Tottenham's delay in refreshing their squad just isn't acceptable
Last December, Mauricio Pochettino gave chairman Daniel Levy an early warning call over the 2018 summer transfer window. "It is so important to identify our targets," said the Spurs manager. "And on July 3, when we start preseason, have them here. If not, it's so difficult for them to help the team."
Just in case the message had not gotten though, Pochettino repeated it days after the season finished in May, calling on Levy to break his old brinkmanship habits and "be brave, take risks and work in a new way."
Since then, nothing has happened. Spurs remain the only top six Premier League club not to have signed a new player. In that time, Bordeaux attacking midfielder, Malcolm, who had been linked with a move to Spurs for several months, has finally signed for Barcelona while Jack Grealish's much-hyped move from Aston Villa also appears to have stalled. So too has Wilfried Zaha's on-off transfer from Crystal Palace.
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So what is it about Spurs that seems to make every transfer so complicated?
The club has some of the best scouts in the business, so it's unlikely that they've been unable to identify players with whom Pochettino could work and who would add value to the squad. Which leaves all fingers pointing at the perennial sticking point of the chairman. Though it would be understandable if Levy had taken his eye off the ball, especially given the delays and overspends of the new stadium, but that does not excuse everything. Ultimately, the chairman had form: he can't bear not getting a good deal. So he habitually undervalues players he wants to buy and overvalues those whom he wants to sell.
This year, not only have Spurs not acquired new players but they haven't even managed to sell any of the ones they've had earmarked for the departure lounge since last Christmas. Vincent Janssen, Fernando Llorente, Georges-Kevin N'Koudou and Moussa Sissoko all remain on the books despite Pochettino having made it clear they were all surplus to requirements.
Then there's the "is he, isn't he" situation with Toby Alderweireld. The prolonged saga over his possible move to Manchester United, with Levy seemingly upping the asking price at regular intervals, is no nearer to a resolution. Even if the Belgium defender does end up staying at White Hart Lane, the indecision has done nobody any favours. Goodwill has been lost on both sides.
It's fair to assume that however relaxed about the situation Pochettino appears to be at public press conferences, in private he must be tearing his hair out as he now finds himself in precisely the situation he was hoping to avoid. Spurs are now in a perfect storm, most of it entirely of their own making. The one element over which they had no control was nine players being involved in the semifinals of the World Cup, ensuring that most of the squad will be returning to training late and tired, with little time for the manager to mould them back into a cohesive unit once more. Come the early Premier league fixtures, there's a fair chance some of the team will be playing from memory.
The closing of the transfer window on August 9, two days before the start of the season rather than the traditional date of August 31, creates some new unwanted pressures. If Tottenham are to acquire and sell any players before the deadline, they have little more than two weeks to do so given that nothing much is likely to happen while the club is on its U.S. tour.
So that leaves the manager precious little time to finalise his squad and assimilate all his new players into the style of football he wants them to play. And all the while, Levy's brinkmanship is giving Pochettino a whole load of headaches he'd rather avoid. In the past Pochettino has blamed Spurs' slow starts to the season on the chairman leaving so many transfers to the last possible minute. Now he once again finds himself in the situation which he was desperate to avoid, only worse.
Success breeds success. Pochettino knows the pressure is on this year. This is a make or break season for this generation of players. Qualifying for the Champions League three years in a row has been a tremendous achievement, one that all fans could only have dreamed of when Andre Villas Boas and Tim Sherwood were in charge, but now the manager has to find a way of taking the club a step higher. To win something. Failure to do so could see his painstakingly assembled squad melt away at the end of the season.
It was always going to be a big ask but now it looks even bigger as Pochettino has had to watch his main rivals steal an early advantage in strengthening their squads while he still doesn't have a clue which players he'll have at his disposal for his first starting XI against Newcastle.
Some may be more relaxed about this, observing that it's worked out just fine in the past and will work out just fine this year too. Maybe. But don't expect to find Pochettino in that cohort. He will know better than most that what makes you one of the country's top six clubs isn't necessarily the same thing that takes you to the level above that.
John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.