The current manager prefers systems and coaching to the annual transfer tombola. A decent full-back here. And beyond this the shadow signings, the scratchcard players, a medium-term gamble-by-numbers with all the usual human wastage.
It must be said the failure of the Sons Of Bale isn’t quite as clearcut as is often suggested. The most interesting thing about Spurs last season wasn’t the failure of the Magnificently Mismatched Seven, but the evidence of real internal health, with five former youth players in the first team. With this in mind, perhaps in time the passing of Vlad might even be viewed with a little fuzzy nostalgia, not so much burying the dead as waving goodbye to the years of living just a little bit dangerously.
There was a collective shrug this week at the news that Spurs defender Vlad Chiriches is on the verge of a move to Fiorentina. This is hardly unique to Tottenham. Beyond that there have been two expensive failures in Iberian goal-disaster Soldado and the meandering semi-brilliance of Érik Lamela.
Others have stepped up.
It has been fascinating watching Levy balance the books in the middle of all this. Two hundred players have come and gone in the last 10 years, one Bale, a Carrick, a Modric for every handful of Bostocks and Taarabts. By the end of the summer we could have reached a tipping point in the dissolution of the Magnificent Seven, that odd-job of players signed in a hurry in the summer of 2013 from the proceeds of Gareth Bale’s sale to m88 Real Madrid.
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From the outside this is a huge disappointment. The B-list, there to thicken the squad. As the transfer window gasps and sweats its way through the usual high-summer Sahara of inanity there is a newfound starchiness about Spurs’ recruitment, a rolling back from all the fun and frolic towards the youth-oriented austerity promised by Daniel Levy in the spring. Which was, come to think of it, not that dissimilar to what happened when you were back in England occasionally playing centre-back for Tottenham Hotspur.
The argument against all this acquisitiveness is that Spurs have often gone too far into the Levy-ball schtick, building a squad out of loose change and kindling. West Ham are a little Spurs-curious. At the top end there are three types of transfers now. Liverpool have been buying Spurs players for a while now. That summer Spurs also sold four other first-team players, who between them pretty much covered the incoming Capoue, Paulinho, Chiriches and Nacer Chadli. In Levy’s 14 years as chairman Spurs have been called “a selling club”, but this is to underestimate the sheer churn of players though what has been more a kind of clearing house, a talent exchange. Buy Younès Kaboul! Sell Younès Kaboul! Even last summer there was the beautifully incomprehensible three-man Swansea boondoggle involving Ben Davis, Michel Vorm and Gylfi Sigurdsson.
Farewell, then, Vlad. It’s been all too brief. Lamela, for example,who can rabona the ball into the top corner from 20 yards and then spend half an hour wandering about looking at his own feet, as though entranced by their own occasional splendour, or Rafael van der Vaart, all frictionless, gliding talent, no muscle tone.
If Chiriches does go it will be a significant departure for other reasons. During his two years in the Premier League Chiriches has looked a little startled, a little haunted, a man just about prepared to go along with the basic concept of playing football without ever being quite convinced it isn’t an elaborate practical joke, and destined to spend his Thursday nights stumbling and stuttering in super slow motion on ITV4 while Peter Reid looks sad in a swivel chair.. The training ground is a pastoral powerhouse. It has, let’s face it, been a brilliant ride. Spurs fans might object that the best moments have come when they have held on to their best players, however briefly, but this has still been a period of rare, sustained success gathered in on the hoof, with six straight seasons in the top six. Étienne Capoue and Paulinho have already left White Hart Lane. A low-risk France Under-21s international there. At the same time, for all the fiddling about with the cash flow, the returns and impulse buys, Spurs have become richer and more stable simply by virtue of being a Premier League team at the right time in the right city, with a new ground in the offing and the club’s value steadily creeping up.
Maybe because Levy himself is a long-time Tottenham fan these passing hands have still tended to be identifiably “Spurs players”, what we might call the Genuine Stambouli: twinkly things, all lovely fluffy edges, capable of divine little moments of skill even while playing just four matches all season and being sold on for a £2m profit a year later.
It is in this last category that Spurs have tended to go to excess, building a squad out of casino chips and stock market punts. Roberto Soldado is “available”. The A-list, a minority signed to improve the first team. They really do seem to mean it this time.
One thing is certain. Spurs, it seems, are no longer signing Spurs players.
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And really it probably is time to move on from all that chanciness and churn. Spurs, though, not so much. And yet perhaps the best part is that it basically worked. The Bale money may have been spent badly but it was at least spent with the same grand plan in mind, the fascination with a certain type: teens-to-mid-20s, prodigiously, if unevenly talented, but still with half a fingernail lodged in the lift doors up towards being genuinely top class. For the Bale money Christian Eriksen has been a lovely, gossamer, wispy little No10, both oddly peripheral and oddly incisive at the same time. Although we will at least always have that YouTube video where, in between occasionally playing centre-back for Tottenham Hotspur, you went to Romania and staggered about looking drunk and falling over a lot in the snow. A fevered kind of stasis was maintained. It does all feel quite a long way away now
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