung Min being the stand out purchases. What transpired was a season where young players stepped up to the plate and team cohesion was enough to mount a real title challenge. This season, with Mourinho, Guardiola, Klopp, Ranieri, Wenger and Conte on the charge, Spurs are once again going to have to rely on the current crop getting stronger to keep pace with the big spenders.
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