Last summer’s Gareth “Bale Out” put 91 million Euros in Tottenham’s coffers, albeit at the expense of one of the world’s best players. Add in the sales of Steven Caulker (Cardiff City), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Tom Huddlestone (Hull City), and Scott Parker (Fulham), and Spurs pocketed 117.3 million Euros in transfer fees last summer. That’s not quite AIG money, but it’s still a nice boost.
But you already knew all that, just as you probably knew the team threw all that money back into last year’s market. Between the early signing of Paulinho to Christian Eriksen’s deadline day move, Spurs paid out €116 million in fees for seven players by the end that window. Come the third week of the season, André Villas-Boas had a completely re-worked squad.
One year and two coaches later, it’s still nuclear how well Spurs spent their money. For every Eriksen, there’s a Roberto Soldado, with even the new successes mitigated by last year’s returns. Some players who thrived upon their arrivals are non-factors now, while a talent like Erik Lamela is just starting to provide returns.
In the wake of Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood, it’s now Mauricio Pochettino’s job to leverage last year’s investment. Though the team’s built an enviable attacking midfield, some of the other Bale Out assets may need to move on:
This time last year, Paulinho looked like a perfect fit for the Premier League, his ability to jump into attack from deep in midfield drawing comparisons to Frank Lampard. Through eight rounds of the current season, the Brazilian international’s only logged 29 league minutes, his style appreciated less by Pochettino than the previous regime. Too bad Zenit’s already overloaded in the middle, because having scored six times in his Premier League debut (as a 25-year-old), there’s clearly a productive player in there.
Chadli’s become the anti-Paulinho, albeit at a much lesser cost. The attacking midfielder struggled to claim a regular league spot under Villa-Boas and Tim Sherwood, making only 15 starts (24 appearances, total) last season, but since Pochettino’s arrival, the 25-year-old Belgian has been one of his club’s most important attackers. With four goals in seven league games, Chadli is Spurs’ leading scorer, with his spike in production a warning against judging anybody (including this year’s strugglers) on one season’s performance.
At this point, Soldado has had more than one season to impress. And at this point, the former Valencia focal point hasn’t come close to doing so. Despite the penalty spot fueling a superficially strong start to the 2013-14 season, the Spaniard has only six league goals in 31 appearances (23 starts). In five games this season (England and Europe), Soldado has played a goalless 230 minutes. His inability to get on the scoresheet confirms why Sherwood dropped him for Emmanuel Adebayor.
Injuries slowed the France international during his first season at White Hart Lane, but since Pochettino’s arrival, Capoue has established himself as part of Spurs’ midfield bedrock. Starting each of the team’s first eight league games, the versatile 26-year-old has almost eclipsed the playing time he saw in his debut (685 minutes last year; 678, this). While his new boss continues to search for a steady co-pilot in Tottenham’s double pivot, Capoue is one of five players to make every start.
It’s tempting to copy and paste Paulinho’s section here, because to a lesser extent, the same thing’s happened to Chirches. Although the Romanian international was brought in much later in the year’s summer window (as in, the next-to-last day), he saw a lot of playing time early under Villas-Boas. Then AVB got canned, Sherwood came in, and Chirches’ life got worse. Sherwood’s affinity for Michael Dawson and Chirches’s winter back injury meant the Steaua import finished with only 16 starts.
This year, he’s on pace for nine, though an early season injury has some influence on that total. Of late, however, Chiriches looks like a squad player and a Europa League specialist, with his last Premier League appearance coming on Sept. 21. In between, Chiriches has played twice for Romania, once in Europa, and helped Spurs see Nottingham Forest out of the League Cup. Italy may be in his future.
If Chiriches and Paulinho’s arcs suggest last year’s buys can be lumped into groups, slot Lamela in with Chadli as second year successes. After being derailed last year after his own injury problems, Lamela’s flashing the form that made him one of the Italian Serie A’s best players in 2012-13. Though he’s yet to score this season, Lamela has started all eight games in attacking midfield, recording a team-leading three assists while generating 1.8 chances per game.
Lamela is exactly the type of talent a person like Pochettino dreams of when justifying a move from Southampton to Spurs, but he’s also a talent that was relatively wasted last year. Between the transition from Italy to England, his assimilation into a new culture (he was only 21 when he moved), Spurs’ managerial chaos, and his injuries, Lamela suffered a lost season. At his core, however, he’s still the same player that scored 15 times as a 21-year-old for Roma.
Eriksen is the only Spur that’s creating more chances than Lamela; at the same time, he’s been on the business end of a lot of his teammate’s good work. With three goals, and creating 1.9 chances per match, Eriksen is playing his part in one of the most talented attacking midfields in the league, though unlike Lamela and Chadli, it didn’t take him a season to find this level of production. Since moving to North London from Amsterdam last fall, the Danish international has 11 goals and eight assists in 33 league appearances.
And like Lamela, he’s only 22. In fact, of the seven players Daniel Levy and co. brought in last summer, six are still between 22 and 26 (Soldado is now 29). Provided they can be kept together (or, in the case of Chirches and Paulinho, cashed in on), Tottenham has a core that could return the club to Champions League – if not now, then in the years to come.
But as Villas-Boas and Sherwood found out, that core’s young age is no excuse for a middling present, and although Pochettino is as respected a name as Levy could have hoped to land, the team is still off to an uncertain start. After today’s 4-1 defeat at Manchester City, Spurs sit eighth in the Premier League, have only scored 10 times in eight games, and carry a -1 goal difference.
Perhaps most worrisome: The team’s only won one of its last six league games. While it’s far too soon to cast judgement on Pochettino, his key talents have been on staff long enough to settle. After they get used to their new boss, it will be time for last year’s Bale Out to start paying off.