Earlier today, Times of London sportswriter Henry Winters shared on Twitter what he considers to be his Premier League Team of the Decade. Now, you can argue about what constitutes the start and end of the last decade, but the end of the 2019 season does seem like a logical time to take a look back at the last ten years as a unit for these kinds of things.
Winters’ team had two current and former Tottenham players on his team: Harry Kane and Kyle Walker. It got us in the Cartilage Free Captain writer’s room thinking — what would a Tottenham Hotspur Team of the Decade look like? We put our heads together this morning and hammered out our choices.
It was not an especially easy decision. There are lots of different ways to rank players, from their performances at their peak during the decade, to using their average performance over the long run. After discussion, we decided to use a subjective hybrid that acknowledged each player when they were at their best but also looked at their output over time during that span. We tried our best to limit recency bias, but there’s no question that a good number of Spurs’ best players from the past ten years are on this year’s team. Choosing who to include and who to leave out led to some difficult and sometimes painful decisions.
After significant discussion and argument, we came to this consensus. But we want to hear your opinions as well. Who did we leave out, and where do you disagree? Put them in the comments and let’s discuss!
This one is obvious. Hugo Lloris has been the best keeper of the decade hands down, and nobody else really comes close. It was so obvious that we didn’t even name another keeper to the bench — Heurelho Gomes is the obvious choice as his backup, but the drop off between Hugo and Gomes was so steep we decided NOT to name the Brazlian. We figure Harry Kane can back up Hugo if necessary.
It’s a testament to how good Spurs’ defense has been lately that three of Tottenham’s current starting back line are in the all-decade team. The Belgian wall of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have formed the heart of Spurs’ back line for what feels like forever. Danny Rose has fallen in and out of favor, but there isn’t a single left back who has been better and more consistent. On the right, Kyle Walker had his moments early in his Spurs career as a derpy track-star athlete, but he blossomed into the best right back Spurs had in the past decade, and turned that into a English record transfer for a fullback and back-to-back Premier League titles with Manchester City.
Now we get to the good stuff. Luka Modric is still one of, if not the best central midfielder Spurs have had in decades, even if Harry Redknapp liked to play him as a left winger. Alongside him we selected Mousa Dembele who won us over with his unique combination of dribbling, strength, and press resistance, and Christian Eriksen, a creative genius who we are still amazed hadn’t been snapped up by a mega-club a few years ago. Are there arguments for players whom we’re missing? There sure are, but we’ll get to that in a second.
One of the hard things about picking this 11 was that we were limited in the number of attacking midfield slash forwards we could choose. A starting XI means a starting XI, so tough choices needed to be made. In order to get who we thought were the best players on the team sheet necessitated a 4-3-3 formation, and there were certain names that just couldn’t be left off. Harry Kane is obviously one of them — the best homegrown Spurs striker possibly ever, he is obviously the first name down on the team sheet. Nor could we neglect Gareth Bale, the Welsh player whose game — and subsequent sale — arguably is what kick-started Tottenham’s evolution into one of the top clubs in Europe. Our final, possibly controversial, pick is Dele Alli — no player has come out of nowhere like he has and integrated himself into what was already a very good starting XI.
Many of you are already ready to argue — good! We did too, and since every Best XI team needs a bench, this is where we put the players who didn’t quite make the cut, for whatever reason. Our two most contreversial bench picks were Son Heung-Min and Ledley King. Both are/were outstanding players, and both were narrowly left off for different reasons. For Sonny, it’s because it took him a couple of years to establish himself at Spurs and to make the leap. Another season or two at the production level of this year and last year and he’s impossible to leave off. Nobody doubts Ledley’s status as one of Spurs’ best-ever defenders, but he retired in 2012 and by the time he hung up his boots he was starting to noticeably decline. A healthy, full-strength Ledley waltzes into the back line, but we never quite saw that this decade.
Sandro Ranieri teamed up with Dembele to form one of the most solid (and fun) Spurs midfields, but Sandro was dogged by injury over the course of his Spurs tenure and narrowly misses the starting lineup. Likewise, Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon, and Rafael van der Vaart were all super important contributors for Spurs in the past decade and worth mentions, but don’t quite hit the high notes. Lastly, we felt it important to have a fullback on the bench, and apart from Rose and Walker, none were better than Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who combined defensive solidity with all kinds of flair.