For the Premier League elite, the summer transfer window has become an annual cycle of spending big on expensive talent, plugging holes into big gaps that make themselves known during the season. Against better wisdom, it all seems set to move to another level in 2017.
Man Utd will be keen to transform themselves into a more attractive side after the most boring of seasons, and Arsenal will be desperate to show that they really do care about winning the Premier League and will rebuild. Liverpool have quality but Jurgen Klopp knows that his squad is lacking depth, and while Chelsea don’t seem to have big needs, they seemingly have their sights set on a new striker, given Diego Costa’s claim that he is being told to find a new club.
However, Man City are the team who are set to make the biggest splash, having already parted with around £80 million to sign midfielder Bernardo Silva and keeper, Ederson. Pep Guardiola learned a lot from his first season in the Premier League, and is desperate to start again and rebuild as a result.
One missing piece of the jigsaw is expected to be filled by Spurs full-back Kyle Walker. Transformed under the coaching of Mauricio Pochettino, Guardiola sees signing him as an answer to the three problems – a replacement for the outgoing Pablo Zabaleta, an addition to the number of Englishmen in the squad, and lastly an attempt to directly weaken one of their own rivals.
Rumours are rumours until proven otherwise, but Spurs fans will be worried that Walker won’t be the only player to depart North London this summer. In this age where Premier League clubs answer problems by throwing money at it, Spurs have gone against the grain. No real stars in their squad, their regular starters are all paid roughly the same, and their secret to success stems from a manager who sets his team up to accentuate their strengths. They don’t just buy good players – they buy good players who fit Pochettino’s image of a great football team, and this helps chairman Daniel Levy keep a firm grip on refusing to sanction player contracts worth over £100k a week.
While this is very admirable, the question now is whether they are capable of winning the Premier League with this formula. When Spurs players see arguably lesser-talented contemporaries like Jesse Lingard and Wilfried Zaha earn brand new £100k a week contracts, they are going to feel envious at some point. How long do they wait before they conclude that, though they are one part of a very good team, they will never be part of a winning one?
It’s important to say at this juncture that how much a player is paid is less to do with how much they are worth in the wider footballing world, and more how much they are worth to a club. Away from Old Trafford, no club would even think about offering Lingard this much money. But Man Utd don’t just see Lingard as a valuable squad member, but also a product of their academy; a local boy done good. They have no desire to let him go if they can help it, because it enhances their reputation as a youth-focused football club.
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Spurs players seem content for the time being, with many having signed long-term deals during this season. But what Man City’s move for Walker shows is that the Premier League elite still sense that the opportunity is still there to tempt some players away from North London if they offer enough money. Any non-Spurs fans are patiently waiting for the mass exodus to start. They’re a selling club, and always have been.
But this is the difference between Spurs of old, and Spurs now – for the first time, they hold the cards when it comes to selling players. Chairman Daniel Levy has always been a tough negotiator, but this time he has leverage. He doesn’t need to sell; their best players aren’t forcing any move. And you know what? Any player they do sell has the potential to help them progress as a result.
Any club thinking of trying and tempt players away from Spurs this summer might find it unwise to do so. This isn’t to say that Walker will be useless to Man City, but he’s not a fundamentally better player than he was in the pre-Pochettino days. He’s just used differently. With a ready-made replacement at the club already in Kieran Trippier, Spurs won’t be too reluctant to accept any bid above £30 million.
With that money, it gives Spurs the opportunity to add strength in depth, with the flexibility to add something different to what they already have, and that will surely worry the elite.
Despite the money that they spend, every summer the elite clubs find themselves in the position of needing to rebuild, setting the tone for another expensive off-season. What has probably held them back from success, is the lack of a team environment. If a player isn’t an immediate success, there’s no initial desire to coach them into the role. They just go out and get someone else because they can.
Spurs are a different proposition though. You’d be hard pressed to find an area in their squad where there is a great need. It’s not to say they can’t improve, but this is a squad who work hard for each other, who know their role and perform it to a high level.
Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”