Tag Archives: Transfers

Spurs need to rediscover transfer mojo

moussa-sissoko-spurs

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.

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Tottenham’s most expensive signing, relative to revenue

“Has English football gone mad?”

With Manchester United set to smash through the £100 million barrier with their deal to bring back Paul Pogba, and Manchester City considering spending £50 million on a relatively unproven John Stones, the sentiment is frequently expressed by journalists and fans.

No doubt, similar questions about the game’s financial sanity were asked 20 years ago when Newcastle spent £15 million to bring favourite son Alan Shearer back to the northeast from Blackburn.

Of all the transfer deals I can remember, it was the Shearer one that stood out and made me think: How much?!?

It seemed an incredible amount of money for Newcastle to spend on a single player in 1996. By contrast, huge fees paid by Real Madrid, for example for Gareth Bale, have always seemed more understandable given the vast wealth and global reach of the Spanish club.

This got me wondering, how expensive was Shearer for Newcastle at the time? Adjusted for inflation, £15 million would now be £25.4 million. But more, my question was how big a deal was Shearer for Newcastle at the time, compared to its total revenue as a football club back in the very early days of the TV boom?

For the 1996/97 season, Newcastle’s revenue, according to club accounts filed with Companies House, was £28.97 million. The deal for Shearer, at £15 million, was equivalent to 51.77 percent of the club’s total revenue.

Newcastle’s total revenue, according to the last accounts, now stand at £128.8 million. If you fired up the time machine and did the same deal today, Newcastle would be spending £66.8 million on Alan Shearer.

As Newcastle fans will be painfully aware, Mike Ashley is more likely to offer his Sports Direct slaves permanent contracts than spend that much on a footballer.

Using the same 51.77 percent figure, this would be equivalent of Manchester United spending £204 million on Pogba, or Manchester City spending £182 million on Stones.

For Spurs, it would be the equivalent of spending £101.5 million on a player. Can you imagine Daniel Levy sanctioning that?

This in turn got me wondering, who is Tottenham’s Shearer? While Erik Lamela is the club’s record signing, at £30 million (£25.8m plus clauses), who was the most expensive Spurs player, relative to the club’s revenue at the time?

I dug out some data* and created the following chart.

TransferRevenueHistory

As you can see, the most expensive, at the time, and by quite some margin, was Sergei Rebrov. His £11 million move from Dinamo Kiev was equivalent to nearly 23 percent of the club’s annual revenue that year.

Rebrov is followed by Les Ferdinand (19.4 percent) and Chris Armstrong (18 percent). In fourth is Lamela.

When I first thought about this, my guess was Darren Bent, but his transfer was funded by one of the biggest jumps in revenue (with a new TV deal kicking in), so he is only in fifth place on the all-time list. I daresay Sandra Redknapp would have been higher.

Of course, this is just a snapshot and not to be taken too seriously. As a club that has been run for a profit, rather than as a plaything, what Spurs spend is a reflection of what has been received.

But nonetheless, as a snapshot, it is an interesting one. Some of those names — Fazio, Bentley, Reid, Vega and Rebrov himself — are a reminder of what a massive crapshoot the transfer market is. Which is why spending an amount equivalent to 51.77 percent of your revenue is a crazy idea, and one unlikely to be repeated any time soon.

English football may well have gone mad, but it went mad a long time ago. If anything it has become a little more sane, but as the numbers get bigger, it just doesn’t seem that way.

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*Revenue data from Companies House. Transfer data from @ztranche

Man Utd may want Pochettino, but he wouldn’t want them

Earlier this week, BBC sports presenter Dan Walker stirred the pot with a claim that Manchester United were eyeing up Mauricio Pochettino for the Old Trafford manager’s job.

It was vague phrasing — “three knowledgeable people have suggested” — but nonetheless plenty of people in the Spurs Twittersphere took the bait.

Personally, I don’t think Spurs fans should be at all perturbed. Even if United offered Pochettino the job, I’m pretty certain he would turn it down.

Manchester United fans may argue, “money always talks” and “you can’t turn down United because they are the biggest club in England”, but I don’t think that will be enough. Not this time.

Here’s why:

If Pochettino is seeking a pay increase, Spurs are still a wealthy club and can pay Pochettino what he wants. At this point, he has the whip hand in any financial negotiations. Yes, money matters to everyone, but it matters to varying degrees to different individuals — Pochettino, for example, doesn’t even have an agent.

United are a bigger club in terms of revenues, brand and stadium size. But Spurs are building what will be the most spectacular and revenue-tastic stadium in the league. A top four finish, if we stay the course, should give the commercial revenue and global fan base a healthy boost. As it stands, United will not qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Pochettino had to spend an extremely difficult and risky 12 months “flushing the toilet”, in Gary Neville’s phrase, at Spurs. But now, he has the team just as he wants it — young, hungry, together. This Spurs team has just as good a chance of winning titles in the next five years as United.

Meanwhile, Pochettino is involved at all levels — watching the youth teams (his son is in one of them), and working closely with academy guru John McDermott (who has just rejected United). The likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier are seeing their careers taking off at Spurs — they don’t need to move to United to become stars, they already are. Same with Pochettino.

Meanwhile, United have carpetbagging owners, a decaying youth structure, a CEO with no football background, and a global fan base with no patience for the poor results and performances that a thorough rebuilding job would entail.

Pochettino isn’t stupid. He won’t stay out of loyalty, he’ll stay out of ambition.

The argument gets made that Pochettino walked out on Southampton for Spurs, and will do the same again. But that ignores key differences: the man who appointed him at Southampton, Nicola Cortese, had already left the club, while the team was about to be stripped of its best talent. Because he was ambitious, staying at Southampton in all probability meant, at best, staying the same. That’s not the situation at Spurs.

Spurs will only shake the impression of being a selling club when we stop selling our best players. There is no shortcut to this, just years and years of saying “no” to the likes of United until we are in a position to turn the tables and make bids for their stars.

We are going to get offers for the likes of Kane and Alli — big offers — but right now, Spurs have never had less incentive to sell. We don’t need income from player sales to make the stadium project work. What we need is a good team that is going to mean sold-out crowds and packed corporate boxes once it is complete.

If I was a United fan, I’d be thanking my lucky stars that Jose Mourinho is available. He will, through fair means or foul, ensure the United team is motivated and competitive for the next 2.5 seasons, buying time for the behind the scenes rebuilding that is so evidently needed at Old Trafford in the wake of the Fergie era.

Man Utd would be crazy not to appoint Mourinho, but one can only wonder at the thought process going on at senior levels of that club. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they tried to hire Pochettino, but right now, I’d be shocked if he said “yes”.

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Spurs back in for Berahino? An analysis of the West Brom striker and what he would bring

berahino

Sky Sports via Google Images

With most of the squad off on international duty, you can bet Messrs Levy, Pochettino and Mitchell have been meeting at Hotspur Way over the past week to hammer out transfer strategy for January.

Spurs are firmly in the hunt for the Champions League places, so the question will be whether to bring forward spending that may have been deferred until next summer had Poch’s boys been less feisty. There is a finite amount of money to be spent, due to the need to ensure the accounts are as rosy as possible as Spurs undertake the financing for the new stadium. But with the wage bill significantly trimmed after a summer of pragmatic player trading, and having recorded an £80 million profit in the previous financial year, there should be, in old football parlance, “money to get one or two in.”

In many ways, it’s a no-brainer. Spurs may not have a better to chance to crack the Top Four for seasons to come, but still remain a Harry Kane metatarsal away from a serious problem up front. Son Heung-min deputized well for Kane in one Europa league match, Clinton N’Jie not so well in another. That’s how lucky we’ve been.

Clearly, judging by the nasty Saido Berahino business on transfer deadline day, an attempt was made to bring in another forward in the summer. Meanwhile, the form of Eric Dier may have put an end to attempts to recruit an established defensive midfielder. Or, it may have highlighted the benefits of having someone playing a defensive role, and made Pochettino want a world-class one even more.

Several reports have suggested that the Berahino deal may be back on: Oh to be a fly on the wall for that first phone call between Daniel Levy and Jeremy Peace.

Since vowing to not play for Peace again, Berahino has exploited a loophole of instead playing for West Brom, to a modest degree of success, scoring three times in 10 games. Reports in local media suggest Berahino has neither been offered nor asked for a new deal, meaning his well-below-market-rate £15,000 per week deal has 18 months to run come January. If West Brom gained plaudits from some for standing up to Tottenham’s clumsy advances in the summer, they will be lucky to get a similar £25 million offer in January. Such are the choices clubs have to make when bigger predators coming hunting.

Berahino is a divisive figure in the game, a bit like Jermain Defoe was to a certain extent early in his career. Some see him as the sort of player Defoe would have been if he had come through the ranks now — a poacher who also has developed some ability to play from wide and with his back to goal. Others see him as a streaky forward who is living off one good season, who is overrated because of his nationality and whose personal baggage means he should be avoided.

I thought I’d take a closer look at his record and see if there is anything that can be taken from it. I’m not a Number Wizard, but there is a lot of data out there so I want to try and use it. I welcome any constructive criticism — special thanks to James Yorke of Statsbomb fame for taking time to offer detailed advice on my piece on Kyle Walker. People on the internet in doing nice things shock.

The first thing I wanted to look at is Berahino’s goal-scoring record. Last season, he scored 14 goals in 38 league appearances. This season he has three goals in his 10 appearances and in 2013/14 he managed five goals in 32 league appearances. So, while this season is still young, you can see how you can start spinning a “one-season wonder” line, as was thrown at our Harry not so long ago. But, a more detailed analysis paints a somewhat different picture.

BerahinoGoalsTable

I’ve taken data from Transfermarkt.com — it includes all cup and reserve appearances. Particularly early on in a career, first-team minutes can be limited, especially in the league — just look at how someone like Kane was required to prove himself in the Europa League and Cup teams before making the jump. You can see, aside from his first season of playing reserve football, Berahino has been very consistent in scoring goals in the minutes available. This season, while Berahino has played 10 times, he has only played 662 minutes — barely two thirds of what he could have done. He has averaged a goal every other game in three seasons, and in two others he is under a goal every 2.5 games.

I thought I would compare him to a couple of other players of a similar age, Kane and Danny Ings. All three have similar trajectories, in terms of requiring time in lower leagues before hitting their stride.

berahinogoalscomp

As you can see, Berahino stacks up very well. While he has never quite caught fire to the same degree as Kane did last season, Berahino was scoring at a faster rate than Kane in 2011/12 and 2012/13 as they were attempting to establish themselves outside the Premier League. Ings was red hot in 2013/14 as he fired Burnley into the Premier League, but went at less than a goal every three games in Burnley’s season in the top flight and was comfortably outperformed before that. Sadly injury has ended his first Liverpool season early.

Going a little deeper, here is a table comparing these three strikers in terms of shots per 90 minutes, using WhoScored statistics (which only includes Premier League data, not cups which is a touch annoying).  I’ve also added shots outside box — just to see if they are padding shot numbers with long range efforts, which they aren’t really.

berahinoshotspergame

Looking at last season, Kane scored 21 league goals while averaging 3.9 shots per 90 minutes. Berahino scored 14 while averaging 2.6 shots per 90, and Ings 11 goals while averaging 2.9 per 90. If this is a reasonable measure of being “clinical” or “efficient” — someone, please help me back to the shallow end — Berahino is certainly ahead of Ings, and is exactly on a par with Kane.

I also added passes per 90 into this table. This is more my curiosity, just as an ultra simplistic measure of how “involved” they were. More than anything, I wanted to see if the “goal hanger” tag can be directed at Berahino — was he just waiting around for the ball to come to him? You’d say, he passes less than Kane but more than Ings. “Key passes” per 90 in the league last season showed Kane on 1.2 per 90, Ings on 1.0 and Berahino on 0.9. I’m not sure this proves anything, but I’m just throwing it out there.

This season so far, Berahino is averaging just 1.3 shots per 90 minutes. That is way lower than in previous seasons and speaks to the misery of playing in this West Brom team.

I had a play with Paul Riley’s dashboard of analytics tools to see if I could illustrate how much more fun it is to be Harry Kane than Saido Berahino at the moment.

First, this is shots on target contrasting Spurs and Kane (above), to WBA and Berahino (below). Kane is getting loads of shots on target from inside the box, Berahino not so much.

spurswbakanebera

Second, I thought I would contrast the key passes and assists, especially from the key creative players in the team, of which a striker is likely to be the main beneficiary. For Spurs, this is Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela (Mousa Dembele, despite all the recent positivity, really doesn’t create much). For West Brom, I struggled to even think who the creative players could be in a midfield of James McClean, Darren Fletcher, Stephane Sessegnon and Claudio Yacob.  In terms of numbers of arrows into the box, the main creators appear to be James Morrison, who Pulis no longer starts, and Chris Brunt, who is being forced to play out of position at left back. Yeah.

As you can see, it is grim.

berahino_keypass_comp

Spurs have created 143 chances this season, ranking them 4th, while West Brom are rock bottom with just 86 chances created. West Brom rank second bottom in total passes — behind a direct but fun Leicester, playing what Andre Villas-Boas might like to call “vertical football”. West Brom’s percentage of shots within 6 yards is the highest in the league at 14 percent. I’d imagine this points to a fair number of the chances coming from crosses. Berahino is 1.79m (5ft 10) — his strike partners are Salomon Rondon (1.86m) and Rickie Lambert (1.87m). We can guess where the crosses are more likely to be aimed. I’ve watched this West Brom team a couple of times, they are more like the late Pulis era Stoke than the fiercely competitive Crystal Palace team he coaxed out of relegation trouble. They’ve tightened up a little defensively, and three 1-0 wins against fellow strugglers Villa, Norwich and Sunderland have given them a flattering league position. But West Brom are just plain horrible — if I was Berahino, I’d want out of there on style alone.

I don’t want to draw too many conclusions from the data presented above. However, there is certainly a case to be made that Berahino is a consistent goal-getter, who would score more on a team like Spurs who create plenty of chances.

The dreaded bit on character

The other side of the Berahino dilemma is the more intangible stuff — baggage, attitude, or whatever vaguely offensive term you want to use to describe it.

There have been a few incidents — inhaling nitrous oxide, an arrest for drink driving, his petulant tweet on deadline day — that have been used to paint a picture of a potentially bad character. By contrast, aged 22 he has already set up a personal foundation aimed at improving lives in Africa, and is a devout Christian (which doesn’t mean you don’t err once in a while).

His personal story is extraordinary. This is his “Early Life” entry from Wikipedia:

Born in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, Berahino played football as a child with a ball of plastic bags tied up with laces. His father was killed in 1997 during the Burundian Civil War. He travelled to England alone at the age of 10, fleeing the ongoing war to join his mother, brother and sisters who had already been granted asylum in Newtown, Birmingham. He could not locate his family on arrival, and was put in a care home. After his mother Liliane was traced, immigration officials had to administer a DNA test to confirm their relationship.

By contrast, as far as we are aware, the most traumatic thing that happened in Harry Kane’s childhood was being photographed in an Arsenal shirt.

Once you are tarred with the “bad character” brush in the media and by ex-pros, it is very hard to shake it off. So far this season, Pulis has criticized Berahino for being out of shape due to being distracted by a move in pre-season, and suggested he was a wimp after his missed header against Manchester United. This isn’t exactly helping his chances of a move, which I suspect Pulis knows full well.

This may be a concern for Spurs. Under Pochettino there has been a ruthless rooting out of players who aren’t willing or able to live up to the head coach’s demanding training and tactical requirements. Talent hasn’t been the only factor in who stays, and who goes. The word “character” is sometimes laughed at due to its excessive use by the Proper Football Men, but you can’t look at what Spurs have done in the past 18 months and ignore the importance of this particular issue in the club’s decision making. Tottenham’s head of player identification, Rob Mackenzie, acknowledged exactly the importance of character recently.

My snap judgement is that the criticism of Berahino is on the harsh side. Young men do daft things. But if, say, something as silly as an inappropriate tweet is held against Berahino among Premier League recruiters, that could create an advantage for Spurs in trying to find value in an inflated striker market. Either way, you can bet Spurs would be doing comprehensive due diligence before spending big on Berahino — as they will on every player after the Bale money debacle.

In conclusion

We’re in a fortunate position at Spurs in that we have already discovered a leading front man in Harry Kane. What we need is talented forward players who can provide cover if Kane is hurt or in need of rest, and also contribute when playing alongside him. We lack punch off the bench in tight matches — for example in the draws against Everton and Swansea.

Scoring goals for West Brom isn’t easy — only Romelu Lukaku and Peter Odemwingie have hit the 15-goal mark in the past five seasons. Averaging a goal less than every 2.5 games for this lot is nothing to be sniffed at. Berahino may be a divisive figure, but for the right price he feels a good bet.

Thanks for reading. For more random musings on Spurs, please follow me on Twitter — @spurs_report

Lurking in the deep: Spurs and the threat posed by Man Utd

Louis

Louis van Gaal realises his Rooney replacement dossier is a touch on the thin side. Via Google Images

Goldman Sachs was infamously described by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi as a “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

Manchester United, appropriately enough run by a former investment banker, are the vampire squid of the Premier League, attempting to suck the life out of the competition through the force of its myriad commercial deals with global mega brands like Zong, Wahaha and Mister Potato.

The legacy of decades of Sir Alex Ferguson-inspired domination has been the belief that Manchester United have the duty to fillet the Premier League of its best players, and the financial muscle to do exactly this.

Since Wayne Rooney arrived in 2004/05, United have spent £296.5 million on British or British-based players. according to a rough and dirty calculation using Soccerbase values. The list combines young talents summoned to a bigger stage, such as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Wilfried Zaha, and established Premier League performers such as Robin van Persie and Juan Mata, whose moves had the double advantage of strengthening Man Utd while theoretically weakening a rival.

(Spurs, hardly shrinking violets when it comes to the transfer market, have spent £200 million domestically in that period, although that figure is inflated by a few, shall we say, “circular” deals that have seen the likes of Robbie Keane, Jermain Defoe and Younes Kaboul go, and then come back soon after, for a handsome profit.)

Spurs have been on the receiving end of Manchester United’s preying instincts in the past, with Michael Carrick and Dimitar Berbatov heading north in search of glory and fortune. If reports are to be believed, Tottenham lured United into a bidding war with Real Madrid over Gareth Bale, but the player had his heart set on Spain.

Along with Everton, Manchester United see Spurs as a prime feeder club — an also-ran with a track record of identifying and developing talent in preparation for starring roles at the Theatre of Dreams. Lads, it’s Tottenham, and so forth. Before we get too high and mighty, this is just a basic fact of life in the Premier League food chain. Spurs snapping their fingers at West Brom over Saido Berahino and expecting them to fold on deadline day was no more edifying.

“Arr Squidy, it was nothing personal, I just heard there was gold in your belly”

So why do I bring this up now, when it is going so goddam well for Spurs?

The problem is, with every goal Harry Kane bangs in, and every rival midfielder Dele Alli forces off at half-time through dizziness, the merciless red cephalopod will be more tempted to insert its funnel into Hotspur Way and suck out our lifeblood. We saw it in the summer with Kane, and we will see it again now he’s shaken the “one-season wonder” tag. This isn’t some doomsday scenario, desperately searching for a cloud in a clear blue sky. This is just the reality of being Spurs.

In Kane and Alli, Spurs have a couple of very shiny young things that fit what Manchester United need on and off the pitch. With Spurs unexpectedly feisty and having the temerity to challenge United for a Top Four position, possibly for years to come, United need to do something about it.

The cozy Top Four arrangement, whereby only chronic incompetence by one of United, Manchester City, Chelsea (tee-hee) and Arsenal sees them miss out on the Champions League, is wonderfully lucrative, even as poor English TV viewers pay out ever more for the privilege of occasionally watching their team’s Premier League matches. The Big Four can’t be letting a suddenly competent Spurs, or a Jurgen Klopp-inspired Liverpool, crash their party. The best way to do this? Strip them for parts.

From the Spurs perspective, Manchester United are the ones to fear. Mercifully, the whole Tottenham-Woolwich thing and the dreadful relationships between the boardrooms at Spurs and Chelsea remove much of the intra-city threat. Manchester CIty’s whole project remains a weirdly empty and pointless one, and while they managed to tempt Raheem Sterling, they’ve not yet seriously tried to recruit any good young’uns from Spurs. I hope it stays that way. But Manchester United — they’ve done it before, and they will try to do it again. For Liverpool, as Chelsea proved with Fernando Torres, Arsenal tried to prove with Luis Suarez and Manchester City proved with Raheem Sterling, the danger is from everywhere but Old Trafford.

Oddly, under Fergie, I always had a “lesser of four evils” feeling towards Manchester United. Yes, they won an awful lot, but they did so at the expense of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. Furthermore, they always used to win stylishly — I don’t think there has been a better Premier League team to watch than the one with Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez up top — and normally with a healthy sprinkling of English players.

Now, they are just a monstrosity. They are the most boring team in the league, they no longer produce good young English players, and they fling money around in an embarrassing fashion, driving up the prices for everyone else and making English football a laughing stock in Europe. Their accumulation of corporate sponsors is shameless, and their ownership structure would be reprehensible if it wasn’t so hilariously ironic — the vampire squid of the Premier League is in turn owned by blood-sucking parasites in the Glazers who contribute nothing, and extract as much as they can fill their boots with. Worst of all though, you used to be able to rely on Man United to beat the Arsenal, and now they can’t even do that.

So aside from the strategic benefit of cutting off Spurs’ balls, why am I so worried that Kane and Alli, among all young global footballing superstars, seem so potentially appealing to Manchester United?

First, with Rooney seemingly in decline, United need a replacement attacking figurehead. Nevermind that United dropped £36 million and rising on Anthony Martial, who looks pretty handy. With his slicked back hair, pleasing media presence and deadly finishing — possibly in that order of importance for Brand United — Kane is an obvious contender as the next “iconic striker” at Old Trafford. (There really aren’t that many other choices, though Romelu Lukaku at Everton may just save our bacon.)

kaneunited

Long live Photoshop. Via Google.

In midfield, United have a lot of pleasing passers who are capable of playing 90 minutes of keep-ball, which unfortunately for paying fans at Old Trafford they’ve taken to doing. At some stage, the Red Devils are going to need to start doing radical things like “creating chances” and “scoring goals” or Louis van Gaal is going to experience the wrong end of a pitchfork. It is admittedly early days, but Alli has already shown himself to be a dynamic two-way midfield player willing and able to break forward and score goals.

If Spurs are looking for favours from even favoured media outlets in playing down any rumours, they’ve got another thing coming. Take this week’s missive from Jason Burt of the Daily Telegraph:

He [Kane] was linked to Manchester United over the summer and, although no bid was made, Spurs again declared that he would not be sold. “He’s one of our own,” the Spurs supporters gleefully sing about Kane in a chant that both the player and the club embrace. Yet it is a strategy that might be tested to the full should the right level of club come calling with an offer that proves very difficult to turn down. Spurs still need to prove they are not a selling club.

It’s classic #journalese — artfully combining a strong official denial with some vague statements of the obvious to ensure the contentious issue in question remains very much alive and available for extensive future coverage.

Kane himself couldn’t have been any clearer that he sees his long-term future at Spurs, but that isn’t going to stop him being linked with a move away. The problem isn’t just the clickbait incentive of the media — it’s the track record of almost every other top footballer in recent decades.

How many have been able to resist the lure of big clubs and big wages? Steven Gerrard maybe, but he handed in a transfer request to seek a move to Chelsea six weeks AFTER Liverpool won the bloomin’ Champions League, and with a huge contract on the table. Before that, I’m really racking my brains and going back a long way. Matt Le Tissier? All due respect to Ledley King, Jamie Carragher and, erm, Tony Hibbert — Real Madrid or Man Utd weren’t exactly knocking the door down for them, for differing reasons.

Kane may be as dreamily perfect and loyal to the end as us fans want to believe. Maybe he watched the sight of Wayne Rooney driving sadly around Goodison Park, a king without a kingdom, and will seek to avoid the loss of being a legend and being loved, no matter the cost in trophies and money. But more likely, when push comes to shove, he can’t resist. He wouldn’t have survived the ruthless culls on his way up the Spurs ranks if it wasn’t for a single-minded determination and fierce ambition.

I’d add, I don’t really buy the “just say no, he has years left on his contract” argument of player retention. It ignores basic principles such as squad cohesion, player incentives and club stability. You play Football Manager and assume that once you click through half a season the player will just back down like the walking spreadsheet that he is. Humans are complicated, and humans together are complex. Are West Brom better for having kept an unhappy Saido Berahino? I’ve had the misfortune of watching them a couple of times this season, and I’m not sure. At best, it’s a delaying tactic.

Spurs have no interest in selling Kane, or any other of the young jewels. No bid is worth it from Spurs point of view, not with the future so bright and the new stadium coming. No bid is worth it from Daniel Levy’s perspective — his reputation in the eyes of the fans would never recover.

But United’s appetite for talent is voracious. They are lurking in the deep, tentacles at the ready, poised to strike. They are going to undermine Spurs, unsettle our players, and offer such huge amounts of money that a logical argument for agreeing to a sale may seep in and cloud the decision-making process like blood in clear water.

So Spurs better get ready. Phase one: How about finishing above United again? No ambitious player wants to take a step down.

Thanks for reading. If you are interested in more random musings on all things Spurs, please follow me on Twitter, My handle is @crg_yeah