OPINION - Tottenham vs West Ham: London rivals showing how losing their stars can be a blessing in disguise


Tottenham's puritanical Ange Postecoglou and West Ham’s pragmatic David Moyes, who lock horns in north London tomorrow night, could scarcely have more contrasting philosophies on the game, but they faced the same conundrum going into this season: how to recover from the loss of your club’s best player?

Spurs reluctantly allowed all-time leading scorer Harry Kane to join Bayern Munich in the summer, while West Ham sold captain Declan Rice to rivals Arsenal.

The England internationals had both refused to sign new contracts, giving the clubs time to prepare for their departures and arguably little choice in the final call.

Still, Spurs and West Ham have dealt remarkably well with the loss of their team’s talisman and beating heart, and they meet in N17 both enjoying a revival.

Spurs have been transformed by Postecoglou (even if they have won the same number of games, eight from 14, as this stage of last season) and feel unrecognisable from the side which sucked the life out of so many matches under Antonio Conte.

The Hammers, meanwhile, are still seeking consistency but are back in mid-table after an alarming flirt with relegation and cautiously eyeing another top-seven finish and run in Europe.

To both clubs’ credit, Kane and Rice, while unforgettable in their respective ends, already feel like distant memories and successful parts of a previous era.

Postecoglou and Moyes have handled the situations in a similarly impressive manner, both striking a note of respectful positivity around their departed stars which has helped their clubs and supporters to move forward.

It has helped that both clubs have spent their windfalls wisely, enabling the managers to build more rounded squads without their star player.

While Spurs have undoubtedly missed Kane’s finishing, the summer additions of Guglielmo Vicario, Micky van de Ven, James Maddison and Brennan Johnson have all been successes, and Postecoglou is building a team which appears well-suited to his high-risk attacking game-plan.

The old Spurs were hopelessly reliant on Kane, who scored more than 42 per cent of their League goals last term (30 of 70) and was so good he almost straightjacketed them into playing through him at all times. Under Postecoglou, the team’s structure and attacking approach is already more important than any individual, evidenced by their encouraging 3-3 draw at Manchester City on Sunday, when they were without 11 players through injury or suspension.

"New heroes have emerged at both clubs"

Before suffering a serious ankle injury, Maddison helped to replace Kane’s creativity while Heung-min Son is now thriving as a centre-forward. West Ham moved with encouraging ambition to replace Rice, too, recruiting three new midfielders in James Ward-Prowse, Edson Alvarez and Mohammed Kudus. They have all started impressively, Alvarez and Kudus looking well suited to English football — which is no guarantee for players signed from the Dutch top-flight.

Moyes has reshaped his midfield, using Ward-Prowse and Alvarez as a double-pivot and pushing the rejuvenated Tomas Soucek up to No10.

Soucek has already scored seven times this season, leading Moyes to admit that Rice’s all-action role last season limited the Czech’s goal-scoring threat.

And new heroes have emerged at both clubs. Jarrod Bowen increasing feels like adopted East End royalty, helped by his relationship with Dani Dyer, daughter of EastEnders actor Danny, and his performances for the Hammers.

Since Rice’s departure, Bowen has signed a new seven-year contract and talked about staying at West Ham for life, ensuring he has quickly become the club’s new talisman and local hero.

James Maddison has excelled since joining Tottenham (AFP via Getty Images)
James Maddison has excelled since joining Tottenham (AFP via Getty Images)

Maddison, Vicario and the reborn Yves Bissouma have all won over Spurs fans.

Admittedly, the clubs’ excellent starts to the season, before both levelled off, also meant that any potential hangover from the sales was not allowed set in.

But the success of Spurs and West Ham in moving on from their stars does suggest that perhaps Kane and Rice had simply become too dominant in stature at their former clubs, too all-encompassing to the detriment of the success of the collective.

Their rebirths raise the question of whether other clubs who are dominated by a star player — say Brentford with Ivan Toney — may be better off taking the money and ambitiously rebuilding.