With a new manager in place the transfer speculation will surely run rife – more so than it already has been. But it is definitely true that Spurs are lacking in some key areas. With the whole of the summer ahead of us (including some football tournament in Brazil) it could be a long wait. But it does raise some interest as to what we are likely to do.
There are some notable questions. What is our transfer policy (if we have one) and why? What is the role of Baldini, and how much say will Poch (a.k.a. MoPo) have? And who, if anyone, will be moved on – especially those of last year’s summer seven?
I have decided to break these questions into 3 parts. In this part I will look at last year’s signings to see why we bought the players we did. In the second part I will look into how this relates to a transfer philosophy, and the role of Baldini. Finally I will look into 2 case studies; Southampton to see whether we have the players to emulate that style, and Atletico Madrid to see whether there is anything we can learn from their success. Apologies if the first part feels like rehashing old ground; it definitely is that. But it is necessary to set the scene for the other 2 parts.
So what of those seven players? I’m going to show three things. Firstly that each of them, although highly rated, were a gamble (with the exception of one). I’m also going to debunk the myth that these were not AVB selections, as all of them fit into his system (except for one). Then thirdly that I believe that they were all gambles worth taking, and that the majority of criticism laid upon them is not of their doing. But first a qualifier – AVB had a very specific style; a high line of pressing defenders, using a double pivot midfield duo to help protect them, with inverted wingers that cut in and full backs that overlapped outside. It is a physical system for pace and power, looking to grind the opposition down. Unsurprisingly it’s basically Mourinho’s system.
Paulinho and Capoue
Both fit this system perfectly, as like for like replacements for Dembele and Sandro. AVB chose to forgo Dembele’s more attacking qualities in favour of a more combative approach. It is called a double pivot as unlike an anchorman (who acts as a pivot for the team to attack from) there are two defensive minded players that can be used to launch attacks, with the other one being given the freedom to roam forward. But often both players become more cautious and that results in their being too large a gap between attack and defence, as happened to the Dutch in Euro 2012 when they played de Jong and van Bommel. But that’s the system, and those are the players – physical, powerful, strong. Both were perfect for AVB’s system.
Both were also a bit of a gamble. Paulinho on the one hand was now a regular for Brazil but his previous attempts at playing in Europe were a nightmare. Seventeen appearances and no goals in the Polish top division, whilst 6 goals in 28 games for Bragantino in Serie B. If he could recreate his national form for Spurs then £17m would be a steal, and this was no ordinary national side, this was Brazil! Capoue was a little different, having shown a more consistent and steady progression. The signs were there that he could make the step up but had never played at that level before.
Ultimately neither player shone for us. Injuries didn’t help either (I do feel the best signing we could make is a physio!), but besides that neither really got going for us. Capoue only played 12 games so I think it is hard to judge him as a failure. Paulinho scored just 6 times in 30 appearances, and for the “Brazilian Frank Lampard” you’d hope for a few more. But despite that he is still in the Brazilian team going to the World Cup, and is rumoured to have a host of suitors after him. How can he be so good for others when he has been so bad for us? I’d suggest that it was the system. It is therefore no surprise that Paulinho has been rumoured to be linked to a move to Chelsea.
Chadli and Lamela
An aspect of AVB’s system was the inverted winger; and he was looking for our Robben and Ribery. In his first season with us he began to get Lennon and Bale to swap over. At first it looked like it was just to mix things up but soon it become clear that this was a thing. Bale of course went on to smash in some crackers and then left for Madrid, whilst Lennon has always looked better going to the outside. Once again Chadli and Lamela fit this system perfectly.
Chadli, a right footed winger who plays on the left, and Lamela, a left footed player who plays on the right, had both achieved strong results in the previous season. Chadli had broken into the Belgian national team whilst Lamela, in addition to scoring 15, was described by Totti as being his successor. Whilst Chadli was more powerful and direct, looking to cut in and shoot from range, Lamela was more of a dribbler who would look to cut through tight defences and also draw fouls.
Both suffered from injuries early on, which put paid to Lamela’s season outright. Chadli did come back, but was now being deployed in a central attacking midfield role. It was hard to work out whether he simply did not cope with the lack of space or if it was a deliberate tactic to play a central winger, but in either case Chadli did not do well. That is with one exception; 1-0 down to Benfica and going out of the Europa Cup, a late substitution resulted in Chadli being employed wide left. Two goals later and he was never played there again. So how can you rate a player that was consistently played out of position, and another that was injured all season? Well it seems that Inter Milan rates Lamela enough to make him a transfer target.
AVB’s system required two things of his centre backs. Firstly one needed to have pace and to be able to carry the ball out of the defence. Secondly you needed an old school CB with aerial presence and a good defensive box presence. In Dawson and Kaboul the second was covered (with Kaboul being preferred for his addition pace and physicality but usually out of contention due to injury). Vertonghen had a fine first season for us, but any injury and we were in trouble. Additionally with a gap at left back he may need to cover that position. Chiriches, a ball playing CB fit as good cover for Verts and suited AVB’s desire to have 2 players for every position (except for LB it seems).
This is the player that of them all was arguably not a gamble. All players of course are to some extent, but the rest of the players bought had an average age of 23 whereas Soldado was at the ripe old age of 28. All of the other players had shown flashes of potential or were just breaking into the big leagues, but Soldado has scored over 20 a season for the past 4 years. He was the finished article rather than a hot prospect.
But things didn’t click for him. With so many teams defending deep against us (seemingly not realising we had lost almost all the pace player’s we’d had for the past few seasons) he wasn’t getting any service. Soldado can really only do one thing, and that is finish, but frustrated by the lack of opportunities he started to drop deeper. Some admired his work ethic whilst others questioned his positioning and lack of commitment. The media punditry started to talk about him not being able to play up top by himself, even though for Valencia he also played at the top of a 4-2-3-1 and scored for fun, totalling 82 in 141 games, a 58% strike rate which is impressive even in a league where it tends to be easier for good strikers to get large goal returns.
It was rather due to the closed playing style under AVB. With a packed defence we were unable to play the through balls that Soldado thrived upon. Instead he was being given the ball in very difficult situations. His confidence dropped, AVB was sacked, Adebayor was brought back and hit the ground running and it was effectively the end to his season. Look at his two open play goals against Aston Villa and Cardiff. Both through balls (when the defence was turned) that he finished sharply. Now look at his misses and wasted chances. Now go and look at his goals for Valencia. It’s clear that he can only do one thing, but he does that thing very well.
It is therefore with no little irony that the player who was, on paper, the one that was not a gamble is the one that has had the least success and may be the first to leave. And if the rumours prove to be true then it will be to the Champions League finalists and La Liga winners. How can he be good enough for them but not good enough for us?
This is the player that is arguably the least likely to fit into AVB’s system, but ended up our best from the summer seven. A creative player that would fit well in a DPC system he was neither physical nor powerful enough for AVB’s style. Initially Sigurdsson impressed enough with his goals to keep the number 10 slot, but eventually Eriksen got his opportunity and didn’t do a lot with it. Just one assist in 7 league appearances under AVB; his record was a little better in the Europa League with one goal and one assist in 5.
AVB was sacked, the system opened up and Eriksen flourished almost instantly with a goal and a Man of the Match performance against WBA on Boxing Day (although the result was a draw so we were all feeling a bit flat). The rest of the season saw 9 goals and 8 assists in 23 (7 goals and 7 assists in 19 league games).
So here was a player that did not fit into the AVB system, did not do well in the AVB system, and yet ended up being one of our star performers. And all this from a position that was not natural to him.
I wanted to show that all the players were a gamble because in the next part I want to discuss our transfer policy, and how it has led us to taking gambles on young players. But these are gambles worth taking, and that so many of them are being chased by other top clubs shows that it is our fault we have not got the best out of them. I also wanted to demonstrate that there is no evidence that AVB had no control over his own signings, as all bar one player fit into his system. Further to this we also have Sherwood’s statements that Levy offered him the chance to sign players in January. But that leaves a question – if the manager does have control / a say in transfers, what does Baldini actually do?
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