Spurs have made the Champions League and Conte needs new players. There may not be a better time for the club to go for the rebuild he wants.
Mission accomplished, then. As things turned out, Spurs never really came close to replicating the worst fever dreams of their supporters on the final day of the Premier League season. Norwich were too bad and Spurs were too clinical. The final result was a 5-0 win, qualification for next year’s Champions League and a shared Golden Boot for Son Heung Min. All in all, it was a very satisfying afternoon’s work.
The football churn keeps turning, and now attention turns to what follows next. For much of his time in charge of the club, Antonio Conte has had a curious effect on Spurs. On the one hand, the improvement in the team has been undeniable, and there is definite promise that they can go further. Any gap to Manchester City or Liverpool is probably too great to bridge (and certainly over one summer), but they finished just three points shy of Chelsea and on a better trajectory, but while the worst of Chelsea’s issues are close to conclusion, they have work to do. For the first time in years, Spurs have reason to feel optimistic.
But on the other, Conte’s time has been speckled with the insinuation that he is ‘too good’ for this particular club, and that he won’t be long for The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Some of this has been mischief-making from the press, who love to keep this sort of pot stirring from a distance, but some has also come from Conte himself, presumably as part of a strategy to secure the players he wants from Daniel Levy, whose hard-headedness when it comes to the transfer market is well-known.
There are good reasons why Spurs may wish to be cautious at this particular time. Construction of their new stadium was expensive. The club is deeply in debt as a result, and its opening coinciding with fans being absent and without Champions League football hasn’t been good for their finances, either. Furthermore, while Spurs have occasionally spent a lot of money on players before, it hasn’t always gone tremendously well. And regardless, should the club really be putting itself in a position in which manager threats to leave result in changes to the way they behave in the transfer market?
But this is only one way of framing the club’s position, and many would agree with Conte’s assessment that the squad needs some attention. In some ways, now is the perfect time to do it. There is a core of highly experienced players and one of Europe’s best coaches already in place, and there doesn’t seem to be any need for the club to go into the summer transfer market with an inferiority complex, as has occasionally been the impression they’ve given in the past.
While it’s commonplace and popular to stereotype Spurs as a bumbling clown car of a football club (and this has not been entirely without merit), they do now represent quite an attractive deal for the aspiring elite-level player, with Champions League football, a genuinely top-level coach, home matches at one of the best new-build grounds in Europe, the prospect of playing alongside one of the game’s deadliest attacking partnerships, and a fanbase so starved of success that expectations still aren’t quite as astronomical as they can be elsewhere.
No-one else can match their combination of state-of-the-art facilities, Champions League football and coaching from one of the very best in the world other than Liverpool and Manchester City, and the evidence is there for all to see of the extent to which Conte can improve players, just from his time with Spurs. For the sort of player you want to have in your squad – focussed on self-improvement and success – that could be an extremely enticing prospect.
Furthermore, there are gaps in the transfer market that Spurs can exploit. Manchester City and Liverpool already exist on a different plane in terms of what they can promise, but that’s not really the case with the other bigger Premier League clubs. Chelsea are already losing Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen, may need to replace Romelu Lukaku, and might find themselves spending the summer running in order to stand still. Neither Arsenal nor Manchester United can offer Champions League football and expectations may be higher.
The obvious move to make in the transfer market would be for Christian Eriksen, who made just over 300 appearances for the club in his previous spell. His return to the game with Brentford has been striking, and although at 30 years old he could hardly be considered an investment in youth, he would be available without a transfer fee, while his creative spark has often felt like exactly what Spurs have been missing since he left. Eriksen provided the assist for Son to score the first goal at The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and then scored the second one himself. His return would also likely be highly emotional for many supporters.
If anything, the Spurs players seem to have the fans’ backs over this. It has been reported that senior players such as Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane and Eric Dier are something approaching desperate for the progress of the last few months to continue, and that their voices are being heard. Furthermore, this window of opportunity may be time-limited. Arsenal could continue the incremental improvement they made last season; Manchester United surely can’t continue to be as unattractive a proposition as they are at the moment indefinitely, and Newcastle’s assault on a top-four place seems as inevitable as it does ethically dubious.
This summer may represent a break in the clouds and offer an opportunity to give that new stadium a team to match. Work has already started, with the likely arrival of Fraser Forster as back-up goalkeeper from Southampton. A small step, but a step in the right direction, regardless. Spurs have proved themselves capable in the transfer market over the last year or so, with the arrivals of Cristian Romero, Rodrigo Bentancur and Dejan Kulusevski having already significantly improved the team. The loan agreements for Romero and Kulusevski need to be made permanent, and other key players need to be kept. The seeds of a very good team is there, hiding in plain sight.
And surely if there’s one lesson that the club must have learned from its own recent past, it’s that inertia in the transfer market can reverberate for years. There’s a fine line between substantial investment and being reckless, and few outside N5 would argue that Spurs should replicate, say, Everton, but to give this manager the opportunity to build the squad he wants could be a big step towards severing the ties to those fever dreams, once and for all.