It has been a long summer for Tottenham Hotspur. Five days after they ended the Premier League campaign with a 7-1 victory against Hull, Mauricio Pochettino and his players travelled to Hong Kong for an exhibition match against Kitchee. It was a productive marketing exercise to help maintain the interest of supporters and sponsors in far reaches of the globe. With a new £750 million stadium to pay for, trips such as this and the subsequent US tour are absolutely vital.
But the theme of the friendly – from the local fans in the crowd holding banners asking Kyle Walker to stay, to the post-match press conference – was focused on the club’s transfer business. It is inescapable at this time of year, even five days after the real football had finished, but the manager insisted plans were afoot. “Tomorrow, when we arrive in London, we start work on next season,” said Pochettino. Eleven weeks later, and two days before the new season kicks off, the only significant change has been Kyle Walker’s departure.
Given their relative lack of revenue streams compared to the other teams in the top six – something the club is working hard to rectify – Spurs can argue that the summer has still been a success in keeping together a first XI that finished second last year, Walker aside. But the cracks started to appear with the full-back’s exit to Manchester City, before Danny Rose’s interview with The Sun drove a sledgehammer through the remaining facade. For all the commentary that Tottenham are pursuing a ‘different way’, with a noble emphasis on continuity, this now looks to be willful blindness towards a lack of decisive action.
The eagerness to buy into any notion of idealism, such as a club shunning the transfer window mayhem, is understandable in a sport where a player paying off his contract for €222 million to switch one super club for another is something many choose to celebrate. Having what can objectively be termed a ‘good summer’ isn’t all about spending money, but footballers don’t necessarily see things that way, with new faces often providing welcome competition. It is the players’ perspective that ultimately matters most.
Pochettino has already insisted that Spurs need to strengthen to remain in the title picture and, although delivered in a more self-interested and vehement tone, Rose has only echoed his manager’s comments. Were Spurs’ first XI being pushed by a talented and driven new set of understudies, that may have been enough for the forthcoming campaign to hold their gaze. Without that being the case, it is easy for minds to drift elsewhere, namely Walker’s new pay-packet and his lower odds of lifting the Premier League trophy.
Tottenham are in an incredibly difficult position, with North London neighbours Arsenal knowing what it’s like to feel the pinch of a new stadium. But the time is clearly coming where Spurs will be forced to break their strict wage structure or risk their star players asking to leave. When Andre Gray, a striker with nine Premier League goals to his name, is now earning £70,000 a week at Watford – more than several of the Spurs team that finished second last year – it is inevitable heads will turn.
Those heads could also have been turned last summer, however, when Tottenham spent £68 million on Victor Wanyama, Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko and Georges-Kévin N’Koudou. Of that quartet only Wanyama has offered a reasonable return on investment, but perhaps the value in the others, although less tangible, was in giving a fresh outlook to the season ahead and providing evidence that money is available to fund the pursuit of silverware. Like it or not, football is in an era where transfer activity is king – even signing a dud is given more approval than signing no one.
Continuity only works as a culture when everyone signs up to it. It was clearly never meant to be the way forward for Spurs given Pochettino’s remarks, with Rose now hinting that the squad also expected a lot more to happen. The timing of his interview may be poor, but in some ways it could help the club for these grievances, which are clearly not exclusive to Rose, to be out in the open. Tottenham still have three weeks to strengthen their squad. At this stage it will be an investment in confidence.