Tag Archives: Eric Dier

It’s time for Spurs to shatter the wage structure

By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

For the past three seasons, Spurs have been engaged in a high-wire act, trying to bridge the chasm between the Premier League’s financial elite and also-rans, on a far smaller budget while investing £800m in a shiny new stadium.

Thanks to the brilliant work of Mauricio Pochettino, the discovery of a superstar striker from within the academy and the assembly of a strong and cohesive core of players, Spurs have managed to defy gravity. But now, with the new stadium rising from the ground and the end within touching distance, Spurs have started to sway.

Much has already been written about Danny Rose’s uncomfortable (you can pick your own adjective) comments about the club’s strategy and ambition, and I don’t want rehash these arguments. I’d recommend this excellent piece by Daniel Storey on the context of the comments, and this piece by Alan Fisher captured a lot of my torn emotions about the summer Spurs have had.

Instead, I want to look at what Spurs can do to respond on one of the key issues raised by Rose: the club’s wage structure.

(I’ve recently looked at transfer spending, as well as stadium spending — for new readers, there’s plenty in the archives to get stuck into on the stadium and finances.)

For the past three years, the Spurs wage bill has been more or less flat, hovering around £100m. It is the sixth highest in the league, per the last set of financials. Arsenal have the fifth highest wage bill, and at £195m it is almost double Tottenham’s.

The wage structure at Spurs is widely reported as being a series of tiers. Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane are on top, earning around £100,000 per week. Then there is a tight band of senior players on a tier below, earning between £60,000 and £80,000 — the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen — followed by younger players such as Dele and Eric Dier, who are regularly rolled onto new deals until they reach the second tier.

It has been a structure that has worked — the team has performed on the field, and seems to genuinely get along off it. It appears that Pochettino has wanted to maintain this balance for the sake of squad unity, rather than risk bringing in expensive players on higher levels that may disturb the status quo. Up until now, Levy and Pochettino have done a good job of persuading current players to sign new deals and buy into this structure, even if at a discount to what they could earn elsewhere.

The approach was always going to run its course eventually. The question now is: has that moment arrived?

Daniel Levy is a stubborn man, and his reaction to Rose’s interview may well be entrenchment. After all, Rose only recently renewed his contract — no-one forced him to sign it, and contracts should be honoured. Pochettino appears to genuinely be on the same wavelength as Levy on wages and spending, and in his pre-match press conference on Friday, made exactly this point.

As principled a stance as this is, it’s also a losing one — players invariably end up getting what they want.

If the frustration was limited to Rose, perhaps he could be quickly shifted up to Manchester United, the money banked, and a new left back sought. But, as widely reported, it seems that Rose’s views on uncompetitive wages are shared by many within the Spurs squad.

Here’s a simple chart of revenue vs wages. The figures are from club accounts, until financial year 2016. For 2017, I’ve estimated revenue conservatively, based on known changes to PL and UEFA money; wages is harder, but I’ve attempted to gauge the shift in total wage spend based on the comings and goings and contract renewals in past 12 months as reported in the media. The figure that came out was about £115m — it’s very rough, but I want to at least illustrate it.

Rev v Wages to 2017

As you can see, wages are starting to diverge a long way from revenue. It’s really quite a big gap now — too big, from the perspective of the players.

WHAT CAN SPURS DO?

A few ideas have been floated in terms of how Spurs can address the frustration within the camp, and see off any potential mutiny. A unilateral wage bump, a lifting of the ceiling, or an expanded bonus pot for on-field performance. But these seem reactive, like trying to stick something that is broken back together, knowing it’ll never quite be the same.

It may simply be time to accept that the status quo has changed, abandon the wage structure altogether, and deal with player contracts on a case-by-case basis.

It’s risky, but if players are complaining in public about being underpaid and about a lack of squad strength, they are less likely to be disappointed to see new signings or current teammates suddenly earning a lot more than them. Instead of the goal of the wage structure being unity, it becomes about ambition — players see teammates’ earnings jump, and accept it in the knowledge that the club is trying everything to win (and that their turn will come).

Levy isn’t stupid — he knows that he’s had the benefit of a relatively low wage bill for several years, enabling him to shovel money into the stadium project. There was always going to come a time when this ended. For several years now, we’ve been talking about Spurs being a “young” team, and they’ve been paid like it. Relatively, Spurs may still be quite young, but actually, this is a group of players in their prime. Of the core 15 or 16, only Winks and Dele are under 23. Kane is 24, Eriksen 25, Trippier 26 — these aren’t kids.

The wage structure has increasingly become a limitation. Players who could have strengthened the team — Sadio Mane for example — have gone elsewhere, forcing Spurs to settle for poorer alternatives.

How would this new approach work in practice? Next up on the contract list is surely Alderweireld — he’s one of the best CBs in the league, so pay him like it, even if it is more than Lloris and Kane. Toby isn’t stupid — he knows what he is worth, and simply isn’t going to accept that what should be the biggest deal of his career is far below market rate. After Toby, it is probably Eric Dier’s turn — again, pay him close to what he is worth, or at least match the highest earners. Spurs need to be realistic — to lose one of the best back five in the league last season is unfortunate, to lose three or four would be careless.

(BTW, I utterly disagree with the “he’s earning more in week than most people earn in a year so he should shut up” complaint — elite sportspeople have enormously valuable skills and very short careers that can end in an instant. They are also humans — people want to earn what they are worth.)

Spurs can never top what these players could earn at Man City — clubs fueled by petrodollars will always be able to outbid those run rationally. But Spurs can offer a competitive wage, in a team that can contend for the title, a manager they respect, London and the best new stadium in Europe from next summer. It’s not a bad pitch.

CAN SPURS AFFORD THIS?

“Hang on”, you’re probably thinking, “how on earth are Spurs going to pay for this?”

I was going to go into a big spiel here with numbers and projections, but ultimately, there is no accurate information for individual player wages, and it’s hard to see where stadium funding begins and ends in terms of football-related revenue vs debt.

But at a higher-level, in the last accounts, wage-to-turnover ratio was 47.4%. Under my projection of the next accounts, the ratio drops to 41.3% — that’s incredibly low. Manchester United are the only other club below 50 percent. Arsenal stand at 55%, while Liverpool are at 69%. With a stadium to finance, it’s not realistic to expect Spurs to stand spending in an unrestrained way — but it is realistic to expect Spurs to spend in a competitive way.

If Spurs were to maintain the current 47.4% ratio into the next financial year, that would mean a wage bill of about £133m — that’s £33m more than is currently spent. Spurs could offer nine players £70,000 per week wage increases, and still the wage-to-turnover ratio would drop in the next accounts. (Of course it’s more complex than that with bonuses and so forth, but you get the point).

Spurs have issued a raft of new deals in the past financial year, including many senior players, but it would appear there is still significant room for more, if the club chooses. And revenue is going to climb further in the next two years — for example, Spurs will have the new Nike and AIA deals showing in the FY 2018 accounts. There’s also the chance to sell huge numbers of tickets at Wembley — all those outrageous £3.50 booking fees will start adding up — and then hopefully we’ll be in the new stadium.

With concerns over growth of TV rights income, fears of stadium cost overruns and no naming rights sponsor, plus an inflated transfer market where value is hard to gauge, let alone find, there are a lot of factors weighing on the club’s decision making. The hope is that Levy doesn’t get seduced by the complexity — Spurs have a team that is good enough to win trophies, and appealing enough to help sell those swanky premium seats at the new stadium. More depth is needed, but the core was cheap to assemble — if the price of success is that it is a bit more expensive to keep together than planned, then so be it. It’s a pretty good problem, in the grand scheme of things. It certainly feels there’s significant scope to increase wages before getting into the territory of the club spending money that doesn’t exist. Hell may need to freeze over first, but it may be that Levy and Joe Lewis reach a point where they accept it’s time to push the envelope a bit on football spending to take that final step.

Is Levy prepared to swallow some pride, and some cost, to keep this squad together? Pochettino’s masterful handling of Friday’s press conference — his “disappointed dad” tone was pitch perfect — showed both firmness, and a little flex. The fact the agency and club were able to get together on a statement to de-escalate the situation beforehand helped, and suggested plenty of work is going on behind the scenes. Pragmatism may yet rule the day — contrast that to the situation with Liverpool and the timing of Coutinho’s transfer request, designed to make Jurgen Klopp look a fool.

Danny Rose, in his hopelessly unprofessional (and scorchingly honest) way, may have done Spurs a favour. It’s time to recognise that the environment has changed, shift strategy quickly, and take a sledgehammer to that wage structure.

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

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Good problems: Five questions facing Spurs this summer

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Nabil Bentaleb is a problem — but a good one.

A full-blooded draw at Stamford Bridge ended Tottenham’s slim title hopes, but the point ensured that Spurs will finish in the top three for the first time in the Premier League era.

Various mathematical possibilities remain, but at the very least Spurs have secured qualification for the Champions League qualifying round. A win on Sunday against Southampton and we will wrap up second place given our unassailable goal difference.

It has been an extraordinary season, and once the disappointment of being pipped to the post by Leicester fades, I’m sure we will look back on the campaign as one of the finest in the history of the club.

While us fans drink it in, and mull over what might have been, there is no time for Premier League clubs to rest.

The combination of the new TV deal and new eras at some of the richest clubs threaten an arms race the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Premier League era. Spurs and Leicester have usurped the elite, and they will be gunning for both clubs. At Spurs, we are used to it, but you sense Leicester are going to be in for an almighty shock next time around.

Champions League was the hope for Spurs in the 2016/17 season, but not the expectation. The potential to now compete for higher calibre players adds both potential, and pressure, to the business ahead. Meanwhile, Champions League football may necessitate new contracts, wage bumps or bonuses to ensure the players and their representatives are happy and focused for the campaign ahead.

As far as problems go, these are brilliant ones to have.

Put yourself in Daniel Levy’s shoes. What would you rather be doing this summer — fending off calls from Ed Woodward and Florentino Perez, or topping up a few contracts and shopping for a couple of new stars?

The wage issue is just one of a number of “good problems” facing Tottenham’s key decision makers. With such a young team, the scope for natural progression is evident. The strong team identity — the philosophy, if you will — provides a framework for strengthening that certain other teams lack.

This summer offers an opportunity to make a number of smart moves that can push us to the next level. In most cases, the choice will between something good, and something potentially even better. We are in a strong, and happy, place right now — that perspective is important in the months ahead.

I am going to sketch out a number of these “good problems” below. One thing that isn’t a “good problem” is the striker situation — we’ve walked the Harry Kane hamstring high wire once, but there is no way we can risk it again. Our forward options are just a problem, pure and simple.

Do Spurs stick or twist with Nacer Chadli?

Of the “Bale money” signings, if there is one who continues to defy judgement, it is Nacer Chadli. What is he? Is he a productive player who contributes when given the chance — seven goals and five assists this season in limited minutes? Or is he a player with tremendous physical and technical gifts who has never quite found the intensity to reach his potential?

After showing little promise in his first season at White Hart Lane, Chadli was widely accepted as having a fine campaign in 2014/15. He played just under 3,000 minutes overall — the amount a first-choice player would play — and contributed 13 goals and five assists in total, one every 163 minutes.

This season, he started the first five games — in which Spurs secured five points out of a possible 15 — and played 90 minutes in each (against Everton he was subbed off just before the end). But since then Chadli hasn’t played the full 90 minutes in a league game.

In all competitions, Chadli has played just 1,650 minutes — although an ankle injury in the autumn meant he was unavailable for two months. When he has played, he has often appeared off the pace and even listless. And yet, he has been extremely productive — with seven goals and five assists in total, one every 137 minutes.

Chadli is a walking, talking “good problem”. On the one hand, he is a squad player who has proven that he can produce goals and chances when called upon. On the other hand, he has done nothing in the past six months to put pressure on Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela for a place in Pochettino’s strongest XI.

With his scoring record and the fact that, at 26, he is in his prime, Chadli is sure to have suitors. Spurs paid £7 million for him from FC Twente — given Andros Townsend, a far less productive player, went for £12 million, Spurs should comfortably command something in the £15-20 million range for him. This is money that Spurs could re-invest in, say, a young talent with a far higher ceiling.

On the other hand though, Spurs need productive squad players. The Europa League campaign highlighted the shortage of quality options in the squad, but Spurs did not need to prioritize the competition. There is no such room for easing off in the Champions League, and certainly not if the club is trying to sell out Wembley. A player like Chadli — who seemingly is happy to be part of a squad and playing limited minutes, yet contributing when he does — may be far more useful for Spurs next season.

It is a “good problem” if ever there was one.

How to add a new dimension to the central midfield?

Against Bournemouth and Liverpool, Spurs fans watched every Eric Dier tackle with trepidation knowing that he was one yellow card away from a two-game ban.

Dier’s transformation from makeshift to mainstay has been extraordinary, and is a testament to both Pochettino’s coaching and Dier’s intelligence and technical ability.

His adaption to the role is illustrated by the yellow card issue. In his first seven games as a Premier League central midfielder, he was booked five times, ruling him out of the home match against Liverpool. He has been booked five times In the 28 games since.

Dier has played 35 out of 36 games in the league this season, racking up 3,088 minutes. Along with Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, he has been the rock this miserly Spurs team has been built on.

In Dortmund, a Spurs midfield anchored by (and I still can’t believe Pochettino tried this) Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll was brutally and predictably taken apart. It showed that we sorely need at least one other strong midfield option in case of injury, suspension or need for rotation.

This isn’t a straightforward task though. The midfield trio of Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli offer a wonderful balance, and whoever comes in is likely to see limited minutes as a starter. In particular, both Dier and Alli have proven themselves durable in their early careers. More likely, the minutes will be in place of Dembele, who is never at his best playing back-to-back games.

While someone like Victor Wanyama is frequently linked, and would appear to offer value entering the final year of his contract at Southampton, Spurs would still be spending a lot in transfer fees and wages on a player who may see strictly limited action as a Dier replacement, or someone brought on alongside him to stiffen up the midfield and preserve a lead in certain games.

Likewise, Spurs may not want to sign a midfielder who primarily plays “forward” as this player may not offer quality cover for Dier when needed. Spurs already have Ryan Mason in the squad offering cover in that sort of box-to-box role.

You may be thinking, just buy two. But we have been down the road of expensive squad players, and it wasn’t pretty. Pochettino spent most of his first 12 months clearing out the likes of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Benji Stambouli.

Pochettino doesn’t want depth for depth’s sake, judging by his statements on wanting a smaller squad than he inherited. He wants first-team quality options, and if there are minutes going spare, he would rather give them to youngsters. The days of the “Mourinho mantra” of two experienced players in every position may be over — Spurs have tried it, and not only did it fail but it was expensive. Spurs will be looking at highly-targeted versatility, rather than a Redknappian “we need to get a few more bodies in”.

Spurs ideally would be looking for someone who can play in the deep role, but also provide some of the attacking thrust of Dembele (there won’t be anyone exactly like Dembele, he is a one of a kind). This isn’t an easy piece of recruitment by any means.

But if I was Paul Mitchell, this is exactly the sort of recruitment puzzle I’d get out of bed for. There will be quality players out there who can do both. It’s just a case of finding them.

Why is this a good problem? We already have a midfield that works, and there are all sorts of interesting ways Spurs can approach the task of making it even better without breaking the bank.

What do Spurs do with Nabil Bentaleb?

Of course, it may be that Spurs already have the central midfielder they need to cover Dier and Dembele in the squad. Step forward…Nabil Bentaleb.

In his first 18 months at Spurs, Bentaleb showed serious potential. While far from the finished article, he showed tenacity and looked like he may in time develop the tactical nous to be a quality defensive midfielder in the league. With that beautiful left foot and athleticism, he also offers something going forward.

However, something has gone seriously awry in the past 12 months. Do we even know what? Public demands for a new contract? Concerns over his representation? A falling out over an injury? None of them, in isolation, seem anything more than run-of-the-mill issues and far from enough to discard a young talent. Along with facts, what has also been noticeable in its absence is any significant leaking from Bentaleb’s camp about his unhappiness and desire to move on.

It is all highly curious. It makes me wonder, perhaps, if an olive branch, or promise of a blank slate, has been quietly offered. Maybe, it has all been some jedi-style mind training from Pochettino, a deliberate crushing of Bentaleb’s soul in order to harden him for the dreary defensive work that lies ahead as a deep-lying midfielder.

Honestly, I have no idea, like everyone else. But either way, Spurs are winning. They’ve either got a quality midfield prospect hungry to get his career back on track, or they have a midfield prospect with huge potential who will fetch millions in the transfer market. That’s a “good problem” alright.

Where should Spurs look to find an understudy for Eriksen?

If Eric Dier has been irreplaceable at the base of the Spurs midfield this season, so has Christian Eriksen at the pointy end. After a mid-season dip, Eriksen has hit top form in recent months.

Eriksen has played 33 out of 36 league games this season, notching 2,762 minutes. He has also played seven Europa League games. Last season, Eriksen played in all 38 Premier League games.

Spurs are a physical and intense team capable of blowing the doors off an opposition defence. But when more subtlety is required, Eriksen is the man to pick the lock.

He is comfortably the most creative player, averaging 3.7 key passes per 90 minutes, according to WhoScored. The next closest is Erik Lamela with 2.7 per 90. Chadli in limited minutes has 2.3 per 90.

We don’t really know what would happen to Spurs if Eriksen was out for an extended time, or needed to be rested in a big match. This season, the three games he missed came during Spurs’ slow start to the season — against Leicester (a), Everton (h) and Sunderland (a). But the team was in the early stages of its evolution then, and there were myriad reasons for the underperformance.

As previously mentioned, the Champions League won’t offer the same chance of rotation as the Europa League. Eriksen, surely, will not be able to play every Premier League and European game season after season. We will need another creative midfield option. The question: Do Spurs look to the academy, or do they use Champions League qualification to attract a world-class talent?

The three most likely contenders to fill Eriksen’s shoes as creator-in-chief in the current squad are all homegrown — Tom Carroll, Josh Onomah and Alex Pritchard. Onomah would appear to have the most “upside”, but has yet to provide any real end product. Pritchard was surely the understudy-designate before walking under a ladder and enduring a year from hell that last saw him lumping it about in the West Brom U21 squad.

A driving principle of the Pochettino philosophy has been about giving homegrown talent the same chance as expensive imports. But let’s not be naive: with Champions League football on offer and money to spend, Spurs could have some serious fun shopping for an attacking midfielder.

Go and Google “best young attacking midfielders in Europe” — you’ll land on a bunch of clickbaity galleries full of future superstars. Now, because of what’s been achieved, Spurs may be able to buy some of them — we’d be crazy to rule it out.

Do we need to talk about Kevin?

One of the many benefits of a strong season like Spurs have had is that it makes retaining key players that much easier. Of course, if Real or Barca coming knocking, that’s one thing, but the entitled talk coming from Old Trafford sounds frankly delusional.

http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/manchester-united/360/blog/post/2853621/man-united-face-critical-summer-as-supporters-grow-impatient

If there is one player that I am concerned about keeping hold of, it is Kevin Wimmer. I should probably explain why.

When Jan Vertonghen went down against Crystal Palace, Wimmer didn’t so much as blink upon stepping in as his replacement. In the 10 Premier League games Wimmer played, Spurs conceded seven goals (0.70 goals per game). With Vertonghen at the back, we conceded 18 in 24 (0.75 goals per game).

Is Wimmer better than Vertonghen? I don’t even begin to know how to judge it — defensive stats such as tackles and interceptions seem pretty meaningless, especially in context of a high press.

Vertonghen’s ability to carry the ball and his distribution may give him an edge, but in pure defensive terms, Wimmer perhaps is better in dealing with aerial balls and physical strikers.

Paul Mitchell obviously had Wimmer up his sleeve from the moment he arrived at Spurs, black box in tow. While the club was cautious in doing business early on, presumably waiting for as much data as possible to be gathered before making decisions, Spurs were always moving for Wimmer.

So why am I concerned about keeping Wimmer? It is a combination of the fact that he has proven his quality, the fact that he is unlikely to unseat Vertonghen as first choice, and the fact that there is a shortage of ball-playing, left-sided centre backs in the Premier League.

If you are wondering why Spurs are where we are, Wimmer is a pretty good illustration. He is our back-up left CB, yet would be first choice in that position at Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The way Spurs split the CBs is oh-so trendy, and works a treat, and every Premier League side is going to be trying to do it next season if they aren’t already doing so. Wimmer has proven he can play out that way, while keeping things tight coming the other way. This makes him an extremely valuable commodity in the Premier League in 2016/17.

Why is this a good problem? Because if you are worried about losing a player, it is way better that it is your back-up centre back than, say, your only striker. And this whole potential scenario arises from the fact that Wimmer has been such a successful signing,

I hope Spurs keep hold of him, and use him more. The last thing we want to be doing is messing around with a settled and solid defence. But if that is not possible, we will at least get a massive wodge of cash — far more than the £4 million we spent.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles. This article was first published on Spurs Stat Man.

Autumn Statement: Some thoughts on where Spurs stand eight games in

dierallison

Getty Images via Google Images

After a brief Indian Summer, it has turned autumnal in England this week. Wind and rain, temperatures dropping, leaves starting to fall from the trees. It feels like football weather, finally.

Of course, we are eight matches in — almost a quarter of the 2015/2016 season is already gone. For Messrs Rodgers and Advocaat, the game is already up, while the seats are warming under a few other managers, “Tactics” Tim Sherwood included. Eight matches may or may not be sufficient sample size from a statistical point of view, but it feels we’ve seen enough of the latest edition of Spurs to draw some conclusions about where we stand.

In no particular order:

POCHETTINO SETTLES IN

I wrote last week about Mauricio Pochettino and how his philosophy finally appeared to be taking root at Spurs. I saw more evidence of this against Monaco. I wasn’t able to watch the Swansea game due to the ridiculous restrictions on broadcasting Spurs matches in the UK, but from what I read it sounded like Spurs played well and could have won. It felt a respectable point. Crucially, it appears that Poch may have found his solution to managing his squad through the Europa League. It always felt like a double-edge sword — play a weakened team in the Europa League and risk loss of momentum, or play a strong team and risk tiredness on Sundays. But, perhaps smartly, it appears Poch has focused on finding players he thinks are capable of playing back-to-back — the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier. If you look at top teams, star players generally play almost every match — to be rested is a rare treat, and to be savoured all the more for it. It has taken a while, but Poch is finding players he thinks can survive the rigours of Spurs’ schedule.

UNSPURSY

Jamie Carragher’s comments about Liverpool “becoming like Tottenham or Newcastle” riled a few Spurs fans, but not me. It just showed the Liverpool delusion at its worst, and how supposedly insightful pundits like Carragher have missed the fact that Spurs are a rather different proposition nowadays. As one wag put it on Twitter (I’d link by can’t remember who it was unfortunately), Liverpool “saying they won’t do a Spurs then doing a Spurs is more Spursy than anything Spurs have ever done.” Gary Neville, on the other hand, has noticed, and was impressed by the foundations being built by White Hart Lane. We saw it in patches last season — all those late goals showed a toughness that Spurs fans aren’t accustomed to. It has stepped up this season. Aside from a narrow defeat against Manchester United, Spurs are unbeaten in the past seven (our longest unbeaten runs in the previous two seasons were six games. We managed a 12-game run in 2012/2013). We’ve come from behind to trounce Man City, when previously we have rolled over against them, while we also scored a late winner against Sunderland and ground out a win against a tough Crystal Palace side. On Sunday, Spurs came back twice against Swansea in a post-Europa Sunday outing. Spurs are among the group with the best defensive records in the league, and the advanced stats look pretty good in terms of underlying numbers. The squad is the youngest in the league, the camp seems united, and the exit of the Sporting Director, Franco Baldini, was handled smoothly with none of the public bloodletting that often occurs as reputations are fought for.

GOOD SIGNINGS

The transfer market has been a bit of an ordeal in recent seasons — Christian Eriksen is the last screaming success. But, for the first time in a couple of seasons, there is real excitement about a couple of the new boys: Son Heung-min and Dele Alli (bought in January but only arrived at the club this summer). Son has taken to the Premier League like a duck to water. His constant motion, excellent technique and ability to involve himself in the game have clearly lifted the team. Hopefully his foot injury isn’t chronic, because he could be a key player at Spurs for years to come and is a massive upgrade to our attacking midfield options. Meanwhile, Spurs may have struck gold with Alli. When I see him, I can’t help but think of Steven Gerrard — there is something about the rangy athleticism, deceptively good technique and the positive intent of his attacking play that reminds me of the former Liverpool captain. I know that is setting the bar impossibly high, but even if he never quite hits the heights of Gerrard, he looks like quite the player.

JURY STILL OUT

We’ve barely seen anything of Kevin Wimmer, so it is impossible to draw any conclusions — other than he may struggle to see serious playing time with the partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen looking stable. But, while Fede Fazio looked like he was playing in floppy clown shoes against Arsenal, I liked what I saw from Wimmer in that game. He looked quick, strong and composed, and I hope he is first choice once injuries and suspensions strike our Belgian duo. As for Clinton N’Jie, gosh he looks raw. There may well be talent there — he did a great job exploiting a tiring Man City defence to set up Erik Lamela. Also, he obviously has pace to burn. But, if Kane got injured and Son isn’t recovered, could he play up top in the Premier League? It feels like a big ask. He reminds me of rookies who get drafted in NBA because of their size or athleticism, but haven’t yet shown they know how to actually play the game. Some learn and become stars, but many just never make that leap from athlete to sportsman. We’ll see with N’Jie.

STRIKER SHORTAGE

On this subject, it feels like we are a striker light in the squad. On Sunday, with Son injured and Kane tiring, from the sounds of it Poch lacked a good option to send on and possibly win the game. I watched the Everton game, and thought the lack of a striker on the bench was glaring. I like Son as a replacement for Kane as they feel very similar players in terms of work rate and ability to play across the line. But it feels samey — I fear that Spurs are a touch predictable, and are reliant on superior fitness to grind down opposition, rather than having players in the match-day squad capable of causing opposition defences different types of problems. I think Saido Berahino would have been a huge addition to this squad — his all round play is good, but also he has that touch of the Jermain Defoe about him, sniffing out goals. It is hard to impress in the dreadful West Brom team Tony Pulis has assembled, but Berahino is still finding ways to score. I’m sure our chances of winning against Swansea and Everton would have improved with Berahino in the squad.

DIER WOLF AND OTHER SUCCESS STORIES

While Dele Alli has attracted the attention of Roy Hodgson, many of us Spurs fans would say that our player of the season so far has been Eric Dier. His superb midfield play has given the team the platform it needs, both defensively and in attack. He also seems an increasingly vocal part of the team — I loved his interview with Spurs TV after the Man City match, and his anger at the lack of respect he felt that Spurs receive. Watching the footage between final whistle and advert break, as “Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur” reverberated around White Hart Lane, I noticed Hugo Lloris make a beeline for Dier and give him an extra long hug. Hugo is as smart as they come, and knows Dier, as much as Toby and Jan, are the reason he is picking the ball out the back of the net a whole lot less this season. There have been other successes too. Erik Lamela has rightly received praise for his good form. In a team that risks becoming predictable, having someone like Lamela on song feels even more important. He may drive us mad with his inability to retain possession and with too many silly fouls, but he makes stuff happen. Also, I’d like to say a word about Ben Davies. Instead of being dispirited by falling behind Danny Rose in the pecking order, he has worked hard and made the most of Rose’s early season injury to establish himself as first-choice. He may not offer the attacking dynamism of Rose, but he is much better defensively and has been an important factor in Spurs’ tight play this season.

PLAYERS WITH SOMETHING TO PROVE

There have been a few disappointments among a generally very positive set of performances. I’ve not been pleased with what I have seen from Nacer Chadli. He appears to have drifted back to his form in his first season. Yes, he remains an occasional goal threat, but he isn’t involving himself enough in the attacking play. There is a lack of ambition in his play. I hope he rediscovers his fire, as he is a useful player. Andros Townsend, meanwhile, has done virtually nothing in his limited opportunities. I didn’t see him against Swansea, but from what I heard he was hopeless. I was very disappointed with his performance against Arsenal. He just doesn’t create enough. He was already running out of chances last season, but it can surely only be a matter of time before he is moved on. I’d also say that Nabil Bentaleb has something to prove. He started the season poorly and then got hurt on international duty. It could be a costly injury, as he has lost his place in midfield. With Dier suspended, Bentaleb may get a chance against Liverpool to restake his claim. I hope he takes it — he is a very good young player and can grow from adversity, even if he has been the subject of some overexcited buffoonery from certain Spurs bloggers in recent months.

RIGHT BACK CONUNDRUM

If there is one position where Spurs may be struggling, it is at right back. For the first time in what feels a long time, Kyle Walker is fully fit and has established himself as first choice ahead of Kieran Trippier. But I’ve never been convinced by Walker. While he has incredible athleticism, work rate and good crossing technique, he lacks game intelligence. Jefferson Montero is a tough opponent, and by all accounts Walker improved through the game, but for the first Swansea goal it was far too easy for the Swansea winger to get his cross in. Time and time again, Walker lets crosses into the box. Danny Rose is similar, which is one big reason why I prefer Ben Davies. He also continues to make dumb errors — he gave the ball away for the Man City goal, and nearly gave Crystal Palace a big opportunity. Now he is fit, he may benefit from an extended run and whatever magic touch Pochettino has for fullbacks. But I’m not quite sure he has the footballing IQ to cut out the errors. He reminds me a little of Younes Kaboul — when you spend so much of your early career being able to rely on your speed to bail yourself out of mistakes, you run a risk of not learning from the mistakes. As for Trippier, while he has looked generally quite good in his Europa outings, in both matches he has made big errors — he gave away a sloppy penalty, and allowed his man to score a header against Monaco. Let’s give him more time to settle down, but the jury is out. I wonder if, in his black box, Paul Mitchell isn’t looking around Europe for possible long-term upgrades at right back. Of course, there is a promising prospect at the club in Kyle Walker-Peters.

IS THE TOP FOUR ON?

Chelsea look terrible, and they must be at serious risk of missing out on the Top Four this season. I’ve actually thought Liverpool have looked OK in spells, but clearly the Brendan Rodgers “thing” had started to run its course. Jurgen Klopp seems an incredibly fit for that squad and city, so I’d certainly expect them to pick up. While the likes of Palace and Leicester look strong, I’d imagine they will fall away a little. Among the chasing pack, Spurs seem well positioned. We are two points off the Top Four, have the joint best defensive record and are unbeaten in the last seven games. This has been achieved with only one Harry Kane goal (OK, so maybe two if you count the Swansea howler), with first-choice midfielders Christian Eriksen, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb missing games through injury, and Son Heung-min arriving late in the transfer window. The trouncing of Man City will have been noticed: Spurs may not be seen as the pushover we once were among the Premier League big boys. I’d still back Liverpool to finish above Spurs, and suspect Palace, Everton, Swansea and Southampton will run us close, but I’m feeling more optimistic now than I was at the start of the season. I suspect that feeling is shared by many Spurs fans.

THE MONTH AHEAD

The next block of matches are rather interesting. We open at White Hart Lane against Liverpool, who will likely be under new management. It is a tad unlucky to face Liverpool in the first match under Klopp as you imagine they will be motivated. But Brendan Rodgers always managed to get Liverpool going against us, so it can’t really be worse. Then, we have two very winnable games — Bournemouth away and Villa at home. I suppose, though, there is a risk Villa are under new management by then as well. This is followed by the North London derby. Who knows which Arsenal will turn up? They won what was a battle of squads in the Capital One Cup. And it looks like Alexis Sanchez is back in business. But if Spurs can hang tough and avoid going behind early, spaces tend to emerge in the Arsenal midfield. Looking at the run, two draws and two wins would be a good return. That would take us on to 21 points going into the final international break, enough, I’d imagine, to see Spurs sitting within the Top Four. A good month, and things might start getting interesting. Is that excitement in the air, or is just the autumn?

Please do follow me on Twitter for more random musings, generally on Spurs. I’m @crg_yeah

Spurs 0-0 Everton: Six morning after thoughts

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From Google Images

Spurs vs Everton was the first Spurs match I’ve been able to watch in full this season on TV, without the inconvenience of pop-up ads and shaky streams. In general, Spurs played well, should have won but could have lost. It’s four games, three points, three goals and zero wins. It’s too early panic, but panic is definitely on the agenda.

Dembele watch: Before the game, I thought this was a huge game for Mousa Dembele. In my view, he rarely produces much of substance, and against Everton he was our primary creative player. It was time to put up or shut up. Sadly, his game ended prematurely with a nasty looking injury — I hope he recovers soon. But the game itself was peak Dembele — plenty of beautiful touches, enough effort, threats of creativity, but absolutely no end product. Personally, I think we are on a road to nowhere with Dembele, at least in a creative role. Oddly, I feel him reprising his forward role, which he had when he first joined Fulham, may be the answer this season. Even if Berahino comes in, Spurs only have two strikers. Dembele can hold the ball up brilliantly, has some interesting movement and can trouble defenders. A false nine, with the likes of Deli Alli, Nacer Chadli and Clinton N’Jie running past, may be a nice option in the Europa League.

Dier watch: I thought Eric Dier was superb. He broke up the play and shielded the defence superbly. Some of his passing was lovely, and he rarely gave the ball away. He pressed with good intensity. Ross Barkley was firmly in his back pocket throughout the game. If you had never watched a Spurs game and seen him play, you’d be hard pressed to know Dier is a centre back by trade. What, realistically, would someone like Victor Wanyama have added to the performance from Dier? And more to the point, what massive flaw am I overlooking in Dier’s game? I like the cut of Dier’s jib, to put it in a slightly daft way, but I can see why he is a big Mauricio Pochettino favourite — he’s Poch’s little engine that could.

Kane watch: Harry should have scored when Mason put him through one-on-one. It was a poor touch that caused the damage, and then it was a battle of nerve with Tim Howard over who would commit first. Howard won. Overall, his play was very good — as always. I would like him to dial down on the interviews and publicity until the goals come again, as he is leaving himself exposed.

Poch watch: Make no mistake, Poch is going to get the blame if the results don’t improve. But what, realistically, could he have done more? Kane missed a one-on-one, Mason missed two, and Chadli fired over from close range. The team executed his gameplan, worked hard, created chances and were solid. This was a well coached team. They just aren’t a very good team, yet. The only criticism I have is that Pritchard should have come on 10 minutes earlier as Mason was flagging. But let’s not kid ourselves, Pritchard was making his Premier League debut — we have no idea if he is going to be good enough to impact on Premier League defences.

Levy watch: Poch has been left out to dry by Levy through the failure to bring in another forward. This game was crying out for a second striker with pace to come on against an Everton defence that went 120 minutes in midweek. Berahino could have been brought in months ago — it is just poor squad management, there are no excuses. The lack of a second striker cost us two points against Stoke and could have been the difference against Everton. I’m not sure the striker situation made much of a difference against Man Utd or Leicester, and although perhaps an experienced midfielder may have helped, one point in these two games is probably par. Overall, I’d say the cost of the slow transfer business is four points. Let’s see what that ends up costing us in terms European positions and prize money.

TV watch: According to Thierry Henry, Spurs’ failure to keep Berbatov, Modric, Bale and several unnamed other stars has cost us the opportunity to win the league. Likewise, the failure of humans to master time travel has prevented us from exploring new galaxies. F**king Levy. Henry is the Erik Lamela of TV pundits — very expensive, looks fancy but desperately lacking in any end product. Looks ill-suited to the high-intensity Sky Sports style, may be better off back on the slower paced Serie-BBC, possibly on loan with an option to buy.

Next on TV: We have Sunderland away after the international break on Sunday afternoon. Too soon for jokes about relegation six-pointers, but, well, time for a win.

Follow me on Twitter (@crg_yeah)

Random thoughts as the new season dawns

kane celebrate

I spent yesterday in cricket heaven (Pomicide!) and computer hell (Windows anything), so no time for any blogging. But I had a few thoughts flicker into my head in between Aussie wickets, transfer rumour tweets and smashing my sodding computer to bits.

When even Poch thinks Top 4 is unrealistic, we should accept that it’s not going to happen.

When even Poch thinks Top 4 is unrealistic, Levy should accept that it’s not going to happen.

When Baldini is ushered out, as Spurs are no longer looking to buy established players and are focusing on youth instead, we should accept that big-money signings aren’t going to happen.

Why is Windows 8.1 continuing to torture me, even now Windows 10 is available? I’m back to Windows 8.0, have lost access to Office and can no longer even type properly without the cursor jumping to random spots on the page.

When am I just going to buy a Chromebook?

Would Spurs be better off selling Hugo? It feels almost cruel forcing a keeper in his prime to stay in a team that is clearly rebuilding. He must be miserable. Why not sell him, use the money on a good keeper prospect (Timo Horn?) and then pick up one or two potential future difference-makers (Werner, N’Jie) with the remaining cash? Vorm is an OK transitional keeper, or someone solid like Brad Guzan may be available?

Is Charlie Austin a smart signing for Spurs, or is this just the very peak of transfer window desperation? I’m just saying, when was the last time Spurs had a reliable striker off the bench? Jermain Defoe before he was knackered? It’s been a while, so long we’ve almost forgotten.

Where is Bobby Soldado?

We are stuck with Adebayor. This guy no longer wants to play football, and would prefer to pick up his £100,000 a week this season without having to play or train.

I like the fact that NO-ONE is talking about Spurs in a serious way. When was the last time Spurs were so unfancied, and entered the season with so little pressure?

I can’t wait to see some of these youngsters in action, especially Deli Alli and Alex Pritchard.

I worry that Toby Alderweireld may block Eric Dier’s development. I think Dier could be a star, but needs to be playing Premier League football, not Europa League, and in central defence, not midfield or fullback. That said, when do we start thinking that Dier is a better option than Jan?

We aren’t going to beat Manchester United.

I love football, and am so glad the season is back, but as I get older, I just love cricket more and more. I reserve the right to reverse that opinion after Spurs’ 8-15 moment this season.

I can’t watch the match live on Saturday, and won’t be able to see Spurs again on British TV until August 29. The matches against Stoke and Leicester will likely combine for no more than 10 minutes of highlights on Match of the Day. How can this still be the case in 2015?

Nabil Bentaleb: Tottenham’s next superstar

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Last season, us Spurs fans revelled in the extraordinary transformation of Harry Kane into a mega star. As the new season nears, I believe another of our young core, Nabil Bentaleb, could be about to hit superstar status.

Looking back now, Kane’s development was as rapid as it was unexpected. Be honest now, how many of you will admit that you were worried at the start of last season over the prospect of Kane as the third choice striker in case either Roberto Soldado or Emmanuel Adebayor got injured?

Kane’s rise lit up what was otherwise a solid but unspectacular season. The jury is still out on whether Kane can repeat the trick, but personally I don’t think it was a fluke. Simply, I don’t think you can fluke a 30-goal season.

So dramatic was the Kane story, however, I wonder if it overshadowed another monumental event that took place through the course of last season, namely Bentaleb’s rapid growth.

A midfielder’s development is never going to be as sudden as that of a striker as there isn’t one single measure to gauge success like you can a striker with goals. But Bentaleb’s journey, in less than 18 months, from remote prospect to lynchpin at a Top 5 club, is pretty astounding in its own way and has few rivals in the English game at the moment.

I’ve been trying to think of recent comparisons. Jack Wilshire? He started with a bang but never really kicked on and has been slowed by injuries. Aaron Ramsey? Not as quick, and his breakout season was about goals anyway. I can’t think of any development of central midfielders at the Manchester clubs, Liverpool or Chelsea. Everton have Ross Barkley, but he is an attacking midfielder really, while Jack Rodwell is more typical of the path that young midfielders take – promise, a big transfer, lack of fulfilment, a move to Sunderland. My point is, what is happening with Bentaleb is RARE.

In his first half-season, Bentaleb proved that he had talent. Last season, he proved that he belonged as a Premier League midfielder. This season, my belief is that Bentaleb will prove that he has the potential to be a world-class midfielder.

Now, at this point any self-respecting blogger in 2015 would crack open the player radars and undertake a deep dive of the advanced stats to prove that Bentaleb is indeed the bastard child of Yaya Toure and Andrea Pirlo. I love the work of Spurs supporting stats guys like Michael Caley at CFC, James Yorke at Statsbomb and the people at Spurs Statsman, but sadly I don’t know where to even look for advanced stats, let alone gather them and draw any meaningful conclusions.

So, until I up my game, I’m stuck with the cognitive dissonance of old-style, say-what-you-see assessment of a player, and trying to sculpt the potentially conflicting conclusions into what is in all probability a subconsciously preconceived narrative. But for Bentaleb, and where Spurs sit at the moment with a young team and a manager like Mauricio Pochettino, I actually feel there is something to be gleaned from what can sometimes be dismissed as the “intangibles”.

I remember watching Bentaleb’s debut against Southampton, and the collective “Who?” from all Spurs fans bar Windy as he came off the bench with 40 minutes left to replace Mousa Dembele. But in the game, it was immediately apparent that he had something. His passing was very efficient and I don’t think he gave the ball away once. He seemed big and athletic, a real man, not scrawny like many prospects when they first appear. He appeared very calm, and didn’t shy away from involvement.

Bentaleb’s route into the Spurs first team is instructive. Unlike many coddled young wonderkids who populate academies, Bentaleb had to overcome rejection by his hometown club, Lille, before wandering to Mouscron in Belgium and then Tottenham in search of a place on the football ladder. Ask the likes of Alan Shearer what rejection at a pivotal age did for them: it can fuel a fire that burns for a whole career. Bentaleb himself has talked about the pleasure in gaining revenge.

Tim Sherwood’s repeated attempts to get credit for the emergence of Harry Kane have been extremely embarrassing, but no-one would begrudge Sherwood taking the credit for giving Bentaleb his chance. Ironically, the notion that Bentaleb was a Sherwood pet and consequent coldness from the White Hart Lane crowd became another thing that Bentaleb has had to overcome.

Bentaleb is, by every account, a beast in training. With typical hyperbole, Sherwood described Bentaleb as “training like every day was the last day of his life”, but this has been born out in every report and ITK account of how things play out at Hotspur Way on a daily basis. Reports that Deli Alli is going toe-to-toe with Bentaleb in the training stakes are hugely encouraging.

So why does this training attitude matter so much? It’s because in Pochettino, Spurs have a head coach who values training performance more highly that anything. Train well, and you will get the opportunities to play well. Bar Harry Kane, no-one has exemplified this simple philosophy more than Bentaleb.

In the quest to be just a little less Spursy, we need guys like Bentaleb

One of the joys of being a football fan in 2015 is being able to use social media to get access to players. Most players are, sensibly, conservative in what they put on Twitter, but even in limited interactions you get a glimpse of their personality. Harry Kane comes across as level-headed, polite but ambitious, even as his world has utterly transformed in the past 12 months. Ryan Mason appears to be a bit of a football obsessive — he was the one Spurs player tweeting about the Women’s World Cup, for example. Eric Dier comes across as wry and intelligent.

However, Bentaleb is my favourite Spurs tweeter — after every game, he does his #SoldiersNeverSurrender bit, and you can just feel that hunger for revenge bubbling away. In the quest to be just a little less Spursy, we need guys like Bentaleb.

This may be sorely overanalysing just a few tweets, I accept. But in sport, character matters — and in talent identification, character is both one the most important factors, and one of the hardest to assess.

I thought one of the most instructive games last season was the miserable defeat away to Manchester United. It was a dreadful showing — Pochettino was terribly slow to react to Louis van Gaal’s use of Fellaini, leaving Kyle Walker, Ryan Mason and Eric Dier horribly exposed. In this game, Bentaleb contributed to the mess by giving the ball away for a simple goal.

However, once Pochettino belatedly switched Bentaleb onto Fellaini, Spurs improved markedly. The game may have been all over, but still Spurs’ performance in the second half wasn’t too bad. They competed, they stuck at it, and avoided embarrassment. I was disappointed in getting so soundly beaten, and frustrated by Pochettino’s slow reaction, but overall philosophical — inevitably, with a young team, you are going to get matches like this.

The fact that Spurs recovered their poise in the second half, and that Bentaleb managed to draw the sting of a rampant Fellaini, I feel taught us more about the team and Bentaleb long-term than a bad 45 minutes did. Add this character to Bentaleb’s other assets — efficient passing, good ball retention, top-class athleticism and a wand of a left foot — and even an untrained eye such as mine can see that Spurs have something truly special to work with.

Going into the new season, Bentaleb is now the key man in the midfield. We await eagerly a further recruit to the Spurs midfield — but it is clear they are being signed to play with Bentaleb. Last season he had to prove to a new manager that he was a serious player and not just some political pawn in the game between Sherwood and Levy. Bentaleb saw off Capoue and Paulinho, again, and also Stambouli. This season, the path is clear: it’s now about proving not just that he belongs, but that he belongs at the top table.

Of course, as Bentaleb rises up in the footballing world, there may be issues ahead. He’s already been linked, albeit v loosely, with PSG and Barcelona. His contract negotiation felt prolonged and spilled into the public domain. We shouldn’t forget that, while he has come through the academy, he doesn’t have the same connection with the club as the likes of Kane and has seen how cold the world of football can be.

But with his new contract now signed and his status as one of the main men at Spurs, I feel confident in predicting that Bentaleb is going to have a huge season ahead, and us Spurs fans can revel in the glow of not one, but two, budding superstars.