Spurs need to rediscover transfer mojo


In January 2016, Spurs were linked with three promising youngsters: Moussa Dembele of Fulham, Ademola Lookman of Charlton, and James Maddison of Coventry City.

The assumption at the time was that at least one would be signed before the transfer window closed. It seemed a trademark Spurs transfer approach: identify talented English youngsters at lower division clubs and bring them to White Hart Lane where they can develop and, hopefully, rise in value.

Dembele even reportedly travelled to Hotspur Way for a medical before the deal collapsed. Fulham, battling relegation from the Championship, demanded the player, whose contract was due to expire over the summer, remain at Craven Cottage on loan.

In the end, the transfer window closed, without Spurs making a signing.

The fate of the three players linked in January shows the opportunity cost that Spurs have paid for their prevarication, and underscores the problems Spurs have in the recruitment department at the moment.

Dembele has blossomed into a star at Celtic, banging in 20 goals in 38 appearances. He looked at home on the Champions League stage, and doesn’t appear likely to stay at Celtic for long. A £40m move to Chelsea was mooted in January, albeit with a strong clickbait element. In hindsight — and it was complicated with Spurs being asked to pay for a player on an expiring deal to return on loan – that £5 million not spent must haunt the club.

Lookman, meanwhile, joined Everton this January for £11m. He scored on his debut, and has impressed sufficiently to earn a start against Bournemouth on Saturday. It’s very early days, but he looks lively, pacey and technically good — similar to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain before he moved to Arsenal and his career started to drift. Time will tell, but the early signs are promising.

Maddison, a creative midfielder with a hint of Ross Barkley about him, isn’t fairing so well. Norwich City scooped him up for £2m on deadline day — to the outrage of Coventry City fans who considered him a far more valuable asset — but allowed him to stay at Coventry. This season, he was loaned out to Aberdeen, where he played 14 times in the SPL, scoring twice and assisting seven times, and now finds himself back at Norwich, where he hasn’t made the matchday squad for a Championship match. He’s only 20, and there’s still time, but it doesn’t feel the trajectory of a star.

This January, the transfer window came and went without Spurs making any serious moves for anyone. A 1% percent chance of a deal turned into a 0.01% chance of a deal, but even that seemed to be overstating it. In fact, the only significant stories to emerge were about the dysfunction in the club’s recruitment department — Paul Mitchell, the head of recruitment, resigned, while Ian Broomfield, the international scout, left the club after his contract was not renewed.

Mitchell remains at the club, working out an 18-month notice period. This is an utterly ludicrous situation given the total lack of incentive for Mitchell to do his job properly. If Spurs were so keen to keep him from the clutches of rival clubs, then the club should have insisted on an 18-month period of gardening leave.

Mitchell has largely escaped criticism from the fans, painted as yet another victim of Daniel Levy’s control-freak approach. The exact breaking point isn’t known, but is normally pinpointed as the failure to sign Michy Batshuayi.

But this is far too kind on Mitchell. Before joining Spurs, Mitchell surely did his due diligence: He must have known that a) Spurs have a limited budget compared to top six rivals, especially with the stadium to finance, b) Even without these constraints, as a club run on rational lines, Spurs can’t win bidding wars with plaything clubs like Chelsea, and c) Levy is a hands on chairman who drives a hard bargain and is unafraid of falling out with people.

At the moment, it appears Spurs are going backwards in the transfer market, with Pochettino and Levy calling the shots in the absence of specialist recruitment staff. James Yorke summed it up in an article on Statsbomb:

If there are concerns about the direction the club is moving in, the structure of any transfer committee appears uneasy. Paul Mitchell continues to work his leave and the late summer transfers of Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and Moussa Sissoko looked like headscratchers at the time (with little or no statistical basis to either of them), and the lack of impact made by both players implies that Tottenham may need to apply greater care to their recruitment in future. Talk of Wilfried Zaha is hopefully wide of the mark as his apparently improved contributions for a struggling Crystal Palace carry a huge red flag based on little change in his shooting or creative numbers year on year, implying he’s running on little more than a warm streak of form.

You can see how a mistake like Moussa Sissoko happens given the void created by the departures of key recruitment staff. Pochettino says he wants a powerful, ball-carrying player to add a threat from wide positions, and Sissoko ticks that box. Levy looks at his spreadsheet, and sees room in the budget for a £30m player, paid for in £6m annual instalments. So boom, in Sissoko comes on deadline day. At no point does someone who has actually spent months assessing him say, “Hold on, this guy can’t pass, shoot or control the ball, he’s not up to the technical standard required for this Spurs team”

It’s simple logic, but while Pochettino is in a position to state what his squad is lacking, he isn’t in a position to scout players. There simply isn’t enough time in the day for him to do this and manage the team. Likewise Levy: his in-tray includes building and funding a stadium, contract negotiations, commercial deals, property development and representing Spurs at a Premier League level (think negotiations over TV money, etc). And anyway, neither of them are professional scouts or analysts.

Spurs have already paid the price for the missteps this summer. In October and November, with Champions League in full flow and the squad suffering injuries, a bad run of form allowed Chelsea to bolt clear in the league and saw Spurs crash down into the Europa League. Sissoko was signed as a box-ready product, yet was publicly called out by Pochettino and considered unselectable during this run. Vincent Janssen failed to score from open play while covering from Kane, while GK Nkoudou has barely featured beyond the odd cameo. In particular, he has struggled in his rare starts.

Pochettino has exhausted his old boys brigade with the signing of VIctor Wanyama, so new ideas are sorely needed. Instead of waiting until the summer, Spurs need to move fast to fill the recruitment void. There have been reports of various sporting directors being approached — former Roma honcho Walter Sabatini and Bayern’s Michael Reschke — if this is true, this should happen now or Spurs will miss a valuable half season of scouting time.

However, despite the money wasted on Sissoko and the whole N’Jie-Nkoudou boondoggle (personally, I’m giving Janssen a bit more time before dismissing him as a flop as there is a good technical player there), it’s the deals not done that will haunt Spurs more.

Dembele would have been the latest in a long line of successful acquisitions from lower divisions: Dele, Bale, Walker, Dawson, and so forth. No club does it better — identifying talent from English clubs and developing the hell out of them. For every Walker, say, there is a Kyle Naughton — but the beauty of signing young players is you normally get some return on them, and the value of the ones that make the grade far outweigh the money spent on the ones who don’t. Sure, there are serious talents emerging from the academy, but not in every position.

It’s time for Spurs to get back to what they do best in the transfer market. The beauty of football is, the next big thing is never far away.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

6 thoughts on “Spurs need to rediscover transfer mojo

  1. peter

    Nonsense negative moaning rubbish!!…..go and support Chelski or Citeh – plenty of signings there for you to get excited about

    Sissoko will come good, and prove a good squad player, and the players you mention above were deemed no better than what we have already by Poch, Levy or whoever….end of, stop whinging and enjoy the fact we are 2nd and have a great young squad of players


  2. Russ @spursfandom

    agree with the general thrust of this. I find it hard to believe that someone of Paul Mitchell’s stature and experience in the game didn’t know what he was getting into coming to work with Daniel Levy on transfers.

    I think Fulham’s not entirely unreasonable request that Demebele stayed on loan stymied that deal.

    The biggest issue we face is squad depth. Our full strength first XI is the best team in the league. It drops off in quality quite soon after that as seen in the ELC, Champions League and when we have key players out.

    Hard to address this with big money signings as we are paying for a new stadium and Levy is cautious with money anyway (rightly in my view.) So the academy and signing promising youngsters is the way forward. Hope the rumours about a new chief scout coming are true and he can get on with this. The future is so bright it is Lilywhite.


  3. Lloyd Stiles

    no matter what Fulham wanted, £5m for Dembele was a steal. do i think he’ll go on to be the next Harry Kane? no. do i think we’d have sold him for more than £5m if and when we chose to sell him? yes. he’s a striker. strikers who score 5-10 a season go for stupid amounts of money.

    i understand Levy’s reticence to pay more than he needs to, but as he then went and blew £30m on Sissoko, a player who doesn’t even fit Poch’s beloved system, then the no-deal for Dembele looks increasingly stupid.

    Tottenham need to do two things. the first is obvious. they need to add more quality to the squad. there are a number of players not getting a look-in at other teams that would improve our squad. if his wages could be agreed upon, i have no doubt that Luke Shaw would swap Man Utd’s U23s for the Tottenham squad. (i like Davies a lot, but i would swap him for Shaw in a heartbeat).

    the second (and most important) involves Pochettino – he has to learn to rotate. we may well have the best 11 in the country, but if we really want to be a club that genuinely looks to challenge in all competitions both home and abroad, then he must start trusting our squad players more.

    last weekend we played Middlesbrough. was it an easy game? no. would it have been more difficult had we not played 3 or 4 of our ‘best’ team? very possibly. but at the end of the day, if you can’t trust your squad players in home games against teams from the bottom 6, when can you? players like Janssen will adapt much quicker to English football if they play with our better players. my heart sank during the Villa game when he was taken off before he had the chance to play with Dele and N’Koudou (who both complement Janssen far more than Son). of course there could be some short-term pain but we have to think long-term if we’re really going to join the big boys on a regular basis.

    if Pochettino doesn’t learn to do this, we will continue to lose players who would like to stay but would prefer to play football once in a while, as we did last year with Chadli. i don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Davies, Trippier and Wimmer could all want to leave in the summer, frustrated by Poch’s lack of trust in them. we may well make good money selling those three, but they’ll need replacing and if we’re asking ourselves to find good, cheap replacements every 2-3 years then we’re just making our lives all the more difficult.

    i don’t think anyone disagrees that we should play our best available 11 at Liverpool on Saturday, but after that we have three cup games against opponents we will be expected to beat. it’s the perfect opportunity for Poch to show that he can rotate the squad effectively (3 or 4 changes) but i suspect he’ll sadly continue with his usual ‘policy’ of making 7 or more changes.


    1. thespursreport Post author

      Thanks for that very considered comment. I think you are absolutely right on the issue of Poch and rotation. It’s something that he has struggled with through his career, and I don’t think it is a coincidence Spurs record in Europe is very mediocre during his tenure. It’s definitely an area for him to improve — Wimmer esp has regressed through lack of starts, and it’ll cost Spurs millions in reduced value this summer. But, Poch has shown he can learn — was criticized for tactical inflexibility too, but has shown he can pull a surprise or two this term


  4. Pingback: The Spurs Report wrap-up — links and articles | The Spurs Report

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