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Spurs owe recent form to more and better signings

A revolutionary idea, at least to our club

Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Newcastle United/Getty Images

Though West Ham earned a draw in spectacular fashion on Sunday, Spurs fans have a lot to be excited about from the performance. In the early stages of the game, before its outcome seemed done and dusted, Tottenham looked, for once, like a team that could score at will. The partnership between Kane and Son has reached a new peak, yet Tottenham’s form owes as much to an increasingly menacing midfield and improving defense as it does to their star attacking duo. For once, things seem to be going right at Spurs.

Some of the team’s new quality can be chalked up to coaching, some to chance, but a major element of the spirit now on the pitch comes from the vast increase in viable options in the dressing room: in the three transfer windows since Spurs went to the Champions League final in June 2019, they have added Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Steven Bergwijn, Gedson Fernandes, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Matt Doherty, Sergio Reguilon, Gareth Bale, Carlos Vinicius, and now Joe Rodon to the list of viable contenders for first-team spots. Bizarrely, Gareth Bale is now part of the biggest surge in first team-ready signings since the cash from his transfer to Real Madrid was spent.

The current crop of signings at Tottenham represent a leap forward in Spurs’ transfer strategy. In the years after the mostly-lackluster “Bale 7” were signed with the record sum generated by the winger’s sale to Madrid, Tottenham tended toward caution in their transfer spending. The club made few signings in general, and when they did, they tended toward placing low-risk bets on young players or paying modest fees for decent players near the peak of their career. (Fernando Llorente, already in his thirties when he signed, was the notable exception.) Tottenham’s timidness was probably the right approach, given the outstanding expense incurred by the project of building a new stadium, and had players like Clinton N’Jie, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, or Juan Foyth turned out as well as Dele Alli (or even Eric Dier) did, Spurs fans might feel less bitter about fallow years in the transfer market.

Bale excluded, Tottenham are still not signing brand names from top clubs, but they have greatly improved the team by nudging two variables of transfer strategy slightly higher: volume and value. They have sustained a reasonable volume of good signings across several transfer windows, and as a result, the team seems to overflow with options. In recent years, Spurs were vulnerable to injuries or poor form among their best players because they did not have any worthwhile replacements. Now, while the quality of the starting lineup has certainly increased, the quality of a replacement player at any given position has skyrocketed. Take central midfield: a depth chart that once consisted of the likes of Sissoko, Winks, Wanyama, Dier, and Skipp now adds Lo Celso, Hojbjerg, and Ndombele.

Keeping a team well-stocked with players who are good enough to start is essential. Not only does it increase competition at the top, in theory making the best players even better, it also acknowledges that players go in and out of form, particularly the young prospects who remain central to Daniel Levy’s strategy. Buying exciting youngsters is fine if they are not expected to arrive in world-beating form. By having more players in the side, Spurs take the pressure off of any one new signing and can rotate playing time across several hopefuls, thus improving players’ development alongside on-field quality.

It may never be wise for Spurs to set transfer records and make blockbuster moves, but in the meantime, the slight tweak we have seen in the last three windows—more and better players—is paying immense returns on the pitch. Should results continue to be good and the club’s financial outlook continue to improve, there is reason to be excited about Spurs’ prospects in the coming years. The club needs to continue investing in the squad, rather than resting on the success of past signings, but if they’ve been watching recent games, I suspect that will be an easy pitch to make.