Why is it that Leicester and Aston Villa can improve their attack despite having a starting striker, but Spurs still use the Kane excuse?
Modern football is incredibly heavily scrutinised. In my lifetime, I have gone from trying to find a Dixons on my lunch break to get score updates on Teletext (miss you, 302) to being able to access whatever level of information I want instantaneously on a smartphone. There is something for all football fans: high-quality tactical insight from studious journalists of leagues all over the world, observations from a plethora of ex-professionals and even ridiculous knee-jerk fan reaction.
There are some parts of football, however, that are not influenced by time. One of these is that scoring goals is pretty important.
Now, you would have thought that this level of basic understanding would not have to be used to analyse a Premier League club, but this rather simple theory seemed to be overlooked by the decision makers at Tottenham in the summer transfer window.
Last season, Harry Kane won the Premier League Golden Boot. Quite rightly, it was seen as a victory for the club and Daniel Levy that they were able to keep him when Manchester City were intent on signing him as Sergio Aguero’s replacement. It would have been impossible for a club playing in the Conference to replace one of the best, if not the best, strikers in the league.
However, in the midst of retaining his services, Spurs seemed to forget that a squad needs more than two players to score goals. Their supporters were told that they were looking for a partner for Kane, with strong speculation that both Lautaro Martinez and Dusan Vlahovic were on their shopping list. Strangely, as the speculation that Kane was leaving ended, funnily enough so did any links to incoming strikers – much like my house search when I realised that I couldn’t sell my current one for the price I wanted. Not to be cynical of course, but it was almost as if those players were being looked at as Kane replacements rather than players to complement him.
It has been a school of thought for a number of years now that, because Spurs have Kane, no other striker of any stature would sign for the club. It is an excuse peddled out during every transfer window. Brief dalliances with Fernando Llorente, key to Spurs reaching the Champions League final, and Carlos Vinicius, scorer of ten goals despite limited appearances last season, don’t appear to have convinced those in charge of transfers at Spurs that it may just be worth trying to sign another player that can score goals in a squad that will potentially play over 60 games this season. Just keep flogging Harry seems to be the order of the day.
Nuno Espirito Santo is almost certainly not the right person to manage Spurs, but it is fair to say he has been dealt a pretty dodgy hand. From last season’s squad, he lost Gareth Bale (scorer of 16 goals last season), the aforementioned Vinicius and the king of shithousery Erik Lamela from his attacking options. That has left him with Lucas Moura (ten goals in his last 62 games), Steven Bergwijn (one goal in his last 43) and Dele Alli (five goals in his last 40) as alternatives to Kane and Heung-min Son, as well as young prospects Dane Scarlett and Bryan Gil.
The paucity of options means that Nuno has two choices going into cup games: rest Kane and Son and accept there is an extremely good chance the team won’t score; or over-play one or both of his most important players.
Last season, Vinicius was able to lighten the burden on Kane by scoring regularly in the cup competitions, but it is up to poor Scarlett to fill that void this season. It would be hard enough for him to excel in a full-strength team but putting him in the mish-mash of players that either want or need to leave the club in the Conference League gives him no chance.
At Burnley on Wednesday, Nuno opted to start Kane and it wasn’t until both he and Son were on the pitch that Spurs scored their only goal. Expect both to be used again in the quarter final.
The absurdity of the situation at Spurs is magnified when you compare it to a number of other clubs, none more so than Leicester. While Nuno was assuring Vitesse Arnhem of a clean sheet last Thursday by fielding his reserve team, Brendan Rodgers was able to bring in new signing Patson Daka to play with another under-used striker in Kelechi Iheanacho. This is a team, let’s not forget, that has an established first-choice striker in Jamie Vardy. That they have managed to bring in a player like Daka highlights the muddled thought process that has existed at Spurs for a number of years now.
Elsewhere in the league, there are various other examples of teams strengthening in the forward areas when they already had strong options. Rightly or wrongly, Manchester United didn’t think twice when Cristiano Ronaldo became available, even though they already had Edinson Cavani. Ollie Watkins was a fantastic lone striker for Aston Villa last season, but they still upgraded their striking department with the signing of Danny Ings. Even Brentford brought in an alternative to Ivan Toney when they signed Yoane Wissa. Any of those options would no doubt have been appreciated by Nuno when he was balancing his selections ahead of league, Conference League and Carabao Cup commitments.
The links to attacking players ahead of the January transfer window have already begun. Spurs supporters are being fed stories about the fact that forward areas will be the priority. It is a cycle that they have seen many times before, but one that must end if they are to have any chance of success this season. It is time for Kane to be given some proper support and indeed competition. When the supporters start to hear the familiar stories that players were unwilling to join towards the end of the transfer window because of the presence of Kane, they will be far too wise to believe it. That theory was shown to be Daka’d in the summer.
Steve Sanders – follow him on Twitter
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