Spurs 2-0 pre-season loss to Valencia on Thursday night is not a sign that Spurs should panic, but it did show the weaknesses currently prevalent in the Spurs squad and showed the need to bring in reinforcements.
Jermaine ‘JJ’ Jenas and Jake Livermore in midfield struggled to both keep possession and press the opposition while the defensive high line loved like a childhood teddy bear by Andre Villas-Boas was at fault for the second of the Valencia goals. Jermain Defoe struggled alone up front, with Spurs immediately improving when young Harry Kane came on and immediately started to hold the ball up and link the play far better than Defoe did.
This follows on from a pre-season where Spurs have shown promise but more often than not have been lacklustre. A 1-1 draw with LA Galaxy, a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls and a soporific 0-0 draw against Liverpool in brutal Baltimore heat are not bad results but not the sort of results that fill fans with bucketloads of confidence.
That may not be a bad thing – a 5-0 win in Spurs last pre-season game over Roma in 2008 was the precursor to the almost mythical two points from eight games that got Juande Ramos sacked and Harry Redknapp going on about inheriting a club that got two points from eight games for years afterwards. Spurs for years were unbeaten in pre-season and very much not-unbeaten in the league. Pre-season form in the grand scheme of things means nothing. You don’t win or lose any league points in pre-season. To panic after pre-season would be ridiculous.
Also it should be bore in mind that Spurs haven’t been at full strength this preseason. Due to injury, Euro 2012, the Olympics and in Modric’s case general faffing about, the likes of Sandro, Walker, Van der Vaart, the aforementioned Modric, Parker, Giovani and Rose have been missing. With these players missing along with a new manager arriving you can’t expect Spurs to be fully firing.
It should be said Spurs haven’t played particularly badly, some of the attacking play especially against New York was lovely to watch. New signings Vertonghen and Sigurdsson have looked good, especially Sigurdsson who scored a couple of lovely goals. Spurs just haven’t played as well as fans would like.
But what you do gain or rather not gain from pre-season is confidence and an assessment of where your team’s at. What this pre-season should have proved to Villas-Boas and Daniel Levy is how Spurs are desperate for strikers, in need of a midfielder while a goalkeeper to top things off would be nice. Emmanuel Adebayor and Luka Modric in particular have been missed – Adebayor with his ability to hold the ball up and Modric’s ability to knit the play together.
The main priority has to be sign one, if not two strikers. Jermain Defoe is the only experienced striker at the club, off the pitch may still understandably be grieving over the tragic death of his 20 year old cousin and on the pitch is simply unable to play well as a lone forward. AVB will use either the 4-2-3-1 he’s used in pre-season or the 4-3-3 he used at Porto and Chelsea, both of which call for a strong centre forward who can hold the ball up and bring others into play. Defoe has good pace and an eye for goal, but is not a forward with the strong all-round game that Spurs need.
Leandro Damiao is the forward currently most strongly linked with Spurs. His club Internacional have a long standing partnership with Spurs which two years ago led to the signing of Sandro, who at Spurs has been a big success. Leandro’s 23, already played a dozen times for Brazil and is plainly a very talented striker who has attracted attention from most of Europe’s big clubs. Were Spurs, a club not in the Champions League able to get him they’d have pulled off a real coup.
But putting your hopes on a young Brazilian forward who’s not played club football outside of Brazil is dangerous. The likes of Jo, Robinho, Afonso Alves have been big money flops who gave the impression they enjoyed England as much as a claustrophobia sufferer enjoys packed lifts. Until a few years ago, aside from Juninho at Middlesbrough and to a lesser extent Gilberto Silva at Arsenal were the only Brazilian successes in the Premier League.
But this has changed recently. Young Brazilians like Lucas, David Luiz, Ramires and Sandro have after slow starts adapted excellently to the Premier League’s manic paced demands. Still, to have Damiao as Tottenham’s main striker with only Defoe and teenager Harry Kane as back up is dangerous. In case of injury, suspension and/or poor form there are few options and puts a ton of pressure on Damiao. A player who for all his talent and undoubted goalscoring ability lacks experience and who we can’t be sure will adapt to England on or off the pitch.
Signing him would be great, but he needs to be treated with care. In Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s Soccernomics they devote a section on how clubs to get the best out of players from abroad should help them find a house, help them learn the language, should provide players with everything they need to adapt to a different country and a different culture.
Luther Blissett famously said of his stay in Italy with A.C Milan ‘you can’t get Rice Krispies round here’. Spurs need to work hard to provide Leandro with the Brazilian equivalent of Rice Krispies, so that in terms of Brazilians at Spurs standards he’s more of a Sandro than a Gilberto.
Another way to help Leandro should Spurs sign him would be simply to sign another striker. Emmanuel Adebayor has for ages been in transfer gossip column parlance ‘been on the verge of signing’. Last season despite often being wayward and indecisive in front of goal he was Spurs top scorer with 17 goals, held the ball up well and was a solid, occasionally spectacular performer.
His unwillingness to take a cut in wages has seen him criticised, but I don’t see why that’s much of an issue. Football is a money-driven game. Since football became a professional sport over a century ago players of all types have not signed contracts in pursuit of more money. Benoit Assou-Ekotto openly admitted he plays for the money. And most Spurs fans love Benny.
Spurs shouldn’t break the bank to sign him. His wages admittedly are high and he has proven to be prickly and difficult to manage in the past. But on the whole he was an excellent (and motivated) performer last season, knows the club, should fit fairly easily into the side, would allow Leandro (if signed) to settle in and acclimatise without the pressure of playing every week. At £5m he’s very good value.
A replacement for Modric is needed. Modric clearly is desperate to leave and to keep him would be silly, though to sell him for less than £30m would be sillier. It appears Real Madrid will eventually pay £35m+ to sign him, though the process will be long, drawn out, more frustrating than a blocked nose and satisfy nobody.
Modric is an immensely gifted player who will be badly missed. His ability to pass the ball beautifully and retain the ball with ease when harassed by hairy-arsed defensive midfielders trying to knock his block off was the main staple of Harry Redknapp’s Spurs. Spurs lack a player like him in their squad currently. Parker and Sandro are purely defensive midfielders, Huddlestone lacks Modric’s mobility while Jenas and Livermore are not as mobile, quick or skilful. Saying that, very few are.
Rumours linking Spurs with Nuri Sahin, Joao Moutinho and others have died down in recent weeks. This is worrying if it indicates that Spurs are further away from signing midfield reinforcements. Sahin was superb in Dortmund’s Bundesliga winning campaign in 2011 while Moutinho was the midfield general of Villas-Boas’s remarkably successful Porto side. A player of this mould is needed for Modric to be adequately replaced.
A goalkeeper would be nice though is not essential. AVB’s defensive high line thrives when there’s a goalkeeper who dominates his area, collects crosses and initiates moves with good distribution. Brad Friedel was excellent last season but he’s a keeper who stays on his line. That can leave too big a gap between goalkeeper and defence when the defence plays high, so a goalkeeper like Hugo Lloris who will come for crosses and for balls in behind the defence would be a useful signing, though a goalkeeper is not as essential as a midfielder or a striker.
This need to sign players is perhaps an indictment of Daniel Levy. His negotiating skills are famously good. Getting Stoke to pay £20m for Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios you wouldn’t have thought possible without the aid of an incriminating video of the Stoke chairman getting up to no good. Making profits on Niko Krancjar and Steven Pienaar was very good business, while the signings of Sandro, Van der Vaart, Walker, Parker, Friedel and others have been excellent.
But what has been frustrating is his propensity for buying on transfer deadline day as opposed to buying them two months earlier for a slightly higher price. It may make Sky Sports News better viewing and Jim White’s face more likely to explode on air but it has cost Spurs in recent seasons and may cost Spurs again.
Last season Parker and Adebayor weren’t signed until deadline day, after Spurs had lost by a combined total of 8-1 to the Manchester clubs. Pienaar and Vedran Corluka going out on loan in January denied Spurs players that may have got them a Champions League place. Notoriously in the 2011 January transfer window Spurs went round Europe on deadline day offering £30m for virtually every half decent striker in Europe. These offers were laughed out of town by chairmen across Europe.
Spurs fans would have hoped the signings of Vertonghen and Sigurdsson would have signalled the end of deadline day madness. But since those players were signed in early July little has happened aside from Pienaar returning to Everton and now Spurs have serious weaknesses in their squad just a week before the season proper starts. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. Fans can only hope it doesn’t cost them on the pitch.