Date: 10th September 2018 at 2:38pm
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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.


43 Replies to “Windows of opportunity and never-ending circles”

  • Great article/read.

    For the most, it is improving our recruitment, thus better scouts and system, the better way for me, we have unearthed some gems but we have also signed some crap! maybe these have been panic signings so that sort of idea has to stop.

    Also if we can afford it, we should sign the odd finished article who fits straight in, but where are they coming from? Maybe! be lucky there. COYS

  • Good article, hopefully our current, restrictive transfer policy is only short term and that in future, the new stadium helps us reach our optimum with additional funds that would not have been possible with a 30k+ capacity stadium. Sometimes you have to go backwards (or stagnate) to go forward. I know some remain skeptical, but until proven otherwise, I see little point in worrying about it.

  • Part of succession planning is getting your senior players tied to long term contracts and churning the backup players who clearly aren’t good enough. We’ve seen some good stuff with Trippier bought ahead of Walker leaving and then 1st choice target Aurier bought to develop along with KWP. We also used the Walker money to buy Sanchez who has already signed a second contract at the club. That is all healthy, even if we’ve gone slightly backwards at RB.

    Where it is not so healthy is the state of senior player contracts – Vertonghen, Toby, Eriksen, Dele, Lloris, Rose, Dembele. We managed to get others like Kane, Lamela and Son to sign though. Unfortunately what this means is that their overall market value goes down so we can’t commit funds to next generation players like we did with Sanchez.

    The other piece for me is churning the unwanted players. Our 5th choice centre mid is Sissoko. Arguably, our 1st choice centre mid was Dembele and still is some of the time. With the right succession planning, we would have sold Sissoko this summer and bought a player that would be competing with Dembele and Winks right now. Then as Dembele exits the club we’re still as strong as the new player is used to Poch’s methods just like Trips was when he eventually got thrown in.

    For me, we are close to code red with the squad. We won’t feel it during this season as the squad is strong. We’ll enjoy the new stadium opening and have another decent season. Then next summer will start and we’ll be fighting an exodus and won’t have the new players in place. We will implement our “sell before we buy” policy again and will be buying replacements late. There’s also a risk that Levy won’t pull his finger out of his proverbial and get those outstanding contracts closed by paying the going and affordable rate. He may need to see a Spurs eleven for a 19/20 season without Toby and Eriksen to realise what happens when you take your eye off the ball and stop succession planning for a year.

  • A bit of an aside, but worth mentioning nonetheless: Toby Alderweireld was in front of the Belgian press yesterday, as part of his duties during the international break. He was asked about his Spurs future, and he said that a lot that had been said in the press was not true (no surprises there). He said that he was happy at Spurs, especially since he’s starting again, and a lot of his frustration came from the fact that he had not been brought back into the starting 11 after recovering from his injury.

    He spoke conditionally, but he seemed to imply that his recent unhappiness had more to do with playing time than money, and that he wouldn’t mind staying if the club can propose an improved contract, but more importantly, reassurances about playing time. Hopefully that’s a way forward in negotiations.

    • Now if only Spurs can stop giving up goals of free kicks and corners when Toby is on the pitch. Magnificent on open play, but the team has been giving up too much on set pieces.

  • I think the slow long-term build that we’re seeing is the way forward. I hate to mention him, but if you look at Mourihno now: there used to be a time when you could spend spend spend and that would guarantee winning the PL. Now Jose is finding out it’s not that simple any more. Even City’s spending looked at times ineffective under Pellegrini as coaching has risen to another level. I think this group of players will win something soon and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Toby, Jan and even Dembélé sign new deals before the end of the season.

  • To some extent the whole discussion is pointless. We don’t have the resources to buy success so its simply not an option. Funnily enough that doesn’t just apply to us. There was an article I read from the Liverpool Echo making the point that in the time Fenway have owned Liverpool City have spent 4.5 times what Liverpool have and United 3.5 times. What Klopp seems to do is focus his spending on acquiring specific individuals rather than a shotgun approach and if necessary waiting for them to become available, even if it means leaving his squad short for a season. That’s maybe an option for us.

  • Muttley – How exactly do you get a player who doesn’t want to sign a new contract at a price you can afford to sign a new contract ? I’m sure Levy would be as interested as I am if you know how to do that. Who exactly is this player we could have brought in “that would be competing with Dembele and Winks right now” ? I really get fed up with all these anonymous players we apparently missed out on. Why do none of them have names ? Why exactly will we have an exodus the season after next ? You seem certain we will but completely failed to explain why.

  • BelgianSpur – You really have an old fashioned view of players don’t you ? Toby, like Danny Rose before him has been made to look an idiot when United’s interest in signing him evaporated. Both players are left with nowhere to go. Even if they run down their contracts and are available as free agents there ‘s no guarantee a Woodward controlled United or any other major club will be interested in either of them. The only way may be down. So Toby is trying to sound more reasonable, he doesn’t really have any other options.

  • jod – or maybe, just maybe, Levy is holding on to the last bit of control he has over Toby now, asking a ridiculous fee for him, which explains the lack of offers despite the potential interest. I suppose we’ll really know how in demand Toby is next year, when his price drops to 25 million. If nobody comes in for him then, you’ll have a point. However, if clubs line up to sign him at that moment, your comment will not have aged very well.

    “The only way may be down” – you often accuse me of speaking in very conditional terms, which is exactly what you have done there. You mustn’t be very confident about that prediction, because that wording hardly conveys confidence. Are you afraid it may backfire?

    It’s very easy to keep hold of a player when they’ve got many years left on their contract – just quote a ridiculously high price, and scare off any suitor. It’s a lot harder to do the closer you get to that player’s contract expiry date.

    The irony of course, is that Levy quotes prices for his players that he himself would never agree to if he was the buying party. Different sets of rules depending on which side of the table he’s sitting on. And that’s how we end up with windows in which we fail to unload unwanted players and fail to strengthen the squad.

  • Parlaneyido – this being said, Guardiola hasn’t shied away from spending money either. He’s bought well it seems, but make no mistake about it: the players he did buy were never going to be had on the cheap. He went for quality, and paid dearly for it. That’s the knock on Guardiola – he’s never had to work at a poor club. Would he be as successful at a small club?

    It’s also easy to say that Pellegrini spent lots and was ineffective, but 1) Pellegrini did win the league with his “ineffective” approach, and 2) spending money is necessary but it still has to go hand in hand with effective recruitment.

    You can spend lots and not get it right (and justified criticism can be aimed at Mourinho for spending lots on poor players recently), but there is still a strong correlation between spending lots and winning, sadly.

  • BelgianSpur I would have thought “The only way may be down” was pretty easy to understand. There are maybe half a dozen clubs in Europe who could be considered a step up from Spurs. These clubs effectively pick from every player in the world. Its what economists would describe as a very imperfect market, plenty of sellers but not many buyers. If none of this handful of clubs is interested, very likely as far as Rose goes, Toby might be luckier, then any other destination is likely to be a step down. Any other foreign club is likely to pay less than we do. The West Hams of this world who benefit from premier league money might be prepared to pay a bit better but could hardly be seen as a step up. Since both players thought they had big pay days lined up they are left in limbo, just hoping it will work out. Which means they don’t need to burn any more bridges. The question I suppose from Levy’s viewpoint is at what price is it worth just running down the player’s contract rather than selling ? If nothing else the Toby saga has spread dissension at United with it being made clear Woodward, not Mourinho is in charge. If Poch can use the time to turn Sanchez into the world class defender he thinks he can become then running down Toby’s contract may actually be cost effective. Of course United never made a bid so we don’t really know how much Woodward was prepared to pay.

  • BS….maybe I am right, maybe I am wrong, but are you saying that for Spurs to win the league that we have to hire a big bucks manager who will 99% guarantee winning by spending big bucks on players or is it an off the cuff comment?- ie that is the only way to win anything. Only asking COYS

  • jod – you confuse “step up from a financial point of view” with “step up from a sporting point of view”. Clubs in places like Turkey have spent fortunes on transfers and wages (ie Sneijder) in the past, and I’m not even mentioning places like the US, Russia or China (look at players like Yannick Carrasco or Axel Witsel). Accepting that, the potential market for those players is bigger than you think.

    Even looking at clubs who all have a better shot at silverware than we do,there’s also a lot more than “half a dozen” clubs in Europe who could afford either (even just looking at the more traditional leagues, I can argue that 5 clubs in the PL, 3 in La Liga, a couple in Germany, a couple in Italy and at least one in France are all easily willing to spend more than we are).

  • PY – I’m saying that throwing money at it, and hiring a proven manager, is not a surefire way of winning things, but it’s a good strategy that has proven effective.

    Knowing that this is what we are up against, how do we compete, and/or can we compete? Or must we just accept that we are never going to compete?

    If our whole model is based on trying to get closer to these richer clubs, but that we are ultimately still going to fall short of their revenues after it’s all said and done, maybe that’s not the best way forward. If we merely try to do the same thing, but just not as well, is that ever going to deliver results?

  • BelgianSpur, we’re already competing (and in some cases surpassing) five richer clubs despite a 0 net spend. Well in fact, MP has spent just £30m net in 4 years at Spurs. Just enough to buy one Sissoko. So there is little to suggest our current methods aren’t working. If we were able to spend on par with Liverpool, I see no reason why we couldn’t consistently compete at the very top. Whatever alternative you propose, increasing the clubs revenues and ability to spend on transfers/wages won’t hurt.

  • Guyver – it won’t hurt to increase revenues, but will it be enough if the best case scenario is still being some ways poorer than 2 or 3 clubs? Honest question.

    As for surpassing richer clubs, I suppose it all depends what you mean by surpassing. If you’re just going off of league finishes, it’s fair to say that we have done better (and even that’s a fairly recent phenomenon). If you’re looking at trophies, all of the others have done better than us, except for Liverpool (but again, looking at final appearances might give a different picture). I guess it depends on what one considers “success”, and where the threshold is set.

    Have our current methods led to improvement? Undoubtedly. But for a method to be “working”, there has to be a tangible success at then end of it. Otherwise, we’ll remain a nearly team. I’ll consider the method to be working when that is achieved. Improvement and success are different concepts, for me.

  • BelgianSpur – No I’m not. Players want both, to be paid more and to win things. That’s why Walker went to City. If you really believe clubs in the big European leagues are paying more than us your grasp of finance is limited. In Germany Bayern have twice the revenue of any other club, PSG tell a similar story in France, Real and Barcelona hoover up the money in Spain. In the premier league there’s not only more money, its more evenly spread. Leicester for example are better off than most of the clubs in Europe. Its why so many players want to play in England. Of course players can earn more in China, but that’s not ambition its a retirement plan. If a player has reached that stage in his career we wouldn’t be interested anyway.

  • jod – that doesn’t change the fact that while those clubs may be few and far between, a Bayern Munich, a Juventus or a PSG can afford to pay wages that we cannot. There is no point comparing the French league as a whole to the PL as a whole – that’s off topic. We are listing specific clubs that could afford to buy, and employ, players like Toby or Rose.

    According to Deloitte, we’re not even in the top 10 of richest clubs in Europe, so by definition, there are at least 10 clubs who can afford those players more than we can – who is struggling with finances?

    As for China being a retirement plan, it’s precisely why I listed 2 players in Carrasco and Witsel who went to China in their prime (both were starting for Belgium at the last WC). Witsel would easily start for us, and Carrasco would easily be in contention for minutes as well.

    Witsel has done it twice, in fact. He left Benfica to sign in Russia (Zenit), turning down an offer from United in the process. After a few years at Zenit, he turned down Juventus to play 2 seasons in China. All of this was before his 29th birthday. Only this summer has he come back to Europe to be closer to his family, and he walked directly into Borussia Dortmund’s midfield, arguably being their best player so far. So much for your theory of only seeing “over the hill” players go to China…

    Maybe it’s time you let go of your self-imposed convictions and start looking around.

  • So Toby Alderwiereld, one of the finest CBs/FBs in Europe never wanted to leave Spurs in the first place, so what has been going on. He gets injured, and during his time out he has the affront to open discussions on his contract, hoping to be made an offer befitting his exceptional talent, but this is not forthcoming so there is a failure to agree. In the meantime we buy a rookie CB, and on regaining full fitness Toby is sent to the “naughty step” and is left out, presumably for not dancing to Levy’s tune, and he is up for sale at a price we know nobody will pay. Has anybody bothered to calculate the cost of replacing him with a player of similar quality, if of course one could be found who was willing to join Spurs, and what is the cheaper option, paying Alderwiereld closer to what he is worth for 3 more years, or spending £60+M to attempt to replace him. We have bought Sanchez, a promising young centre back, who is a million miles behind Toby in terms of quality, as is shown when Toby plays for both Spurs and Belgium, and will take several seasons to improve to Toby’s level, and if this club has any genuine ambition it is patently obvious that we cannot afford to sell any of our true quality players, of whom Toby Alderwiereld is most definitely one. Time to stop playing silly buggers, swallow egos and get an agreement. If we can afford to keep, and pay, the likes of Jannson, Sissoko, and Lloriente to contribute little or nothing, and Lamela to be perpetually injured on a new improved contract , then surely we can and should be paying one of Europe’s premier defenders an appropriate salary.

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