There must be a middle ground – a point which exists between Tottenham’s organic methods of improvement and the truisms which govern modern football.
Apparently not, according to the club’s support, as they have spent the summer rattling sabres from two ideologically opposed camps: one, which believes wholeheartedly in Mauricio Pochettino and sees any irritation over the transfer inertia as an affront to his abilities, and the other which views spending as an imperative of greater weight than the Argentinian’s methods.
There are certainly salient points backing each perspective, but it’s strange that Spurs – as a club, rather than a community – seem not to recognise the virtue in combining the two. Surely, particularly given the aggressive advancement elsewhere in the league, there is a clear benefit to be had in multiplying Pochettino’s strengths from outside.
That penny doesn’t seem to have dropped. The pre-season is now all but over and the friendlies are in short supply, and yet nothing has changed. The squad which finished last season, with its gaps and weaknesses, is exactly as it was and there is still no evidence of any reinforcement on the horizon.
That’s the point at which this perspective is usually misinterpreted. Spending needn’t necessarily be exorbitant and hundreds of millions of pounds doesn’t have to be fired aimlessly into the market-place, but the action of adding to a group of players is fundamental to continuing its evolution. No, Pochettino doesn’t need stars of the game and he isn’t the kind of coach who is reliant upon off-the-peg solutions, but he isn’t a miracle worker either – this needn’t be a feast or famine situation, it doesn’t have to be that binary.
Particularly so given recent precedents. A year ago, Davinson Sanchez joined from Ajax for a club record fee and, while still a work in progress, he has a been a success. Two years before that, Son Hueng Min was signed from Bayer Leverkusen and has, in the seasons since, become a very dynamic performer. Tottenham may be built on admirable principles and Pochettino most definitely has enabled them to add up to more than the sum of their individual parts, but the transfer-market has always been an integral part of his performance.
And yet this sneering indifference continues – not from Pochettino himself, or Daniel Levy, but certainly large sections of the fanbase. The prevailing myth seems to be that their club don’t need to spend money and that, with the simple act of good faith, all will work out fine and, miraculously, each season will somehow be better than the last.
But what is that actually based on? Between 2015 and 2017 the club’s status in the English game inarguably grew and, generally, without the help of heavy investment, but 2017-18 saw them fall further away from any material reward for that development. They were never in contention for the Premier League, they bowed out of Europe immediately after the Champions League group-stage, and the FA Cup brought another semi-final defeat. It’s a record which needs context, because clearly it still amounted to success, but by what logic can it be sustained if their rivals are all developing at a faster rate?
It’s a great concern, too, that Pochettino himself recently admitted that the squad may not be strengthened before the end of the current window. With Victor Wanyama again injured, a whole host of players stretched to breaking point by the recent World Cup, and several more actively seeking moves away, the assumption is that the current side can be supplemented from within – that all of the holes can be plugged by academy players who have been grown to specification.
Maybe that’s true. Maybe Joshua Onomah’s disappointing spell at Aston Villa was a false indicator and he can become a credible midfield alternative. Perhaps Oliver Skipp isn’t too slight and young to be a further option. Maybe Kazaiah Sterling is ready to be the reliable back-up for Harry Kane. Maybe. But believing in any of those players, at this stage of their respective careers at least, involves an enormous leap of faith instructed by something other than actual performance.
And that, perhaps, describes the issue at Tottenham: maybe there is now an over-focus on intangibles. Pochettino has done much to warrant the good faith, but the expectation exists – almost always without proper justification – that he will always home-grow his improvements and that, as a result, the club don’t have to dirty their hands in the transfer-market.
It’s a romantic notion, certainly one which everyone would like to believe, but that doesn’t necessarily make it true.
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Also published on Medium.