An inside look at all things Tottenham Hotspur before their 2021/22 season officially gets underway.
What is going on in North London?
This was supposed to be THE time for Tottenham Hotspur. They’ve settled into life at their new, world-class stadium, which by hosting events, such as the upcoming world heavyweight championship boxing bout between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk, would give Spurs the financial strength to finally be on a level playing field with the Premier League’s big boys.
In spite of this, if you have been following the club over the past few seasons, you get the sense of a fairy-tale story gone wrong. The decision of chairman Daniel Levy to ruthlessly axe the much-adored Mauricio Pochettino, not long after he led the club to their first ever Champions League final, and replace him with perennial winner José Mourinho, failed in spectacular style.
Mourinho, bizarrely sacked himself just before the League Cup final, left behind a divided squad, who were playing woefully negative football, also languishing outside of the top 4 positions in the league table.
Ex-Spurs player Ryan Mason, who did not have a single minute of senior managerial experience under his belt, then took interim charge and unsurprisingly was unable to lead the club to either the Carabao Cup against Pep Guardiola’s dominant Manchester City side, or the top 4, despite his best efforts.
All of this has meant that, this summer, there has been desperate need for sweeping changes at the club, from head to toe. Fans would like this to have started with the owners, Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy, who run Tottenham under their company ENIC (English National Investment Company). However, for years now, it has been crystal clear that, with the valuation that Levy and Lewis have of the club, they will not be going anywhere anytime soon.
As a result, the buck stopped, as it often does in football, with the coaching staff, with Levy deciding that Nuno Espírito Santo should be the man to attempt to guide Spurs back into Europe’s top tier and finally deliver some much overdue silverware.
However, this appointment was far from straightforward, instead proving a circus act that lasted multiple months, much to the joyous mockery of rival fans online.
Managerial Mayhem or Media Manipulation?
If you have been following Tottenham over the past month, you’ll likely have seen managerial XI’s doing the rounds on social media. This is because the Lilywhites were allegedly been rejected by manager after manager, including the likes of Julian Nagelsmann and Antonio Conte, in their summer search for a new head coach.
In fact, having read what has been circulating online, you could be forgiven for feeling that Spurs supporters must be relieved that the cameras from Amazon’s famed ‘All or Nothing’ series are no longer about to document the amateur running of the club.
However, is this a fair assessment?
Well, yes and no.
Whilst Daniel Levy may well be telling the truth when he stated that some of the managers who allegedly ‘rejected’ Tottenham were never in consideration for the job, the simple fact that Levy and co.’s managerial search lasted 72 days makes it clear to everyone within the footballing world that Nuno Espírito Santo was far from Tottenham’s first choice.
Furthermore, if it was the case that countless managers did in fact turn their heads up at the Spurs project this summer, you would still expect nothing less from the Tottenham chairman then to do everything possible to protect his club’s reputation.
In fact, it is even rumoured that when Levy first drew up his list of targets after sacking Mourinho, Nuno was not even a consideration, discounted due to perceptions of the negative style of play he implemented during his time at Wolves.
Certainly, this seems plausible, especially given that Levy promised that the appointment made would reflect the club’s values of “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football, with several Tottenham fans expressing their dismay at the pragmatic football on show for much of Mourinho’s tenure.
However, although rival fans will long mock the Spurs faithful over their managerial woes, especially if Nuno experiences a troubled start to the upcoming Premier League campaign, Nuno’s late consideration for the job is not something that should necessarily be bemoaned by Tottenham fans.
The reason for this is simple. On 12th June, Spurs appointed Fabio Paratici as the club’s managing director of football. On that day, their managerial search had to change. It did.
Nuno may not be a natural fit for Tottenham, a club whose fanbase take pride in the attractive football their team play, but his appointment in North London only serves to illustrate the immediate influence of Paratici, who appears to have already assumed several of the roles previously filled by Levy himself.
In order for Paratici to be a success, Spurs need a manager who not only is willing to work alongside a director of football, but also one who shares the Italians philosophies and ideas on how to take the club forward. In this sense, it is only natural that, from that point on, Spurs’ managerial search began to head in yet another direction.
Even the newest Tottenham supporters will not expect Paratici to have carte blanche while Levy remains at the helm, but the appointment of Nuno, who Paratici openly courted during his time at Juventus, is certainly a promising start.
Formation, Formation, Formation…
This aside, the Portuguese manager can expect a very tough start to his tenure in N17, especially if his side do not immediately deliver results on the pitch.
Far from a popular choice with fans, ‘#NoToNuno’ began to trend on Twitter as soon as the rumour mill churned out the fact that he was in consideration for the top job at Spurs.
This was in very poor taste, mirroring the ‘#NoToGattuso’ campaign, in which Tottenham stakeholder groups expressed their disgust at the board for considering appointing Genaro Gattuso as manager, in light of the Italian’s past discriminatory statements.
Nonetheless, it reflects the fact that, after getting excited by links with the likes of Conte and even a romantic return for Pochettino, Spurs supporters remain uninspired by club’s decision to settle on Nuno.
Some still hope that the fact that he has only been given a two-year deal is a sign that he is merely a stop-gap manager, noting that the Portuguese’s contract expires at around the same time as Pochettino’s contract with a now surely-dominant PSG side. That being said, with Lionel Messi now at his disposal, the likelihood of a homecoming for the Argentine has never looked smaller.
They can be forgiven for feeling this way too, with Wolves’ 13th place finish last term a far cry from the 7th place he achieved the campaign prior. Despite all their injury woes, Wolves hardly set the Premier League alight last season and arguably even underachieved, with Nuno appearing bereft of ideas at times in the West Midlands.
That being said, Nuno, who was linked with the Crystal Palace job before he got the call from Paratici, appears set to move away from the three-at-the-back formation that most people within English football have long associated with him from his time in the Premier League.
Aside from the occasional experimentation with four-at-the-back at sporadic times last season, Nuno largely rotated between 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 formations during his time at Wolves.
However, statements from both Paratici and Levy, appear to indicate that, whilst at Spurs, Nuno is likely to revert to the more attacking formations he deployed earlier on in his managerial career.
Those in Spain will be familiar with his usage of both a 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 during his time at Valencia, whilst he often deployed a 4-4-2 during his lone season with Porto.
Such news is likely to warm him to the Spurs faithful, but only if performances on the pitch justify his team selection. This is where the decision to go with a back four appears confused, designed to appease fans, rather than to suit the squad, which, in what looks set to be a congested battle for European places, should really be the priority.
In Matt Doherty, Serge Aurier, Sergio Reguilón and Ryan Sessegnon, Tottenham possess four full-backs with attacking prowess that far outweigh their defensive capabilities, seemingly suiting them to a wing-back role in front of a back three, where they will be less exposed.
Furthermore, Tottenham’s centre-halves are also accomplished operators in a back three, with Joe Rodon and Ben Davies shining there at international level for Wales and new signing Cristian Romero often deployed in a back three last season at Atalanta.
Of course, until 3:30pm on Sunday, we will not know Nuno’s team selection for the curtain raiser at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and it is entirely possible that the Portuguese boss may spring a surprise and name a back five against Manchester City. Alternatively, he could begin the campaign with a back four and then revert to a more pragmatic back three as the season progresses, if his side’s early season form is not to his liking.
However, those of us who avidly watched Spurs’ pre-season games, myself included, will thoroughly expect Nuno to stick with much the same line-up that delivered a draw at Stamford Bridge and a win against North London rivals Arsenal.
Whether or not this defence will come undone, against what looks like an imperious Manchester City squad, remains to be seen.
A Tough Beginning
Facing the reigning Premier League champions and odds-on favourites to retain their crown, Manchester City, first up should prove quite the baptism of fire for new boss Nuno, both on and off the pitch.
Aside from questions about himself not being the club’s first-choice as manager, Nuno will no doubt be peppered with questions throughout the weekend regarding Spurs’ vice-captain and talisman Harry Kane expressing his desire to leave the club.
City, Tottenham’s opponents in their Super Sunday clash, are the very same side that have publicly courted the services of Kane throughout this summer transfer window.
Kane, whose professionalism has recently been questioned for the first time in his career, in light of reports of him refusing to turn up for training – claims that he himself has since denied – remains vital to Spurs, which he illustrated when winning both the Golden Boot and the Playmaker Award last season.
As such, claims that Kane’s teammates have taken to social media to ‘like’ posts that hint at their disapproval of the actions of the England captain, will not be welcome news to Nuno, who will now have to repair a seemingly fractured dressing room.
Getting everyone on the same side, working together towards a common goal, looks like a monumental task, in and of itself.
Add into this the fact that Nuno has to somehow deliver a top four finish or a trophy to be considered a success by the Spurs faithful, with a squad that was ill-equipped to deliver that last year and will not have Gareth Bale returning, and the former goalkeeper looks destined to fail.
After all, although as a player he was part of the Porto squad that won the Champions League in the 2003/04 under the stewardship of former Spurs boss Mourinho, Nuno has yet to deliver significant silverware as a manager, with his EFL Championship triumph with Wolves remaining the only major trophy to his name.
As a result, there is an odd atmosphere around the club, where fans both expect top 4 football having gotten used to it under Pochettino, but seem to hold little optimism that Nuno will be the man to return them to Europe’s premier competition.
Or at least there was this atmosphere up until around a couple of weeks ago.
Reasons for Optimism
What has changed in that time?
As Lilywhite fans have dubbed him on social media: Don Paratici.
Described as a workaholic by Fabrizio Romano – which really is some praise – Paratici is said to always be scheming away on his phone, taking calls day and night, yet always finds the time to attend games, feeling it vital that he shows his face to connect with both the squad and the fans.
This work ethic has already endeared Paratici to Tottenham’s fans in a way that Levy has simply never achieved, despite the Spurs chairman holding admirers for his negotiation skills elsewhere in the footballing world, such as pundit Gary Neville.
In a short space of time, Paratici has set about constructing a long overdue rebuild of the Spurs squad and it is for this reason – with the summer transfer window remaining open until 11pm on 31st August – that there is renewed optimism for the season ahead in certain parts of North London.
First and foremost among the arrivals is reigning Serie A Defender of the Year, Cristian Romero. This is quite the accolade to win in a league that boasts the likes of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Milan Škriniar.
Romero is also a player who can have a big impact at the opposite end of the pitch. Blessed with an impressive leap, the Argentine is dangerous from set pieces, which he demonstrated when scoring on international duty against Colombia at the start of June.
He also registered an impressive four assists last season for Atalanta, showing a keen eye in the opposition’s box.
A fee of around £42.5 million is no mean feat, representing the second-highest outlay on a single player in Tottenham’s history. However, his arrival will no doubt be a relief for Tottenham fans, with it reported that their plan B was to sign three different defenders for the same amount (Takehiro Tomiyasu, Nikola Milenković and Kurt Zouma).
For once, the Spurs hierarchy has opted for quality over quantity, perhaps another sign of Paratici’s growing influence. The club seem to have learned from their mistakes with the Gareth Bale money.
Of the players signed with a then-world record transfer fee (Nacer Chadli, Vlad Chiricheș, Etienne Capoue, Christian Eriksen, Paulinho, Érik Lamela and Roberto Soldado), only Eriksen was a resounding success, with Chiricheș, Capoue and Soldado proving undoubted failures and Chadli, Paulinho and Lamela delivering rather indifferent results.
Spurs’ prolonged negotiations with Atalanta will no doubt have given fans horrible flashbacks to when haggling over relatively small differences in valuations has seen the club miss out on future stars like Jack Grealish in the past.
However, not only is the deal now done, but it was also a loan with a 100% obligation to buy, with personal terms agreed with Romero for a 5-year deal once his season-long loan is up. This is very shrewd business by Tottenham and Paratici in delaying this payment, freeing up funds for the club to use elsewhere.
The arrival of Romero makes a move for Sevilla’s Jules Koundé look less likely, despite the Spanish club’s interest in Spurs’ Davinson Sánchez. Koundé now looks more likely to join Chelsea in a deal potentially involving Kurt Zouma, which will fulfil the young Frenchman’s wish of being able to play Champions League football in the coming season.
Some Spurs fans may claim not to be that disappointed in missing out on Koundé, as the player was allegedly holding off talks with the club in the hope of getting a move to Real Madrid. However, I would put forward that this is a naïve point of view, for how many of Spurs’ players would not want to leave right now if Real Madrid came calling?
Furthermore, with Raphael Varane going to Manchester United and Sergio Ramos moving to PSG, Koundé will have seen at legitimate opening at the heart of the Los Blancos defence that he could theoretically fill.
People have this misconception that most of their club’s players have supported their team since they were children. This may well be what they say when they sign, but how likely is this to actually be true?
Anyway, that small rant aside, alongside Romero, Paratici has shown a desire to plan for the club’s success in the long-term, through the signings of goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini and winger Bryan Gil.
Gollini, one of Romero’s teammates last season at Atalanta, has arrived on a year-long loan, with an option to buy that becomes an obligation if he makes 20 or more competitive appearances for Spurs this campaign.
Whilst this may remind Spurs fans of the situation the club had with Pau López not too long ago, who did not get signed, the prospects for Gollini look brighter, with club captain Hugo Lloris only having one year left on his contract and looking likely to leave the club, that he has been with since 2012, on a free transfer in the summer of 2022.
Those who remember the ex-Manchester United youngster from his less than fruitful time in English football with Aston Villa, back when they were languishing in mid-table in the Championship, will be surprised by the talent that Gollini has become, looking the real deal last season in Serie A.
As such, he will be confident of being a more than capable deputy for the France captain Lloris should he be needed and has wasted no time in demonstrating his skills during pre-season, where he has delivered several eye-catching saves.
Gil is likely to suffer from the same scepticism from uninformed fans, having plied his trade last season at SD Eibar, who were relegated, finishing bottom of La Liga.
However, Gil’s own form could not be further from that of his team, illustrated by the fact that Spain boss Luis Enrique handed the 20-year-old his first full international cap against Greece back in March.
Although he was not a part of his country’s run to the Euro 2020 (held in 2021) semi-finals, the 20-year-old did represent Spain at this summer’s Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in the process.
It is this promise that led Spurs to shell out £21.6 million in addition to the services of Érik Lamela to Sevilla for the skilful dribbler known affectionately in Spain as ‘the Little Cruyff’.
Gil’s lack of significant goal contributions so far in his career may raise concerns among some supporters that he represents style over substance, likened to Wolves’ Adama Traoré, but at 20-years-old and now in a much more competitive side, this is an area of the Spaniard’s game that will surely only develop over time.
Paratici has also demonstrated an ability to get players out of the door, meaning that Spurs are finally able to overhaul their squad, which was first called for by then-boss Pochettino back in 2018.
Toby Alderweireld has joined Al-Duhail in Qatar for a reported £13 million, which, despite undoubtedly being one of Spurs’ better defenders, is a more than decent return for a 32-year-old, who Spurs got six seasons of service out of and wanted to leave the club.
Other departures include the aforementioned Lamela and Joe Hart, who was sold to Celtic for £1 million.
This may not seem that significant a fee at face value. However, Tottenham have previously allowed unwanted players to run down their contracts, on account of being unable to sell them, with Paulo Gazzaniga and Danny Rose the two most recent examples. Therefore, generating such a fee, especially for a 34-year-old goalkeeper, not only keeps the club’s income ticking over, but also ensure harmony in the dressing room, with players not in Nuno’s plans for the forthcoming season being granted their moves.
Of Spurs’ trio of arrivals so far this summer, Romero is the only player who will clearly slot straight into the starting XI and even he will be phased into the team, as he is still carrying a slight injury that he sustained in Argentina’s Copa America final win over Brazil, which meant that he took no part in pre-season.
As a result, Paratici still has a lot of work to do if Tottenham’s chances of success in the upcoming campaign are to be nearly as bright as their new away kit.
Centre-back and right-back are two positions which must be strengthened as a priority, with Spurs reported to be attempting to kill two birds with one stone in this regard, by signing a versatile defender who can play across the backline. Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna is rumoured to be a target. The Japanese international can fill holes on both sides of the defence and his capture would only strengthen the club’s already burgeoning support in Asia.
If a deal for a player in the mould of Tomiyasu goes through, it may well encourage Japhet Tanganga to reconsider a loan offer from Galatasaray he received earlier this summer.
Beyond that Spurs are also seeking a strike partner for Harry Kane, with Paratici courting Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martínez and Fiorentina’s Dušan Vlahović, both of whom he is very familiar with from his time in Italy, a creative midfielder (the club have been linked with former Spurs player Noni Madueke, who now plies his trade in the Eredivisie with PSV and Sampdoria’s Mikkel Damsgaard, who shone for Denmark at the Euros) and an additional centre half.
However, all of these moves may depend on further departures from the club, with the Moussa Sissoko and Serge Aurier being two players that the club are particularly keen to move on and both of whom are understood to want to leave the club. This will no doubt cause another chapter in the Tanguy Ndombele story at Spurs, who is said to upset at the potential departure of two of his closest friends at the club in Sissoko and Aurier.
The arrival of an additional centre-back may depend on one of Eric Dier or Davinson Sánchez being sold, while Spurs are also understood to be willing to listen to offers for the likes of Harry Winks, Lucas Moura and Ben Davies should any arrive, though all are also willing to stay and fight for their places in the team.
The likelihood of Spurs getting all of their targets is particularly slim, especially given the fact that there is little more than a fortnight remaining of the summer transfer window. However, given the delay in the appointment of both Paratici and Nuno, Spurs fans should be very happy with the business that they have done so far.
As such, any holes that do not get filled by signings will probably be assigned to some of the club’s promising youngsters, with the likes of Ryan Sessegnon and Oliver Skipp expecting some serious first-team minutes in the forthcoming campaign. Even Dane Scarlett will be hopeful of the odd appearance, given the sheer number of games the club will have to play across their many competitions, in addition to the fact that last season’s back-up to Harry Kane, Carlos Vinícius, did not have his loan move from Benfica made permanent.
Now you may have noticed that over the course of this article, the drama surrounding Harry Kane has only been mentioned in passing and you may ask yourself why? The answer is twofold.
Firstly, with Kane skipping training, Daniel Levy, who has already come out and stated that the club’s star striker will not be allowed to leave, is hardly likely to weaken this stance in light of the Englishman’s transgressions, for this would set a precedent that such rebellious behaviour is a legitimate method for Spurs’ players to go about getting the moves they desire.
Secondly, if Tottenham’s talisman does leave, it will likely be for a fee in the region of £150 million. Having such a high sum of money to spend in such a small period of time would send the fortune of Tottenham in this upcoming season so far into the unknown that it would be far less worth the time of all of you readers.
After all, how do you replace a man who was both top scorer in the league and top assist maker last season when you have no Champions League football to attract high-profile new faces with? The short answer is you don’t.
Are Tottenham likely to get top 4 this season? No, not unless one of their signings turns out to be a revelation or Dele Alli rediscovers his form of the 2016/17 season that Spurs fans, myself included, like to remind other people about.
However, this should not come as a surprise. The reality is that, perhaps with the exception of their North London neighbours Arsenal, who still have spent £50 million on Ben White this summer, the rest of the ‘big six’ clubs that Tottenham consider to be their rivals have more money to spend than they do and have been putting that on full display.
Manchester United have signed Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane. Manchester City and Chelsea, last season’s Champions League finalists, have both shelled out nine figure sums on a single player, in Jack Grealish and Romelu Lukaku respectively. Although Liverpool have had a comparatively quiet summer, only bringing in Ibrahima Konaté from RB Leipzig, they will also no doubt be stronger, with Virgil Van Dijk and co. returning from injury.
Those four sides look to be a cut above the rest and, bar some calamity, I thoroughly expect them to occupy the top four positions of the table come May next year.
That being said, fears circulating online that Tottenham are set to spiral to a mid-table finish this season look misplaced and if anyone is to challenge those four teams, I would expect either Leicester, who have quietly gone about their business strengthening, or Tottenham to be the side to do it.
Prior to the commencement of last season, Spurs were seen as a shoe-in for the top four by a several pundits and commentators alike, most likely to come third behind title-challenging Liverpool and Manchester City.
It seems fair to say that the current squad is stronger than the one that began the last campaign, especially following Paratici’s recent work in the transfer market. Therefore, pessimism that an Aston Villa side lacking Jack Grealish’s leadership and an Everton side managed by Liverpool legend Rafa Benítez, as well as those noisy North London neighbours are all realistic rivals for Tottenham this campaign is stretched and exaggerated fearmongering.
A platform for greater long-term success is being established too.
On the pitch, Paratici seems determined to decreasing the average age of the squad, which will be key for Tottenham to return to the high-energy style of football synonymous with the Pochettino era.
Off the pitch, success is just over the horizon too. Financially, now that coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, Spurs can begin to generate significant ticket revenue both at games and by hosting corporate sporting events in the club’s 62,850-seater stadium.
The club also appears to be looking to bring in new sponsorship, which may take the form of a training kit sponsor, with American Todd Kline, who was brought in as the club’s Chief Commercial Officer in March, beginning his work, which will hopefully end in the sale of the club’s stadium naming rights.
If you cannot tell, I still really hate the name ‘the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’. It really should be ‘White Hart Lane’, as it is pretty much in the same place, but that’s a debate for another day.
However, whether Nuno will be around long enough to reap the rewards of this long-term financial prosperity remains in question.
Still, with fans’ protests currently focussed on encouraging owners Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy to sell up, Nuno will get a little bit of time before supporters turn on him if bad results begin to pile up.
Just not a lot of time…
Tottenham Hotspur Predicted Finish for the 2021/22 Premier League Season: 6th
We hope you enjoyed this article ‘Tottenham Hotspur 2021/22 Season Preview’. Where do you think the Lilywhites will finish in the Premier League this season? Will new boss Nuno Espírito Santo finally deliver the club some silverware?
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