Simmering beneath the dejection and defiance in the aftermath of defeat in the Champions League final was a feeling that this Tottenham side may have reached the very end of a natural cycle.
It has been an epic journey together. They will never forget those acts of escapology in the group phase, that equaliser in Barcelona, the nerve-shredding tension of VAR-assisted victory at Manchester City, or the emotional high in Amsterdam.
They came up short in Madrid but, as Harry Kane made for the bus with ear-plugs in and eyes fixed on the floor, and Moussa Sissoko pulled up his hood and avoided eye contact, key questions were already forming…
Tottenham’s Champions League final defeat seemed like the very end of a natural cycle
Pochettino after a new challenge?
Certainly, this is the end of Project Poch 1. Even the man himself says it is time for a ‘new chapter’, time to ‘think like a big club’, with a glittering new stadium to go with their status as Champions League finalists.
More cryptic comments about Mauricio Pochettino’s own future as Tottenham manager, however, only served to fuel doubts about whether there will be Project Poch 2. Is he hankering after a different challenge, as he hinted before the Champions League semi-final? Or was that for effect, to apply pressure on chairman Daniel Levy?
Post-match in Madrid, Pochettino said it was a time to be ‘proud’ and ‘positive’ but ‘not a moment to talk’ about his own situation. All questions to the players about their manager were shut down by club press officers.
There are doubts over whether or not Mauricio Pochettino plans on staying much longer
If there is not an issue — and sources close to Spurs do not expect him to quit with four years left on his contract — then one has been artificially created for whatever reason.
Last season ended with similar noises from the manager about the need to ‘be brave’ and ‘take risks’ in the quest for ‘the biggest trophies’.
In fact, nothing changed: they signed no one, kept everyone and produced a successful season. The overriding feeling inside the camp is they cannot afford to repeat this policy. There is money to spend and the squad needs energising, but it is a balancing act.
On the move
Christian Eriksen was so long the creative heartbeat of this team but his form has faded, only a year remains on his contract and his mind is set on leaving. He has no intention of discussing a new deal, wants to play in Spain and Real Madrid will move for him. Levy has made it known negotiations will start at north of £100million.
Toby Alderweireld, also a year from the end of his contract, has a clause which entitles him to leave for just £25m. Manchester United have long-standing interest and such a move would be lucrative. But to swap White Hart Lane for Old Trafford is to trade down to the Europa League. There is a suspicion Alderweireld plans to leave on a free at the end of his contract.
Of the other, Fernando Llorente and Michel Vorm are out of contract, and Jan Vertonghen has signed for one more year, but there is a feel of a natural break-up and a need to reinvest.
Spurs will try to offload Victor Wanyama, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Vincent Janssen (again), and will consider offers for first-choice full backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier.
Christian Eriksen looks on during what was most likely his final game for Tottenham
After 18 months without signings, the Tottenham squad needs the tonic of new faces and the top priority is two new midfielders, with the club depleted by Mousa Dembele’s exit in January, Wanyama’s unreliability and Eric Dier’s problems with injury and illness.
Tanguy Ndombele is the club’s top target and they are committed to working hard for this transfer, but the France international will not come cheap. Lyon want more than £80m, double Tottenham’s record transfer.
Other clubs are also interested and that rarely plays out well for Spurs, who are thought to have a transfer kitty of around £50m plus whatever they can raise from sales.
They are already moving on Argentina midfielder Giovani Lo Celso, who has an £88m buy-out clause, and Real Betis are preparing to cash-in on the player they signed for £20m from PSG in January. Summer bids for full backs Ryan Sessegnon, of Fulham, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, of Crystal Palace, are also planned. A lack of ‘home-grown’ players left Spurs short in their UEFA squad this season.
Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele is the club’s top target in the summer transfer window
They will need invention if they lose Eriksen, and are keen on Nicolo Zaniolo, of Roma, and Donny van de Beek, of Ajax. The model remains to target young prospects with years ahead and potential resale value.
Wilfried Zaha, looking for a move out of Palace, is likely to cost too much, and hopes of signing Jack Grealish this summer have vanished with Aston Villa’s promotion. There is no interest in Andre Gomes, who was on loan at Everton from Barcelona last season, despite persistent links.
Tottenham have plenty of talent in the building and will hope players return to form after a summer’s rest. No team were more diminished by World Cup exertions and it took its toll on the thinnest squad of the Premier League’s big six clubs.
England stars Kane, Trippier, Dele Alli and Dier have all suffered injuries since playing in Russia. Hugo Lloris has been uncharacteristically erratic. They and others need to rest bodies and minds, but they will be back. ‘We have a great team,’ Vertonghen said after the final. ‘Hopefully everyone can stay together and we can achieve great things.
‘We can take confidence from this season. We did very well, it was very exciting, it was great to experience this but we didn’t come here as tourists. We wanted to win and we failed. Today we live with disappointment and we’ll see what happens in the summer.’
The likes of midfielder Dele Alli will benefit hugely from having a full summer to rest
Building from defeat
Liverpool did it. Liverpool came back from disappointment in Kiev 12 months ago to produce a fabulous season in the biggest competitions and reclaim the European title. It was done with heavy recruitment, as Pochettino is never slow to point out.
Goalkeeper Alisson Becker (£65m) was commanding in the final. Virgil van Dijk (£75m) is arguably the world’s best centre half since rising to the Anfield challenge. Fabinho (£43m) and Naby Keita (£53m) bolster Liverpool’s midfield.
If the recruitment policy is sound, such huge fees can still deliver good value and Pochettino feels Spurs should compete in this market if they are to move on. Deep down, though, the feeling is they are not about to cut loose.
Harry Kane walks past the Champions League trophy following Saturday’s defeat
‘It is difficult to compare both projects,’ said captain Lloris when asked about following Liverpool’s example. ‘There is one club who sets out to win every competition in which they play, and that is not the case with Tottenham.
‘We work and try to stick with the philosophy of the board, manager and the club. We look to improve every season and we have shown improvements year after year, so we now cannot throw everything in the bin after a Champions League final defeat.
‘It’s been a big step for the club and the only thing we can look to do is come back stronger next season.’
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