By Greg Stobart
Tottenham made the most important signing of their summer before the transfer window even opened.
The appointment of Mauricio Pochettino on a five-year contract at the end of May was the biggest decision chairman Daniel Levy has had to make in years.
Following the dismissals of Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood within six months of each other, Spurs decided to take a gamble on the inexperienced young Argentine who caught the eye at Southampton with impressive results and an attractive style of football.
A strong part of the thought process behind Pochettino’s appointment was his reputation as a top-class coach who could improve players. The club were not prepared to give up on their seven signings from last summer - at a cost of £110 million - and a big part of the new boss’ job is to bring the best out of players who failed to settle last season. Surely internationals such as Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Etienne Capoue were better than they showed in their first year in England?
Pochettino also buys in to Levy’s philosophy of buying young talented players rather than trying to compete with financially stronger clubs for high profile names or players with little sell-on value.
So the plan coming into the summer was to improve the squad without making the same wholesale changes that set them back last year when they tried to fill the void left by the sale of Gareth Bale.
Still, six players were signed - Ben Davies, Michel Vorm, Eric Dier, Federico Fazio, Benjamin Stambouli and DeAndre Yedlin - while the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Dawson, Zeki Fryers, Lewis Holtby and Sandro departed.
The early part of the summer was spent negotiating with Swansea over the deals that saw Davies (£10m) and Vorm (£2m) arrive with Sigurdsson returning to the Welsh club.
Davies had long been tracked as a potential new left-back and the club pulled the trigger to sign him to compete with Danny Rose, who told Pochettino during the tour of the United States that he would not give up his position without a fight and has started the season as first choice.
Dier, meanwhile, had been tracked ever since he spent a short period on trial in north London from Sporting Lisbon. The England under-21 international had been strongly recommended by Sherwood and the club decided to press ahead with the £4m deal to bolster their shaky defence.
One of the priorities for Pochettino on his arrival was to sign a new centre-back, with the decision made immediately to sell club captain Dawson.
Spurs thought they had clinched a £17m deal for Mateo Musacchio, the Villarreal centre-back, but after weeks of wrangling it seemed clear that the deal would fall through, with the player’s agent refusing to take a cut on the 30 per cent of economic rights he owns in the Argentine.
Eventually, Spurs accepted defeat in their Musacchio chase and quickly clinched a deal for Fazio by activating the £8m release clause in the 6ft 5in Sevilla captain’s contract.
It was a similar story as Pochettino looked for a strong central midfielder who would fit in to his high pressing game, with the 42-year-old desperate to re-unite with Southampton star Morgan Schneiderlin.
Talks were opened with Southampton shortly after France’s exit from the World Cup and Spurs were confident of clinching a deal in the £15-18m range. Yet after Saints executives faced a backlash from their own supporters as players deserted the club, they performed a U-turn and told Schneiderlin he would not be sold.
Schneiderlin vented his anger and went on unofficial strike, training on his own and refusing to play in Southampton’s pre-season matches.
But it became clear that Saints would not change their stance towards Schneiderlin on a matter of principle. Pochettino would still love to sign Schneiderlin in the future but the club made a late, surprise move for Stambouli to provide some midfield steel.
Meanwhile, the club wanted to cut down a squad so big that several high-profile internationals could not even make the 18-man matchday squad.
|11/4||Tottenham are 11/4 with Paddy Power to finish in the top four|
Sigurdsson, another fringe player, had been used as part of the deal with Swansea while Spurs made it clear they would listen to offers for Holtby, Fryers, Sandro, Paulinho, Aaron Lennon, Vlad Chiriches and others over the summer.
As Levy tried to squeeze the pennies out of every deal, most had to wait until the end of the window to learn their fate.
With concerns over Sandro’s injury record, the Brazilian moved to QPR for £10m on deadline day - around the same fee that had been offered by Serie A side Napoli earlier in the window.
Holtby, another crowd favourite, left on loan for Hamburg and is unlikely to to return.
Wingers Lennon, Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli all stayed at the club despite considerable interest. Townsend was the subject of significant bids from Southampton while Lennon refused to move to QPR on deadline day.
Pochettino was keen to add another attacking player to his squad to provide goals to complement Emmanuel Adebayor, especially after Roberto Soldado’s miserable first campaign in England.
Tottenham explored a move for Wilfried Bony while Jay Rodriguez will be a leading target in January if he proves his fitness once his returns from a serious knee injury.
One disappointment for the club was Danny Welbeck’s decision to sign for Arsenal on deadline day when Spurs had been confident of clinching a loan move for the versatile attacker.
Yet Pochettino is happy with his "unbelievable" squad and the likes of Erik Lamela, Capoue and Chadli already look like completely different players this season.
It has been a busy but understated summer for Tottenham, in keeping with Pochettino’s outlook.
The club’s ambitions have been reined in and there are no demands on the Argentine to achieve a top-four finish this season.
He will be allowed to get on with implementing his playing philosophy and will be given time to build the team. They may no longer have the star talents of Bale and Luka Modric, but the new Spurs manager has plenty to work with.