Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Sherlock Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
“Silver Blaze”, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
What on earth is Tottenham doing? Once the window finished, Spurs remained the only Premier League side not to have signed a senior player this summer.
Signings, it’s true, aren’t everything, and one of the most impressive aspects of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign has been how he has promoted youth and taken Spurs into the Champions League for a fraction of the expenditure of their competitors. But there is a serious danger here of a major opportunity being lost. Tottenham last season excelled in finishing third, but there was a sense that it might have done even better with a greater depth of squad.
More of its outfield players played more than 2500 minutes in the Premier League last season than any other top-six club, and that was despite Pochettino’s clear efforts to prevent the late-season di that has so often afflicted his sides in the past. There is a clear reliance on Harry Kane, who seemed to be brought back from injury earlier than as ideal, while no other side forces creative players such as Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli through anywhere near as many minutes. Perhaps Erik Lamela, now fully recovered from injury, and Lucas Moura, after six months to adapt to the Premier League, will play more this season, but the lack of signings is clearly not Pochettino’s policy.
“I think I am not the person to explain it,” Pochettino said last week. “Of course, people expect the manager to explain that but, for different reasons, it's been difficult to add players who can help us. But in the last week many things can happen.
“Of course, football is all about adding more quality every season like our rivals are doing. If we cannot do that, we need to try to be creative and, of course, the help of younger players will be amazing and they showed they can help us if, in the end, we cannot sign players."
That was a reference to the comment made by the Tottenham executive director Donna-Maria Cullen, the most influential board member after Levy, that Spurs did not need to sign players because their academy was so good. While that sounds admirable, and Tottenham has had success by promoting youth, no other top side operates in that way. Signings are always required to augment the work of the academy.
The concern is that the lack of activity is part of a general retrenchment as Tottenham moves into its new stadium and must begin to deal with interest repayments on the loan it took out to fund it – something that hampered Arsenal in its first years at the Emirates.
There have been constant assurances from the club that there will be no need for cut backs, but fans are understandably concerned by the lack of activity this summer. It’s not as though this is a squad without immediate issues that need to be dealt with. There is need of back-up for Kane, and need to offload Vincent Janssen and Fernando Llorente, the two players who have been brought in as back up in the past but haven’t really settled, while doubts remain over the futures of Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld and Mousa Demebele. All three have been linked with moves away and Pochettino’s habit in such cases is to freeze out anybody whose commitment he doubts. This is not a squad that could deal with three fewer players.
With a new stadium ready to open – Tottenham will play its first home game of the season, against Fulham, at Wembley, where it payed home games last season, before inaugurating the new White Hart Lane against Liverpool on September 15 – and a promising young squad that still has development to come, these should be exciting times for Tottenham. The beginning of this season, though, is undercut with worry. Why have there been no signings and, even more troublingly, if there is a cut to the transfer budget, what does that mean for Pochettino’s future?