Is it possible for Tottenham to improve their team? That is the conundrum facing the club’s “football committee” when they move into the transfer market this summer.
There are few sides in England who can match a full-strength Spurs. It was the same last season — but it was not enough to win the title, as Leicester showed superior staying power.
Unless Chelsea fall apart over the closing weeks of the campaign, which appears highly unlikely, it will not be enough this term, either. Finishing in the top four would still be a fine achievement, as Tottenham’s transfer and salary budget is far lower than those of their main rivals.
Tottenham want to finish in the winner’s circle far more often. Given their finances, how do they find the man they know will make an immediate difference and how do they make sure they sign him? They have managed it before: Dele Alli and Toby Alderweireld joined from MK Dons and Atletico Madrid respectively in 2015, and Victor Wanyama from Southampton last summer. At a combined cost of about £26million, these deals represent outstanding business.
With every season, though, the task grows harder. Tottenham would take Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar or Kylian Mbappe, attacking stars of Monaco’s march to the Champions League quarter-finals, in a heartbeat. The problem is, so would several other clubs in Europe, most of whom pay far higher salaries than Spurs, and win trophies far more regularly. Oh, and the transfer fees would probably be well out of Tottenham’s range.
Even a player like Ross Barkley, who is on Tottenham’s list of summer targets, is likely to have options in the summer. The Everton midfielder is out of contract at the end of next season and if Chelsea or Manchester City show serious interest in him, they would naturally move ahead of Spurs in the race.
There is more pressure on Tottenham than any other club in the top six to find stars before anyone else knows about them.
While there are players in Europe who would fit easily into Tottenham’s starting XI, sourcing those who are realistic options — under 25, happy to earn less than £100,000 per week, sensible transfer fee, not wanted by richer clubs — is quite another matter.
That is partly why Spurs have made changes to their recruitment operation since the start of the campaign. There is now the three-man football committee, comprising chairman Daniel Levy, manager Mauricio Pochettino and John McDermott, the head of coaching and player development. The trio hold regular meetings with Steve Hitchen, the chief scout. Hitchen, who has also worked for Liverpool, arrived in February for a second spell at Spurs and has already started to assemble his team of talent spotters.
It has been quite an overhaul. Paul Mitchell, the former head of recruitment and anaylsis, is on gardening leave after resigning last August and it is not clear whether he will be replaced directly.
It is a similar situation for David Webb, whose title was head of elite potential identification. Webb has now left Spurs and it is unlikely that an equivalent will be appointed.
Since the start of the season, there have also been significant changes among the European scouting staff. Indeed, since Mitchell decided to quit, it is understood that only the men responsible for France and Scandinavia have remained in their posts.
As Standard Sport revealed in January, senior scouts for Germany, Spain and Portugal, and Belgium and Holland departed in quick succession. The new men will report to Hitchen, who it is thought will fulfil some, though not all, of Mitchell’s responsibilities. The brief? To be quicker off the mark.
Had they been so in the past, Tottenham might perhaps have signed Ousmane Dembele, the outstanding Borussia Dortmund attacker, from Rennes two years ago, or even Antoine Griezmann — the Atletico Madrid forward who is now one of the world’s best players — from Real Sociedad in 2012.
Tottenham’s transfer ‘hits’ have been impressive. But there have been too many misses, such as Clinton Njie and Moussa Sissoko, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Vincent Janssen. It is crucial that Spurs’ work off the pitch follows a similar path to what they have achieved under Pochettino on it.
This win over Southampton, their 10th in succession at home in the League, cemented Spurs’ place in the top four.
It would take quite a collapse for them to drop out of the Champions League places now, as they are seven points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United, who have played one game fewer. That would secure a place in Europe’s main club competition for the second consecutive season.
Eriksen opened the scoring early on and Dele Alli doubled the lead from the penalty spot.
James Ward-Prowse scored early in the second half for Southampton, who improved thereafter but Spurs stood firm to take the win.