playing the game

When the clock struck midnight GMT on Tuesday and brought an end to another hectic transfer window for Spurs, I admit that I was initially left a bit dumbfounded by the moves the club made. Who did we bring in? They’re both over 33! Has Levy lost it?!?!

tottenham's ryan nelsen

spurs signing blackburn's ryan nelsen (above) and everton's louis saha, both considered past it by lower clubs, didn't exactly show "ambition". or did it?

I angrily hashed out an outline for a scathing post — rife with references to nursing homes and a need for another ambulance on match days — detailing how these aren’t the type of players that a club supposedly harboring title ambitions should be signing, and that they shipped off players who were better than the players replacing them. However, as fits of rage tend to do to me, I was too worn out and frustrated to complete the article that night.

The workday on Wednesday provided me ample opportunity to further reflect on the transfers. And the more I thought about it, a potentially bigger plan seemed to unfold from them. Maybe there was more to these signings than I had initially thought.

Let’s take a deeper look at the departures from White Hart Lane, first:

  • Roman Pavlyuchenko finally engineered his long awaited exit from the club with a reported £7.5 million move to Lokomotiv Moscow. Aged 30, he’s nearly four years younger than the man who replaced him in Spurs strike corps. Yet despite showing flashes of an ability to produce brilliance, his inconsistency led him to spend most of his time in North London on the bench, bitching about lack of first team chances and/or pining for a transfer. Either way, Pav moving on was always the most likely move to happen this January.
  • Sébastien Bassong — another player frequently linked with a move away from Spurs — departed to Wolves on loan, with an option to buy at the end of the season for what’s expected to be a fee of around £4.5 million. Though not a bad player when not caught with his pants down, he was rather prone to a major error now and again.  At nearly a decade the junior to his replacement, and with a severely depleted Tottenham back line, Bassong’s departure was one that left me the most worried.
  • Steven Pienaar’s return to Everton on loan was also another puzzler. With Lennon struggling for fitness, and Gareth Bale’s style of play always seeming to invite a crunching tackle, Spurs aren’t exactly up to their teeth in wingers at the moment. Though not as direct as Bale or Lennon, Pienaar was a great player to be able to bring off the bench. But thanks to a long injury lay off, Harry never really grew that fond of the guy, so a move wasn’t that unexpected.
  • former tottenham striker, roman pavlyuchenko

    getting rid of pav's high wages and poor attitude will be more beneficial than if spurs had held on to him through the summer.

    Vedran Ćorluka’s loan to Bayer Leverkusen, much like Pienaar, leaves Tottenham dangerously thin at the right back slot. At 25, he’s also significantly younger than his replacement, and he was never a player I bemoaned to see on the pitch due to his comfort on the ball. But, with speed a priority in Spurs style of play, Charlie’s propensity to look like he had a refrigerator strapped to his back while running made him a prime suspect to move on. Although I suspect this move is more to do with him securing a spot in Croatia’s Euro squad than a want to leave the club.

What’s the one thing all of those players has in common? They’re all players in their prime that were desperate for first team football.

Securing money now for Pavlyuchenko was clutch, as a poor performance at the Euros would have severely deflated his sell on value in the summer — something strikers are particularly at risk of during major tournaments. But loan moves for the rest were brilliant bits of business, too. All three are likely to feature prominently for their new temporary sides for various reasons (injuries, league position, etc.) so if they perform well, Spurs will be in position to ask for larger sums for them all come the summer.

Now let’s take a look at Spurs two arrivals:

  • Louis Saha comes with the stigma of being old and injury prone. Despite that, and much like Pav, he’s still capable of producing a moment of magic. Even better though — and very unlike the Russian — is that he’s actually still capable of producing a match-dominating performance. Though with only two goals this term, one would hope being surrounded by higher quality players will bring that out of him more frequently.
  • Ryan Nelsen also arrives with a dodgy fitness history, but a boatload of experience to balance. He captained the only side at South Africa 2010 that left the competition without a loss. Nelsen has 172 Premier League caps to his name, and was a major contributor to Blackburn Rover’s relegation-staving efforts last season after forming a formidable partnership with oft-Spurs target Chris Samba. And his four year spell with D.C. United also inspires… confidence. Yeah.

So what do these elder statesmen have in common? They are proven veterans — a.k.a. Premier League Experienced Players – who know that they’ll have to fight if they want to see playing time, and won’t pitch too big a fit if they don’t make the starting XI. Oh yeah, and they were both FREE and are likely on significantly less wages than the players they replaced.. Considering that both have signed relatively short contracts, if neither works out, we’ll be rid of them quickly without having to pay anything extra.

Effectively, we’ve swapped skilled back-ups with problematic attitudes for slightly-less skilled back-ups AND stayed cash-positive. On closer inspection (and assuming that our loaned players perform well), the moves actually set the stage for Spurs having enough to make a bid for a world class player or two in the summer.

Combining the £8m for Pav, plus conservative estimates for cash from the sales of Bassong (£5m), Pienaar (£6m), and Ćorluka (£6m) in the summer, and you’re left with at least £25 million. Further sales of fringe players such as Giovanni dos Santos and potential Champoins League money could easily raise that total.

athletic bilbao's fernando llorente

with levy saving money this window, it could clear the way for a massive buy in the summer. i'd prefer that move to be for this guy.

For that kind of money, you could make a pretty big big splash in the transfer market. Loïc Rémy, Bafetimbi Gomis, Leandro Damião and — most preferably – Fernando Llorente, are all players within reach with that much cash in Levy’s back pocket. Even if they have to pay over the odds for that elite striker we’ve all been craving, there should still be enough left over to buy cover at right back, on the flanks, or in the center of defense.

So while this revelation obviously has me excited, I’m not stupid enough to not see that this plan also has tons of potential pitfalls.

The most glaring and obvious problem Levy’s thriftiness has caused us is the current crisis at right back. With Walker picking up a hamstring injury in the win against Wigan on Tuesday, Ćorluka off to Germany, and the young Adam Smith loaned to Leeds, there are no fit, natural right backs in the side. Sure, Kaboul and Nelsen can deputize, but they’re not exactly comforting options.

Even more concerning is how confident Levy seems to feel that Tottenham are going to finish in the top four. If he wasn’t that confident, would he have resisted his penny-pinching ways and kept the better players on the books? I don’t know the answer to that question, if you’re waiting for a response… hence my concern.

Look, Dan Levy has played the game that is the transfer market far better than any other manager/sporting director in the top six over the last two years. And though this January’s moves don’t seem the shrewd on the surface, they could pay off and pave the way to Tottenham establishing themselves as a new force in the Premier League.

But if we somehow manage to shit the bed and slip out of the top four, I have no doubt that the whole house will go to hell. Falling out of the Champions League means we’ll no longer have any incentive to offer Bale or Modrić to stay. They’ll likely have to sell one, if not both. While that’s another £70 million to spend, it’s even more to replace.

And if that happens, I’ll be really, really pissed that I didn’t write that scathing post I had originally planned.

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