Tottenham appear to have done good business this summer as Mauricio Pochettino completed the signings of Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon to go along with Tanguy Ndombele, prompting comparisons with three of the most dramatic transfer days in the club’s history — but they have not all ended well.
Before another prospective deal fell through, Paulo Dybala was also expected to join Spurs, and it all brought back memories for older fans to that day in July 1978 when the headlines exclaimed ‘Spurs Scoop the World’ as Keith Burkinshaw stunned football by signing Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa. The pair had not only just helped Argentina win the World Cup, but were genuinely exotic stars of the world game, the first big-name foreigners to play in England.
Dutchmen Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen signed for Ipswich at around the same time, but were not World Cup winners nor garnered the same level of excitement. There was an inauspicious start for Ardiles and Villa, however.
Soon after a ticker-tape welcome to White Hart Lane, inspired by the blizzards of paper that rained down during Argentina 1978, they got a rude reception at Anfield in a 7-0 thrashing by a rampant Liverpool side led by Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish.
Success did follow eventually. Both players became firm favourites with the Spurs faithful and a wider audience as Ossie’s “knees went all trembly” when Tottenham went to Wembley and won the FA Cup in 1981.
Fast-forward 13 years and another dramatic transfer coup, this time when Ardiles was manager of Tottenham. Ilie Dumitrescu had impressed for Romania at the 1994 World Cup, so his unveiling at White Hart Lane was
always likely to draw a large media conference. But it became standing room only when on the morning of his unveiling, the club’s then owner Alan Sugar walked in with Jurgen Klinsmann, arguably the greatest striker in the world, having secured his signature on the businessman’s yacht in Monte Carlo a few hours earlier.
Again the football world was stunned, and again it did not go quite as planned. Klinsmann got off to a flying start, but Spurs struggled, Ardiles was sacked before Christmas, and relegation was just avoided before Klinsmann left at the end of the season.
Six years ago came Tottenham’s most striking transfer window, when Andre Villas-Boas used the windfall from the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a world record fee to buy not one but seven international players. Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho, Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen all arrived in a matter of days, but only the latter two survived once Pochettino took over, and only Eriksen can be considered a successful signing.
Now the Dane’s future is uncertain after he made it clear he would prefer to play abroad, with Atletico Madrid the most likely outcome after city rivals Real Madrid showed no interest.
Kieran Trippier is already at the Wanda Metropolitano, and others such Danny Rose and fringe player Georges Kevin N’Koudou could yet follow a similar path abroad, with European clubs able to sign players up until the end of August.
So the look and feel of Tottenham’s side will be very different this season, as Pochettino embarks on a rebuilding process that he says may be painful but knows is necessary if his side are to improve on their recent showings, when they have challenged for the Premier League title but fallen away, spectacularly so last season when they ended up 27 points behinds Champions Manchester City, having been ahead of Pep Guardiola’s side halfway through the season.
Pochettino knows that, on their day, his side were capable of beating just about anyone, as they proved by defeating City and Ajax en route to the Champions League final, before losing to Liverpool. Over the past two seasons Spurs have beaten all of their Premier League rivals, as well as European giants Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund.
But they have also lost to the likes of Southampton, Bournemouth and West Ham, suggesting a huge disparity between performance levels from game to game, and an inconsistency that will cost them over the course of a long season. It has not been helped by having a weaker squad than most of their Big Six rivals, with only Lucas Moura signed in the previous three transfer windows. Daniel Levy sought to address that issue by making money available, and although two of those big signings have come too late for the players to be involved this weekend, Ndombele has been given game time in pre-season to find his way.
Hugo Lloris, his captain for France and now Tottenham, says the former Lyon midfielder will take some time to adapt, and says Spurs need to find more consistency overall if they are to get better.
“Our aim every season is to improve,” said Lloris.
We need to give him time but I am happy in the way he is adapting. He is open to improving and learning but needs time to see the best of him.
The big midfielder is a replacement for Mousa Dembele, who left for China last January, while Lo Celso should provide the creativity that Eriksen had previously brought to the side.
The Dane has been so instrumental to Tottenham’s success, though, that it became clear when he was having an off-day, so were Spurs. His desire for a move to Spain is perhaps prompted by the prospect of a less demanding league, physically, which might suit his slight frame.
Lloris is in no doubt that Spurs need to play at the highest level in every game. “Our aim is to close the gap with the best, in the most competitive league in the world. City and Liverpool were so consistent, so solid, and they built their success on those principles. We need to be inspired by those around.
“If you want to fight with the best over eight to ten months for the league and Champions League, consistency is the key. We have a lot of things where we can improve, and we will do that step by step. It is important to be ready from day one, against Aston Villa (this weekend) to get the right feeling from the start.”