Continuity is perhaps underrated in football. It is a significant cog in the Pochettino workings, and one of the main factors of Spurs’ rise to the elite. It makes the North Londoners special, and a favourite for the neutral. Likewise for Diego Simeone’s Athletico Madrid. Pochettino is also renowned for his lust to improve players. Yes, a seemingly basic attribute, but one that is becoming rarer for a manager in the modern age of quick fixes. Yet, even when taking this into account, he was ridiculed by fans around all the country for not signing a single player this summer. However, these critics did not consider both the Pro’s and Con’s of Pochettino’s brave, astute decision. After 3 games Spurs’ superior cohesion and chemistry had contributed to a 100% start to the start to the season. After 3, somewhat jaded, slightly average performances.
As expected, the main talking points were: “We need to start considering Spurs as title contenders”, “Spurs are capable of going all the way”, “continuity makes Spurs a class act”. Then a week later, after a 2-1 defeat at Vicarage road, the tables turned: “Spurs have lack of squad depth”, ” Soft Spurs have no leader”, “Harry Kane is tired from the World Cup”. This occurrence is revealing. Do the press and pundit’s opinions fluctuate too easily? Maybe they do. But the focused question today, is does Mauricio Pochettino, for all his myriad qualities, succumb to the critics, take a long look at his squad sheet and ask himself a question that he would consider premature: Should he have bolstered the squad in the summer? Or does he stick with his ethos and believe in his players as, we must not forget, Spurs are a stellar team with a world class manager.
It is essential that one is careful when pondering over the question that is whether the ‘squad’ or the ‘team’ needs investment. In terms of the first 11, Spurs, doubtless, have the tools to excel in both the Premier League and Champions League this year. Although it is not that simple. In terms of depth, Spurs are depleted in comparison to Europe’s elite. Take a look at the bench of Liverpool, Man City and Juventus- 3 contenders in the domestic league and Europe. Sturridge, Lallana, Fabinho, Henderson, Clyne and Shaquiri didn’t start in Liverpool’s match against West Ham. De Bruyne, Sane, Jesus and Kompany didn’t start against Arsenal. Bernadeschi, Can, Matuidi, Mandzukic and Barzagli didn’t start against Chievo Verona. All Spurs have off the bench is Heung-Min Son (who, admittedly, is class), Sissoko and Llorente as attacking options.
But this is not merely comparing firepower off the bench. As the season goes on, the 4 competitions start to take their toll and ,incidentally, injuries begin to plague teams. Who can replace Kane? Who can replace Dier and Dembélé? Alli? Eriksen? What’s more, is 9 of Tottenham’s first team went to the semi finals of the World Cup or further which is inevitably going to be to the detriment of Spurs come November, December period- the peak of fixture congestion. Spurs are an ambitious club and are on a clear upward trajectory, so although in this moment it may seem harsh to compare them to the European heavyweights, it is also entirely necessary if they wish to live up to expectations this year and add some silverware to the gaping trophy cabinet. Would it be going too far to say a depth crisis looms on the horizon?
To balance the debate, we must look at things from Pochettino’s point of view. As mentioned previously, he values continuity, camaraderies and general positivity very highly. So why would he risk destroying the near-perfect atmosphere he has moulded at Tottenham, by spending large amounts of money on players whose egos might upset the cohesion of the team? Even so, Pochettino is no stubborn Wenger. He is a meticulous man, who is also not afraid to go back on his decisions and judgements. So, if he sincerely believed that there was a deficiency of depth and squad solidity, we can be sure that he will have scoured the transfer market right until the very last minute to find the players to fill the gaps.
However, it is all too easily forgotten that moving to a new stadium costs hundreds of millions, so Tottenham can not afford to burn money in the next couple of years. Keeping the theme of money, Danny Higgingbotham stated on The Debate on Sky Sports that if Spurs were to spend 40m+ ( the price required for any player who could have a significant impact) on somebody like Martial for instance, he will demand high wages. Incidentally, it will discontent his star men who would then be thinking “Who does he think he is, I want that sort of money too”, so a wage inflation occurs, which Spurs can not afford at this moment in time.
A very much relevant issue in English Football that has troubled many but not Pochettino, is gametime for English players. They gave 12,553 minutes, the most in the top 6, to English players that include Kane, Alli, Dier, Rose, Trippier and the young Harry Winks. Consequently, this makes them a neutral favourite and perhaps the press have more tolerance after poor performances. Spurs are envied for this. So if Pochettino were to dip his hand into the market surely this would this intercept the bright development path into the 1st team that awaits the likes of Winks, Onomah and Walker-Peters. It may also prevent Dier and even Dele Alli- who needs to start performing- from regular game time.
It really is a mind boggling conundrum that faces Pochettino. Hopefully, they can get back to winning ways tonight against Inter Milan.
Spain’s impressive response
Lago Aspas steps up to the spot. Saved. The stadium erupts while subs and managers spill onto the pitch in euphoria. Pique, Iniesta, Carvajal and Busquets, nostalgic, stare into the distance in dismay. An image that would certainly best sum up their tournament. Lost for ideas, aging, vulnerable. Russia, the hosts, who prior to the tournament people labelled hopeless and a liability, have just knocked the mighty Spain out of the World Cup and advanced into the quarter-finals via penalty shootout. That same night, Iniesta, the linchpin of Spain’s 08,10,12 successes, announced his international retirement. David Silva and Gerard Pique would later follow suit. Fernando Hierro would also resign as manager. It marked the end of an era, and many anticipated a descent into turmoil for the Spanish team but it wasn’t to be.
It was stark that Spain were respecting teams too much, which often boils down to a lack of ruthlessness and intensity. They even became languid at times. While the FA would have panicked and recruited Big Sam or David Moyes by this point, Spain calmly appointed the shrewd Luis Enrique, renowned for his strict regimes and professionalism, the best antidote for Spain’s problems. His orders consisted of no mobile phones at the dinner table, no video games late at night, less free time and no ketchup. It must be said though, Enrique also had some techniques that were certainly novel, even uncanny. However, in retrospect, highly necessary. He sent them to an escape room, where the idea was that they had to solve a series of clues while being tormented by the Zodiac Killer, in order to escape the room. It is designed for team bonding, and building trust and communication- while at the same time just to have a bit of a laugh. The winning team was Lago Aspas, Thiago Alcantara, Sergi Roberto, Inigo Martinez, Cesar Azpilicueta and Rodrigo. It is also abundantly clear that he makes full use of his position in power and revells in it – he ordered for a tall piece of scaffolding to be erected, where he has a perfect view of training every day. In footballing terms, his style of play very much reflects his style of coaching. Direct, pragmatic and clinical- no faffing around. This was evident in Spain’s return to competitive football, with a 2-1 win over semi-finalists England, and then a 6-0 rout over finalists Croatia. Many would have mourned over the past, but Spain appear hungry for the future.
Luis Enrique’s work is only one piece of the jigsaw. It is the RFEF ( Spanish FA) who must also be credited. Their impressive work across platforms such as social media for example- where they changed their Instagram bio to UnaNuevaIllusion (a new dream)- creates the aura that they are moving into new, exciting times, inviting fans to join the ride. It encapsulates the rare calmness and ability to fight against a crisis that has distinguished Spanish Football in this past decade. Spain are back.