With Nuno Espírito Santo and Fabio Paratici joining Tottenham Hotspur, there is so much uncertainty regarding which direction the club will take as the summer transfer window continues. Up to this point, Spurs have yet to really move on the “painful rebuild” that has been needed for quite some time now.
Towards the end of the 2020-21 season, it seemed that there were roughly 6-10 players in the squad that were going to be sold over the summer. Now that the main international tournaments have ended, we should expect to see a lot more business from Tottenham as well as the rest of the Premier League. And over the next couple of weeks, we should expect to see some players depart the club to free up some spending money to be made for incoming additions.
While the likes of Tottenham’s departing options may not open too many eyebrows, players such as Moussa Sissoko, Serge Aurier, Erik Lamela and perhaps even Lucas Moura could bring back a nice return for Spurs to bring in new signings. Due to Paratici’s close relationship with GestiFute super-agent Jorge Mendes as well as his noted transfer strategy, Tottenham are going to be linked all over the place. However, as we all know, Tottenham is still cash-strapped. Sure they can sell and cut their losses on some players, but the fact remains that the debt from the stadium paired with COVID-strapped financial issues and a lack of major European competition for this upcoming season will impede the club from making serious activity this transfer window.
That is unless the club depart from talismanic striker Harry Kane. There is of course the argument that selling off the club’s biggest asset will give them the financial capabilities to endure the rebuild that has been needed for many years. However, not only would the club lose their most important asset into getting back into the Champions League conversation, but the club has shown in the past after the Gareth Bale departure in 2013 that selling a player is just one thing, but actually utilizing that money intelligently and correctly is another.
As reports have indicated so far, the focus this summer has been making significant improvements on the defensive side of the ball. Even with the deal with Bologna’s Takehiro Tomiyasu all but over the finish line, Spurs have been listed as among the main suitors for starling centerbacks Maxence Lacroix and Jules Koundé among others. But it is not just the defense that could use a tinker.
Looking at the attacking side of the ball, while we do not know how Nuno will line the squad up next season, one thing for certain is that the club relies far too much on the duo of Kane and Son Heung-min to provide goal-output. Regardless of the type of formation Nuno deploys, Spurs will need a new individual to provide that threat and the easiest solution would of course be Dele Alli.
I wrote recently how Tottenham rebuilt their midfield over the course of a few transfer windows. And while there has been progress made in terms of the defensive structure and playmaking-ability, Spurs have not gotten consistent goal-output from the midfield for quite some time now. This downward trend has directly correlated with the puzzling case of Dele and Christian Eriksen’s form dipping since he mentioned at the end of the 2018-19 season that he wanted to pursue a new challenge.
The main issue with Dele is that he is best suited to play as a number ten, typically in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the same formation that was heavily deployed by Mauricio Pochettino. While Dele has shown in the past that he can slot to the left flank, the challenge for Spurs is that despite being capable with both feet, Son’s impact has been more felt from the left-attacking side compared to the right.
In my assessment, the future of Dele’s status in the first-team will be heavily reliant on what Spurs decide to do on the defensive side of the ball. Nuno has shown a history of deploying a lot of different systems, ranging from back-threes with attacking fullbacks to a more expressive shape based around a back four. What can be said about Nuno is that he has consistently shaped his structure to what the squad’s best potential could be. And while Dele’s potential has been best showcased in a 4-2-3-1 formation, decisions based around the squad can not be dependent on the success or failure of one individual. Alas, this creates the ‘Dele dilemma’ that could be the main overarching issue plaguing him in recent seasons.
It certainly did not help that Dele was not given consistent minutes under José Mourinho. Under Pochettino, Dele played with the likes of a hard-working duo in Victor Wanyama and a young Eric Dier mopping up behind him, which gave him the freedom and license to play further up the pitch. The midfield structure reaped serious rewards for the former MK Dons man as he contributed a total of 37 goals and 20 assists in his first three seasons with the club, en route to winning the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in back-to-back seasons from 2015-2017.
As Spurs re-shaped their midfield and seemingly deployed a system where Pierre-Emile Højbjerg stayed back as a defensive midfielder, the likes of Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso were typically preferred over Dele. It should be worth mentioning that we are not in the clubhouse or training sessions on a daily basis so there could be additional reasons for Dele’s exodus from the squad, but what was clear was that Mourinho and Dele were not fit for each other.
Once Mourinho was sacked in April, Dele was featured significantly more under interim manager Ryan Mason and showed that his impact can still be made in games. As shown in the tail-end of the season, giving Dele game-time to allow him to work out the kinks he has been facing over the past few years will be the best way for him to get back to playing at his expected level.
After his worst season in north London, Dele immediately put out the following statement on Instagram:
It goes without saying this season has been the most difficult in my career so far. There have been some incredibly low moments and tough challenges I’ve had to face but I’m grateful to always have the opportunity to do what I love. This season has taught me I can’t take anything for granted and I’m more determined than ever to come back fitter and stronger.
In following Dele this offseason, the impetus on getting fitter and back into the squad has been apparent. Most recently in an interview with Goal.com, Dele refused to place any blame on Mourinho, also mentioning that he not only wants to get back to the level he played at a few years ago, but even playing past that level.
2020-21 season was a nightmarish one for Dele and Tottenham. With all of the doubters regarding Dele being incapable of getting back to top-draw, paired with the added motivation of watching the England national team coming so close to winning the EUROs without him in the side, the motivation is all there for Dele to get back to the player he can be. And if Tottenham gets that player back, it would be the equivalent of bringing in a world-class talent. That is the expectation and ability Dele has shown he can perform at and needs to get back to playing at this upcoming season.