Tottenham are mired in mediocrity created by Daniel Levy and Franco Baldini - but Mauricio Pochettino is the one who could pay

The not-so-magnificent seven bought with the Gareth Bale money have failed to make the grade - something the chairman and technical director have not taken responsibility for

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The Independent Football

At White Hart Lane last season, the comedian Michael McIntyre would occasionally be invited by the club’s directors to pop into the home dressing room and chat to the players. As celebrity match-going fans go, McIntyre is just about the most famous Tottenham have, although the situation was always made a little awkward by the fact that few of the squad’s foreign contingent had a clue as to who this titan of British Saturday night television was. For all his much-vaunted overnight success and attendant wealth, the joke was that he still earned less than Emmanuel Adebayor.

Those were better days, of course, when sixth place was secured by Tim Sherwood’s short-lived regime, not least thanks to the efforts of Adebayor. He is still there, albeit on the margins once again and called upon as a substitute by Mauricio Pochettino as things became increasingly desperate in his side’s 2-1 home defeat to Stoke City on Sunday. Adebayor has another year on his contract after this, and he may well feel he is destined to see off his fourth Spurs manager.

The club are back in a familiar kind of crisis, with a manager under pressure and a squad that is in greater need of rebuilding than White Hart Lane itself. When the only weekend consolation for Spurs is that Arsenal lost too, the fans can be sure that these are worrying times. At the same stage last season Andre Villas-Boas’s team were  six points better off and five places higher up the league table – and he was gone by mid-December.

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The source of Spurs’ problems is no mystery. Between them, chairman Daniel Levy and technical director Franco Baldini blew the Gareth Bale transfer fee in the summer of 2013 on seven players who have struggled to varying degrees. Through Villas-Boas, Sherwood and now Pochettino there has been an unwillingness from Levy and Baldini to concede they were wrong about the £110m they spent. All they have succeeded in proving was just how irreplaceable Bale really was.

Only three of those seven started the defeat to Stoke. Christian Eriksen, by far the best performer of the seven over the last 17 months, was so poor he was substituted at half-time. Etienne Capoue was replaced by Adebayor. Erik Lamela came on as a substitute. Only Nacer Chadli, the goalscorer, completed the game, with Pochettino preferring a selection that featured four academy-produced players.

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The Brazil international Paulinho, who fell out of favour under Sherwood, has not started a Premier League game this season. Vlad Chiriches, currently injured, has started only two. No one embodies the failure of the summer of 2013 more than Roberto Soldado, supposed to herald Spurs’ arrival as big players in the European transfer market and instead parked on the bench, his value plummeting faster than Tesco’s share price.

Garth Crooks memorably described the sale of Bale and the acquisition of the seven new players as Spurs having “sold Elvis Presley and bought The Beatles” – a metaphor that will never grow old as long as the seven are at the club. Spurs had hoped for the White Album. What they ended up with is something that appears to be more like “We All Stand Together”.

Pochettino’s attitude towards those acquired by the club in the summer has hardly been any more enthusiastic. Ben Davies and Benjamin Stambouli are yet to start a Premier League game. Federico Fazio has started just one, Sunday’s defeat to Stoke. It is not as if the options in central defence are compelling, with Younes Kaboul proving one of the most bizarre choices for captain in recent Premier League history.

Spurs’ squad is a study in mediocrity. With the exception of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, and Adebayor on his good days, it is a strange confection in which the usual hierarchy that exists in most squads is hard to discern. Pochettino seems to be guided by the occasional spike in form, like Harry Kane’s, in making his choices. It is little wonder that he does not seem to know his best team.

During Stoke’s win, the home fans sang plaintively to Peter Crouch about his winner in happier times against Milan in San Siro in February 2011. Crouch was sold against his wishes the following September, another sacrifice to the relentless progress that Levy has imagined for his club. Spurs and Levy have always been dictated by the belief that there must be a younger, cheaper, better upgrade out there; a never-ending appetite for the transfer trade that has resulted in the current malaise.

 

At some point you have to assume that Baldini will carry the can for the summer of 2013. It is remarkable that he has lasted as long as he has, although he will surely not out-stay Pochettino. The manager himself has that haunted look although he is not yet at the stage that Villas-Boas reached in his refusal to recall Adebayor, the proverbial drowning man who would sooner swim ashore than grab the side of the lifeboat.

Still, the signs on Sunday were gloomy. As well as Adebayor, Pochettino has left out Jan Vertonghen, whose reputation as one of the best players in the team is at odds with the verdict of his two most recent managers – both of whom have had cause to drop him. Vertonghen has already served notice that he will not be signing a new contract, which means his value is on the slide, too.

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Jan Vertonghen in action for Tottenham

 

The list of teams that have beaten Spurs at home in the league this season is not exactly a roll call of the most dangerous opponents – Liverpool, West Bromwich Albion, Newcastle United, Stoke. The only consolation being that they took just four points from those four fixtures last season. Nevertheless, they have still to play Chelsea twice in the next two months, the second time at White Hart Lane over new year, four days after the visit of Manchester United.

Spurs’ record against the big sides was lamentable last season and it was that which finished Villas-Boas off. The 5-0 defeat to Liverpool came after three wins, two of them in the league. The concern for Pochettino as he looks back on his 11 league games in charge is that the best result so far has been a win against the kind of shrewd, high-flying, over-achieving club that Spurs aspire to be. That, of course, was Southampton.

 

Rooney was on his own when starting out for England

For all the pressure on Wayne Rooney as he approaches a century of England caps on Saturday it is a reality that much of it has been because for a long time he was the only one of his generation to make the grade. For those current England players who are close to his age, such as Gary Cahill, Leighton Baines, and James Milner, it was a much slower process.

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Wayne Rooney in action for England

 

When he started out more than 11 years ago, Rooney was the one outstanding teenager of his generation. Milner, another child prodigy, did not make his England debut until more than six years later. As the likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw push through, at least they will have the consolation that all the expectation does not rest on them as individuals alone.

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