Windows of opportunity and never-ending circles by BelgianSpur
Squad management is a careful exercise for a Premier League club. Between financial considerations, player requests and injuries, it’s tough to assemble a squad of 25 players who can all contribute to the club’s success, while keeping everybody happy. It’s hard enough to do so when looking at the present, but it’s an even harder exercise once you look to build a squad over several seasons, as age, form and several other factors (military service in South Korea, for example ????) could all potentially affect this.
There is a lot to be said about how we attract and retain talent at our club. However, rather than make this article a discussion about what we should or shouldn’t be spending on current players or transfer targets, I wanted to take a look at roster construction from an age perspective, and talk about “succession planning”.
Certainly, under Mauricio Pochettino, there has been a desire to build the squad from the bottom up, buying “up and coming” players and letting them develop at the club. Part of that is due to finances (buying players before they become too expensive), but part of that is also getting players to adhere to MP’s project from a young age (ie “coachability”). There is also no denying that a system which revolves around high pressing requires young legs and fit bodies.
The plus side of that approach is that for the players who do realise their potential, we are getting fantastic bargains who, if treated right, can form the core of our team over prolonged periods of time.
The downsides of this approach are an iffy transfer record overall (as not every young player goes on to realise his potential), and a longer adaptation period. When you’re not buying finished articles, you have to accept letting a young player go through growing pains. There will be highlights, but mistakes also.
The risk we are taking, when assembling a squad this way, is to squander certain windows of opportunity. As certain players hit their peak, others are still going through growing pains. As several of our core players are approaching the age when careers start to go downwards (how many good years do Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembélé, or even Hugo Lloris have left?), how are we going to replace those players? All the while not wasting the prime years of players like Eriksen, Kane, Alli, Dier, etc.
If we stick to our traditional approach, we risk going backwards initially, as the young players we buy take time to develop. However, can we afford players of undoubted quality, who can instantly hit the ground running?
Therein lies the challenge of our model: how can you assemble talented squads year after year, whilst staying within our means? Is the answer just spending more, is it recruiting better? Both? Neither? A few years ago, Leicester unearthed several gems that nobody had heard of – was that mere luck, or a better way?
We’ve seen the limits of our current model, as we have often been a “nearly” team in recent seasons. How do we break this cycle and finally assemble a trophy-winning squad? Or must we just accept that this is as far as this model can take us? Keen to have everyone’s thoughts.