New look Spurs? Something’s still missing…
Principally, Spurs needed attacking talent or, to be more blunt, a goalscorer. Bale's 21 Premier League goals last season had amounted to 32 per cent of the club's total, and with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor registering just 16 times between them (plus the loss of third-top scorer Clint Dempsey), it was evident that a striker would be top priority. Although Tottenham may well have overpaid for Roberto Soldado, £26million for a striker who will be 30 by the end of next season, this was simply a demonstration of supply and demand – in a market in which high-profile forwards were clamoured after by many of Europe's more ambitious clubs, prices were always likely to be inflated.
Spurs also addressed a burgeoning need for creativity. The performances of Aaron Lennon had dropped markedly, whilst new signings of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lewis Holtby, whilst initially flickering excitement, had rather fallen short of expectation. The departing Bale may have only registered four assists, but it was palpable that he was the club's evident creative outlet.
Again, Andre Villas-Boas invested both swiftly and impressively. Erik Lamela, a £26m signing from Roma, dribbled past more players than any other in Serie A last season and his 15 league goals was a total bettered by only four players in the division, all of them forwards. However, it was the £12m deal for Christian Eriksen from Ajax that stimulated the most interest. This is a player that has already been named Danish Footballer of the Year, Dutch (and Ajax) Young Player of the Year, won three league titles and made 38 appearances for his country, all by the age of 21. That's just greedy.
However, at this stage Spurs' summer business seemed to, in my opinion, go slightly awry. Whilst the purchase of Soldado, Lamela and Eriksen seemed to more than fill the Bale-shaped hole (with £20m change), they did not address all the issues in the Tottenham squad. Last season, Spurs' defence conceded 46 goals, the most in the Premier League's top seven, and eight of those goals came directly from defensive mistakes. They scored as many as Manchester City in second place, but let in more than Stoke City, in 13th. Moreover, the last time Spurs missed out on the top four by one place (2010/11) they also conceded more goals than other side in the Premier League's top seven.
Despite such statistics, it would be reasonable to suggest that the club's defence has actually weakened over the summer. Vlad Chiriches was recruited from Steaua Bucharest, but at 23 years old and with no experience of club football outside Romania, his signing constitutes something of a gamble. This risk is only increased when Chiriches merely acts as a replacement (in price and position) for Steven Caulker. Given that Caulker is younger than the Romanian, is capped by England and has played 50 games in the Premier League, it seems a slightly odd move. Add to that the loaning out of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, a full-back liked and appreciated by Spurs fans but not, it appears, by AVB, and again eyebrows were raised.
Many Tottenham fans point to the absence of Younes Kaboul last season as the reason for the leakiness of the defence, despite conceding just five more than the previous season. And, whilst a fit Kaboul would certainly command a starting spot, an absence of twelve months with a knee injury will take time to overcome, with no guarantee that the Frenchman can return the same player. Kaboul has thus far played just five minutes in the league, and was left out of the squad for the North London derby.
Rather than choosing to invest in defence, Spurs instead bolstered their central midfield options with the purchase of Etienne Capoue and Paulinho, at a cost of £27m. There is no doubting the attributes of either player (and particularly Paulinho), but with Moussa Dembele and Sandro already present, do Spurs not now possess an embarrassment of riches? Improving on current options is a vital part of progression, but surely only when more pressing issues have been resolved? It would have been akin to Manchester United buying a replacement for Patrice Evra without addressing their central midfield dearth.
Whilst Spurs' midfield and attack can be viewed as having top-four quality, can the same really be said of the defence? Danny Rose is now the first choice left back, back from a season-long loan at Sunderland. He impressed at the Stadium of Light, but possibly lacks sufficient defensive solidity necessary when facing the most formidable opponents. On the opposite side, Kyle Walker regressed considerably after being named PFA Young Player of the Year in 2011/12. Too often he is caught out of position, and his first-team place would surely be under threat, should Spurs have appropriate strength in depth? Another poor performance for England against Ukraine will have done little to help Walker's morale, and he has become guilty of believing the 'young player with great potential' hype, forgetting that he actually needs to start fulfilling it.
In central defence, things aren't a great deal better. Jan Vertonghen is a quality international footballer, but would Michael Dawson honestly start for any other top-four side? Furthermore, when one of the two other options has not started a league game for a year through injury and the other has never got to do so in this country, a fine line is being walked.
The irony of the situation is that at a time when Spurs were flush with engorged revenue, defenders could be bought for less than midfielders or strikers. So where were the approaches for Toby Alderweireld before his move from Ajax to Atletico Madrid, youngster Tin Jedvaj (who moved to Roma or Sokratis Papastapoulos? And why were Liverpool were able to snap up rising talent Thiago Illori or PSG's impressive Mamadou Sakho without Tottenham even apparently showing interest? Even cheaper alternatives such as Simon Kjaer (£2m) or Benjamin Mendy (£3.5m) would have helped to augment AVB's options. Or keeping hold of an England international, obviously.
It is not to say that Spurs have done bad business this summer, for they have recruited a host of intriguing names. But with the uncertainty surrounding many other clubs (at least until deadline day in the case of their greatest rivals) this was the opportunity to cement their top-four credentials. Villas-Boas is now under pressure to succeed, but there defence seems more Europa than Champions League quality. After a transfer window in which the club actually made money, more investment on defenders could have been the difference between achieving their aims or otherwise.
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