Stale Spurs in need of a summer shake up

Right, hands up. Who would like to lead a club after their lowest premier league finish in 14 years, the captain and talisman wanting out, all under an owner who is under severe scrutiny from the supporters? Welcome to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, Ange Postecoglou. I look at what’s gone wrong, what’s going on and what the future may hold for this grand football club. This is the Lowe-down on Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

 

The Situation

On the morning of 23rd April 2023, Spurs were sat in 5th place in the Premier League, 3 points behind Newcastle United who they were set to play in the afternoon. An unlikely top four spot was certainly within Spurs’ reach with 7 games remaining. This game, however important it was in the race for the top four this season, felt like it had even more riding on it. It represented two teams seemingly meeting at a crossroads. Spurs, an established member of the “Big 6” versus Newcastle, a club who overnight became the richest in the world looking to gate-crash the party. The establishment vs new money.

The two teams walked out to a cauldron of noise at St James’ Park. Spurs knew what to expect. Or at least they should have done. Newcastle came flying out of the blocks, pinning Spurs back and pressing them incessantly. Spurs, starting in a rare back four, simply couldn’t cope and buckled. The scale of the collapse, however, no one could have foreseen. Spurs were 3-0 down after 9 minutes and 5-0 down after 21 minutes. The final result was 6-1 to Newcastle. The win all but ended Spurs’ top four hopes and spelt the end for Christian Stiellini as caretaker manager. Such was the magnitude of the defeat, the club refunded fans that had attended St James’ Park. Newcastle went on to secure a top four finish and Champions League football while Spurs ended their campaign in 8th.

The reaction of the Spurs fans to that defeat against Newcastle was perhaps even more surprising than the result. The fans I heard spoke about the defeat with a calmness. There was little anger, little shock, like they were numb. Perhaps it had been coming? Perhaps this was just how it was? Somehow, somewhere down the line, these fans had lost the connection to this team. Just how on earth had it come to this?


What’s gone wrong?

Whilst the end to the last season saw Spurs sink to a new low, I believe it’s the end of a six-year decay which started back in 2017.

In years of the decline, which has seen managers, players and even directors of football come and go, one man has remained throughout. Daniel Levy. An acute businessman, who in a time where clubs have been owned by entire states and Russian oligarchs, must be praised for running Spurs as a profitable and sustainable business. However, as much as Daniel Levy excels in the business side of football, his lack of expertise in the footballing department shows.

At the end of the 2016/2017 season, Mauricio Pochettino was the head coach at Spurs, and they had finished 2nd with 86 points. Pochettino had built a young and dynamic Spurs side with that was competing with the big boys on a shred of the budget. No Spurs side in my lifetime had been both so exciting to watch and so competitive.                                              

Pochettino needed and had earnt real backing in the transfer market that summer, but sadly he didn’t get it. Spurs spent approximately £87million on signings such as Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier, Lucas Moura, and Fernando Llorente. These signings provided much needed depth to the Spurs squad, however offset against the sale of Kyle Walker to Manchester City, Spurs’ first 11 had gotten worse, not better. In comparison, Manchester City splashed over £220m, Chelsea over £180m and Manchester United over £140m. From a position of strength, it was Spurs’ rivals who became stronger, as Spurs became weaker. The seasons after, they finished 3rd with 77 points and 4th with 71 points.

Pochettino’s Spurs had a progressive, forward-thinking identity. They pressed high, from the front and played in a manner similar to the top teams in the Premier League, Manchester City and Liverpool. They competed for trophies, including reaching the Champions League final but just couldn’t get over the line. By the time Pochettino’s exit came in November 2019, the core of his team had aged and was unchanged. His ideas were seemingly no longer getting through to his players and whilst the top clubs in England had evolved their teams with key signings, Spurs hadn’t.

If not fully backing the Pochettino project was mistake number one, mistake number two was the succession of head coaches who followed him, leading us up to now. Pochettino’s sacking and appointment of his successor occurred during the season in which they were being filmed by Amazon Prime. Their replacement couldn’t have been more box office; Jose Mourinho. The script could write itself. Once upon a time, a serial winner took charge of a football club who had become synonymous with nearly winning trophies and transformed them into a trophy winning juggernaut. The end.

Modern day football, however, doesn’t work like that. When competing with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool, bringing in a man with the hope of him instantly installing a winning mentality into a club so that it immediately wins trophies is fantastical. Mourinho’s appointment brought an end to the project that Pochettino had built and now the focus was on one thing. Trophies.

As with modern day Mourinho, the quality of football suffered, the team lacked invention and fun and plodded along not looking very good nor very poor. The special one’s magic wand is not as powerful as before, and even though he led Spurs to a League Cup final in 2021, he was dismissed in the week leading up to the final. Spurs went on to lose the final to Manchester City and Ryan Mason was placed in interim charge until the end of the season. Sound familiar?

With no succession plan, Spurs failed to woo Antonio Conte in the summer of 2021 and settled on Nuno Esperito Santo who had just left Wolves by mutual consent. Hardly an inspiring appointment. Four weird months later, Spurs dismissed Nuno and finally managed to land their man, Antonio Conte.

When it came to winning trophies, if Jose Mourinho could, be considered “yesterday’s man”, Antonio Conte was the man. In the words of Gary Neville, this was the one that couldn’t fail. Fresh from winning a first Serie A title with Inter Milan in 11 years, Conte was a proven winner.

Conte’s Spurs reign lasted 18 months and saw such a contrast of performances and results, you felt as if Spurs were on the cusp of grasping it and then suddenly in crisis mode. The tactically astute wins over Manchester City, including at the Etihad had you believing, just to be brought back down to earth with a thud with a drab home defeat to Bournemouth. Where was this ruthless, winning team we had expected? We knew we would get fiery press-conferences and threats to resign, but trophies always came with this. This wasn’t what was promised.

From the outside, it never looked like Conte enjoyed being at Spurs. He was in fact simply doing Spurs a favour by being there. After his final game in charge, a draw at bottom side, Southampton where his side surrendered a 3-1 lead, Conte was asked about the game and launched a rant against both his players and the club. He stated the players “don’t want to play under pressure”, and this was “Tottenham’s story.” His last jab, one at Daniel Levy where he commented on the lack of trophies won in the “last 20 years” was to be one too many, and he was put out of his misery and dismissed later that week to be replaced by caretaker manager Ryan Mason. Whilst much of what Conte said was true, his press conferences felt like a court room drama where he pleaded his innocence and distanced from the insipid performances on the pitch. It’s not me guys! There is no doubt Conte is a world class manager, but he and Daniel Levy’s Spurs, was never destined to be a match made in heaven.

What is fundamentally clear is that Spurs under Pochettino had an identity. An identity which not only aligned with the club’s principles but also the board’s modus operandi. Spurs don’t have near limitless funds like their rivals do, and with Levy operating the purse strings, would never spend beyond their means. Pochettino improved young players, either from the academy or players brought in. Managers such as Mourinho and Conte demand ready-made, battle-hardened players who are here to win now, not tomorrow. After a lack of cohesion in the selection of managers you’re left with a chunk of Pochettino’s signings, a few of Mourinho’s and a handful of Conte’s. Quite frankly, it’s a mess.

 

The Present:

So how exactly does the “present” look? Well, it’s certainly not gift-wrapped with a pretty bow. The squad needs some DIY. Those in football talk about the “spine” of a team and how strong this must be. Spurs’ spine in 2022/23 was made up of: Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, and Pierre Hojberg. Best get those tools at the ready then chaps!

Whilst players such as Pedro Porro, Cristian Romero and Rodrigo Bentancur offer some promise, the club is littered with deadwood and expensive mishaps. Bissouma, Ndombele, Richarlison may be offered the chance to revive their Spurs careers but they were brought in at a huge cost and have flattered to deceive.  Spurs need, as a minimum, this summer a first choice goalkeeper, first choice centre half, creativity in midfield and a wide forward to provide genuine competition for places.

As well as making Dejan Kulusevski’s loan move permanent, Spurs have bought in goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario from Empoli and James Maddison from Leicester. The former has rave reviews from none other than Gigi Buffon. Enough said. Maddison, as we know, will provide genuine creativity, a goal threat and set piece ability which has been absent since Christian Eriksen left. He’s a signing that makes sense.

One area of the pitch where Spurs appear pretty “tooled” up, is up front. The inevitable Harry Kane, fresh from scoring 41 goals for club and country this season, is in the form of his life. They also have the electric Heung-Min Son and Richarlison and Kulusevski in their ranks. No problems here, right? Wrong. Son and Richarlison were out of sorts last season and the real elephant in the room is Kane’s future.

 

Kane:

With one year left on his contract, England and Spurs’ top marksman is a wanted man. He was Manchester United’s top target in their pursuit of a number 9, however takeover uncertainty has priced them out of a deal this summer. Outside of England, Real Madrid have their hands full trying to assemble a package lucrative enough to make Kylian Mbappe their biggest Galactico of all time. The only club who have acted on their interest from afar this summer is Bayern Munich who have a Lewandowski shaped hole upfront. Their two bids, the latter totalling around £70million, have both fallen short of Spurs’ £100m valuation. Bayern’s public courting seems to have gone up a gear when on 15th July, with Bayern’s honorary president, Uli Hoeness, professing of Kane’s desire to join the Bavarians and has warned Spurs they “will have to buckle… if he keeps to his word, then we’ll get him”.

Spurs, of course, would love to keep Kane and have begun their own attempts at wooing him by offering him close to £400,000 a week to stay at the club, as per Matt Law of the Daily Telegraph. Levy is aware of the possibility Kane could join a domestic rival on a free transfer next year and so a Bayern offer of close to £100million may just twist his arm into selling his prized asset this summer. The situation is messy, has the potential to drag on and all whilst Ange Postecoglou attempts to start a rebuild of the club. Just how it will play out, is anyone’s guess.


The New Man

Speaking of the new man, you may have been forgiven for being slightly underwhelmed to see the “Welcome to Tottenham, Ange Postecoglou” announcement. After all, the club was linked with Julian Nagelsmann, Luis Enrique, and Eredivisie winner Arne Slot. So, what do we know about Postecoglou? Answers on a postcard, please.

It’s the unfortunate world we live in where Postecoglou’s recent success at Celtic, including a treble and a double in his two seasons wouldn’t get so much as a nod of appreciation from the average football fan. After all, it’s only Celtic. So just why have Spurs opted for Postecoglou?

In July 2019, Manchester City set out on their pre-season tour of Japan and played Yokohama F Marinos, one of the clubs in the City Group. Manchester City ended up winning 3-1 but it was their opponents who had left an impression. After the game Raheem Sterling applauded the Japanese team saying: “They’re probably one of the best teams I’ve seen play out from the back”. Pep Guardiola, also gave high praise to Yokohama, stating “this could be the best game we play because of the way they play”.  Yokohama were managed by Ange Postecoglou and his brave approach to the game, even having 57% against Manchester City, had left an impression on the impressionable City boss. Pep’s glowing reviews of Postecoglou and his methods don’t seem to have changed as he welcomed “an exceptional manager” to the Premier League. So, what can Spurs expect from their team under Postecoglou?

Postecoglou likes his teams to play attacking, front foot, football in a 4-3-3 formation. If his first few press conferences are anything to go by, Spurs will be entertaining. He’s vowed to try his best to thrill the Spurs faithful and offered a heartfelt insight into how he wants his teams to play: “I pretend my father is in the stand and think, ‘would he be enjoying watching this team?". One thing that’s stuck out so far is his “love” for a rebuild with Postecoglou stating he “can’t resist a challenge”. You’re exactly at the right club then, sir.  This job is a rebuild, it’s a project and must be led by someone ready and up for that task.

Postecoglou is certainly a rogue choice by Daniel Levy, but where did hiring the household names get him? Postecoglou has won titles in Australia and Celtic and is a man on the up, grasping the opportunity to manage Spurs with two hands. His charisma and genuine enthusiasm for the task at hand is welcome and is in stark contrast to his predecessors.  From his interviews, Postecoglou is uncompromising in looking to implement his principles and is utterly devoted to implement an entertaining and attacking style of play. Put all this together, and Spurs fans may just finally have a manager who they can properly get behind.


Conclusion:

So, what does the future hold for Spurs? Well, as is the Premier League in 2023, the competition both ahead of them and below is incredibly high. As cliché as it sounds, Spurs will have to give Mr Postecoglou time and trust the process. I wonder where we’ve heard that before?  Perhaps the biggest test Postecoglou has is digging deep into the club and asking the questions. What is Spurs’ identity? What’s the culture? What are we doing here?  If he can provide the answers to those questions, the future may just look rosy for the Lilywhites.


To dare is to do. Over to you, Mr Postecoglou.

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