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Tottenham Hoardspur: Why Spurs need to sell before they can rebuild

To Dare is to Do (some player sales)

Tottenham Hotspur v Olympique Marseille: Group D - UEFA Champions League Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images

Vince Ricco is a long-time Cartilage Free Captain community member and a former contributor. He currently writes about Spurs on his personal Substack, “The Hiatus: A Tottenham Hotspur Journey.”

Supporters are always agitated about who we, Tottenham Hotspur, sign. What’s often overlooked in the new world of sports-washing is how for teams that aren’t sports-washing, ie. most teams, selling and buying are symbiotic actions, not opposite. Luckily, we are not completely dependent on this. Because of the stadium revenue, we are rich enough to spend our way through some incompetence. But if we ever want to get back to title challenging quality, we are going to have to get better at turning over the roster. And let’s face it: our current squad has become the footballing equivalent of that junk drawer where you keep things you think you need, but don’t. And that has to change. This has to be the summer of moving on from dead weight and really, truly investing in the squad.

Before theorizing who goes and who stays in my perfect world, we need to move them into categories. Players are at various stages of their careers and that matters. In fact, if I were a journalist who got paid to do this work, I’d even break down contract status for a more focused analysis. But I’m not so I won’t. Anyway, here are the groupings; each player’s transfermarkt transfer value is listed next to their names in euros.

Young players:

  • Bryan Gil (€12m)
  • Troy Parrot (5m)
  • Djed Spence (13m)
  • Ryan Sessegnon (22m)
  • Pape Mate Sarr (15m)
  • Oliver Skipp (15m)
  • Harvey White (1m)

Peak players:

  • Yves Bissouma (32m)
  • Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (45m)
  • Eric Dier (30m)
  • Ben Davies (20m)
  • Davison Sánchez (25m)
  • Tanguy Ndombele (28m)
  • Giovani Lo Celso (22m)
  • Emerson Royal (30m)
  • Sergio Reguilon (20m)
  • Harry Winks (12m)
  • Japhet Tanganga (10m)
  • Joe Rodon (9m)
  • Clement Lenglet (loan)
  • Danjuma (loan)

Older players:

  • Son Heung-min (70m)
  • Harry Kane (90m)
  • Hugo Lloris (7m)
  • Lucas Moura (contract will run out)
  • Ivan Perisic (10m)

Readers did not find Rodrigo Bentancur, Dejan Kulusevski, Pedro Porro, Cristian Romero, Richarlison, and Destiny Udogie’s names above. Those are my untouchables for now. In a perfect world Harry Kane’s name would be here but we support Spurs so we know this world is far from perfect.

Also, distinguished from the rest are Dane Scarlett and Alfie Devine. These are players that are either in need of a pathway to first team or good loan, but the club should not be entertaining sales for them unless the sums are enormous. Don’t worry, though, there will still be plenty of fat to trim. Boredom shall not overtake us.

On to the demolition. Let us begin with players on loan. Send Lenglet back to Barcelona and send Danjuma back to Villarreal, barring some massive leap in his play. Easy enough!

Another player that will be leaving and not brining a transfer fee is Lucas Moura. His contract is up and there is no chance he re-signs. Good. Glad he scored those goals in Amsterdam but he has not done much for the club since and often proves to be a dead end in possession. Should have sold him for real money years ago but that moment has long gone. Wages will be off the books, though, so I guess that’s something.

Next we move on to two outliers at the club: Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso. These guys should have been good but they weren’t. They should demand decent transfer fees, but they won’t. After talking to my online friend, Ryan, I’ve come to realize Tanguy is going to be impossible to move for anything more than cut rate. Gio is good when he’s healthy but he’s rarely healthy. I think if we secured €25-30 million between them, that’s being realistic. Those sales have to be made, though. Time to move on.

Everything after this gets weird. We can’t sell everybody (no matter how appealing that may seem at times.) So it becomes about trying to move players on while maintaining some semblance of balance in the squad. What I’ll do is make hypothetical moves, explain them in context, and try to apply a fee to that sale. Let us start in defense.

While it brings me no joy to say so, Ryan Sessegnon has to go. He’s not bad but he’s not great and looks mentally shot at Spurs. On top of that he is constantly injured. Youth is still on his side and there is a footballer in there but sometimes things don’t work out. Given his aforementioned youth and Englishness, I think transfermarkt’s €22 million valuation would hold. That leaves us with three fullback/wingbacks: Destiny Udogie, Sergio Reguilon, and Ivan Perisic. We all know Antonio Conte is more likely to leave the club at the end of this season. That makes this a strange situation to handle at the moment, but in a way, I think it eases the decision this summer. We should keep all three. Udogie has some real upside and is a big time attacking talent, Reguilon is still young and can definitely play fullback in four should the need arise under a new manager, and Perisic, while old and expensive, has a jack-of-all trades skillset with a short-term contract. Of course, if another team wants him, fine. But I’m not counting on it.

Shifting our gaze to central defense also shifts my lunch in my stomach. This group needs a total makeover. Out of Davies, Dier, Rodon, Sánchez, and Tanganga, three have to go. I understand that I’ve also shipped Lenglet back to Catalonia and that makes us feel light in numbers but I think we need at least two purchases here to get the center backs to a good place and most of these guys just aren’t good enough. My gut says sell Davison, Tanganga, and Rodon. That leaves us with Cuti, Davies, Dier, and two theoretical new signings. I think the three outgoing players in my scenario will all struggle to fetch their listed values for one reason or another. Maybe only Japh gets his because of relative youth—he’s 24 in March—and Englishness. I think we get €20 million at most for Sánchez because of where he’ll have a market which is 20% less than the valuation but valuations and real-life markets are not the same. I’m also going to take 10% off Rodon’s valuation which knocks him down to eight million euros, a far cry from the 18 million pound player we bought from Swansea a couple years back. Together, however, they bring in €38 million.

As for right wing-back/fullback, who knows? We have a guy who is a pure wingback that we just bought for a huge sum, a guy who is a pure fullback that excels in defense only, and a guy who hasn’t played football for the whole season until last week. I have no idea what will happen but I’m going to assume Conte is gone and with him goes his favorite son, Emerson Royal, for €25 million.

This moves us to the midfield where decisions feel more difficult so we’ll start with the obvious; selling Harry Winks. The nice thing about Winksy coming back to play on his Sampdoria loan is that we could be helped out by a Premier League team wanting him. That is why I think we could get his full €12 million valuation. That leaves us with Yves Bissouma, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Pape Mate Sarr, Oliver Skipp, and Harvey White. Aside from White, who doesn’t feel like a nailed-on Premier League player, these players are all fairly similar in attributes. The question becomes: do you want to maximize the sales or cut ties with largely unused young players? As I think this squad needs to change its age profile, I think we look to sell one of the established players for a higher fee. I don’t hate any of these players but I want to believe the Bissouma everyone saw at Brighton can re-emerge next season. Which leaves us to sell Pierre. Not an easy choice but he’s 27 and we either have to re-sign him now and commit to an aging midfielder or capitalize on his value. Getting €35-40 million for him should be attainable. As for Harvey White, get what you can and let him move on with his career.

Before I start with the attackers, let me state that what happens the rest of the year feels important to this group more than others. Harry Kane is about to be 30 and is on the cusp of Premier League records but still playing on a Tottenham team no where near the title challenge. Son Heung-min is over 30 and in the midst of a terrible season. These guys are institutions but something has to give. But to put off thinking about that let’s take a look at our young attackers. Bryan Gil has never really settled in England and has produced a singular good performance in the Premier League over two seasons while Troy Parrott has put up bad numbers for a shocking Preston North End attack in the Championship. I know this sounds weird but considering the makeup of the rest of the attack, I’ll take the young guy with something to prove in a bigger league than the guy who hasn’t settled. Sell Gil back to Spain for €12 million. Which leads us now with only Harry and Sonny to discuss.

Over the last few weeks I’ve realized that trying to keep two aging forwards on the roster isn’t realistic way to run a football club like ours. No matter how sad it makes me one of them has to go. On current form the decision is easy: sell Sonny. The trick comes in figuring out his market. Transfermarkt has him at €70 million but, given his atrocious season to this point, that feels high. Also, he will be 31 this summer. If a team comes in with anything north of €40 million, I think we have to take it.

The wild card here, of course, is Harry Kane. If Conte walks and we hire a young, pressing manager, is Harry going to be on board that rebuild? I sure hope he is but I’m not so sure. If he makes another big push to leave, I think we have to let him go. And the thing about Harry is that we know he doesn’t want to leave the Premier League until he has Alan Shearer’s record but Daniel Levy constantly leaks to the media that Harry Kane is absolutely not for sale, especially on the English Isles. But should Harry go, and I think it would still take a massive bid from an English side to pry him loose, I’d be fine with keeping Son on and moving him to a more central role as he ages.

As this article winds down, I will acknowledge I haven’t analyzed the goalkeeper position. We all have our limits, don’t we? I will simply say this; the position needs improving.

And that is what all of this is about in the end. Improving the first team roster. I briefly mentioned center back transfers earlier in this article and I will address incomings again. This team needs quality signings. We need a new, younger goalkeeper. We need at least two center backs that can challenge for starting roles and push Eric Dier to the bench. It needs a passing midfielder that can dictate tempo and also pull defensive structures apart. And we need another good forward. That’s five signings. And if we go for quality, real quality, that might cost €250 million. A hefty sum for sure, but if you conservatively add up the sales I’ve outlined above, that is about €200 million. A net spend of €50 million is a good price to pay for the chance to completely remake the quality of the roster, especially since the club is making money hand-over-fist now that the stadium is generating match day, NFL, and concert revenue. What’s the point of making all that money if it is not serving the football?

Can we do it? I do not know. That is an absurd amount of permanent deals to work out but if we are being honest, the roster situation is already absurd. We’ve been behind the eight ball, roster-wise, since those three transfer windows of stagnation. We’ve spent record fees on transfers. We’ve tried to bring in a big manager to deal with it. When one didn’t work, we brought in another. Nothing has worked in the long term. Time to flip it all on its head. Time to stop hoarding the past. Time to build something new. And it all relies on the sales.