How Spurs can take it to the next level: A blueprint for the summer of 2016
If Mauricio Pochettino’s first year as Spurs manager was about knocking down a house that had become rotten, in the second year the Argentine had to relay the foundations. A leaky defence was fixed, a team culture was established, and an exciting and effective style of play emerged.
The late collapse into third place behind Arsenal was hugely disappointing and added a sour note to what was in many ways a spectacular season. We challenged for the title, something we haven’t done in the Premier League era, and secured our highest finishing position since the 1989/90 campaign. What was it that BIll Nicholson said about aiming high?
If the stumble to the finishing line showed how much of the Pochettino project remains unfinished, the season as a whole showed just how strong the foundations are that he has laid.
With only one out-and-out striker and a dearth of central midfield options, it was a miracle that Spurs managed to secure Champions League football while also coping with the gruelling Europa League schedule. It is a testament to Pochettino’s managerial ability, his fitness regime, the spirit of the team he has assembled, and improving recruitment.
The goal for Pochettino has always been to have a world-class team in place for when the new stadium opens for the 2018/19 campaign. Spurs are ahead of schedule.
The next two summers are about taking the club to “the next level”. The goal will be to identify talent, either within the academy or elsewhere, that can enable the club to challenge for titles at home and in Europe in the years to come.
Pochettino has warned that getting stronger is about more than just buying players. But being able to offer Champions League football this summer presents a huge opportunity to attract the sort of elite talent that may not previously have been interested, if Spurs so wish.
There is a need to balance the present and the future. Clearly, better first-team rotation and bench options are needed for Pochettino. But also, Spurs will continue to identify young talents and turn them into stars — Harry Kane and Dele Alli are the latest in a long line of players to hit superstar status while wearing lilywhite. It is something the club does better than any other, and the academy contains a number of extremely promising prospects.
As always, Spurs will look to find value in the transfer market. The club veered off this path under Franco Baldini, and paid a heavy price. Ultimately, it is just where the club is more comfortable, and the stadium will limit how much can be spent anyway. So, Spurs will identify players at distressed clubs, those on expiring contracts, or those they feel have the potential to hit the top level with time and training.
I would expect Spurs to look to sell to other Premier League clubs — the new TV deal means that there is more money than can possibly be spent in a sensible way. Also worth watching is the pound versus the euro — it is performing a faceplant that Spurs would be proud of amid the Brexit uncertainty.
I am going to sketch out a possible summer blueprint, in terms of contracts, sales and purchases.
It is all deeply hypothetical. Player availability is far from certain at this early stage, and only Pochettino knows who he wants to move on and who he wants to keep. This isn’t a prediction — I’m not an ITK peddler and have no insight beyond what is widely available.
What I want to do is illustrate the type of deals that may be possible, the type of players that may fit, and how far Spurs may be able to stretch the budget. It is tremendous fun trying to game it out, and please feel free to join in below the comment line. Disagreement is guaranteed.
First order of business will be contract negotiations. The surge in Premier League TV money and Champions League lucre will mean every agent will be demanding significant wage bumps for their clients. For Spurs, it will be about balancing squad harmony and ensuring the total wage bill remains in line with what is required through stadium construction.
Both Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen have been engaged in lengthy discussions, but contracts remain unsigned as of the date of this article. These are key players that Spurs will want to keep over the next four to five years (I imagine, now 29, Jan gets a four-year deal, while Eriksen wants five).
For other players, the demand for a pay rise gives the club a chance to add years to contracts (and remove unhelpful exit clauses if any exist). This may be the case for Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose.
Meanwhile, the club must continue to increase wages of young stars. Priority number one will be Harry Kane. Having started 66 consecutive league games, and secured the Premier League Golden Boot, he will become one of the club’s top earners. New deals will no doubt be needed for Dele Alli and Eric Dier.
If this all sounds a bit much, it is just the reality of the game. With a huge TV deal kicking in, player salaries will soar in line with it. Spurs have done an excellent job controlling the wage bill since the Bale money splurge, but with revenue about to soar, now is the appropriate time to increase it.
Pochettino looked appropriately livid after the dismal defeat at Newcastle. It is fair to say it will have crystallized one or two thoughts about which players will be leaving Hotspur Way this summer. Here is a list of players who I think are on the way out, with a guess of a potential destination and guide price.
Nacer Chadli, Sunderland, £15m
I’ve written about the conundrum that Chadli poses — a productive player who rarely pushes for a place. The fact that Pochettino called for Josh Onomah over Chadli against Newcastle spoke volumes, as did the fact that Chadli barely factored in previous matches in the final stretch. There have long been whispers that Chadli lacks the intensity that Poch demands. My guess, having lost his place in the Belgian squad, Chadli will be seeking a new start regardless — this could be a mutual parting of ways. Chadli’s departure opens the door for Onomah, while more striking options (see below) will mean more chances for Son Heung-min from his preferred wide role. With his goal-scoring ability and the fact that he is just entering his prime, Spurs should get a good fee for Chadli. I think he’d be a great fit for a Sunderland side needing goals from midfield.
Ryan Mason, Bournemouth, £7.5m
Mason has been hugely important to Spurs in the Pochettino era, as much for what he has symbolised as what he has been capable of from a technical perspective. He has been a walking, talking lesson in perseverance to academy youngsters, and testament to the Pochettino ethos that workrate and character (I know that term freaks some people out as it isn’t quantifiable) are valued as highly as pure footballing talent. Mason has learned to play a different role under Pochettino, and the midfield partnership with Nabil Bentaleb was just about sufficient to keep the project on track in its first year. The “one of our own” spirit has reconnected fans to club after years of disconnect and mercenaries, and Mason, with his evident love of the club and pride in appearing in the shirt, was a key part of this. However, in 2015/16 he suffered from injury — gained while scoring a pivotal goal against Sunderland — and never rediscovered the form he had shown previously. Appearances in the Europa League knockout rounds and in place of the suspended Dembele showed his limits. As a player in a rebuilding Premier League team, he is fine; in the Champions League and a title challenger? Not quite. A rumoured move to Bournemouth may suit all parties, and his England cap last year should help Spurs achieve a premium for his services. I’d be more than happy if he stayed another year, and of all the players on this list, I think he is the least likely to leave.
Tom Carroll, Stoke, £4m
Another late bloomer, Tom Carroll was finally given his chance to make his mark at Spurs after years on loan. Did he take it? In my view, no. While he has a beautiful left foot, his passing can be too “safe”, and he lacks the physicality and defensive instinct to play a deeper role. He still has the opportunity to develop, but will be 24 when next season starts. You imagine a Premier League club looking to add a little bit of “culture” to its midfield mix will be interested. With Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay suffering long-term injuries at the end of the season, and Charlie Adam fat, old and never that good, Stoke could have an interest.
Michel Vorm, Crystal Palace, £3.5m
The world of the back-up goalkeeper is a strange one. When he signed, unless he believed Hugo Lloris was set for an exit, Michel Vorm must have known his game time would be very limited. I don’t begrudge him looking for a big contract to secure his financial future, but there must come a time, with the ongoing expectation that you won’t see meaningful action, when you lose your edge mentally and physically. You wonder, if a two-year spell as a back-up is “about right”. If he still considers himself a Premier League keeper, and not some Richard Wright-style hanger on, now may be the time for Vorm to move on. In his limited appearances, Vorm has looked predictably rusty. Clubs that may be interested in his services? Middlesbrough, whoever goes up through the playoffs (Hull or Sheffield Wednesday), and Crystal Palace. My guess: Vorm heads to Palace as an upgrade on Wayne Hennessey and Alex McCarthy, both of whom are distinctly Championship calibre.
Federico Fazio, China, £5m
I’d almost forgotten about him. If no Spanish clubs are interested, poor old Fazio will be seeking pastures new as he looks ill-suited to the English game. Look for Spurs to cash in on China’s boom, or failing that Russia or the Middle East. Fazio to Spurs was a terrible move for all parties. He is richer financially, but in every other way poorer for the experience.
DeAndre Yedlin, West Brom, £7.5m
Yedlin confounded doubters and established himself as the first-choice right back in Sunderland’s latest great escape. He won the contest against Billy Jones, and Sunderland (botched move for Emmanuel Eboue aside) felt other areas of the squad needed strengthening more in January. Having watched a number of Sunderland matches, it is clear Yedlin made huge progress defensively under the guidance of Big Sam. However, he still looks well short of what is required at Spurs to knock out Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, in particular offensively. Adding to Yedlin’s logjam at Spurs is Kyle Walker-Peters, one of the brightest talents coming through the academy. Having proven his Premier League mettle at Sunderland, and still just 22, this may be the optimum time to cash in. Spurs paid just £2.5m for Yedlin — they should secure a handsome profit with a host of Premier League clubs potentially looking to strengthen at right back. I reckon Spurs would look to triple their money. Swansea, Sunderland, a de-Pulised West Brom, Bournemouth and Watford may all be interested.
Total incoming: £42.5m
Spurs have two clear “needs” this summer — in central midfield and up front. Longer term, there may be a desire to find better options on the right flank, with both Kyle Walker and Erik Lamela showing limitations. But there is only so much to spend this summer, so that can wait. Budget-wise, even with Champions League money coming in, I wouldn’t expect net spend to be any more than £30m with a stadium to build and Daniel Levy in charge. I’d say, with money recouped from sales, we are looking at a pot of about £72.5m. Given the amount of money that will be sprayed around this summer, this amount, shockingly, may be at the lower end in the Premier League. Finding value will be key, and I reckon it is possible. How far could this money go?
Mateo Kovacic, 22, Real Madrid, £25m
Spurs sorely need to add a midfielder who can offer a new dimension in terms of playmaking, as none of Dier, Dembele or Alli are particularly “creative” passers. Too much reliance on Christian Eriksen can make Spurs predictable, and easy to play against. Another playmaker, operating from deep, would appear to fit the bill. Furthermore, as Dembele struggles to play twice in a week, another first-choice calibre central midfielder is absolutely essential regardless. I’ve had a crush on Mateo Kovacic since reading this article, and having failed to establish himself since joining Real Madrid, he may be available. This piece explains why he may not make the grade at the Bernabeu. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, especially when that trash is 22 and stuck behind Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Rather than heading meekly back to Italy on loan, Spurs can offer Kovacic Champions League football and the chance to join an emerging footballing force. I’m sure Luka and Gareth would put in a good word. Meanwhile, I bet Daniel Levy would relish the opportunity to negotiate with Real Madrid again. Spurs could make a signature signing, without breaking the bank. There are of course other options here — various suggestion I’ve seen in recent Twitter conversations include Tielemans, Pjanic and Kampl.
Victor Wanyama, 24, Southampton, £17m
Failure to hold leads in pivotal matches against physical opposition like West Brom and Chelsea highlighted the need for Spurs to add another defensive midfield option, in particular one with some height and physicality. It would also enable Spurs to move Eric Dier back into defence if Toby Alderweireld was unavailable, so would kill two birds with one stone. Wanyama is entering the final year of his contract, and has previously spoken of his desire to join Spurs. Relations between Spurs and Southampton are far from great, though, honestly, it is a long list of clubs who hate dealing with Spurs. Southampton are an extremely sensible club who, if Wanyama is set on leaving, may see the benefit of accepting a fair price that they can reinvest in someone who wants to be there. This is a deal that can surely be done, if Spurs don’t behave like absolute idiots by lowballing Southampton.
Michy Batshuayi, 22, Marseille, £25m
West Ham are trying their hardest to inflate the price of Batshuayi with public bids beyond what Spurs may feel is required to secure him from a financially-troubled Marseille. But Spurs can offer Champions League football, so it may be immaterial — Batshuayi is one of many players West Ham are publicly talking up. The Belgian fits a clear need for Spurs — someone able both to cover for Kane as an out-and-out striker, but also with the versatility to play with him. At the age of 22, he is in that “sweet spot” for Spurs — experienced enough for there to be meaningful data for Paul Mitchell and Co to analyse, young enough to still have room to improve.
Moussa Dembele, 19, Fulham, £5m
I expect Spurs to add two strikers this summer. Son Heung-min proved limited when covering up front, and Clinton N’Jie was a non-factor due to injury. Dembele agreed a move to Spurs in January, only for it to collapse as a dismal Fulham team couldn’t risk letting him go with relegation to League One a possibility. Could Spurs resuscitate this move, and strike a compensation deal with Fulham to avoid the uncertainty of a tribunal? It sounds like a cheap way to add a talented young striker with a promising Championship goalscoring record (15 goals in 43 appearances in his first full season). It may be that Dembele is lured away elsewhere, in which case, I’d not entirely rule out Spurs taking one final spin at Saido Berahino roulette. Timo Werner, who we have also been linked with in the past, ticks the “value” box in a number of ways after Stuttgart’s relegation. Spurs may have a talent in the academy in Kaziah Sterling, who has been mentioned in dispatches, but a three-pronged strike force is surely required immediately for the Champions League and another title tilt.
Brad Guzan, 31, Aston Villa, £500K
I wrote about how the time may have come for Vorm to move on. This represents a chance for Spurs to make a couple of million quid by essentially shuffling back-up keepers, and pocketing the difference. The key will be identifying an experienced keeper of Premier League quality who is available for free, or a cut-price amount. Do any exist? Here is one suggestion: Brad Guzan. Like everyone connected to Aston Villa, he had a horrible season in 2015/16, but in the two years previously he was quite competent, in my view. He is entering the final year of his contract, and Villa will be looking to slash their wage bill after being relegated. Spurs may be able to pick him up for free, or very cheap. Guzan gets to sign another lucrative Premier League contract, and he can follow in the footsteps of Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel as a bald, American goalkeeper for Spurs — a fine tradition. My little Vorm-for-Guzan swap may seem a bit random — but it is an illustration of how Spurs could boost the transfer kitty without getting much weaker. With a stadium to finance, we need to find smart ways to increase our spending power. I’m sure there are other keepers out there who may be better than Guzan, I’d welcome suggestions.
Total outgoing: £72.5m
If you haven’t already seen it, Chris Miller’s crowd-sourced loan round-up was an excellent piece of blogging and offered some hints to future loan moves.
I wrote a few months back about how loan numbers were down this year — we shall see in due course of this was a change in approach, or just an outlier.
A couple of thoughts on possible loan moves.
Josh Onomah will stay and benefit from Chadli’s departure, while new arrivals in midfield surely mean Harry Winks heads out on a season-long arrangement to the Championship.
I have always thought loans were particularly useful for young defenders. Even the best defensive talents make a bunch of mistakes, and it is far better for Spurs that they make them elsewhere. I’d like to see both Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers head to League One and find their sea legs. It would surely benefit their development more than the occasional minutes they’d pick up in the Capital One Cup.
There is a lot of chatter about Dominic Ball, who impressed for Rangers and played a very similar role to Dier. I’d be cautious about pencilling him in, given the dire state of the Scottish second tier. Surely the Championship is a logical next step.
One final thought: I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs sent Clinton N’Jie to another Premier League team. He had his debut season ruined by injury, and we barely saw him in meaningful action (386 minutes in total). When he did play, he looked raw. My concern for Clinton is that he is going to need a lot more playing time to fulfill the potential identified by the scouting team than Spurs will be able to offer him without the Europa League, which was useful in this regard. Therefore, a loan would be a logical next step. It doesn’t mean Spurs would be writing him off, it is about doing what is in the best interest of the club as it seeks to maximise the return on its investment in a young player.
Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat through the summer.
Originally published at thespursreport.wordpress.com on May 17, 2016.