On the morning of Sunday 25th April, Tottenham Hotspur were looking ahead to a final where they could end their club’s 13 year with for a trophy. By Sunday evening they had lost the Carabao Cup final with a whimper and, in truth, were extremely fortunate to have only lost 1-0 to a dominant Manchester City side. There was a lot of optimism around the club and it’s fanbase following the sacking of Jose Mourinho and subsequent appointment of retired, academy product, Ryan Mason as manager until the end of the season. However, by full time this optimism had faded away and was replaced by anger and frustration at a gutless performance.
Another year without any silverware compounds the misery of the increasingly likely possibility that the club will not be playing in the Champions League again next season. The club will have a very busy summer ahead, with no manager lined up and a squad overhaul expected. So, what next for Tottenham Hotspur?
The first problem that Tottenham must address is the manager. Ryan Mason has been thrust into the spotlight following Mourinho’s sacking but is only a temporary fit due to his lack of experience coaching senior football. While Tottenham’s shortcomings in the final against City cannot be attributed to Mason, they also failed to show the fight and desire that often comes under a new regime, even if only temporary. When appointing the club’s next manager Executive Chairman, Daniel Levy, is likely to deviate from the Mourinho gamble that cost the club so dearly in terms of style of play and fan disenchantment, as well as results. It is likely that Tottenham will be looking to appoint an exciting, positive manager with a focus on attacking football. This would be reverting to the previous recruitment strategy that saw Mauricio Pochettino appointed and the style as well as substance that followed; with Pochettino establishing the club as a regular feature in the Champions League.
Julian Nagelsmann is widely thought to have been Levy’s first choice. However, Bayern Munich announced he would be their new manager for next season and, in reality, he was always unlikely to leave his RB Leipzig role for Tottenham, having reportedly declined the Real Madrid job las summer. Brendan Rodgers is another name linked with the manager’s job but it is thought he would be unlikely to leave Leicester City at this stage, with Champions League football looking likely to add to their FA Cup final appearance this season. At Leicester, Rodgers has an incredibly exciting group of young players and is working for a progressive club who support him and provide him with the resources he requires to be successful. In return he is giving the board and fans a team that is ruffling the traditional big clubs’ feathers, while playing a wonderful brand of football. It would be a surprise if Rogers didn’t stay at Leicester for at least one more season before potentially moving on to a bigger job.
So, who does that leave? In truth Tottenham may have to be open-minded with their next managerial appointment. They are unlikely to attract the big names, and may wish to steer clear of that after Mourinho’s ill-fated spell anyway. Eddie Howe’s name is sure to be mentioned in the coming weeks but there could be a perception that the job is too big for him currently. He had great success with Bournemouth, however his time in charge did ultimately end in relegation and his biggest downfall was his business in the transfer market; with the majority of his big money signings failing to make an impact. Maurizio Sarri has also been linked but is one that doesn’t seem realistic and Tottenham may prefer to avoid ex-Chelsea managers for the time being.
Perhaps the most exciting prospect is Erik ten Hag. The Ajax manager has a history of playing attractive football and one of his key strengths is developing players, as is a pre-requisite of the Ajax job. After four years at the Amsterdam club he may feel he has taken the club as far as he can. A Champion League semi-final run in 2018/19, where they were defeated by Tottenham, and a second Eredivisie title in his fourth year looking inevitable mean that he may seek pastures new this summer. Especially with the proposition of managing in the Premier League with Tottenham in their brand new state of the art stadium.
Harry Kane’s Future
The second thing the club needs to do is perhaps even more important to the club’s immediate future than appointing a new manager. Tottenham must secure the future of talisman Harry Kane. Kane is always linked to the biggest clubs in Europe, however, this season these rumours seem to carry more weight than before. The England striker is now 28 and is rumoured to have grown disillusioned with club. Kane is highly ambitious and will be desperate not to look back on a career where he has no honours to show for his endeavours. Tottenham had the chance to win Kane the first trophy of his career in the Carabao Cup final and they squandered it. Tottenham look a side that is less likely to win anything in the next few seasons than they did under Pochettino and Kane may well be tempted to listen to the advances of the likes of Manchester City or Real Madrid.
There are factors that play into Tottenham’s hands in their bid to keep their biggest asset, though. The first of these is that they may have got rid of Mourinho at just the right time. While Kane was enjoying the most productive spell of his career under Mourinho, adding assists to his prolific strike rate, it is hard to imagine he enjoyed playing for a side who surrendered possession in the majority of their games. By getting rid of Mourinho, Tottenham may be able to appease Kane for at least one more season with the prospect of a new manager and better style of football. There is also the fact that the Coranavirus pandemic has led to most clubs in world football enduring financial troubles. With Kane’s price tag likely to be well in advance of £100 million, it is difficult to envisage any club being able to afford him this summer.
While Kane is Tottenham’s most important player, his presence does cause Tottenham some problems. While the problem is minuscule in comparison to the prospect of the losing Kane, the fact that the striker is the first name on the team sheet means that it is increasingly difficult to recruit a striker with enough quality who is satisfied playing second fiddle. This may not be such an issue if Kane was fit all the time, but in the past three seasons he has endured lengthy spells on the side-lines and Tottenham have always struggled to adapt. They have tried a number of solutions in the past, with Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli, Gareth Bale, and Lucas Moura all doing their best to fill the void. This season, Tottenham brought in striker Carlos Vinicius on loan from Benfica. However, he has struggled to break into the side, and the fact that he wasn’t brought on when Tottenham were 1-0 down with minutes to go in the final defeat to City was telling.
Summer Rebuild Essential
Once a new manager is appointed and the future of Kane becomes clear, a summer rebuild will be able to begin. Of course, the players that leave the club and are brought in are likely to be influenced by the style of manager that comes in, but Levy will also only part funds with players he deems worthy. Gareth Bale is unlikely to be at the club next season following remarks about returning to Madrid in the summer while on international duty. He has since backtracked on these comments but the message seemed clear. Matt Doherty has failed to live up to expectations following a transfer from Wolves and looks a little out of his depth so could be one of the first out the club this summer. Vinicius is highly unlikely to see his loan deal made permanent, while a number of other players may leave whether through personal choice or not.
Despite the seemingly bizarre timing of Mourinho’s sacking, less than a week before the cup final, in many ways it made sense. If Mourinho was to stay until the end of the season it could have resulted in a number of players who were unhappy with his methods seeking to leave the club. Some of these players were finding minutes hard to come by under Mourinho, such as Harry Winks and Dele Alli, but could well be seen as key members of the squad for an incoming manager, and it was important to ensure their futures at the club. It was also important to get rid of Mourinho before he was given another transfer window that could have caused huge damage to the future of the club. If the next manager is to be an attack-minded appointment then it was important that Mourinho wasn’t able to bring in any more players that fit his more defence-minded mould.
Despite the fact that the next manager is likely to be a forward thinking appointment, it is the defence that requires the most urgent attention. On the face of it, 38 goals conceded in 33 Premier League games is not a bad record. However, when you consider they have spent the season showing very little attacking intent to play defensive, counter-attacking, football regardless of the opposition, it is less impressive. The fact that they drop points from winning positions so regularly and allow three points to turn into one so often shows that their defence is simply not good enough. Toby Aldeweireld is the club’s best defender, but at 32 isn’t getting any younger. Davinson Sanchez has fallen out of favour and his tendency to often gift the opposition chances through mistakes is undesirable in a central defender. Eric Dier has finally settled on a position as a centre-back, but is not consistent enough to perform there at the top level. Welsh defender Joe Rodon has looked a prospect in his first season at the club, but is relatively inexperienced at Premier League level. Academy product, Japhet Tanganga, is also an option but is a talent that needs nurturing.
The club are crying out for a leader in the heart of their defence. They need a reliable player who commands the backline and organises those around him. It may even be that the club need two new central defenders of real quality to provide the platform for the team to compete at the top level. The full back areas are similarly weak and require overhaul. As alluded to, Doherty has struggled in his first season at the club and looks a shadow of the player he was at Wolves. Serge Aurier has had one of his better spells at the club, but is still incredibly highly-charged and always likely to make a rash challenge that will cost his team. With neither right back a reliable performer, Levy must be rueing the decision to let the impressive Kyle Walker-Peters sign for Southampton in the summer. At left back Tottenham have Sergio Reguilon who has been one of the team’s better players this season, despite enduring a difficult cup final. Ben Davies is the other senior left back at the club and is reliable if lacking a little in pace and guile.
Moving forward from the defence and Tottenham have a good side. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg provides steel in midfield and allows the likes of Tanguy N’Dombele and Giovani Lo Celso to play. Dele Alli may well revive his career under a new manager, and would provide a different dimension to the team if so. Although the club have arguably never replaced the playmaking influence of Christian Eriksen since his departure in January 2020. The likes of Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela, and Steven Bergwijn are decent players to have in the squad, but it is likely Tottenham will need to sign an upgrade on them if they are to be successful moving forward. Kane and Son are Tottenham’s only two world class players and, if they both remain at the club, will continue to perform to a very high level.
So, it is not that Tottenham require a complete overhaul, they just need a clear strategy. The squad was on the decline well before the Champions League final appearance in 2019 papered over the cracks, and Pochettino was very much aware of the problems that were forthcoming. The Argentine frequently pleaded with Levy to sign new players but to no avail, with the club not signing a single player in a year towards the end of the manager’s reign. The club must secure a manager that fits their ethos and will engage the fans once more, they must secure the future of Harry Kane, and they must invest on their defence which currently is simply not good enough.