Updated: May 10
Annoyance at your club not spending big in the transfer window is becoming another staple of modern football. I must confess I’m finding it increasingly hard to argue with any passion that one bunch of offshore millionaires should spend tens of millions to get ahead of another right now. In the context of a country heading into triple-dip recession and the government kicking the poor and the public service users (the same thing in their book) harder than I can ever remember, who does or doesn’t sign for a football club isn’t very important. That said, football is a consuming passion that prompts opinion. My take on where Spurs currently stand is just another punter’s view and I’m not asking anyone to read any more into it than that.
I should also say I’ve got mixed feelings about the January window. If clubs had a squad they had to stick with for the whole season, wouldn’t that encourage coaches to work harder to make the sum of what they have greater if the whole is not performing? Doesn’t the January window encourage short-termism, with immediate problems tackled by hasty buys that may be regretted at leisure? I accept there’s a bit of hair-shirtism lurking there. And I know that the window does give clubs, and players, another shot when things haven’t worked out as well as they may. I’m just not convinced that, on balance, the window is a positive thing.
But as it stands, there is a transfer window in January, so it’s up to clubs to use it to their best advantage. And you can’t help thinking Spurs have missed out. Spurs do not have the same depth or quality up front as the sides they are competing with in the top six. Last season the need to strengthen seemed obvious. We didn’t, opting instead to bring in Louis Saha who played well for one game and then vanished. We managed to cling on for a fourth place finish, but blew the third place or better that looked very achievable as the year turned. Whether this was down to lack of rotation, lack of tactics, lack of motivation or lack of a striker depends on who you want to bash most. It would be hard to argue, though, that another striker who knew where the goal was would have done us any harm.
In the summer, we brought a new manager on board. This removed the possibility that the board didn’t want to spend on a striker because they weren’t really backing the manager – something which deflected criticism last January. We began the season with a good squad, but one which still looked light up front. Defoe had never convinced as a leader of the line, or indeed as a striker able to thrive against top opposition. We left signing Adebayor until late. We signed Dempsey, but the deal looked like opportunism rather than planning and the jury’s out on whether he’s a forward or an attacking midfielder. We were told the key man new manager AVB wanted was Moutinho, but the board left it too late to complete the signing.
Left to get on with what he had, AVB has done a pretty good job. The team is playing intelligent football, if not always with the flair and ambition we’ve seen over the previous two seasons. Defoe was a revelation, operating as a lone striker in front of three midfielders or leading the line in a 4-4-2 in a way few of us could ever have expected. But lately, the goals have dried up – possibly because of the pelvic injury he’s rumoured to be carrying. Dempsey has taken time to settle in, but has improved. Where his best position is, though, is still not certain – although he’s most certainly not an out-and-out centre forward.
Adebayor has been a serious disappointment. He didn’t seem to have kept himself fit over the summer, arriving back at Spurs when last season’s loan deal was made permanent with work to do before he could get a game. When he has played he has often seemed not bothered. He played very well for 17 minutes though. Against Arsenal, unfortunately, he was too bothered, eventually getting himself sent off and ruining our game plan.
Then he decided he hadn’t, in fact, retired from international football at all and was off to the African Nations Cup. I bet they were delighted at Spurs when he sprang that one. It’s lucky for so many reasons that I am not the manager at Spurs, but especially lucky for Ade. My view is that he is unprofessional, unreliable and unmotivated.
As this January’s window opened, Spurs were again well-placed to consolidate a top four place – perhaps even to push on further. You don’t have to be a student of football science to understand that scoring more goals than your opponent is a key – the key? – part of the game. And to score goals you need goalscorers. But with an injured and out-of-form striker, another missing (in so many ways) and Dempsey never intended to fit the bill, the need to sign a proven goalscorer was even more obvious.
It’s hard to know what really happened, but Spurs did not seem to be trying too hard to make that signing. The signing of Lewis Holtby was only brought forward after an injury to Sandro and a pisspoor performance against Leeds. And while Holtby can play a holding role, he is really an attacking midfielder. AVB has already said he will play “as a number 10”. Which raises further questions over what we’ve got in mind for Dempsey, who can play off a main striker, and Sigurdsson too. But credit where it’s due – we did make the signing and at a time when it cost us, rather than waiting to pick up the player on a free.
It also seems that the key man new manager AVB wanted was Damiao, but the board left it too late to complete the signing. (The more astute readers will detect a theme emerging). Again, I’m wary of making pronouncements when it’s impossible to know all the facts. But it does seem very odd that we should wait until so late, then make a bid that was at best unlikely to be accepted. AVB himself has said “a little more time would probably have helped”. So that’s twice the board have failed to back their man by being too slow or too unwilling to secure the main target he’s identified. To this observer, the “bid” for Damiao looked more like playing to the gallery than a serious attempt to do business.
I’m not a Levy-basher. I have voiced criticisms before and I do think his epitaph will be “Too clever by half”. But I can’t deny the club is in better financial shape than many rivals because Levy has resisted the temptation to fling money around. What irritates is that the club insists it is operating at the top level when charging us mug fans for the privilege of supporting it, but wheedles on about how it can’t possibly compete at the top level when it gets the chance to do so, especially if that involves spending some of the money we help to generate. There’s a very strong feeling that Levy has missed an opportunity here. Damiao has been a target for some time, yet we’re apparently unable to sign him despite being a club in fourth place in the world’s richest league managed by one of the most promising and progressive managers in football.
But maybe it’s not all down to money. Maybe it’s our scouting system. We’ve heard the line that ‘the players just aren’t available’. Yet Alan Carr’s old man (once a Spurs scout) at Newcastle seems to have been able to spot a few good ‘uns. Or take the case of Michu. Spurs were told about him in 2011 by former player Gerry Armstrong, now an expert on Spanish football. Although, again to be fair, a host of clubs including Manchester United and Arsenal have admitted Michu escaped their radar. These players who appear every week on cable TV are very hard to spot.
It maybe that previous mistakes have induced paralysis of the chequebook. A look at the strikers who have played for Spurs over the last 10 years reveals a mixed bag. Of this list of names, who can be considered a success? Iversen, Sheringham, Keane, Defoe, Kanoute, Postiga, Mido, Berbatov, Bent, Pavlyuchenko, Crouch, Gudjohnson, Dos Santos, Saha and Adebayor.
Ted stands out, but his best days were more than 10 years ago. The 2002/03 season was his last with us, and it wasn’t one of his best. Berbatov also stands out – one of the best players I ever saw at White Hart Lane. I argued against going in for him again at the start of this season, but I now think we should have. Keane and Defoe also deserve to be considered legends – they’ve scored the goals. But we’ve offloaded and resigned both during the last 10 years – raising questions about our alleged transfer ‘strategy’ – and Keane’s second coming was not messianic. Defoe, while deserving his legend status, still doesn’t convince as a top, top striker. And that’s it. Of the other nine strikers only Kanoute – a good player badly managed – and [awaits brickbats] Crouch stand out.
Say what you like about Crouch, he performed a role consistently well, and we’ll always have Milan. Bent deserves some sympathy for being a good player recruited to a team whose system was utterly unsuited to his style.
That list shows that, rather than not spend, Spurs have not spent wisely. I’m able to say that with the benefit of hindsight, because I thought most of those were decent signings at the time. So we have to acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes. But for most of the last 10 years it’s also been reasonable to argue that Spurs have not been in a position to attract the top quality players. In the last two years, Spurs have consolidated their top five status. They have one of the world’s best players, Gareth Bale, plying his trade. And, as the board never tire of telling us, they have secure finances. All of which would make you think that signing the player who could score the goals to move us on would be achievable.
I’m not sure the gnashing of teeth that’s come from some quarters over the striker situation is entirely justified. Holtby gives us the creative option we’ve been missing, although he’ll need time to settle. With Lennon and Bale, two of the league’s best wide players, and a return to form of Dembele, it shouldn’t be hard for us to create. In Dempsey, we have a player who can link midfield and attack. But it’s that attack that still gives cause for concern. If Defoe really is injured, we’re in trouble – reliant on a returning Adebayor to suddenly give a shit or Kane and Obika to suddenly transform into top drawer strikers. Look at our options against those of the teams around us and there’s even more cause to worry. Where will the goals come from?
I’ve got a lot of faith in AVB’s ability as a coach, and so I don’t believe we can write our chances off as some are doing. But I do think we are making things difficult for ourselves by not securing the striker we so obviously need.