As Harry Kane begins another spell on the sidelines, the spotlight once again falls on Tottenham’s striking department and a familiar question: just how reliant are Spurs on their prolific homegrown hero?
The Lilywhites are certainly in a better position than last season, when there was no specialist back-up striker in the squad.
However, £17million summer signing Vincent Janssen has not had the desired impact and when Kane missed 10 games earlier in the campaign, the goals dried up.
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After positive initial results – four successive victories – Tottenham failed to win any of their next six games and only scored three times in that spell, before Kane’s return.
Janssen may have scored two of those three goals but they were both penalties, and it ultimately took him 30 appearances to net for the first time from open play – last weekend against a League One side.
It was Heung-Min Son who was leading the line when Spurs achieved their best result without Kane – the 2-0 home win over Manchester City. And, despite Janssen’s much-needed breakthrough against Milwall, the South Korean is the more likely candidate to start up front against Southampton this weekend.
Janssen’s last start came more than two months ago and it remains to be seen whether he will still be at White Hart Lane next season. There is an obvious argument that a club aiming to be regularly involved in the Champions League and the Premier League title race needs a more consistent and dangerous deputy striker.
Yet that is easier said than done. For starters, as Mauricio Pochettino pointed out on Friday, it is difficult to find formidable forwards who are happy to accept a role as Kane’s understudy.
“It’s easy to say ‘oh we need better players on the bench behind Harry Kane’,” said the Argentinian. “But if you look at other teams it’s complicated for offensive players who are behind players like Diego Costa, Harry Kane, [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic, Alexis Sanchez, at big teams.
“I admire the players that are on the bench, training hard every day to try and find their best form, and then the weekend comes and they do not find too much possibility to play – and again, and again.
“Always we say they need to be professional, but they are only human and it is very tough to come in and train every day.”
Indeed, Pochettino has suggested that Janssen’s lack of playing time got to him a couple of months ago and affected his focus – resulting in that memorable and public kick up the backside when his manager said the summer recruit needed to “show more” on the training ground.
The Argentinian explained on Friday: “It’s true that in some period during the season he was down and he needed a wake-up call to realise that he needs to fight and be there if the possibility arrives.
“If you remember in some press conference I was asked about him. But the wake-up call is more private inside here than in public – and it’s not only him, it’s all the players. I think they’ve all been in my office this season!
“It’s normal, he is very young, he came from Holland. I’m very happy with him and all the players, but I understand they are maybe not happy with some situations – different players.
“He is OK now. He is motivated, confident. He is feeling a little bit of relief because he got his first goal from open play – that is important. I am happy in the way that he trained this week too.”
That is good news in the short-term but the question remains whether Tottenham should persevere with Janssen for another season.
If not they must once again search for a capable and willing reserve – and at an affordable price too.
That issue surrounding cost is particularly challenging given the premium placed on the best strikers. And, as Spurs know all too well, there are few guarantees that Europe’s leading scorers will enjoy success in the Premier League – Roberto Soldado and Janssen were both prolific in their home countries but have struggled in England.
The solution is ideally to look closer to home and focus on players who have already proved themselves on these shores. But, unfortunately, wealthier rivals take the same approach wherever possible, forcing the Lilywhites to look abroad and take gambles.
“It’s not easy to find the right player for us in the market in England,” said Pochettino. “Sometimes you need to guess. Sometimes you need to compete with different clubs that want the same as you. That is the situation, that sometimes you cannot compete with another club. I think you know why. Everyone knows that.
“It’s true that it’s a difficult task for us to find in the England market the right profile or players to add, but always when you sign players from outside it’s a big question mark, that is true – I completely agree.”
It is a catch-22 situation for Tottenham, and one which they would face again if they opt to replace Janssen after just one season, or winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou for that matter.
Of course, it is too far simplistic to suggest that imports tend to disappoint and those with Premier League experience excel – key men such as Jan Vertonghen, Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen came from abroad, while Moussa Sissoko has so far flopped after coming from Newcastle.
However, Spurs’ most successful recent recruits in each of the last two summers, Toby Alderweireld and Victor Wanyama, arrived from Southampton – Spurs’ visitors this Sunday.
Both captures still seem remarkable and Tottenham must be thanking their lucky stars that there was not more competition or interest from their wealthier foes, having snapped up the influential pair for around £20m combined.
Alderweireld transformed Spurs’ defence last season and has been a rock again this campaign, while Wanyama has started 36 out of 41 games in all competitions this term, and every one of the league fixtures.
“My information is that we paid £9m for [Victor] and that a lot of clubs wanted him but he decided to come here,” said Pochettino. “He showed his quality from the beginning of the season. For me he’s one of the best midfielders in England.”
Meanwhile, Kieran Trippier and Michel Vorm – who came from Burnley and Swansea respectively – have become trusted squad men, to the extent that Vorm seems set to start next month’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea.
The Dutchman has played in every domestic cup tie this season, keeping clean sheets in the last two rounds against Fulham and Millwall – and Pochettino has suggested he will allow the 33-year-old to play in the final four at Wembley as well.
“Hugo has been playing in the Premier League and European competitions, and when you have a player like Michel Vorm who is capable of playing at any club, he deserves to maybe play in the semi-final – why not?” said the manager.
“You cannot say anything about the quality of Michel Vorm because he is a very experienced goalkeeper, and the way he has been working since day one when he arrived here, and how professional he has been, and how much he has helped Hugo to be one of the best keepers in the world, I think maybe he deserves the trust and the confidence to play at Wembley.
“I remember on the opening day of the season, when Hugo was injured against Everton after a few minutes, he came on and played very well. Then remember the game he had against Liverpool.
“I think in that moment the people and the fans and the club realised the keeper that we have on the bench, no? It was very important. Why not, to play with Michel?”
It is a notable show of faith. The question is how long it will be before Pochettino feels able to show similar trust in Kane’s deputy in a game of such magnitude – and who that player will be.
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