By Richard Irvine
There are some big questions to be answered at Tottenham this season.
Does Mauricio Pochettino know what he’s getting into? Really?
Can we sign a really good centre back please? And a striker.
How do you wind up with 37 central midfielders in the squad, with only one that seems any good?
Where was our ‘Alan Sugar on a yacht with Jurgen Klinsmann‘ moment this year?
Why can’t Arsenal go back to playing shit football? Quite enjoyed taking the piss over that.
Does Daniel Levy sleep in a coffin?
What the HELL is going on with that kit?
With all that up for debate, you’ll forgive Tottenham fans for being cautious about the dawn of the Pochettino era – to be fair, we’ve had more than our share of new eras lately.
To bring you up to speed, we started last season with Andre Villas-Boas in the dugout, all sharp suits, David Brent beard and awkward fist-pumps. We’d splashed our Gareth Bale dosh on a shedload of players, none of whom had played in the Premier League before. Despite the optimism, AVB couldn’t mould them into anything cohesive or competitive and he was gone by Christmas.
Caretaker Tim Sherwood brought dodgy knitwear, cute salutes and a massive chip on his shoulder to the Tottenham bench, but despite ending 2013/14 with the best Premier League win record of any Tottenham manager, he was on his bike at the end of the season.
This season, Chairman ‘Deadly’ Daniel Levy has installed former Argentina centre back and Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino, whose speciality is high energy, pressing and passing teams who form more than the sum of their parts. Encouraging stuff, but like I say, we’ve been here before. It will be a while before we know if Pochettino is an ‘Arry or a Juande Ramos, but Levy, who plays the boardroom grim reaper extremely convincingly, will want ROI. Quite quickly.
Our squad is big and unproven. The off season was sleepy compared to last years’ supermarket sweep, and the chairman took a year off picking a fight with a much larger club (see Levy v Manchester United, Real Madrid, etc). Pochettino will have to do what AVB and Sherwood lost their jobs attempting, getting this expensive squad do better than finishing just outside the Champions League positions, which has been our purgatory-like spot in the league recently.
Up front, it seems like Emmanuel Adebyor will play on his own for now, holding the ball up for the three attacking midfielders in behind him. At-the-time record signing Spaniard Roberto Solado was 26m pounds and spectacularly unconvincing, despite trying his best.
In midfield, you can take your bloody pick. The Tottenham site lists no less than 13 midfielders (and I think they have a couple still to put up), most of whom play in the middle of the park. Ericksen seems the most likely, and current record signing Erik Lamela has apparently been ace in pre-season, but… that’s pre-season. He looked as sharp as a marble against West Ham. The Brazilians Sandro and Paulinho are nominally the defensive midfielders, while Aaron Lennon and Andros Townshend are the wingers. Throw in Lewis Holtby (the German under 21 captain), Mousa Dembele, Nacer Chadli and anyone else I’ve failed to recognise and it has the makings of a decent midfield, but settling on a combination is something that’s eluded the last two managers, let’s hope this happens fast.
At the back is where we’ve invested this season, which is reassuring as defensive stability is something the Tottenham faithful rarely have faith in. 20 year old Eric Dier, who scored the winner against West Ham this weekend, looks the goods, and we retained the popular centre back Jan Vertonghen. In goal, Hugo Lloris probably had the best World Cup of any Tottenham player. Better than Assou-Ekotto anyhoo.
After four managers since 2012, I’d just like some stability. This is an exhilarating but frustrating club to support, frankly. We’ve made the leap into the top-ish tier of the Premier League, but performed some spectacular own-foot-shooting since then.
For all that, if you can’t be optimistic at the start of the season, when can you be? Tottenham matched the Phoenix by beating West Ham first up, despite not looking that flash. Spurs fans, not to mention the chairman, are fickle and if Pochettino can at least collect points while he figures out who the hell he wants in his first team, he’ll be doing better than AVB and buy the time he needs to get himself established.
My dream scenario for 2014/15 would be selling some players we don’t need, signing a ‘stick the ball in the net’ striker, sorting out who our first team is, performing competently against the top four, thrashing Arsenal at least twice, having the same manager at the end of the season as we do now and qualifying for the Champions League. Not too much to ask.
We could be brilliant, we could be shit, and no matter how bad it gets, if a couple of passes get strung together in midfield resulting in a nice team goal, we’ll get warm fuzzies about ‘Tottenham football’ and it’ll feel all right for a little while. Business as usual, then.