Tottenham's recruitment must improve after stadium move
Tottenham Hotspur’s move to the new stadium should be the prelude to a wonderful new era for the club.
Hard work over the last half a decade has led to the production of a team that consistently attains Champions League qualification with relative comfort.
That should be attained once again this season with a top-four finish at 4/6 with Betway (as of 13 March) even if back-to-back defeats puts an element of pressure back on with trips to Liverpool and Man City coming up.
In some ways, it seems churlish to question a club that has been so influential in the development of young, British players, whilst becoming ensconced in English football’s elite.
Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest strength is his ability to take hold of good Premier League footballers, elevate them to new levels through world class coaching and successfully encourage them to believe that they belong at the top table.
And yet, Tottenham have not genuinely progressed in any season since 2015-16, when they came close to winning the Premier League title.
That is not necessarily a major criticism as such, because it is very difficult to better a narrowly unsuccessful title challenge, especially when there are five other clubs that have since had realistic aspirations of being top dog.
Equally, it is also difficult to watch one team stay in the same position, however admirable that might be, and truly appreciate it – a bit like watching a magician perform an impressive trick more than once.
One finds oneself wanting Tottenham to go up that next level and not just qualify for the Champions League, but start winning trophies or at least seriously challenging for major honours.
Can they do that once they move into the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium? Possibly.
Getting key players tied down to long-term contracts represented a considerable chunk of the challenge and, although Kyle Walker left for Manchester City in 2017, that has largely been achieved.
Serial goalscorer Harry Kane and dynamic second striker Dele Alli, arguably their two biggest assets, have been happy enough with the direction the club is heading in to commit until 2024, while effervescent forward Son Heung-Min signed a contract up to 2023.
Perhaps the club have not acted quite as proactively on deals for the classy Belgian defensive duo of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, partly because they have faith in the athletic Davinson Sanchez and the promising Juan Foyth to step into their positions over the next two seasons, with the former also contracted for another five years.
Tottenham have built a stable squad and the cohesion with which they often play is part of why they have been getting better results – over the last 18 months, if not in the recent 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge – than a Roman Abramovich-bankrolled Chelsea, who do not have as clear a sense of direction.
On the flip side, the fact they have this stable squad is also an indication that something is not quite right about their transfer business.
Part of that is down to the lack of investment, with no money spent on fees in the last two windows and only one £30M+ player added over the last four windows, in comparison with six apiece for Manchester City and Liverpool in the same time frame.
However, Spurs cannot match the elite on transfer fees, then to compete with them they must recruit incredibly smartly – and they do not yet seem to be doing that.
Steve Hitchen was appointed Head of Recruitment and Analysis in February 2017 – and while he deserves credit for his role in bringing in Lucas Moura, not too many of Tottenham’s subsequent signings have required genuine, in-depth analysis.
Sanchez was playing in the Europa League Final prior to joining, Fernando Llorente got his move based on his form for Athletic Bilbao and Juventus up until 2015 rather than performances for Swansea, while the likes of Serge Aurier and Moura had fallen out of favour at giants PSG.
Foyth aside, these appear to be obvious, opportunistic signings rather than ones that highlight a Dortmund-like ability to track a player’s progress meticulously and catch them just before they hit stardom.
Pochettino, for all his brilliance in coaching, appears to want control in all departments of the club, including a strong say in recruitment, which is potentially problematic because that is not his strong suit.
Unlike clubs with a massive budget, who can pick ready-made stars and afford the occasional bad signing, Tottenham need their transfer business to consistently be, quite literally, on the money.
For that to happen, the club needs to sift through thousands of players across the globe who are both realistically available and potentially useful to Spurs’ ambitions.
It would be almost impossible for Pochettino to identify the best ones to target whilst taking charge of first team affairs with equal efficiency – he is only human and needs to channel his energies into his best line of work.
While there must, of course, be dialogue between manager and recruitment team, there must also be trust. Ideally, the scouts would streamline a longlist of potential targets into a shortlist for the boss to pick two or three key targets to pursue.
For that to happen, though, the setup for the initial stages of transfer dealings, especially with regards to lesser-known players, would need to be more extensive than evidence suggests the current setup is.
Tottenham are doing well, for now – both their league performance and the signature of key men highlights a seamless transition into their new home.
When the move is finalized, however, it will be time for the bar to be raised – the club will need to recruit not just more expensively, but more intelligently, too and that might entail a structural re-think.
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