WE’VE been waiting for Tottenham to win something for quite some time, in fact, it’s been a decade or more. For all the praise, all the admiring glances and appreciation of Tottenham’s style, commitment to younger players and English swagger, Leicester City, Wigan Athletic and Swansea have won more since the Spurs last went marching on to their trophy cabinet. Some managers have been sacked for less, but we are talking about London N17, not SW6.
There’s no denying Tottenham, with their marvellous new ground and clutch of decent players, have a good future, probably more secure than many of their London rivals, but it could be that something needs to change before the club realises its new-age potential.
Most teams last for, at best, three years, unless a club establishes a strategy of refreshing its side on a gradual basis, either by transfer activity or youth progression. When Arsenal had some youngsters who, we were told, would provide a glittering and sustainable future for the club, we watched as they descended from promising to unfulfilled, with the players that were genuinely talented and marketable moving on. Tottenham’s team, in the past five years, has grown significantly, but they are still without affirmation in the form of silverware.
They’ve gone close, but they have arguably been usurped by time, the uber-status of Manchester City and the rise of Klopp’s Liverpool. While there was an opportunity to fill the berth vacated by Manchester United (definitely) and Chelsea (temporarily), that window may have been closed for the time being. Tottenham’s future – albeit immediate future – may be behind the current team.
Spurs die-hards may shout and scream about the injustice of such a viewpoint, but the word “potential” has a finite lifespan in football and there comes a time when players don’t get any better, their development stops and the product is the product. Spurs could have arrived at that point.
It is starting to look like Spurs reached their peak in 2017 with last season’s run to the Champions League proving to be the absolute climax of the current team. In fact, because Spurs have a relatively trim squad, the commitment to the Champions League may have been too much to keep burning on all fronts – hence, Spurs have gone from second in 2017 to third in 2018 and fourth in 2019.
Look at the league record and Spurs’ goalscoring record has declined in the past two seasons, from the 86 scored in 2016-17 to 67 in 2018-19. At the same time, Spurs have conceded more goals, from 26 in 2016-17 to 39 in 2018-19. In two years, they have also trebled the number of games lost in a campaign, from four in 2016-17 to 13 last season. They’ve lost 15 points over two seasons.
Part of this “decline” is possibly attributable to the move from White Hart Lane to Wembley, although in the (almost) two seasons at Wembley, Spurs won 25 of their 38 home games, compared to 27 in the last two at WHL.
The absence and fitness of Harry Kane obviously impacts Spurs’ goalscoring power. In 2018-19, he scored 17 league goals in 28 appearances, which represented 24% of the club’s 67 Premier League goals. In the previous two campaigns, Kane netted 40% of Spurs’ output. Other players who might have weighed-in with goals were less proficient than they had been in 2016-17 and 2017-18. Dele Alli, for example, netted just five goals after scoring 37 in three seasons, while Christian Eriksen scored eight after twice getting into double figures in four seasons. Lucas Moura, with 10 goals, compensated.
Kane is now 26 and at the peak of his powers. If Tottenham can keep him, he will be the bedrock on which the current and any future team is built. But it is possible that Kane will move, either domestically or abroad. He’s under contract until June 2024 and currently valued by CIES Football Observatory between € 150 and € 200 million. Inflation aside, he may never be more expensive and therefore, Tottenham may have to face the dilemma of not knowing when to cash in on their prize asset.
Kane hasn’t mentioned a move recently, but Mauricio Pochettino is fidgeting uncomfortably about the future and another key man, Christian Eriksen, is also looking to leave the club, although Pochettino has said a move will be “nearly impossible”. Dele Alli is in a similar position, although he’s 23 years old. He’s also on contract until 2024 and is valued over € 100 million.
Tottenham have been considered a “young” team for a few years, but their squad is no longer as youthful as it once was. Recent line-ups have averaged 27.2 and 28.2 – and generally, their teams have been heading towards 27. Compare that to the latest teams for Chelsea and Manchester United, which have averaged under 25 years of age.
While some commentators have suggested a cycle may have ended when Spurs were beaten in Madrid, they had in fact reached the pinnacle of their achievements, a look at recent signings does play to the philosophy of buying young, potential-rich talent. Ryan Sessegnon (19) was bought from Fulham for £ 25 million, while Tanguy Ndombele (22) arrived from Lyon in a deal that could head north of € 70 million. It could be that a new cycle is being kicked-off.
On the face of it, there’s not a lot wrong with Tottenham. They have kicked-off their 2019-20 campaign with roughly the same passing rate per match as in 2018-19 (561 per game), with an accuracy rate at 83% (2019 87%). Their on-target shooting rate is just 31.25% at present, which is down on the past five years. Their possession ratio, as compared to the last 10 games of 2018-19 is virtually unchanged at 59%.
Psychologically, though, Tottenham need to get over the hurdle of winning a major honour, which is important, regardless of the fact they have qualified for the UEFA Champions League. Their best chance with this particular team may have passed. Tottenham are not the team they were two years ago, but it won’t take much to recreate it.