SPECIAL REPORT By Ewan Roberts Follow on Twitter
After countless summers of instability and huge player turnover, Tottenham will be much more focused on consolidation this window. Mauricio Pochettino has always been largely content with his squad, and will only be looking to tweak and trim during the off-season.
There are unlikely to be any big-money moves – the club revealed a return to the low risk, high potential deals that have reaped rewards previously at a meeting with the Supporters’ Trust, once again targeting young players in the £10-15 million bracket.
With interest from Manchester United in the sides’ two stand-out players, the biggest feat Spurs could pull off this summer is simply retaining the core of their side, but new recruits will be needed if they are to break into the top four and claim a Champions League place.
Tottenham have already moved swiftly to tie up a deal for Kevin Wimmer, the bruising Austrian centre-back moving to White Hart Lane from Koln, and his unheralded arrival gives a clear indication as to the new direction Spurs’ recruitment is heading.
The arrival of Paul Mitchell and his “black box” will – the club hope – limit the danger of signing expensive flops, instead extensively scouting players to unearth gems; Mitchell was noted for his work at Southampton, signing the likes of Sadio Mane, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle (of last summer's Premier League signings, only Alexis Sanchez and Diego Costa scored more goals than the Italian).
“We need to ensure that we have a balance of experienced and home grown players, playing the attacking, entertaining football our fans love to watch. Perhaps we had lost our way a little bit in this respect, so this will be our guiding principle as we embark on the summer transfer window,” explained Daniel Levy at the end of the season.
The key there is experienced players, which is something Spurs – who have the youngest squad in the league – lack. Tottenham had been keen on James Milner, who ticked that box and many others, but he opted for Liverpool. Central midfield, and specifically finding a partner for the excellent Nabil Bentaleb, remains a priority this summer.
Morgan Schneiderlin is still a target, but with numerous Champions League clubs in for the Frenchman, and a £25m price tag, Spurs are likely to look elsewhere.
Christoph Kramer, who has spent the last two years on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach, is a possibility, and his energetic, defensive skillset (only three Bundesliga midfielders averaged more tackles per game) would be an ideal foil for Bentaleb.
The north Londoners also have a long-standing interest in James McCarthy, who has told Everton he wants to leave Goodison Park this summer, while Marseille midfielder Giannelli Imbula is being monitored. The French club need to sell a player before June 30 to balance the books and comply with DNCG accounting rules, so Levy’s trademark brinkmanship could come up trumps again.
The need for more pace in attack is not lost on Pochettino, and while another Marseille star, Florian Thauvin, has been linked, it is a different Frenchman, Monaco’s Anthony Martial, that Spurs are most keen on. Talks are ongoing over a £15m move and the 19-year-old, likened to Thierry Henry, has the electric speed Tottenham have lacked.
Elsewhere, fears over the form and fitness of Kyle Walker could see Kieran Tripper arrive in a £3.5m deal from Burnley, while returning loan starlet Alex Pritchard, January recruit Dele Alli and Tom Carroll will all have pre-season to prove they are deserving of a place in the first-team squad.
|PLAYERS WHO COULD LEAVE|
Manchester United always posed a threat to Spurs this summer, though the major target was expected to be Hugo Lloris. The Frenchman has long been seen as the probable replacement for David De Gea at Old Trafford when the Spaniard eventually seals his big-money move to Real Madrid.
Lloris is happy in London and enjoying his time at Spurs, but would seriously consider a move to United, back in the Champions League of course, should a bid materialise. Levy, though, will hold out for a figure as close as possible to the long-standing £32.6 million record fee Juventus paid for Gianluigi Buffon in 2001.
It seems, however, that United now have their eye on another Tottenham star: Harry Kane. Louis van Gaal has made strengthening his strikeforce a priority and the England Under-21 star is his No.1 target. United are ready to test Spurs’ resolve by making an official bid of £50 million, and are willing to offer the likes of Javier Hernandez and Adnan Januzaj in part-exchange.
Tottenham’s stance is clear, though: Kane is not for sale at any price. The club are confident of keeping the 21-year-old at Spurs and want to build their future around him. Unlike previous high-profile exits, Kane actually has a genuine affinity for the club and could in fact sign a new double-your-money contract this summer despite only penning new terms in February.
Elsewhere, Pochettino was lauded for his use of youngsters this season – from Eric Dier in defence to the prolific Kane in attack – but there is a sense that he can’t quite blood in as many of the next generation of academy stars as he would like due to Tottenham’s hugely bloated squad, and as many as nine players could be sold for the right offer.
The most prominent of those are Younes Kaboul and Emmanuel Adebayor, still the club’s captain and vice-captain respectively. Almost overnight the duo were degraded from first-team regulars to personae non gratae as Pochettino chucked his lot in with the youthful, homegrown players who embraced his methods and philosophy.
Others players who have failed to impress the manager include three of infamous Magnificent Seven. While Paulinho and Erik Lamela are likely to be granted a reprieve and afforded one more year to live up to their billing, Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue and Roberto Soldado can all leave the club – though Spurs will have to take a significant loss on the £43m the trio originally cost.
For the right price, Mousa Dembele, Benjamin Stambouli and Andros Townsend could all be offloaded (the manager says "no one is safe"), though there is a place for them in the squad next season. If the deadweight can be shifted, it would create more opportunities for the club’s promising youth stars and leave Pochettino with a squad he can really trust, thus lightening the load on key individuals.
Pochettino had a curious first season at White Hart Lane, combining the breath-taking with the woeful. For every spectacular performance, the 5-3 mauling of Chelsea for example, there were dropped points at home to bottom-half sides. Consistency evaded Spurs all season, and it was impossible to predict if the infectious, high-pressing side or their lethargic, easily-cut-open sibling would turn up.
Nevertheless, a fifth-place finish, automatic qualification for the group stages of the Europa League and a League Cup final appearance at Wembley represents an encouraging maiden campaign, especially when on-field results only constituted one part of his remit.
Behind the scenes Pochettino has begun overhauling the way players – transfer targets and current squad members – are assessed and analysed, bringing Mitchell with him from Southampton, while the club’s excellent academy is being developed to play the same style from schoolboys right up to the first team, with a real emphasis placed on developing the next generation.
Pochettino’s bravery when it comes to fielding young players is a huge part of the reason he was appointed last year, with Spurs likely to become increasingly reliant on their youngsters as they look to fund a £400 million new stadium.
The Argentine is the ideal man to nurture the next wave of Harry Kanes, and there is a real sense that Levy feels as though he has finally found his perfect manager. The chairman was effusive in his praise of the side’s spirit under Pochettino and promised to back him this summer – but, as ever, if results are not good enough then he will quickly come under threat.
|HOW THEY COULD LINE UP|
Pochettino will hope that his starting XI is largely unchanged next season, save for a few key positions. The defence was often chaotic and dishevelled last term, committing countless individual errors, but few sides were forced to use so many different back-line combinations. Spurs need stability, and the addition of Tripper, for example, would ensure that Dier can remain in his natural position.
The introduction of an out-and-out defensive midfielder would also reduce the workload on the defence. For all his craft and enthusiasm, Ryan Mason was often culpable of leaving massive gaps – a specialist holder like Kramer, however, would instantly turn Spurs into a more solid and compact outfit.
In attack, Tottenham are largely well set but need to add pace and movement in behind. Martial ticks both those boxes, and, at 19 years old, would be more receptive to rotating with the useful Nacer Chadli, who bagged 11 league goals last term. With a deeper squad, Pochettino can also afford to rest the likes of Christian Eriksen, who looked visibly exhausted in the latter stages of the season.