A few years ago, I had the feeling that I should probably try and read something more scholarly and thus began to read ‘The Castle’ by Franz Kafka.
The premise of the book is that the main character, ‘K’, makes constant, fruitless attempts to reach the castle from the village but is always thwarted or unsuccessful in his attempts.
Most Tottenham fans right now can empathise with ‘K’, as our pursuit of a high-class centre-back over the last two summers feels very similar to his plight in reaching the castle. Link after link to high-quality defenders ending in failure and disappointment – leading to the overwhelming sense that the task will never be accomplished.
When Tottenham finished fourth at the end of the 2021/22 season, it was borderline miraculous. The team managed to win ten out of the last fourteen fixtures and Arsenal somehow contrived to fall off a precipice and, much to our mirth, hand us fourth place on a blue and white ribboned platter.
Despite this, it was clear who was the better team. Arsenal had some exciting players who were working in unison and had begun to acquire an identity and way of playing under Arteta.
We were winning games thanks to the individual brilliance of the Son, Kane, Kulusevski triumvirate and the insanely good form of Cristian Romero, which, let’s be honest, we have only seen flashes of since.
Some of those performances were dire for at least 60 minutes, but goal-filled salvos propelled us to wins, like that Sonny hat-trick against Aston Villa (a perfect microcosm for this period of time).
Every fan who understands football knew that fourth place was a ‘false positive’ – not that it stopped us from celebrating like crazy.
But we were desperate for the club to seize this piece of good fortune and capitalise on it. But how? The answer was simple. We needed an upgrade in the wing-back area and to bring in an elite level centre back – ideally two, while shipping out some players whose time was up.
Early in the window, Tottenham snapped up Ivan Perisic on a free and Yves Bissouma for a very reasonable price. Spurs were doing their business early for a change; this was Paratici working his magic and allowing us to behave like an elite club. Or so we hoped.
The call went out from the fan base ‘Announce Bastoni!’. The young Italian seemed like an ideal fit for the team and had worked with Conte before. However, the long and short of it was that we did not sign him; instead welcoming Clement Lenglet to the club… on loan. Hardly a ringing endorsement that he would solve our long-term centre-back issues.
The Spurs defence last season, including Lenglet along with Lloris, Dier, Davies and Romero proceeded to concede sixty-three Premier League goals and looked about as robust as a chocolate digestive dipped in tea for two seconds.
The deep-dive investigation into this calamity has been well reported and thus there is no need for me to go any further on the matter, other than to say a drastic overhaul was needed. We could not maintain the status quo.
As the oft-used Einstein quote goes: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. We could not go into the new season with the same personnel. Change needed to be made.
Thus, like ‘K’ trying to find the castle, we found ourselves in May of this year, 2023, in the same position as the previous year. Unfortunately for the club, this time was after the crushing disappointment of finishing eighth in the Premier League, the shambles of the Conte-Stellini-Mason debacle and no European football to offer.
Similar to the preseason of 2022/23, the early signs were positive. Ange Postecoglou was unveiled as manager and his aura and communication skills ensured goodwill towards him from the fan base, despite some pockets of scepticism. Early signings were also made in the shape of Vicario, Solomon and the excellent James Maddison.
Three good signings, but none of whom can fill the centre-back void. Anyone who watched Tottenham last year knows that at least two centre-backs were needed (sound familiar?), especially if we were going to attempt Ange Postecoglou’s attacking brand of football. Yet we have nothing. No centre backs through the door and we play Brentford in less than twenty days.
What is making it worse is the farcical situation right now concerning Edmond Tapsoba and Micky Van De Ven (featuring a little bit of Tosin Adarabioyo). Like most fans, I will freely admit that when the season finished, my knowledge of these two players was rudimentary at best.
Statistically, they look promising and in the interviews given by Bundesliga journalists and pundits, you can see why a big club like Spurs would be interested.
However, Tottenham seem to be in a farcical position where they are “pursuing both, with the thought to buy one” (Fabrizio Romano).
I am well aware that clubs have to have multiple options open at a time, to ensure that they are not left high and dry if something unforeseen happens, but this situation seems absurd.
Put aside the fact that every Spurs fan is in unison screaming ‘sign them both’ but it just seems as though the club is dithering and just does not know the right course to take. It reminds me of a moment a few years ago in my life when I applied for two different jobs in a rush.
I ended up in a situation where I was just waiting to see who phoned me up first to decide which job I would take. It was scrambled thinking and I fear we are seeing the same from the Spurs board.
With all respect to Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, we have the financial clout to prise either player from their club and personal terms do not appear to be a problem. However, It appears like the hierarchy (whoever they may be) are uncertain which player to push for and are almost waiting for the situation to resolve itself, so they do not have to make a decision.
Even if one, or both, were signed now, they will have had minimal preseason to settle into the team and bond with their new teammates. My recurring nightmare is that both are snapped up by our rivals and we are left resigning Clement Lenglet to complete the Kafkaesque nightmare.
How does that Tottenham story end?
For those of you that are still interested in the ‘Castle’ narrative I am attempting to interweave into this article, Kafka died before he could complete the novel and thus the protagonist never reached his destination.
I sincerely hope that unlike ‘K’ our story has a happier ending and doesn’t involve the same familiar faces in the backline against Brentford.
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