Tottenham Hotspur are playing a very dangerous game.
The club have yet to make a signing in the January transfer window and have been eliminated from two domestic cup competitions in the past week.
A languid, sloppy 2-0 loss to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup Fourth Round followed an agonising penalty shootout defeat by Chelsea in the Carabao Cup semi-finals. And just like that, Spurs are facing up to the prospect of yet another trophyless season.
Of course, one must point out that they remain in the Premier League reckoning, third after 23 games, but they face an almighty challenge to overhaul both Liverpool and Manchester City. They sit nine points off the leaders and five behind City. Spurs have already lost six times this season; Liverpool and City have lost four times between them.
And they also have a Champions League knockout tie to look forward to, against Borussia Dortmund, a team blessed with the ferocious pace of Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus and the seemingly impossible goalscoring feats of Paco Alcacer. Dortmund are top of the Bundesliga, six points ahead of old giants Bayern Munich.
It bears repeating that there are no easy games at this level but Spurs have been particularly unlucky in Europe’s premier cup competition; they could not have faced a more in-form team, and it will take some feat, particularly with Harry Kane and Dele Alli both out injured, to overcome Lucien Favre’s men.
Why then is chairman Daniel Levy gambling the future of manager Mauricio Pochettino by refusing to dip into his wallet?
Per the London Evening Standard, Pochettino said on Tuesday that he was not “optimistic” over potential signings before Thursday’s deadline.
“You know how we work – in the last minute anything can happen,” he said. “Of course different players maybe will have the opportunity to leave the club. We’re going to see, there’s not too much time. A few days ago I was very optimistic about some options to sign – realistic options to sign – but today no, I’m not optimistic.”
His words bear examining because they suggest that there was movement and the potential of additions previously, yet now it appears that there will not be a single new face arriving at Hotspur Way.
Links with Youri Tielemans of AS Monaco on Tuesday – per The Telegraph – flared hopes of a dramatic deadline-beating signing, a la Rafael van der Vaart or Moussa Sissoko, but Pochettino appears to have extinguished that admittedly tiny flame.
CheekySport’s Joel claims Spurs badly need to invest in January after not having “the balls” to beat Arsenal. Check out his uncensored opinion in the video below…
The Argentine continues to tow the party line, however, repeatedly telling reporters that he is happy, that he believes in the project – the new stadium is swallowing money – and that he feels that the top four is more important than trophies. The Guardian quotes him as saying that trophies merely “build egos”.
It can be argued that he may well be right when it comes to the balance sheets but Spurs are crying out for investment, for new blood.
A separate Evening Standard report claims that he’s not keen on the chance to sign Jarrod Bowen from Hull City, as well as Leeds United’s Jack Clarke, but those are players for the future, who would be placed on the bench immediately after signing.
Yet the argument that the starting XI cannot be strengthened is hogwash and we have seen that proved just this season. Kieran Trippier, at right-back, has exhibited none of the form that saw him so lauded at the World Cup in the summer, while his deputy, Serge Aurier, is nothing more than a walking yellow card.
Ben Davies, behind Danny Rose in the pecking order but regularly picked at left-back, is average at best and would not get into the side at any other top six club, while Eric Dier appears to have regressed over the past couple of years, now reduced to a sideways-passing water carrier. Mousa Dembele, ageing but still, on his day, one of the best footballers in England, has been allowed to leave.
And all of that goes without remarking on the quality of the back-up brigade which, if one is to be kind, is slightly below-par. Fernando Llorente, Vincent Janssen, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and Michel Vorm do not belong at a Champions League football club.
Yet Spurs have done nothing to improve their starting XI in the past two windows – their last signing was Lucas Moura in January 2018 – and continue to rely on the wizardry employed by Pochettino in the dugout. ‘He’s magic’, sing the fans, and they’re right – he has taken Spurs to the Champions League, to within a whisker of the title, and to numerous semi-finals over the years. And yet that next step is missing, that winners’ medal around his neck.
He was the first name tipped for the Manchester United job after Jose Mourinho’s departure and it was of little surprise. Chief executive Ed Woodward could offer Pochettino everything he doesn’t have at Tottenham; a massive transfer budget, a huge pay packet and the ability to actually go out and win trophies. Obviously, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s success may have thrown a spanner in the works there, and there is the very real possibility that the Norwegian will be offered the job if he continues to perform as he has been.
That would give Spurs some breathing space but there will be other suitors, the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich should all be casting admiring glances.
It remains to be seen how long the “project” can last at Spurs, particularly with a summer of upheaval coming; Christian Eriksen has yet to sign a new contract, Toby Alderweireld could leave after Spurs triggered an extension in his deal that also activated a summer release clause, and it is uncertain if there will be any investment in the playing squad.
Something truly special has been built at Tottenham, and it forever feels as though they are just one final push away from taking the final step and transforming into winners.
It does not appear, however, that those in the boardroom quite have the nerve or the willingness to make the necessary investments, to the point where the ridiculous decisions not to are becoming increasingly crippling.
If that continues, it feels inevitable that Pochettino will leave and this team, this brilliant young team, may break up without ever having won the trophy that Spurs fans believe they sorely deserve.