As the end of another Premier League season draws nigh, it’s time for fans to take stock of what their team has achieved (or failed to achieve) over the course of the campaign. For a Spurs fan such as myself, there is both much to be thankful for and much to be disappointed in. Our European campaign was thrilling, but ended prematurely. We maintained the status quo in terms of our Premier League performance, yet also allowed the FA Cup to slip from our grasp. All told, it was yet another year of euphoric highs and bitter lows for a squad and fanbase who are by now quite used to wild swings of momentum.
It may seem premature to wrap-up a season now, but as Spurs have little to play for at this point I see no reason not to. So, with Champions League football secured for another year and the 2018 World Cup fast-approaching, what should Spurs’ priorities be going into the summer “break”? As always, I’ve got a few ideas.
Settle the Alderweireld situation
I made my stance on this pretty clear weeks ago, and little about it has changed since. Simply put, Toby is the best defender on this team when he’s in-form. I love Vertonghen, and Sanchez has been a revelation for a player so young, but it’s no coincidence that our form dipped noticeably during the last few months while Toby sat on the bench. He’s been a huge factor in turning our dire defensive record around these last few seasons and to let him go now, especially to a league rival, would be very unwise.
This problem is bigger than Toby, though, as the manner in which the club handles his contract talks will go a long way toward either reassuring or unsettling other players in the squad. Pochettino’s team is apparently a very tight-knit group, but if they see a teammate basically forced out for asking for a raise it could prove very damaging for morale. Furthermore, it could inspire others to seek a move away from the club, especially if our trophy drought continues. How long can we realistically expect top quality players to accept half their true earning potential on a team that doesn’t win anything?
I expect not very long.
Bring in new blood early
Spurs have developed a nasty habit for leaving their transfer business late in the past decade. While clubs like the Manchester duo and Chelsea (although not so much recently) make signings early in the window, Levy and Co. typically drag our deals out until after the season has already started. The result is players who are not up to the same physical standards as teammates who had a full pre-season, and that’s a deal breaker in a high-press system like Pochettino’s. It is disruptive as all hell to still be adding new players after a new season has kicked off, and leads to situations like Sissoko’s where the club spends a ton of cash on a player the manager clearly doesn’t trust at all.
Same goes for the reverse in terms of selling any of our players. If guys like Toby and Rose are going to go this window (as I suspect they will), then we need to get them out as soon as possible. The longer they stay in the team waiting around for a move, the less time the manager has to identify and pursue replacements. This problem is exacerbated by Levy’s negotiating tactics too, as any player Poch identifies will still be weeks away from actually signing due to the chairman’s tendency to low ball clubs, players, and their agents. Pochettino will need to stand firm against Levy if the latter ties up potential deals for too long.
Learn and grow from past mistakes
There’s two sides to this one in my mind; the players and the manager. From the player’s perspective, there is some soul-searching needed to identify how and why they failed in the biggest games of the year. The Champions League knockout tie with Juventus and FA Cup semifinal against United both jump out to me as moments where the players failed to deliver despite being the better team. That simply can’t happen when you are chasing trophies, and big teams figure out ways to win when it matters. Look at Real Madrid in Europe this season. Nobody would claim they’ve been the competition’s sexiest or most efficient outfit, yet they’ll be playing in the final this year while most of those other clubs have long since been eliminated.
On the manager’s side, Poch desperately needs to improve his game-management. We have a pretty deep bench with a lot of game-changing options, yet he either used them too late in matches or refused to use them at all for most of the year. Lamela, Llorente, Lucas, Toby…these are all players who can make a difference or at the very least force opposition sides to adjust their strategy. Yet when situations presented themselves to use these impact subs, Poch balked at nearly every opportunity. Skilled managers like Juve’s Allegri used their substitutes to devastating effect against Spurs, so it’s incredibly frustrating that Poch regularly fails to employ his own and change a game.
Sign a striker who can actually push Kane
This has been an issue for at least two seasons now, and it needs a resolution this summer. Kane is brilliant, but he cannot be relied on to lead this side in every game. It’s not fair to him, and the last few months of this season in particular proved that playing a crocked Kane is detrimental to our offensive output. The other top 6 clubs in this league generally have two strong options up front; Jesus and Aguero for City, Rashford and Lukaku for United, Lacazette and Aubameyang for Arsenal…you get the point. There’s no reason why we can’t have another quality striker to either partner with Kane or sub for him when he needs a rest.
I understand it’s tough to find a striker who is willing to play second-fiddle…but I’ve grown tired of this excuse when our rivals seem to pull it off rather easily. Our strict wage limits definitely hurts us here as well. I’d be shocked if part of our struggle to convince players to join as Kane’s understudy wasn’t partly down to the fact they won’t earn as much here as they would in the same role at another club. Now that our new stadium is nearly built and we should have some money to throw around, it’s time we got serious about buying the types of players that can help us win trophies. Otherwise, we’ll be nearly-men for the foreseeable future, further jeopardizing our ability to keep our best players.