By Edwin Yeo
Being a Spurs fan is often somewhat like being Edward D Wood Jr, universally known as the one of the worst directors in history. In Tim Burton’s biopic of the filmmaker, he plays up the line “the next one will be better” each time Wood’s movie tanks.
Next season will be better is almost always the hope of Spurs fans, especially the past two seasons. The Jose Mourinho experiment has by and large failed, as Spurs fell way short of qualifying for the Champions League, which is pretty much the expectations of Spurs fans today.
So, being a lifelong Spurs fan, you’ll excuse me for clinging onto the hope of a better 2021/22 season. However, being a journalist, we also need to examine the facts as to how it can be better.
Overall grade 2020/21: C
Overall, there were some highs for the past season. Top of the table in November, the 6-1 thrashing of Man United, the League Cup Final and so on. But given the bright start Spurs had, plus seven new signings, it was disappointing that Spurs didn’t qualify for the Champions League. In the end, it will probably go down as one of the worst seasons in recent history, and even the last gasp qualification for the Carabao Cup of Europe doesn’t lift the gloom much.
A new manager
At the time of writing this, speculation is rife on who this would be, and there are more twists and turns to this saga than your average Game of Thrones season. Two days ago, the media was going crazy in suggesting that it could be a spectacular return for Mauricio Pochettino, which would be as amazing a fairy tale as Alisson scoring the winner against West Brom to take Liverpool into the Champions League.
Yesterday, it suddenly became Antonio Conte, who left his job at Inter Milan after winning the league title.
Getting the right manager is critical for Spurs, and Chairman Daniel Levy’s track record of doing so is mixed. Had he done his homework properly, he would know that a manager like Mourinho requires a huge bank account, as the serial winner often requires money that would feed a small nation for him to get the honours. With the huge debt from a spanking new stadium, those kinds of funds were never forthcoming. Add on a global pandemic and Spurs simply cannot afford to spend like an oil sheikh. That’s just the reality.
Would Conte, who left Inter due to a lack of funds to improve his squad, be the right fit? I suspect it’s more of a square peg in a round hole again.
And what about fan favourite Pochettino returning like the prodigal son? Many of us love him - he’s clearly gotten Spurs to punch above their weight consistently in the time he managed the club. But not winning the French league title with arguably two of the best forwards in the world might mean that he needs more time to hone his craft to become one of the world’s greats.
Of all the world’s managers today, the only one who seems custom-made to take an average team to glory is Christophe Galtier, who’s Lille side just pipped PSG to the Ligue One title, with a squad that would challenge the most die-hard EPL fans to name during a Pub Trivia Night (yes, once upon a time, there was such a thing as a pub).
But it’s not because he just won the league title in essentially what is a one-team league, because, as we all know, it could have been a Leicester City kind of fairy tale. No, it’s because in the 3.5 seasons that he’s managed Lille, he took a side that escaped relegation by a hair’s breadth to second the next season, fourth the next and then champions after that.
Here’s the best part, Gaultier has left Lille, claiming that his work there is done and that he needs a new challenge. It is rumoured that his next destination is either Nice or Lyon, but if I were Levy, I would tell him that’s just Lille all over again, and that if he wanted a real challenge, he would come to Spurs.
After all, Spurs might have finished 7th, but in actual form guide since they were top of the table back in November, Spurs’ form have been 10th overall. To be able to get this team back into the top four and win any sort of trophy beyond the Audi Cup would be a challenge as tough as climbing the equivalent of Mount Everest on Mars.
But here’s a manager without a club that has a proven track record of taking a team of underachievers to the pinnacle of their country - that’s exactly the tonic Spurs need.
Of course, according to the news media and reliable sources such as Ladbrokes, he’s not even on Spurs’ radar. One hopes this is because Levy is trying to deflect attention and do a Jurgen Klinsmann, meaning announcing the signing of somebody world class without any prior speculation that would send Spurs fans into spontaneous orgasms.
A squad refresh
Of course, getting a new manager is only one part of the solution. It’s great if you sign Lewis Hamilton, but less so if you saddle him with a BlueSG car.
Back in February, I already detailed Spurs’ problems here, so I won't go into that again. The fact remains, that squad refresh that Pochettino called for since the Champions League Final loss is yet to be complete.
Yes, bringing back Gareth Bale was awesome, and his talent was never in question. His head, however, often seems more focused on his golf handicap than his football statistics. It must be said that his return to Spurs, despite a fantastic goal to game average, was not game changing for Spurs, due to his lack of game time.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg has no doubt toughened the midfield, but it’s also painfully clear that he’s not Fernandinho or Fabinho, that all-rounder defensive midfield that can be as effective in springing an attack as he is stealing the ball from an attacker. Sergio Reguilon has largely been the left back Spurs fans have been praying to their gods for, despite having scored the own goal of the season against Aston Villa.
Other than that, there is very little doubt that Matt Doherty, Joe Hart, Carlos Vinicius were little more than average, if at all. Joe Rodon looked a good signing, but somehow has been regularly ignored by both Mourinho and caretaker manager Ryan Mason.
That Spurs even managed to finish 7th was a credit to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min having the form of their lives this season. This means that if Spurs were to challenge at the top again, fresh talent must be brought in, even if by some miracle as big as the coming of Christ that Kane stays at the club.
But as mentioned above, Spurs have about as much money as my neighbourhood chicken rice uncle right about now. So, we need to sell before we can think about investing in new players.
The obvious one that would fetch the most money is Kane, but there really is no replacement for a player of his quality, short of Kylian Mbappe. There are, however, a host of players that Spurs can move off that might eventually equal any fee we would get for Kane.
Here’s a quick list of players to get rid of.
Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier, Steven Bergwijn, Erik Lamela, Moussa Sissoko and possibly Ben Davies.
Most of them are not quite past their sell-by date and would fetch a sum of money, but they are simply not the players Spurs need if they are to have the squad depth to challenge for honours.
And here’s the best part, we don’t even need to buy as many to replace all of them. Spurs currently have three returning loan players that should fit nicely into the shoes of those who I’m recommending to sell. Oliver Skipp has impressed during his loan at Norwich, and all Spurs fans know that the last time a player came back from Norwich, he went on to become Harry Kane. Ryan Sessegnon, despite an injury ravaged season, has had a good run towards the end and is developing into that wing back to challenge Reguilon.
And then there’s Juan Foyth, who, like many Spurs players who left the team, won a trophy in his time at Villareal. Unai Emery may want him permanently, but I would take him back in a heartbeat to form a new defensive partnership with Rodon.
On the striking front, there’s the rise of Dane Scarlett, whom we’ve seen only a bit of so far, but looks like a speedy and tough striker ready for the next level, despite being only 17. But hey, Wayne Rooney started at 17, so as they say, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
However, what’s missing would be flair attacking players. We can’t get Kevin De Bruyne, but you would wonder whether Jack Grealish might feel it’s time to step up, as he’s about as good a player as any team outside the top six. And how about that Raheem Sterling fellow, who seems to have lost his place to Phil Foden? Could he be one of the players Pep Guardiola has been toying with selling? Similarly, could Aymeric Laporte be another one who has fallen out of favour at Citeh? Those three buys would certainly excite Spurs fans enough to start making babies.
So with returning loan players, youth team promotions and three strategic buys, that would at least turn Spurs into an Aston Martin, even if we’re not quite a Ferrari yet.
A new operating model
Look, I know the current sentiment is that many Spurs fans want ENIC and Daniel Levy out, because the whole European Super League saga has painted them as nothing more than greedy money grabbers.
I have nothing against greedy money grabbers, especially if they’ve managed to keep Spurs financially viable for as long as they have. Let’s face it, we might not love the way Spurs are playing at the moment, but there’s very little doubt that they’ve managed to keep Spurs afloat financially, and older Spurs fans would remember what happened to Leeds.
But while I may not want them out, I think it’s time to review how tight a grip Daniel Levy has over the club’s technical decisions. It is time for Levy to acknowledge that he’s not a technical man, any more than Warren Buffet can release a hit single to top the US Billboard 100. He is right to be concerned about finances, but the way he operates needs to change, if Spurs are to advance up the table.
Giovani Lo Celso and Bruno Fernandes might both be attacking midfielders, but that’s like saying the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe are the same thing, since they are both superheroes. Zack Snyder cut or not, the MCU kicks the living daylights out of the DCEU.
Understanding that difference is key to signing players that meet our expectations. That’s not to say that Levy hasn’t made good signings. Toby Alderweireld, Son Heung-min and even a pre-social media crazy Dele Alli were all excellent signings, but we’ve reached a point where those subtle differences mean a huge gap on the pitch.
Levy can’t solve that problem because he doesn’t have that intuition that a technical team does, and most of all, he’s not the one making tactical decisions. As much as I fantasise about Grealish, Sterling and Laporte, I am also cognizant that the final decision should be made by whoever the new manager is. That’s just good corporate practice, and most Fortune 500 companies operate that way.
I know, cutting the strings is one of the hardest things for a hands-on executive to do, but as painful as it might get, it needs to be done, otherwise you’re asking the manager to operate with one hand tied behind his back.
So that’s it, my hope for the new season. I probably won’t get any of the things I want written here, but then again, as a Spurs fan, I never learn my lesson no matter how many times my hopes get dashed.
You know what they say, hope is a great breakfast and Spurs fans can’t remember the rest of the idiom because all we eat is breakfast.
This article, "Spurs doesn't only need a new manager, they need a new everything", originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.