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Is time running out for Tottenham’s masterplan?

Tottenham have always seemed to be the younger brother of their North London rivals, Arsenal. They’ve always had it second best for nearly the entirety of their history, and the vast majority of the 21st century. However, now that they have the capability, they want everything that Arsenal have had, and a little more.

To this, Arsenal fans will point at Tottenham’s trophy cabinet, and say that they’ve won nothing to note for them to come close to Arsenal’s level. And it’s at this point that I think Spurs’s master plan of becoming a European super power might be against the clock in a bad way.

The strides that this Spurs side have made over the last three seasons have been nothing short of remarkable. From being big game pushovers under Andre Villas-Boas to a reasonable sturdy but still vastly inexperienced unit under Tim Sherwood, one can simply point to the fact that Tottenham Hotspur have topped a Champions League group involving Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to measure their success in the recent past under Mauricio Pochettino.

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Poch has always liked to build from the back, something which I greatly admire about his work. Not only has he put together a very resolute defensive unit, he’s also simultaneously been able to work out a system that allows his creative midfielders to flourish, which at the same time ensuring a very respectable work rate from all 11 players. Not only this, he’s also brought forward more and more youngsters, with Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Harry Winks being prime examples. I saw this Tottenham side full of ambition and determined to stamp their mark.

However, they slumped to a very disappointing finish in the year they lost out on the title to Leicester, they were arguably the best team in the PL last season, but still could not pip Chelsea to the summit. They keep snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. True, just the fact that 2nd and 3rd are being considered ‘defeats’ is proof of how far they’ve come. But are the players capable of pushing through to the next level? Is the management making a suitable enough platform for them to push through? Defensive solidity is all well and good, but what happens when the likes of Eriksen or Kane are simply too tired and too overworked to function optimally?

Have they got anyone of the same calibre and the same skill set to fill their shoes? The answer is no. Eriksen, Kane and Alli continue to trudge through every match day at sub optimal levels, producing well, but below excellent output. Having failed to make the most of possession and simply fatigued, both mentally and physically, they just didn’t have it in them to sustain some of the truly remarkable football they were playing earlier. All in all, it would be criminal to compare this Tottenham side to the Lilywhites that we saw get battered occasionally four seasons ago.

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That being said, Tottenham are still run like the exact same club they were four years down the line. Daniel Levy fancies himself as the ultimate ‘Tough man’ of negotiation. And yes, it would take a very good argument to say otherwise. But this ‘Tough man’ attitude was essential all those years ago, when Spurs occasionally produced some very sparks of talent, in Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale. Keeping them at the club or getting exorbitant fees for them when they did depart was absolutely vital for the club’s optimal functioning. However, that is not the case today, and especially not in today’s market. Tottenham boast a wage bill that is half of the likes of the Manchester clubs, and significantly lesser than Chelsea’s. For the players who ply their trade at the club, keeping them happy on such a low budget may seem incredible work at first, but it’s merely a ticking time bomb.

When the likes of Hugo Lloris, Christian Eriksen, and Toby Alderweireld realise that they’ve doing a better job than three quarters of the players in their position and getting paid less than half the wages for it, they won’t stand on ceremony. The choice that it would leave Spurs is crystal clear – Either break the rigidity of the wage structure, or watch your players get poached by the very ones you’re trying to complete against. And with Daniel Levy in the director’s seat, the choice may not be as big a no-brainer as you might’ve initially thought.

Succeeding the problem of the wage structure is Tottenham’s transfer policy. Levy is extremely willing to play hardball with whatever you name for whichever star you name. He won’t care if it takes till 11 o clock on deadline day, he won’t settle for anything less than the price in his head. Again, that’s a wonderful quality to have in a negotiator, but that cannot work both ways. One cannot expect others to comply with the price in your head when you’re the one in the market looking to bring in a player. It took till very, very late in the summer for the wallet to opened and Davinson Sanchez to arrive. Likewise for want away full back Serge Aurier. On deadline day, with no striker as backup for Kane, Spurs were forced into the market once more, and in a just to bid fill the vacancy, Fernando Llorente, another want away player, was brought in. To be completely honest, it should not take till deadline day to sign away players who have made it clear they’re looking for a change of scenery. And when those players are brought in, they should serve their purpose.

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Coming to Tottenham’s ambitions, they could not be clearer. Winning the Premier League and making their mark in the Champions League are their objectives. This season, they’ve definitely achieved the latter, but in doing so, they have sacrificed the former. Tottenham have spent so much time, energy and mental and psychological effort into proving themselves in the CL that they’ve simply run out of steam for their domestic competition. They’re currently 15th in the form table, having taken five points from their last six games. Manager less West Brom took a point from Wembley; Leicester pounced on Tottenham’s fatigue and the consequent lack of initiative, and most recently, Watford dropped two points at home against them. Taking nothing away from Watford, do we really expect Spurs to be lucky to come away with a point from Vicarage Road having beaten Real Madrid all ends up not too long ago?

The big question is, at what points do the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld go, “Hey, I’m a good player. I want to have something to show for it. Now, I’ve loved playing here, and I’d love to win here. But if it’s just not happening for us here, and I’ve got the likes of City, United and Real Madrid all waiting in the wings for my signature, why should I stay?” And at that particular point, where does that leave the likes of Eriksen, and Rose, and Dembele and Son? Wouldn’t it be normal to expect them to say, “Well, if the core of our team doesn’t believe we’ve got a chance at any silverware here, why should I stay?” True, Spurs may eventually get the entire squad that they need to do what they want to do, but time is clearly running out for them. Once the members of the present squad wake up to those thoughts, what message does that send to the youngsters, and where does that leave Pochettino, Levy, and Tottenham Hotspur as a club?

Written by Ayush Verma.

Ayush Verma

20. Student at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Manchester City correspondent for 90MAAT

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