Deadline day came and went on Tuesday in a flurry of lurid yellow ties, desperate negotiations and angry tweets from Spurs fans and West Brom players alike.
Like most fans, I went through the seven stages of grief – well, at least anger, denial and bargaining – at 6pm. The day after, I’m now into acceptance. The squad is what it is, nothing can be done about it now.
On balance, I’d say Spurs achieved about half of what we needed to do this summer. We got rid of most of the deadwood, but are stuck with Emmanuel Adebayor and, less problematically, Federico Fazio. We moved quickly to shore up the defence with signings of Toby Alderweireld, Kieran Trippier and Kevin Wimmer, and added new attacking options in Son Heung-min and Clinton N’Jie. We also kept Hugo Lloris. But, the club failed to bring in the experienced central midfielder the callow squad surely needed, and no second striker arrived to support Harry Kane.
The central midfield question I’ll leave for another day, but the failure to sign a striker was at the heart of many a Twitter meltdown.
The Saido Berahino debacle was puzzling. In what was an insane market for strikers – where inflationary pressures of all the TV money sloshing around combined with a shortage in quality front men – £25m seemed a reasonable amount of money to spend on a young striker who has already shown he can score Premier League goals in a team that creates few chances. Us fans will be left to draw our own conclusions about what the failure to meet this price says about Daniel Levy’s strategy, nerve, or the club’s financial state.
The big fear Spurs fans will have, as we enter the dog days of long Europa League trips and early Sunday kick-offs, is that something happens to Harry Kane. Let’s say he suffers an injury on England duty this fortnight, what do Spurs then do up front? Mauricio Pochettino will dutifully say he is happy with his attacking options. But what are they? Let’s have a look at them.
First of all, about Poch’s system. When Southampton played their best under the Argentine in 2013-2014 season they didn’t actually score that many goals. Rickie Lambert had 13 in 37 League matches. Jay Rodriguez had 15 in 33. Adam Lallana had 9 in 38. No one else chipped in significantly. I loved watching the Saints that season, but it wasn’t because they were running up the goals or were particularly thrilling. They were just an ultra-efficient, fast, well-drilled, hard-working team that knew how to get ahead and stay ahead.
They key to the attacking system was that Rickie Lambert intelligently created space and worked defenders, leaving room for Lallana to operate and creating opportunities for Rodriguez to get in behind. Kane, Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen basically replicated that last season. The striker in Poch’s system is as much as anything a worker – moving intelligently, holding up the ball and drawing defenders. He is expected to share the goalscoring burden, not shoulder it alone. Pochettino never had
to cope with a Lambert injury, so we are slightly in the dark as to his thinking.
So what are the options?
Son Heung-Min: Our new Korean is presumably the first option should Kane go down. I was under the impression that he plays mostly off the front man in very much the Rodriguez mold, and was as much an upgrade on the left over Chadli. But, he has played up front before, and he is actually quite similar to Kane physically – over 6ft and strong, with more pace. The drama over his position on the club’s website suggests someone at Hotspur Way sees him as a striker. Presumably at this stage, Son is the
official “Plan B”.
Clinton N’Jie: The man of mystery. Stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette at Lyon, most of his minutes came out wide. But for Cameroon, he has played up front, and the Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas (no doubt eyeing a future sale) made the comparison with Samuel Eto’o. A totally different player from Kane, from what little we know about N’Jie he is someone who carries the ball and arrives in the box at pace, not someone who plays across the line or with his back to goal. But frankly, we await eagerly
to see what he is like once he emerges from Poch’s lab.
Nacer Chadli: Played up front on some of our pre-season adventures. Chadli is big, strong and quick – one of those guys who manages to look like he has everything, score a ton of goals, but still feel a bit uninvolved and disappointing. He failed conspicuously to hold the ball up against Stoke when Harry Kane went off, and Spurs paid a heavy price. I really don’t like this option, or the fact that it appears to be so high up the list.
Mousa Dembele: The Belgian enigma has been a bit of an obsession of mine of late. Not because I am waiting to see if, age 28, he suddenly breaks out and becomes that world-class midfielder we’ve been waiting to emerge, but because I think he could be a sneaky answer to the forward conundrum. Dembele has dropped deeper through his career, but he was signed by Fulham as a forward player. What Dembele brings is movement across the line, ability to draw defenders into contact, and the strength and technique to hold the ball. What drives us nuts about him is his refusal to shoot from range, pass forward or make runs from deep – none of which would matter if he was playing as a striker in Poch’s system. I just don’t think this is as crazy as it sounds – call him a False Nine and suddenly we’ve got all sorts of hipster potential.
Erik Lamela: This may get floated about, as much out of desperation to find a role for him as anything. But I wouldn’t risk it as Lamela gives the ball away too much.
Emmanuel Adebayor: Is it possible to feel sympathy and anger at someone? Someone who refuses to move unless he gets his contract paid in full and then can sign a new one on top is shameless. Someone who refuses to move because they are waiting for a sign from God and a word from their pastor is in need of help. I don’t think we can talk about Adebayor as a footballer any more. Judging by the reports of his personal situation, he sounds in a very troubled place and needs help. I feel, even after all the money he has been paid and the anguish he has caused, the club still has a duty of care to him and should take whatever steps it can to get him out of the clutches of whatever quacks or shamans or liggers he is in hock to. There could be serious mental health issues in play at this point, if this talk about him requiring signs from God in professional decision making are accurate. This is a sad situation for anyone. Not the belief in god of course, but the fact that he appears to have lost control of himself. Even for a rich footballer this is sad.
In summary, the options aren’t great and if Kane does pull a hamstring we have problems. Surely, Berahino would have been a great addition both as an alternative to Kane, an impact player off the bench, or an alternative playing in the Rodriguez role. But nevertheless, there are options, and I have confidence that Poch is a smart enough coach to muddle through.
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