A new era awaits Tottenham Hotspur as they prepare to move into their revamped £800 million (Dh3.8 billion) home, but the same issues have bedeviled a frustrating pre-season.
The 62,062-seat venue in North London will provide the Premier League with yet another iconic arena when fellow title challengers Liverpool come to town on September 15.
A challenge awaits manager Mauricio Pochettino in his fifth campaign at the helm to take the final step and transform arguably the competition’s strongest XI into a team that wins silverware.
But the uncompromising figure of chairman Daniel Levy looms large. Spurs are the only side in the competition to come into the final week of the transfer window without making any first-team additions, or sales.
L 4-1 Girona
W 1-0 AC Milan
D 2-2 Barcelona
W 4-1 Roma
Tottenham have paid the price for their success.
Nine members of their celebrated roster made World Cup 2018’s semi-finals, meaning a depleted side was taken to the United States. This number included Golden Boot holder Harry Kane, France’s winning captain Hugo Lloris and key midfielder Dele Alli.
A situation, of course, that has not been helped by the dust collecting on the club’s chequebook.
Denmark’s Christian Eriksen, Colombia’s Davinson Sanchez and South Korea’s Son Heung-min – who will be absent later this month because of the Asian Games – were all available for the 4-1 friendly victory against Roma in San Diego as their International Champions Cup commitments began in style.
French winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou then staked his claim to avoid another loan spell away with successive goals in the 2-2 draw with La Liga champions Barcelona in California and the 1-0 victory against AC Milan in Minneapolis.
This feel-good factor came to a shuddering halt in Girona when a Spurs side peppered with youngsters went down to a 4-1 loss.
The visitors had taken the lead through Brazil forward Lucas Moura’s fierce free-kick.
Key outs: Keanan Bennetts – Borussia Monchengladbach, undisclosed, Anton Walkes – Portsmouth, undisclosed
Levy has become infamous for leaving his dealings to the last minute and refusing to budge an inch.
The 56-year-old has become almost a parody of this image since 2017/18 came to an end.
Links to Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and Tottenham’s Jack Grealish have, thus far, come to naught with Thursday’s deadline moving ever closer.
“We are working so hard but still we are like it’s the first day of the transfer window – with no signings,” Pochettino said.
“I think I am not the person to explain it.”
Spurs’ best piece of business came in June when captain Kane inked a six-year contract, putting talk of Real Madrid’s interest to bed.
But Pochettino’s mood is hardly likely to be lifted by the fact several high-profile departures may precede any arrivals.
Tottenham have been haggling all summer with Manchester United about Belgium centre-back Toby Alderweireld. Brinkmanship between Levy and opposite number Ed Woodward has seen last term’s runners-up linked to a number of alternative options as they attempt to put the squeeze on.
England left-back Danny Rose and Belgium centre midfielder Mousa Dembele are also reported to be available, if the price is right.
Alarm has also been caused by the expected decision of highly promising striker Reo Griffiths, who scored 33 goals for the Under-18s last season, to join Lyon.
Home is where the Hart is
All the teething problems and sense of temporariness during a year on the road at Wembley Stadium will have been worth it for 2017/18’s third-placed finishers when they step out at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Talk of a ‘Wembley curse’ grew interminable when Chelsea put a 19-game unbeaten home run to an end last August.
They would only fall to defeat once more, showing the character and resolve inherent within the ranks. Now, just one more fixture awaits under the arches – versus promoted Fulham on August 18 – before the big move.
White Hart Lane is change beyond all recognition. But 2016/17’s final campaign saw them go unbeaten in the top flight, also racking up a remarkable 14 victories in succession.
Upon such form are title challenges built.
Lucas is shining light
Brazil forward Lucas Moura was always likely to be a medium-term project for Spurs.
He arrived from Paris Saint-Germain in January after making just six substitute appearances in the first half of 2017/18.
Pochettino used his new buy sparingly in the Premier League, where his six run-outs generated one assist.
There are signs this patience was worthwhile. The highlight of the summer for him came with a two-goal haul against Roma.
Fill in the gaps
Tottenham’s transfer inactivity could not have come at a worse time.
With World Cup absentees almost counted in double digits when the pre-season action began, Pochettino has had precious little time on the training ground to iron out any kinks or work on the tactical variations required to chase down runaway champions Manchester City.
It is only natural to feel frustration, even though Levy has always been renowned for his parsimony and a new stadium must be paid for.
There was also a sense that last term saw a backwards step taken by Spurs. Even one elite, early addition would have lifted the mood and sent out a message of intent.
Now, Spurs are left scrambling.
Son will be missed
A pragmatic agreement was reached with South Korea this month for forward Son Heung-min to potentially miss several matches at the Asian Games, with the wider prize of potentially dodging his nation’s 21-month military service if a gold medal is won.
Son will be present for August 11’s opener against Newcastle. But he could then be missing until September 2, during which three top-flight games will take place – including a visit to Manchester United.
With zero activity in the transfer market, Spurs will miss an electric attacker who plundered 12 Premier League goals last term.
Spurs’ reticence and brinkmanship in the transfer market has overshadowed what should be a positive move to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The fact that history repeats itself in almost every window does not lessen the frustration for Pochettino and the supporters.
Results have been mixed, albeit with the mitigation of World Cup absentees.
The pressure is on to turn promise into trophies. It will take a fevered Thursday to think Pochettino has been provided with the means to take this giant, final step.
Unfortunately, though he showed flashes of his potential, he was just short of his preseason form and couldn’t prevent his side from falling to a 2-0 loss.
Here’s a closer look at his performance.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 2
Shots on target – 1
Key Passes – 0
Passing Accuracy – 90%
Dribbles – 1
Hudson-Odoi’s biggest advantage in preseason was that he was quicker than the defenders facing up to him. On Sunday, however, he had Kyle Walker lining up against him, and that pace advantage was negated, limiting the youngster’s effectiveness.
However, he still showed glimpses of the talent that had observers purring during the summer, outshining some of his senior Chelsea colleagues.
Decision-making – The young Englishman was smart on the ball, completing some crisp passes in the final third and also showing an unexpected maturity. He wasn’t running up cul-de-sacs trying to dribble his way out of trouble – unlike Pedro, Chelsea’s other wide player.
Running at the defence – Hudson-Odoi’s pace and ability on the ball kept driving City back, even if they had him contained by the end.
Hudson-Odoi again proving he is the main threat for Chelsea, despite being only 17-years-old. Very difficult to stop when he runs at you, even if you're a world class defender. #CFC #MCFC #CommunityShield— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) August 5, 2018
Though Hudson-Odoi looked confident whenever he was on the ball, he seemed a little timid without it – he should have been demanding his teammates to find him more often. Only Alvaro Morata had fewer touches than his 35 among the Chelsea starters. Hopefully he gets more minutes and grows in confidence in order to command his team’s attention as much as opposing defences’.
Against a City defence well aware of the threat Chelsea’s young sensation poses, and well-equipped to deal with it, Hudson-Odoi still ended up being his side’s most dangerous attacking player. There are definitely kinks to work out in his game, and he wasn’t as effective as in his previous summer performances, but this was still a display full of promise.
“Sometimes we talk, we text, we send messages to each other via WhatsApp. He is a great manager, I really enjoyed working with him. I hope I can work with him again someday.”
Doesn’t it just warm your heart to see these words, spoken by a current Premier League footballer, reflecting glowingly on his time spent with a previous manager.
Believe us you must though, as this was said by the Blues’ brilliant Brazilian about a man many football analysts will have you believe is a terrible tyrant, hell-bent on tearing players’ promising careers to shreds and sabotaging his own in the process.
For all his success as a coach, the Portuguese has worn out his welcome wherever he has gone.
Trophies have been hoovered up with regularity since the Primeira Liga was procured with Porto in his native Portugal in 2002/03. The Champions League followed a year later and thus began the magical Mourinho era.
But it is alarming that success hasn’t yielded stability. Strip away the trophies and there are plenty of flaws – namely the stigma that he doesn’t develop youth and several bitter and very public fallouts with players.
“I am Jose Mourinho and I don’t change. I arrive with all my qualities and my defects,” the Special One famously said upon his unveiling as Real Madrid boss in 2010.
In 2013, after La Liga, the Copa del Rey and Supercopa de Espana were lifted, he was gone. Fraught relationships with Sergio Ramos and Iker Casillas contributed to his downfall.
A turbulent ending to his spell in charge of Los Blancos was the catalyst for Mourinho’s mystique to begin unravelling.
He shipped both Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne off to Fiorentina and Wolfsburg respectively during his second stint at Stamford Bridge – they have since returned to England with Liverpool and Manchester City and are arguably the Premier League’s two shining lights.
Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata, Kaka, David Luiz, Eden Hazard, Mario Balotelli and even compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo are other high-profile players he has fallen out with over the years.
Last term, Paul Pogba became the latest at Manchester United, Mourinho benching him in favour of Scott McTominay, of all players, for a period of the season.
Third-season syndrome is often a phrase that gets tagged to his career. He has never lasted longer at any of the six clubs he has coached – with the dreaded third term in charge of United upon us.
And after a campaign of wide ranging discontent among Red Devils fans and a summer of strife in the transfer market, many believe the devilish Mourinho won’t last at Old Trafford beyond 2018/19.
Luke Shaw, Antony Martial and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have felt the poison of Mourinho’s words. But while many pulverise him for his punishing treatment of some players, there is very often a purpose for his predilection towards confrontation.
Salah was deemed both mentally and physically weak when he arrived in England, aged 21.
The feud between Casillas and Mourinho was sparked by the goalkeeper’s phonecall to Barcelona midfielder Xavi in August 2011 as a means of rectifying the ugly and bitter clashes between the El Clasico rivals during the Portuguese’s spell in charge.
The pair were widely lauded for their diplomacy, yet Mourinho saw Casillas’ actions as a betrayal.
The relationship was untenable, yet Casillas was clearly on the wane and failed to retrieve his starting spot until successor Carlo Ancelotti’s second season in charge (2014/15), after which he nevertheless exited through the back door after 16 seasons in white.
Judge Mourinho all you want for his harsh treatment of United’s stars. It has been warranted.
Shaw has had regular issues with weight and fitness, Martial has undoubtedly failed to fully realise his potential, while Mkhitaryan’s maddening inconsistency infuriated United’s fans as much as his manager.
Even Pogba, for all his talent, could not argue that his woeful form during his second season back at the club was far below what is expected of an £89 million player.
On the other hand, there are plenty of renowned stars who’ve sipped from the Mourinho thermos and been happy to go back for more.
William Gallas, John Terry, Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto’o, Mesut Ozil, Michael Essien and Cesc Fabregas have confessed their love of working under the Portuguese.
Former Inter Milan striker Diego Forlan has said of him: “Not only does he win trophies players feel he supports them, protects them from pressure and shields them from criticism by taking it on himself.”
For every player he’s upset, there’s another willing to walk through fire for him. After leaving Inter for Barca in 2009, Zlatan Ibrahimovic said: “It was sad to leave Mourinho. That guy is special. He would become a guy I was basically willing to die for.”
Can Mourinho be brash and offensive? Absolutely. But there is more often than not method to his madness.
To some he is a tyrannical dictator, while others would happily go to war for him. Although a long list of mutineers litter Mourinho’s past, he could equally call upon a willing army of acolytes, as proved by Willian’s warm words.