Tottenham forward Brennan Johnson has been ruled out because of the hamstring issue he sustained last weekend.
Midfielder James Maddison is training and should be available despite picking up a knock in the draw with Arsenal.
Liverpool defender Trent Alexander-Arnold is fit again after missing four games with a hamstring problem.
Jurgen Klopp says that Stefan Bajcetic has a minor calf issue and that he will join compatriot Thiago on the sidelines.
Tottenham’s 4-1 win at Wembley in October 2017 is their only triumph in the 23 most recent meetings in all competitions.
The Reds are undefeated at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, winning three and drawing one of their four visits.
Liverpool have scored in 17 successive games against Spurs in all competitions since Jurgen Klopp’s first match in charge ended in a goalless Premier League draw at White Hart Lane in October 2015.
Tottenham are vying to go seven games unbeaten from the start a Premier League campaign for just the third time, after 12 games without defeat in 2016-17 and seven last season.
Spurs could score at least twice in each of their opening seven league matches. On the two previous occasions they achieved this – an 11-game run in the 1960-61 top-flight and a seven-match spell in the 1919-20 second tier – they went on to win the title.
Tottenham have claimed eight points from losing positions this season, bettered only by Liverpool’s tally of nine.
Ange Postecoglou is unbeaten in all 40 league home matches in charge of Celtic and Spurs, winning 35 and drawing five of those fixtures.
Son Heung-min has scored in each of his previous three Premier League appearances against Liverpool.
Liverpool are on a 17-game unbeaten run in the Premier League dating back to April last year, winning 12 and drawing five.
The Reds have earned seven consecutive victories in all competitions, scoring 20 goals but only keeping one clean sheet.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have conceded first in each of their past three away games but came back to win them all.
Liverpool have dropped points in 10 of their past 14 league visits to London (W4, D7, L3).
Mohamed Salah has been directly involved in 15 goals in his past 12 Premier League appearances, scoring six and assisting nine.
Salah is vying to become the first player to register an assist in six successive Premier League away games.
Several stark indicators reflect how the mood at Tottenham Hotspur has been transformed in recent months — delirious fans, great football, people smiling, et cetera.
Daniel Levy being applauded, and in some cases cheered, onstage at a fans’ forum is the strangest one yet.
The man castigated, pilloried and booed by Spurs fans just a short time ago received a warm ovation as he joined men’s team head coach Ange Postecoglou and captain Son Heung-min and their women’s team counterparts Robert Vilahamn and Beth England last night for a Q&A at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, hosted by BBC broadcaster and Tottenham fan Nihal Arthanayake.
Yes, people still sing the odd anti-Levy song in the stands, but his reception at the Q&A reflected what a seemingly excellent managerial appointment and a few early-season wins will do.
Levy was speaking at this kind of event for the first time in six years and, while it is much easier to show candour and contrition when times are good, this was a crowd-pleasing appearance on the whole, with concessions, the admittance of mistakes, and even jokes.
So what are the key takeaways from what he said?
Mistakes over managers
It’s not a surprise to hear Levy admit to mistakes from Tottenham managers, but it was interesting to hear of the personal responsibility he felt after hiring Jose Mourinho and then Antonio Conte and still not seeing Spurs win a trophy.
He said: “The frustration of not winning and the pressure from maybe some players and a large element of the fanbase that we need to win, spend money, have a big manager, big name, it affected me. I had gone through a period where we’d almost won. With Mauricio, we went through some very good times. We didn’t quite get there but we came very close and we had a change in strategy.
“The strategy was, ‘Let’s bring in a trophy manager’. We did it twice. Look, you have to learn by the mistakes, they’re great managers but maybe not for this club. We want to play a certain way, and if that means it has to take a little bit longer to win, maybe it’s the right thing for us. That’s why bringing Ange in, from my point of view, was exactly the right decision.”
Postecoglou’s early success has eased the pressure on Levy (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
There was a subtle dig at one or both of Mourinho and Conte (Nuno Espirito Santo’s brief spell in between their two reigns having seemingly been airbrushed from history) when asked how and why he appointed Postecoglou.
“l like someone who tells me how it is, no one that plays games — says one thing to me and says one thing to someone else,” Levy said. The inference was clear.
He then added: “This club needed to go back to its roots. There was a lot of pressure on me to bring in somebody who was a big name et cetera, and I just wanted somebody that understood our DNA, that would play attacking football, that would give young players a chance, that would believe in the academy, would build a relationship with the fans, understood the resources we have and don’t have as a club — and be part of a team.”
It isn’t clear who the pressure he talks about was coming from, given most supporters seemed opposed to the hiring of another big name. Although as Postecoglou joked, his name is pretty big.
Kane’s buy-back clause
Buy-back clauses are fairly common in deals involving, say, a young academy graduate being sold because they can’t force their way into a first team; like, for example, Aston Villa insisting their £18.5million sale of Cameron Archer to Sheffield United this summer should include one.
Tottenham inserting one into Harry Kane’s rather more expensive sale to Bayern Munich isn’t a huge surprise, given the England captain’s love for his boyhood club and what seems a likelihood that the 30-year-old striker will play in the Premier League again before his career ends, but to hear Levy admit of its existence with a decisive “of course” when directly asked the question was an eyebrow raiser. He could easily have said he would prefer not to discuss the terms of the deal.
Levy was keen to let fans know Kane could return to Spurs (Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)
The buy-back fee and any possible timeframe the clause would need to be enacted by aren’t known, but Levy’s public admittance suggests that he and Kane parted on amicable terms, even if it was undoubtedly a frustrating and testing transfer to complete.
Secret meeting and late tension – the inside story of how Harry Kane left Tottenham for Bayern
Good times return to Spurs
Given the current mood, the questions from either Arthanayake or supporters were mostly of a positive nature.
Levy joked that new signing James Maddison needs a new car, because his current one is red (like the shirts of a certain club down the road). “James needs to learn he can’t come to the training ground in a red car. I’ve told him,” he said, before adding in a rather menacing tone: “He’ll learn.”
There was certainly an element of jumping on those positive vibes, the Postecoglou love-in, et cetera, with Levy pointing to the manager and earning a big cheer.
“We’ve got our Tottenham back,” Levy gushed. “I just feel we’re seeing football that we used to see and that’s all we want — to see the players give everything and play attacking football.
“We want the fans to have a connection with the players, and the staff to have a connection with the players. You feel it throughout the club, at this stadium on non-matchdays, at the training centre, we’re together. It’s so noticeable.”
Signing Maddison, right, has helped lift the mood at Spurs (Luke Walker via Getty Images)
Stadium naming rights
This wasn’t a Q&A of big revelations, but Levy did give an update on the ongoing lack of stadium naming rights, saying the process had been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and then suggesting he wants to build the Tottenham brand further via staging other sporting events, summer concerts et cetera, so as to attract the biggest possible name/deal.
“We want the right sponsor, in the right sector and the right price,” he said. “Unless we get that, we won’t put a name on the stadium.”
While that seems logical, it does mask a failure on his and the club’s part to bring in what would be a lucrative revenue stream over the past four years.
Ticket pricing review
There was applause when someone asked whether the lack of a naming-rights sponsor and the associated missed income had perhaps contributed to the recent increase in matchday ticket prices.
On the tickets, Levy said the club were facing increased costs and had absorbed as much as they could and would be reviewing prices as part of a “long-term strategy paper”.
But he certainly made no hint at a decrease in prices and was unapologetic about them going up.
“If we had other sources of income maybe we wouldn’t have had to do it,” he said in relation to naming rights, before adding: “We’re in a highly competitive industry and everything we do is to maximise the income to invest in the team.”
There were two questions about ticket prices, clearly still a sensitive issue for supporters, with protests having been held before the home game against Manchester United last month.
Spurs fans protesting ticket prices last month (Clive Rose via Getty Images)
“We’re all very conscious of the cost of coming to a football game,” Levy said when dodging a direct question of how much is too much to pay to watch Tottenham Hotspur. “We’re in the real world, the costs of operating have gone up significantly, we’re all facing difficult times and we have tried to resist the increase for fans and we will continue to do that.”
European Super League ‘disaster’
No apology for prices then, and also no contrition about the European Super League debacle in the spring of 2021, despite Levy admitting it was a disaster.
“We’ll always act in the best interests of the club,” Levy said. “I stand by the decision we made that we were prepared to have a conversation regarding the European Super League. It was not leaving the Premier League, it was about forming a new European league that would have continued at the same time as the Premier League.
“We failed, it was a disaster for lots of reasons, but I stand by my decision that I was acting in the best interests of the club.”
Steadfast and staunch. A typical Levy performance then, but one which chimes with where the club is at right now.
A popular new manager and an impressive start to the season have done wonders for the fanbase, but also for Levy, who was duly cheered off the stage too.
How times change.
Tottenham’s transfer window: Not enough to wash away disappointment of losing Kane
It is 6.38pm on Tottenham High Road but you would think the match had finished two minutes ago instead of an hour and a half.
They are still queuing out the door at Chick King, still stood outside the Brown Eagle glugging a pint or six, still heading into the club shop to buy Spurs merchandise.
They are singing Ange Postecoglou’s name, they are shouting things like; ‘Coooome on youuuuu Spuuuuurs’ and, most shockingly of all, they are… smiling?
These people look genuinely happy… and they are Spurs fans. Mad, right?
You might recall in May that Spurs were a punchline. They were a joke. The club with the best stadium in England, one of the best training grounds, one of the best strikers in the world and they finished eighth.
Spurs players celebrate the winner (Photo: Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
They were onto their third manager in three months, their managing director of football had resigned after being banned from the sport, in the stands they booed the team off, they chanted for Daniel Levy to go or they sat in apathetic silence, ashamed and humiliated.
At 5.09pm on Saturday after wild, delirious celebrations, after the players had run in unison to the South Stand, after Postecoglou had been serenaded from the field, they finally started to head for the exits some five minutes after game had ended. They sang all the way out, they sang on the concourses, they sang in the streets.
It was like this for the Manchester United home game a few weeks ago too. Things are very different at Spurs nowadays — in a couple of months the whole place has completely transformed.
And, yes, they are winning football matches and playing great football, but it is about much more than that.
They have, as they keep singing, got their Tottenham back. And there isn’t anything much more important to a football fan than having something to believe in — and to feel like they are part of a journey, something tangible.
They just didn’t have that last year. They had a manager who didn’t appear to believe in the club, so how could the fans?
Now they have a manager who defines success at the end of a season by how happy the fans are.
“It’s a pretty mad feeling at the moment,” season ticket holder Adam Nathan says. “We’re not an upper-class banter club anymore. Spurs are serious now. They play the right way and that leads to results.
“There’s a lot to cling to which makes it really exciting — that consistency of expectation versus the ‘what the f**k are we going to get’ we’ve had under the last few managers.
“It’s quite important to say there were games last year that people left feeling really excited, so it’s not like all of a sudden everything has completely changed. Now though there’s a level of almost expectant consistency of performance that is naturally exciting.
“Football fans aren’t difficult to please — if you get forward, look like you’re trying and have got players wearing the shirt not begrudgingly and look like they want to be there, it’s very easy to get behind.
Guglielmo Vicario leads the celebrations (Photo: Stephanie Meek – CameraSport via Getty Images)
“Whilst I think there’s a little bit of a narrative being built that it used to be so bad for four years that we’ve literally been buried under a rock of doom, we have had some good moments — especially under Conte, some great games — but the main difference now is there’s a general Monday-to-Sunday feel about Spurs that we’re going in the right direction.”
Sheffield United at home felt like a true test of the Postecoglou revolution. A home banker. Confident high flyers against relegation battlers. The team with the most shots taken in the league against the team with the most shots faced.
“I said, if Spurs are still truly Spurs, this is the exact game that we’ll lose, at home to, for me, the 19th worst team in the Premier League,” Spurs fan Ben says on BBC Radio 5 Live on Saturday night.
“The way we’re playing, this should have been a foregone conclusion but I said, ‘You know what’s going to happen — we’ll lose 1-0. So when it was half-time I thought; ‘I know what’s coming — we’ll lose 1-0’. When it was 1-0 I thought, ‘I know what’s coming — we’ll lose 1-0’.
“When 12 minutes were added on, that’s when I believed (we could win). The whole stadium today when that winner went in… unbelievable.”
The natural football fan disposition to expect things to go wrong — it runs deep with some at Spurs.
For many, it will need more than a home win over Sheffield United to gloss over years of underachievement. But the feeling right now, of liking and believing in players, of trusting in a manager, it feels fresh and it feels good.
“Messages have a far rosier disposition this year than for the last three or four,” Adam adds. “Your mood for the week is dedicated by what happened on a Saturday, Sunday. Last year it was desolation.
“There has been a fervour for the past couple of weeks for this game to come around. You did wonder, with the manager-of-the-month curse, it might be after the Lord Mayor’s show.
“It’s almost annoying to have such a big game coming up next Sunday because you can’t enjoy any of this week. Derby week takes a whole different complexion.”
Ah yes, the derby. Arsenal away next Sunday. If Spurs win there for the first time in 13 years you know they’re really on to something…
Today marks 100 days since Ange Postecoglou was appointed as Tottenham Hotspur head coach. And so, borrowing from the tradition of US presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly reflected on his first 100 days in office in 1933, this feels like an opportune moment to take stock of Postecoglou’s start with Spurs.
He didn’t technically begin in the role until a few weeks later, on July 1, but from the moment Postecoglou was appointed, he has been working tirelessly to oversee a revolution at the north London club. So we’re going with June 6 as our inauguration day.
And continuing the presidential analogy, a big part of Postecoglou’s appeal to Spurs was his suitability as the change candidate.
“Change” has been a word and a theme Postecoglou has returned to again and again since taking charge. Ahead of the game against Bournemouth a few weeks ago, for instance, he said: “If you want to change, you have to change. You can’t keep doing everything the same and expect a different outcome. It’s pretty obvious.
“Unless I change things — personnel or staff or manner of playing — then what am I doing? I’m definitely not that arrogant to think that just me walking in is going to give us success. You have to actually make meaningful change. That’s what the club wanted. By appointing me, I presume they wanted to go in a different direction.”
He later said: “What I tried to do, from the first day they (the players) walked in here, is to show them that it’s a different place and give them the opportunity to see whether that helps them get to a good place in terms of their own confidence and own self-belief.
“Coming into this year, I didn’t want anybody carrying the baggage or the burden of what’s gone on in the past. There’s no point in that. I don’t (do that). I come in with the energy that it’s something new and an exciting opportunity and that’s what I want the players to feel like.”
So, what changes has Postecoglou put in place over these 100 days? And how have they contributed to Tottenham’s excellent start to the 2023-24 Premier League? From tweaks to pre-match preparations, to shorter team meetings and more varied training sessions, this is how the Australian is delivering the changes he was brought in to make.
A cultural shift
One aspect Spurs insiders have picked up on with Postecoglou is that, unlike predecessor Antonio Conte, he is committed to transforming the culture of the club, even if that means ripping things up and starting again.
That stance may lead to some tricky weeks and months, but Postecoglou’s commitment to the project means he is willing to take some short-term hits if doing so results in long-term benefits. The sense with Conte was he was more short-termist in his thinking, believing that to remain as one of Europe’s most sought-after managers he couldn’t afford a bad period or season results-wise at Tottenham.
“Culture” subsequently became one of the main buzzwords during the managerial search that ended with them hiring Postecoglou away from Scottish champions Celtic in June. Having someone who could improve and fundamentally change the culture at Spurs was one of the key things Tottenham were looking for in Conte’s successor. In Postecoglou, they appear to have found the perfect person for this.
It is a term that means different things to different people, so what in this instance do Postecoglou’s cultural changes look like?
One of them is about empowering the players and other staff.
The Spurs dressing room has often been characterised as being filled with people who lack motivation and leadership, and who will always find something to complain about. This was the thrust of Conte’s “excuse, excuse, excuse” rant when he threw the players, along with pretty much everyone else connected with the club, under the bus in his valedictory monologue back in March.
Postecoglou sees things differently, and believes the best way to get the most from this squad is to empower them and give the players more responsibility. For home games, for instance, Postecoglou has tweaked things so that the night before a home match, players and staff get to sleep in their own bed rather than assembling at the training ground to use the on-site accommodation. They then make their way individually to the stadium from their residences.
Spurs players now make their own way to home matches (Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
The idea is to give the players, as well as staff, one less night away from their families, trusting them with preparing the right way and having them feeling more relaxed than they would do staying at the hotel which is part of the training complex’s Lodge.
This tweak is all part of Postecoglou’s desire to empower the players.
One of his key messages to them has been that the dressing room is their space, and that he wants the players to drive the cultural changes needed at the club.
“A lot of it has to be player-driven,” Postecoglou told UK radio station talkSPORT on Tuesday. “I can sit there and paint the prettiest of pictures but they need to believe in it, they have to buy into it. As I keep saying, it’s their dressing room. They go there every day. I don’t go into the dressing room. And the environment is going to be key to us being successful. It has to be driven by them — they are the people involved — the people, not the players.”
Postecoglou has a similar attitude when it comes to his coaching staff, all of whom are in their thirties and none of whom has worked with him before.
“He’s very good at delegating,” says a dressing-room source speaking anonymously to protect relationships. “He wants to empower people and give them proper responsibility.” For instance Mile Jedinak, who captained Australia’s national team to win the 2015 Asian Cup under Postecoglou, is entrusted with sitting up in the stands with the analysts and then reporting back to him and the rest of the coaches. Conte’s brother Gianluca performed a similar role but was principally an analyst rather than a coach.
Giving his colleagues a sense of ownership and responsibility is a key tenet of Postecoglou’s leadership philosophy, and this extends to other departments as well. Be it masseurs, analysts or any employee, Postecoglou will not interfere, trusting that they know their area of expertise a lot better than he does.
Equally, though, they know he will have their back and not throw them under the bus in public.
“He will have oversight and when it comes to the big decisions, he’ll make them and stick to them,” says another source. Postecoglou has said repeatedly that the ultimate responsibility for whether he is a success at Spurs lies with him.
Many have contrasted this with Conte’s farewell press conference. Though it should be pointed out in among all the criticisms that while Conte’s methods did not ultimately work at Spurs, they have been successful elsewhere, and at Tottenham during his first season in charge. But clearly by the time he left there were many issues for his successor to resolve — one of which was a feeling among some staff that there was not enough regard for their wellbeing.
Medical staff for instance were questioned in public by Conte more than once, while a complaint across the board was that schedules were always liable to change at the last minute so it became difficult for people to have a life away from the club. Part of that is the all-or-nothing nature of working for a big Premier League club, but Postecoglou’s natural empathy has seen him take steps to address this issue.
Staff are now given a schedule for a month at a time, specifying days off and when training will be. Timings may change slightly where necessary, but this is a lot more foresight than there used to be under Conte. And on the pre-season tour to Australia, Thailand and Singapore, staff appreciated the change from last summer’s corresponding trip in South Korea, when timings were always liable to change at the very last minute.
Some of those who work at the training ground have also told The Athletic that Postecoglou has made an effort to introduce himself and speak to them, in a way that none of Mauricio Pochettino’s other three permanent successors — Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and Conte — did. “The mood has been transformed,” says one source, while others point to the simple fact that they now enjoy going to work again.
Uniting a fractured club was another of Postecoglou and Spurs’ priorities this summer, and while there is still plenty to do, with issues that go beyond him needing to be resolved, he has made an encouraging start in this regard.
When it comes to the players, Postecoglou holds far fewer team meetings than his predecessor. Now in a six-day week, there tend to be no more than four meetings compared to daily ones under Conte. They are also more concise. Under Conte, they could last for up to an hour; now they are typically 15 to 20 minutes in duration.
Training sessions are similarly shorter, and don’t drag on longer than the allotted time, as happened quite often with Conte in charge.
They are also not as rigid, and less focused on running and tactical drills. Postecoglou likes to vary the exercises the players are put through, and there tends to be a competitive element with intense small-sided games. With Conte, there would be solid blocks of running and defensive shape work, which would often be worked on until he was satisfied it was being done correctly.
Postecoglou with Son Heung-min after the 5-2 win at Burnley (Visionhaus/Getty Images)
Postecoglou’s communication with the players is very different too.
As The Athletic has explored, his skill as an orator is one of the new coach’s great strengths and it is something that has already made a big impression at Spurs. Some at Tottenham say his team talks are the best they’ve ever heard and commend his ability to deliver tactical messages with clarity and authority, and also to be able to connect with the players emotionally when talking about aspects of the game such as attitude or reacting to adversity. It combines to leave them extremely fired up.
Perhaps one of Postecoglou’s biggest differences from his up-and-down predecessor is how he remains on an even keel, and doesn’t get too high or too low. Postecoglou is often characterised as a paternal figure, and something you hear again and again in relation to good parenting is the importance of consistency. This just wasn’t the case under Conte, when players and staff were never quite sure how he would react to a given situation. That volatility ultimately proved to be his undoing.
Postecoglou is much more measured, and also consistent, in how he treats different people. The message ahead of the pre-season tour that began his reign was that everyone was starting with a clean slate, and that he wouldn’t be prejudging anyone. So it has proved, with stalwarts such as Dier marginalised and others, including Ivan Perisic, who appeared to be on their way out reintegrated into the group.
Knowing that every selection is being made only on merit is a good way of ensuring that even if players are disappointed to be dropped, they know there was nothing personal in the decision. Dier is a good example of someone who has not been selected, but is determined to fight for his place.
Postecoglou has also decided that even the players not making matchday squads, like Dier and Lloris, still train with the first team. There has not been a “bomb squad”, unlike under previous managers.
Changes on the pitch
We’re only four games in, so nobody at Spurs is getting too carried away by the encouraging start to the season, but club insiders have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly the players have taken to Postecoglou’s methods.
One theory is that many became so disillusioned towards the end of Conte’s time in charge that they were especially receptive to something different.
And even without that context, those who have played under Postecoglou previously say that having training sessions and a way of playing that is so enjoyable is extremely motivating.
“When you’re part of a team that’s defensive and just wants to defend, that can sort of dim the mood,” says one of his former Australia players, Adam Taggart, now a striker at A-League side Perth Glory and formerly of Fulham and Dundee United. “Likewise, it’s the opposite when you’re with Ange and constantly trying to play attacking football. It just makes it so enjoyable and you’re more willing to put the work in.”
The Tottenham players certainly look like they’re enjoying themselves and putting the work in, and it has been remarkable to see how quickly they’ve adapted to playing in a completely different way from last season: a new formation, a new approach and many new players.
Internally at the club, there’s a lot of satisfaction at how well Spurs are performing in metrics such as total distance covered, high-speed running and sprint distance. The intensity of their football has seen comparisons made with Liverpool in the manic early days under Jurgen Klopp eight years ago.
In the 2-0 win at Bournemouth for instance, their running numbers were said to be exceptionally high, with multiple players covering more than 13 kilometres in the game (typically, an outfielder who plays 90-plus minutes will cover between 10 and 11 kilometres in a Premier League match, according to data from SkillCorner). Tottenham’s deceptive intensity is something to keep an eye on as this season unfolds.
And to have hit the ground running like this has been especially satisfying given the concerns at losing one pre-season friendly to bad weather and having to face Singapore side Lion City Sailors rather than leading Italian club Roma in another; a credit to those short but sharp training sessions.
Again, it is early days and given we’re only talking about four games, we should be wary of making too many direct comparisons between this season and the last one, but it is revealing looking at some of Spurs’ metrics from that dismal campaign.
For example, their average PPDA (passes per defensive action) was 13.8 last season, meaning that they allowed the opposition to make an average of 13.8 passes before attempting to win back the ball. That was only the 14th most active pressing figure of the 20 Premier League teams (the higher the number, the less active the press). This season, it is down to 10.3 (the fourth-most active press), suggesting that Tottenham have been more aggressive off the ball in these opening four games.
Another noticeable aspect is an increased dominance of the ball in advanced areas, which we can see with field tilt — a metric that measures the share of a game’s total passes in the final third that a team make. So, for example, if team A play 80 passes in the final third, and team B 20, team A has a field tilt of 80 per cent for that match.
The Athletic’s football analytics glossary: explaining xG, PPDA, field tilt and how to use them
Last season, Spurs’ field tilt was 42.9 per cent (16th in the league), so far this year, it is 60.6 per cent (fifth), showing that they’ve so far been able to consistently take control of their games in a way that was a rarity in 2022-23.
Their pass network from the opening weekend’s 2-2 draw with Brentford (below) helps to illustrate this, and also to show that inverted full-backs can get close to important attacking players and add value to the build-up. All of this has contributed to Tottenham having 17-plus shots in all four games (they averaged 13.6 last season).
In that first game against Brentford, meanwhile, they ended the game with 358 touches in the attacking third — more than in any of their 38 Premier League outings last season, when their highest number was 319.
Postecoglou’s use of two very attacking full-backs in Pedro Porro and Destiny Udogie has been symbolic of this more enterprising approach.
It was striking in Singapore to see his reaction when asked whether he could play the pair in the same team. Postecoglou seemed genuinely bemused by why anyone would have any doubts about playing the two together, coming across as excited and privileged by the prospect rather than apprehensive. “If you’re asking me if those two can play at full-back, yeah absolutely,” he replied. “I would love them to play full-back (together).”
Udogie’s selection has also reflected Postecoglou’s belief that age is not a barrier if a player is felt to be good enough.
He has been greatly excited by the clutch of young players in the squad at Spurs and the last three games have seen starts for Udogie (20 years old, with no prior Premier League experience), Pape Matar Sarr (20, two Premier League starts before this season) and Micky van de Ven (22, never played in English football before). And after the sale of Davinson Sanchez and the reduced role of Dier so far, the main backup to centre-backs Romero and Van de Ven is the 18-year-old Ashley Phillips. Spurs’ seven summer signings were all aged between 18 and 26.
Conte’s natural inclination was often to go for the tried and tested, hence the signing of the then 33-year-old Perisic, who he had coached at Inter.
But Postecoglou has always seen things a little differently from most coaches when it comes to how much to trust young players. “Over my time I’d found that the earlier promising players are thrown into the mix, the better for everyone,” Postecoglou wrote in his 2016 book Changing the Game: Football in Australia Through My Eyes. “The better players will really thrive and the strugglers will be found out, and no further resources will be used up on them.”
Postecoglou’s interest in younger players has extended to the Spurs academy, where the junior sides are adopting a similar style to the one used by his first team.
Rediscovering the unity between the seniors and academy that has been lost since the days of Pochettino and former academy head John McDermott was another big part of the Tottenham job spec when they were recruiting a new manager this summer. Especially given how much of a chasm opened up under Conte, with one source telling The Athletic in April that academy players called up to train with the first team were “just there as cones”.
It is early (only 100) days, but so far Postecoglou is delivering on his promise of change. And here’s maybe the most significant alteration: ahead of matches like Saturday’s home fixture against Sheffield United, fans are counting down the minutes until kick-off rather than dreading what they’re about to see.
Well, what a transfer window that was! January 2024, we will never forget it. A series of football players were transferred — in exchange for money — from one club to another. It really was memorable.
In many ways, it was completely different to all the windows that have gone before it.
Although then again, there was a surprise twist no one saw coming when Chelsea broke the British transfer record to sign Brighton’s Julio Enciso for £140million.
New Chelsea boss Frank Lampard spoke of his delight as Enciso put pen to paper on a 17-year contract with the option of an 18th.
“We’ve signed so many Brighton players we’re thinking of wearing blue and white stripes,” Lampard wisecracked, before adding: “No, but seriously, he’s a fantastic player and we can’t wait for him to help us try and finish in the top half.”
Frank Lampard: Thrilled, seriously (Warren Little/Getty Images)
It was a busy window for the Blues who also loaned out Moises Caicedo to Manchester United, sold their most promising academy graduate to a mid-level Premier League club for £40million and signed a player from the Bundesliga you have never heard of for £70million. However, they did fail with a late bid for the Amex Stadium.
Chelsea had actually seen off late competition for Enciso from Liverpool, whose last-minute bid of £139million was flatly rejected.
Enciso was said to be keen on a move to Anfield but Jurgen Klopp instructed the club not to bid any higher, reportedly saying: “The day that £140million bids are football, I’m not in a job anymore.”
When it was put to manager Erik ten Hag that signing Wood wasn’t befitting of United’s glorious history and traditions, the Dutchman pointed to previous January signings Odion Ighalo and Wout Weghorst (combined goals in their 29 United league appearances: 0) and said he was following the club’s heritage to the letter, before having to cut his press conference short as part of the decaying Old Trafford roof was caving in.
United, whose only other January addition was Phil Jones on a free transfer, tried in vain to move on £80million defender Harry Maguire and his near-£200,000-a-week wages. In a desperate attempt to trick Maguire into leaving, United blindfolded the defender and put him in a chauffeured limo while telling him he was going to Arsenal. When Maguire later removed the blindfold and realised he was at West Ham’s training ground, he stormed off in a huff.
Harry Maguire: England regular (Clive Rose/Getty Images)
England boss Gareth Southgate reassured Maguire that his ever-present place in the national side would remain unaffected, citing the 30-year-old’s form for United’s under-21 side in the EFL Trophy as being “good enough for me”.
As for who won the window, journalists and pundits alike were unequivocal in their praise of Brighton’s business. “They’re a model club,” every single person in the world said.
The Seagulls made a profit of £300million in January but refused to spend big on first-team replacements for the departed Enciso and Kaoru Mitoma, despite the team sitting just two points behind leaders Manchester City.
Instead, Brighton’s two additions were an 18-year-old midfielder from the Bolivian third division and a 20-year-old right-back from Garrison Gunners in the Isles of Scilly Football League. Chelsea are reported to be monitoring their situations with an eye on a possible summer move.
The biggest Premier League sale came not from Brighton but from Newcastle United, whose promising, young left winger Matt Ritchie moved to Al-Ittihad for £200million.
Matt Ritchie: Worth every penny to Saudi (Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images for Premier League)
Figures on both sides of the deal insisted Ritchie had been valued fairly, with one senior source saying: “We just can’t wait to see Ritchie line up for Newcastle this weekend. No wait, I mean Al-Ittihad. Hang on which club am I supposed to be working for again?”.
Everton also went big with a signing involving the number 200, specifically the £200,000 they paid Stoke City for striker Dwight Gayle. The fee represented the entirety of Everton’s January budget and meant the club had to cut costs elsewhere, with beleaguered manager Sean Dyche agreeing to stop starching his white shirts to save a few pennies.
Ritchie’s Newcastle sale was a league record fee, while Nottingham Forest broke a record too with the addition of seven right-backs, six of them from Brazil, as part of a recruitment drive that saw 41 players move to the City Ground and 39 leave.
And finally, across Europe the most high-profile transfer involved Barcelona who struck a deal to loan Victor Osimhen from Napoli with an obligation to buy. Barca president Joan Laporta contacted a senior Napoli official with the message “we’ll give you €300million next summer, honest”, followed by the wink emoji.
However, after announcing the loan signing of Osimhen and holding a press conference to unveil the 25-year-old, Barca were shocked to discover they couldn’t afford to register him with La Liga.
It is in football’s nature to look forward; to wonder, to ponder and, most of all, to predict. There are entire industries devoted to it.
At this moment it feels like Tottenham Hotspur supporters are not looking far ahead — they are far too busy enjoying the moment. They have waited a good, long while for the kind of sun-kissed scenes of wondrous delirium and beaming pride witnessed at the end of the 5-2 shellacking of Burnley. The dreaming will no doubt follow if they keep this up but, as they keep singing, they are just happy right now to have “our Tottenham back”.
But we can predict and forecast, or at least attempt to. And whether Spurs can keep this up — and games against Arsenal and Liverpool this month will offer clues — will probably depend on whether the goals keep flowing. So how realistic is that?
They have scored 11 in their first four matches and displayed a ruthless streak in front of goal, particularly at Turf Moor where they scored five from an expected goals (xG), a metric used to measure the likelihood of a shot becoming a goal, figure of 2.48 (partly reflected in two of the strikes coming from outside the penalty area).
They are overperforming their xG across those four games with 11 scored (joint best tally in the Premier League) from an xG of 7.34 (sixth in the league). They are joint top on what Opta defines as big chances created — a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score — with 10.
Kane’s departure — and Ange Postecoglou’s arrival — has changed so much about this Spurs side, whose attacking patterns of play were almost entirely centred around the striker.
Under Postecoglou, not only are the goals being shared but the modes of attack are too. Their 11 strikes have come via set pieces (Romero away to Brentford), through balls into the box (Maddison against Bournemouth), a close-range finish from a byline cut-back (Kulusevski away to Bournemouth, Sarr v Manchester United), shots from outside the box following possessional build-up play (Royal away to Brentford) or, as was mostly the case against Burnley, counter attacks.
That suited Son as the South Korean took advantage of what admittedly was a high and pretty shoddy Burnley defensive line which was exposed by two quick balls forward by Pedro Porro.
Spurs ran riot in what was a different type of performance to their previous three games. There were far fewer overloads, they had their smallest share of possession under Postecoglou (54 per cent) and mostly threatened on transitions, the kind of match new signing Brennan Johnson would have enjoyed.
The plan was therefore less reliant on a No 9, like Richarlison, to try and hold the ball up and link play, or sniff around the six-yard box waiting for crosses. They put over just four open play crosses, again their lowest under Postecoglou (compared to 15 away to Brentford on the opening weekend).
It showed another string to the bow of a team that is learning quickly.
Johnson’s arrival on deadline day gives Spurs a pacey, direct option in contrast to the tricky, floaty Kulusevski. But what about their central striker? Did it matter that they did not bring in someone to rival Richarlison, who has scored just one Premier League goal in 30 appearances since his £60 million move? Or can Son fill that void?
The answer is probably that we will see a horses for courses approach. Spurs have forward players who can fill multiple roles across that front line and, as we saw here, their mode of attack could vary depending on the opposition.
What some of them will need to do, however, is up their career scoring averages to make up that Kane shortfall.
Son had that golden season in 2021-22 when he scored 23 and — as was on show at Turf Moor — he can be utterly ruthless, but elsewhere Spurs do not have any player with a history of scoring 15 goals in a top European league.
Richarlison’s highest is 13 (at Everton), Maddison’s is 12 for Leicester, Kulusevski scored 10 for Parma in 2019-20 but his next highest is five and he generally is not a regular goalscorer, while Johnson netted an impressive tally of eight in a struggling Nottingham Forest team last season.
As for the other regular Postecoglou starters, Bissouma and Sarr have a season high of two and three respectively (for Lille and Metz in Ligue 1). The full-backs Destiny Udogie (eight goals in two seasons from left-back for Udinese) and Porro (three for Spurs last season) fair better. Bench options such as Ivan Perisic (11 for Inter) and Giovani Lo Celso (nine for Real Betis) have potential, while Manor Solomon, who registered two assists during an excellent first league start at Turf Moor, scored four for Fulham last season (19 appearances, four starts).
There are definitely goals there and, as Arsenal proved last season, you do not need to have an outstanding goalscorer in your ranks to produce a big return as a team. They hit their highest Premier League tally of 88 in 2022-23 despite no one scoring more than 15. Gabriel Jesus’ injury absence led to others stepping up, like Martin Odegaard (15), Gabriel Martinelli (15), Bukayo Saka (14), Jesus (11) and Granit Xhaka (seven).
Given the attacking intent Spurs are showing, the sheer numbers (often as many as seven) they are regularly getting into the opposition third and the varied modes of attack, plus the fact they look freer without Kane, bodes well.
He would dig them out of a hole on so many occasions, but in turn his team-mates relied upon him. Under Postecoglou, responsibility is being shared and, if they can keep their clinical streak going, Spurs look better for it.
There will be days when teams sit deep and frustrate them, days when Maddison cannot pick the lock, but with the options variations Spurs have showcased in just four matches, they will not be short of a plan B.
Bournemouth’s latest signing Tyler Adams will have to wait for his debut after arriving from Leeds United with a long-standing hamstring issue.
Midfielder Lewis Cook is close to recovering from a groin problem, while Dango Outtara, Alex Scott and Marcus Tavernier are still sidelined.
Spurs midfielder James Maddison is likely to be available after recovering from an ankle injury. The 26 year old was spotted using crutches and wearing a protective boot last Saturday but has trained ahead of this weekend.
Rodrigo Bentancur, Bryan Gil and Ryan Sessegnon remain long-term absentees.
Bournemouth have won two of their 12 league matches against Tottenham, drawing two and losing eight.
Those 12 top-flight meetings have produced 40 goals at an average of 3.33 per game.
The Cherries are seeking consecutive league wins over Spurs for the first time, after their 3-2 victory at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in April.
Spurs came from 2-0 down to win this fixture 3-2 last season, and three of the last four meetings between the clubs have resulted in a 3-2 scoreline.
Bournemouth are winless in six league games, drawing one and losing five.
The Cherries have also registered just one victory in their past six home Premier League matches, (D1, L4), a 4-1 win against Leeds United in April.
Dominic Solanke was involved in all three of Bournemouth’s goals in their win over Spurs last season, scoring the second while also assisting in their opener and 95th-minute winner.
Justin Kluivert is vying to become the third player to score in Europe’s top five leagues after Florin Raducioiu and Stevan Jovetic.
Tottenham have won one of their past 11 away games in all competitions, drawing three and losing seven.
Spurs have conceded 15 goals in the last five top-flight away fixtures, with 11 of those coming in the first half.
However, the Lilywhites are unbeaten in their past five trips to the south coast, winning three and drawing two.
Son Heung-min has registered five goals and two assists in his previous six Premier League starts against Bournemouth, including a brace at the Vitality Stadium in March 2018.
Richarlison is one shy of 50 Premier League goals and is aiming to become the third Brazilian to reach that milestone after Gabriel Jesus (69) and Roberto Firmino (82).
Rewatching a game is often an illuminating experience, allowing you to pick up on things you didn’t spot in the moment (apologies to those who noticed all of the below the first time).
In this instance, a few things jumped out. Yves Bissouma and James Maddison were possibly even better than they seemed the first time around, while Cristian Romero was quietly outstanding at the back. Son Heung-min’s performance was better than it appeared live.
What was most interesting on second viewing, however, was the performance of Pedro Porro. On the face of it, in the first half especially, Porro had a tough evening.
For those watching in the UK, you will have heard Gary Neville’s withering assessment of the man playing for Tottenham in his former position. Neville, like many observers, was clearly sceptical about Ange Postecoglou’s system, in which he asks both full-backs to invert and at times play like central midfielders.
How does an Ange Postecoglou team play – and will it work in the Premier League?
There were two incidents in the first half which showed the risks of this system, and they were jumped on by Neville. As early as the second minute, Porro received a pass from Guglielmo Vicario in that inverted position and was dispossessed by Mason Mount.
United quickly work the ball to Antony who shoots over from just inside the box.
“The reason that 95 per cent of full-backs play as full-backs is because they can’t receive the ball on the half-turn in midfield,” a disapproving Neville said.
Just before half-time, something similar happened. Porro lost the ball in another dangerous position, this time to Alejandro Garnacho, and only Mount overhitting a pass to Bruno Fernandes spared his blushes.
“I’m not having it, yeah I’m definitely not having it,” Neville said. “Honestly, Porro thinks he’s Rodri. If you’re a United player and you’re pressing, you want him to have that ball played into him all day long. It’s nearly cost them goals in this first half. If you’re not comfortable on the ball… Porro and (Destiny) Udogie do well when they get into the attacking part of the pitch, but in the defensive half they have to get out of there because it’s causing them problems.”
Most people watching the game would probably have agreed with Neville — and certainly anyone watching the highlights would have thought that Porro had a poor half and a poor game because of those mistakes. Especially since Porro is known for his defensive shakiness; he has looked out of his depth defensively when playing right-back previously for Spurs, including under Postecoglou when he was caught out by crosses for goals in pre-season friendlies against West Ham and Lion City Sailors.
Preconceptions undoubtedly affect how a player is viewed. Watching the game back, though, it becomes clear that Porro was actually largely excellent against United.
Starting with both of those mistakes, consider what happens just before and after them.
Before the first error, and in the very first minute of the match, Porro inverts and plays a lovely first-time pass to Dejan Kulusevski. It provides Kulusevski with the chance to run at the United defenders and put in a cross for Son that he should do better with.
In fairness to Neville, his point was that Porro shouldn’t be trying to pick up possession so close to his own goal. But you probably don’t get the kind of space that Porro gets here if you don’t take up a variety of different positions.
And a few minutes after losing the ball to Mount for that first mistake, Porro heads inside again, this time very nearly threading a ball through to Maddison.
As for the second error just before half-time, that comes after an outstanding few minutes for Porro.
In the 40th minute, Porro smashes a brilliant effort onto the crossbar from the edge of the box.
He then latches on to Maddison’s pass but misdirects a cross from inside the area. Seconds later he’s in his own box coolly heading Fernandes’s cross back to Vicario.
A few minutes later, Porro inverts again, almost over into a left central midfield position. He finds Pape Matar Sarr, who, as he did for much of the first half, has moved over to the right-back position (another advantage of Porro’s positional flexibility). Sarr finds Richarlison, who feeds Kulusevski on the right wing, the space freed up in part by Porro’s move infield. Kulusevski has a shot from the edge of the box saved by Andre Onana.
In the next passage of play, Spurs win a free kick and, when the ball drops to Garnacho, Porro nips in ahead of him and manages to dig out a cross that Romero can’t direct goalwards.
Then came the error that, for many, would have defined his half.
But just after that, in the early stages of the second half, Porro delivers his most telling contributions.
First, he intercepts a pass from Garnacho that is meant for an underlapping Luke Shaw.
This leaves Porro with the ball deep in his own half, and perhaps Neville and others would have liked him to just get rid of it.
Instead, he plays the ball inside to Richarlison. The Brazilian in turn passes to Maddison, who finds Bissouma, who gives the ball back to Porro. Thanks to Porro’s earlier interception, Shaw and Garnacho are out of position and Kulusevski is in acres of space by the right touchline.
Porro finds him, Kulusevski darts into the box and Sarr scores from his deflected cross. The ball hits the back of the net less than 30 seconds after Porro’s initial interception.
Looking at what happened either side of those two high-profile mistakes encapsulates the risk-and-reward approach of Postecoglou’s style. There will be times when Spurs lose the ball high up the pitch, but there is also confidence that the positives of this system far outweigh the negatives. It’s why Postecoglou felt not just willing, but excited, delighted even, to play both the similarly attacking Udogie and Porro from the start.
When asked last month if the two could play together, Postecoglou was almost bemused at why anyone would have reservations about it. “If you’re asking me if those two can play at full-back, yeah absolutely. I would love them to play full-back (together).”
On the rewatch, it was apparent that Udogie had more shaky moments than Porro even though, overall, the Italian also performed well.
Sticking with Porro, there were other moments that stood out from the game. From an offensive perspective, his inverting, coupled with Sarr drifting to the right, was an effective tactic in the first half, frequently allowing Kulusevski to get on the ball one-on-one against either Lisandro Martinez or Shaw. Kulusevski rediscovering the form of his first few months at Spurs would make an enormous difference to this team because the chances are going to be there for him to run at isolated defenders.
It was in defence, though, where Porro was surprisingly accomplished. In the ninth minute, for instance, he does well to deal with a two-on-one against him when Garnacho drives towards goal with Shaw on his outside.
Porro doesn’t commit and is then quick enough to make the tackle on Shaw.
This was especially impressive as, just minutes before, Garnacho had cut inside Porro from a similar position to get a shot away.
United also scored through Jadon Sancho from an identical situation in the early stages of this fixture four months ago.
On the half-hour mark, Porro showed his exceptional speed by winning a race against Garnacho and nodding the ball back to Vicario. Though in the next passage of play, he gave the ball away with a scooped pass to Maddison.
In the second half, once Spurs were ahead, Porro generally played more conservatively (and Neville and others might argue that Spurs were better once the full-backs stopped picking the ball up in such risky areas). But he was still able to burst into the box to try, unsuccessfully, to overlap Kulusevski and latch on to his threaded pass.
From a defensive perspective, Porro’s standout moment was winning this one-on-one duel against Marcus Rashford.
The United forward tries to get on Porro’s outside, but he’s not quick or strong enough to do so.
Especially in an age of three-minute highlight packages, it can be easy to judge players on one or two incidents. It’s instructive to look back and see the whole picture. There were other incidents as well that, on a personal level anyway, I hadn’t appreciated at the time. Son’s role in the second goal, for instance, with the way he drops deep to collect the ball and lays it off first time to Maddison. Or just how good Maddison’s swept pass out to Ivan Perisic then was.
There were certain incidents that one could only appreciate with a bit of distance. In the first half, for example, the momentum of the game completely changed when Bissouma received a pass in his own box, dropped the shoulder to get away from Fernandes and Garnacho and drove forward. Antony was given a yellow card for his tackle on Bissouma, and Fernandes was then booked for complaining about the decision. The mood at the ground was instantly lifted, and two minutes later Porro hit the bar as Spurs created a flurry of chances.
Bissouma’s bravery in picking up the ball so deep and taking on a couple of players was exactly the kind of thing Postecoglou was talking about when he said to the squad ahead of the Brentford game: “If you do something in the group that inspires the other players: that’s leadership.”
Hopefully, other players will be similarly inspired by the way in which Porro, supposedly someone who struggles to defend, improved in that area as the game went on. Perhaps Porro was inspired by his rival for the right-back position, Emerson Royal, who is supposedly not great going forward, smashing one in from outside the box against Brentford a week earlier.
Watching the United game back was a reminder of the way in which Postecoglou is helping his players and team challenge preconceptions, ushering in a new era of optimism at the club in the process.
Tottenham defender Cristian Romero has been passed fit after being forced off with a head injury against Brentford.
Rodrigo Bentancur, Fraser Forster, Bryan Gil and Ryan Sessegnon are still sidelined.
Manchester United are expected to have Lisandro Martinez available despite him going off at half-time against Wolves on Monday.
They remain without Tom Heaton, Rasmus Hojlund, Tyrell Malacia, Kobbie Mainoo and Amad Diallo.
Tottenham’s only victory in their last nine league games against Manchester United was a 6-1 away win in October 2020.
The Red Devils have won twice and drawn twice at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – they and Liverpool are the only sides yet to lose a Premier League match there.
Man Utd’s total of 39 wins in 62 Premier League matches against Spurs is a joint record for the most victories against an opponent in the competition, matching United’s tally against Everton.
Spurs won their first five league fixtures at home last season but recorded just seven victories in their remaining 14 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Their solitary home draw came against Manchester United.
They lost eight of their 10 matches last season against the teams that finished in the top five of the table, only picking up points in home matches versus the two Manchester clubs (1-0 v Manchester City and 2-2 against Manchester United).
Spurs have conceded at least twice in 21 of their 39 Premier League games since the start of last season, second only to Nottingham Forest, who have done so on 22 occasions.
The team that began on the opening weekend had an average age of 25 years and 65 days. Last season’s starting line-up was, on average, the third oldest in the top flight, aged 27 years and 356 days.
Ange Postecoglou was unbeaten in all 38 of his home league matches as manager of Celtic, with his team scoring 113 goals in those games.
Manchester United have won their opening Premier League away match in just one of the last five seasons, beating Brighton 3-2 in 2020.
They are aiming to win their opening two league fixtures for the first time since the 2017-18 season under Jose Mourinho.
The Red Devils lost eight Premier League away matches in 2022-23, equalling a club record.
The solitary point they earned out of a possible 24 in away games last season against the teams that finished in the top nine came in a 2-2 draw at Tottenham.
United are in danger of losing their opening away league fixture in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1980-81 and 1981-82. Their first match on the road last term ended in a 4-0 defeat at Brentford.
The Red Devils have won just one of their last nine top-flight fixtures in London. They had avoided defeat in each of their previous 13 such games in the capital.
Back in April, when deciding what to do in the aftermath of the 6-1 humiliation at Newcastle, Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy met with the Spurs’ leadership group, or “player committee”, as he called it.
This committee was made up of club captain Hugo Lloris, vice-captain Harry Kane, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Eric Dier, and was reintroduced after Jose Mourinho’s departure as a way of giving senior players the opportunity to liaise between the dressing room and the club. Oliver Skipp was sometimes involved as well to act as a voice for the younger players. In this instance, the conversation centred on what to do about interim head coach Cristian Stellini. It was only a few weeks since the player committee had met with Levy to discuss who should replace Stellini’s predecessor, the outgoing Antonio Conte.
Fast forward a few months and Tottenham’s leadership group looks completely different. Kane has left the club; Lloris, the captain for the past eight years, is about to do the same; Hojbjerg will be allowed to leave if the right offer comes in; while Dier wasn’t even named on the bench against Brentford on Sunday and only has a year left on his contract.
It’s a huge amount of change in a short space of time, especially when you consider that captaincy changes tend to be a gradual process (like when a deputy replaces the departing captain). It’s very unusual to have the captain and all three of his deputies either leave the club or no longer have major roles in the dressing room, but it’s a reflection of the state of flux that Spurs are currently in and what a transitional period this is. And part of the idea of all three of Son, Maddison and Romero having these roles is to try in a post-Lloris and Kane world to have greater responsibility across the board. Lloris often felt that too much of the leadership burden fell on him and the England captain.
To put some numbers on Spurs’ changing leadership, Lloris, Kane, Hojbjerg and Dier have 1,388 Spurs appearances between them and 35 combined years of first-team service. At the time of their appointments, Son, Maddison and Romero had 436 combined appearances and 10 years of service. Lloris alone has more than that with 447, Kane one fewer with 435.
Broadly, there are two ways of looking at this. One is that Spurs have not exactly been known for their dressing-room leadership in the past few years, so how on earth are they going to cope without some of their most experienced players?
The other is that this offers a new set of players the chance to provide the leadership for a group that have suffered their fair share of disappointment recently and might be in need of fresh ideas. As a starting point, their appointments have gone down very well with the rest of the dressing room.
Part of the logic in Postecoglou’s decision is that the trio cover pretty much all areas — Son the overall leader and centrepiece of the squad, Maddison representing the British contingent, and Romero a reference point for the Spanish speakers and South Americans. They are also players who will play every week, which is important (the same can’t be said of Hojbjerg and Dier if they stay, or Ben Davies, another long-serving and well-respected player) and the view internally is that this is an opportunity for some different voices to become more prominent.
So can they provide the sort of leadership Spurs have sometimes lacked and so badly need?
Before evaluating the merits of those three players, it’s worth looking at how Postecoglou views leadership. He does not want the burden to just fall on those three players and has been clear with the squad that leadership can come in many forms.
“It’s not just about the captain. Leadership can come from the youngest players in the team,” he told the Tottenham players during Saturday morning’s meeting when he revealed the new captain and vice captains. “Leadership is about behaviour, that’s it. The example you set. If you train well, if you do something in the group that inspires the other players, that’s leadership. It’s not just about who the captain is, it’s about everyone buying into it.”
Last month, when asked about the leadership skills of Skipp, a young man once tipped as a future Spurs captain by his then-head coach Jose Mourinho, Postecoglou said: “Leadership in my view is not that relevant to age. You can be a leader when young just by actions and he trains hard every day and, from that point of view, that’s leadership to me. Because when you present every day a certain level, whether it’s a game or it’s training, that’s leadership because that gives an example to others.”
Postecoglou’s view that leadership “is not that relevant to age” is evidenced by the fact his two vice-captains are aged 26 (Maddison) and 25 (Romero).
Son is a bit older at 31 and is a more obvious choice having been the South Korea captain for the past five years. That’s a role that comes with a huge amount of pressure, especially given the general reliance on Son as the team’s best player. At the last World Cup, Son was the captain and talisman for a nation desperate for success and was trying to carry that burden while recovering from a nasty injury.
Son Heung-min (MB Media/Getty Images)
The view in Korea is that Son has done an impressive job as the national team captain. “A good comparison with Son as captain of Korea is Park Ji-sung, who was also the captain while at the same time being far and away the team’s most celebrated player,” says Rachel Hur, a Korean football correspondent based in London. “The general feeling was that Park was a very good player himself but wasn’t great at giving out orders to the younger players. He was naturally more introverted.
“But Sonny, even when he wasn’t captain, he was already doing that. He’s very outspoken, always leading the team, so he’s been great.”
At Spurs, too, Son is someone whose importance and vocalness in the dressing room has increased. It’s why he was such a popular and natural choice to be the new captain.
Son was delighted to be given the role and, like Maddison and Romero, only found out with the rest of the squad in Saturday’s team meeting. It’s a big honour and a position he will take very seriously.
As soon as the meeting had finished, he was thinking of little changes he could make to the group’s dynamic. On Saturday night, he sent a text to Maddison suggesting that, before the Brentford game the following day, the team should perform the pre-match huddle in front of the away fans rather than in the centre circle to strengthen the bond between the players and the supporters. Who knows how much things like this affect performance, but it certainly went down well with the fans, who were in full voice throughout — as Postecoglou acknowledged afterwards.
Postecoglou has also been quick to praise Son’s leadership qualities, even before he made the Korean his captain.
“He’s another one that I think shows real leadership qualities,” Postecoglou said in Singapore last month. “I look at him and he’s pretty much a conduit for the whole squad. He mixes in all groups. I don’t think it’s just because he’s popular. What he’s done in the game, he has a certain standing.
“He’s got a massive influence on the group, which doesn’t surprise me because I know he’s a leader for his nation and he’s been an icon for his nation for a long time. He carries that really well for someone who has been in the spotlight for that long. He has enormous respect among the players.”
Maddison is similarly central to the squad and everyone at Spurs has been struck by his infectious, positive energy since joining the club in June. Being on the pre-season tour and seeing his interactions with his team-mates, it was obvious how much the rest of the Spurs squad enjoy his company.
“He really knows what to say at the right time, not only on the pitch but off it,” his then Leicester team-mate Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall told The Athletic last year, while also revealing that Maddison regularly spoke to the club’s younger players to offer advice and encouragement. He saw it as one of his responsibilities as a senior player. Dewsbury-Hall continued: “If things aren’t going so well, he tells me to believe I am a good player. If they are going well, he says not to get too high because things can quickly change in football.”
Speak to Maddison’s former colleagues at Leicester and you’ll quickly get the sense that he is a natural choice for his vice-captaincy role at Spurs. He was part of the leadership group towards the end of his time at Leicester, along with Jonny Evans, Marc Albrighton, Youri Tielemans and Jamie Vardy. Between them, they would be given responsibilities like assigning fines for lateness, addressing issues with the coaching staff and helping the younger players. Building team spirit was important and they reintroduced the old ethos that when the group socialised, everyone had to attend.
Leicester were eventually relegated, but Maddison captained the side on a number of occasions last season and learned a huge amount from that experience. One such time was Leicester’s 4-1 win over Tottenham in February, when Maddison was constantly encouraging those around him, pointing to where they should be pressing the Tottenham defence and where the next pass should go.
James Maddison took the armband towards the end of Sunday’s draw (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Whenever there was a break in play, Maddison would run to the touchline for a drink and a tactical chat with the then-Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers. Maddison was similarly vocal when he took the Spurs armband during the final stages against Brentford on Sunday after Son and Romero had been substituted.
At Leicester, Maddison was always vocal in the dressing room whether he was captain or not and he has said that will remain the case at Spurs. At Leicester, he would also have regular tactical chats with Rodgers in the club canteen over breakfast and whenever the club’s media team needed someone to front up and speak eloquently and responsibly, inevitably they would turn to Maddison. Already at Spurs, his interviews have been insightful and helped to give a sense of what this Spurs team is trying to achieve.
Maddison also offers other kinds of leadership. In football nowadays, you often hear coaches talk about players being a “technical leader”, which ties into Postecoglou’s point on leadership being about setting an example, whether that’s about what you do on the ball, how you press, or how you carry yourself in training.
“Bravery” is another of Postecoglou’s favourite themes and that’s much more about being willing to take the ball in tight areas or to keep trying what’s been asked than it is about putting in big tackles. Maddison is never one to shy away from demanding the ball or attempting to play forward and that’s the kind of leadership Postecoglou needs from every player in the team.
In Postecoglou’s first Spurs press conference last month, he referenced Maddison’s leadership qualities. “I think he’s in a stage of his career where it feels like he can be a leader,” Postecoglou said. “We’re going to need leadership on the field and he feels like he can be a player who does that.”
Returning to that theme the following week in Bangkok, Postecoglou said: “He makes his presence felt as a footballer, but also in a personal sense by being really present and making sure he can be an influence in all areas.”
Maddison, for his part, said after Sunday’s game that whether he has a captaincy role or not, he’ll always try to lead and take responsibility while at Spurs.
The third man in all of this, and perhaps the biggest surprise, is Romero. Given his disciplinary issues, this could be viewed as the equivalent of giving a misbehaving kid at school some responsibility in the hope it gets them on the straight and narrow.
There definitely is an element of that and a hope that this new role will help Romero’s development and growing maturity, but it’s also the case that Romero’s on-field persona can be a little deceptive. He is quiet off the pitch but is very well-respected and, to use one of Postecoglou’s words in relation to Son, acts as a conduit for the rest of the Spanish speakers and South American players, of which there are plenty in the Spurs squad. He is also a World Cup winner, which adds to his gravitas.
And where the perception has often been that Romero cares more about playing for Argentina than Tottenham, the defender came out swinging to forcefully deny that accusation this summer. In a revealing interview in Perth, he also said he had turned down offers to join other clubs “because I want to have my best years here”.
Romero is someone with a real presence about him and you feel it when speaking to him one on one or in a group. Something that came across during that Perth interview was how much responsibility he takes on.
Spurs players have often been accused of shirking responsibility and hiding behind the manager — Antonio Conte lasered in on this during his St Mary’s meltdown — so this feels significant. It also chimed with Son’s attitude during his interview with the British press on the pre-season tour. “It was a mess last season,” Son said. “As players, young and old, we should all take responsibility.” He repeated this message to his team-mates in Saturday’s meeting, saying: “We should all take responsibility. For nice behaviour, for good training sessions.”
Sceptical fans will probably feel that actions speak louder than words in this regard, but it’s encouraging to hear Spurs’ new captains talking in this way and echoing the head coach because the expectation is that this has to be a collective responsibility — that as Postecoglou said, it’s not just about the three who have been given official titles. Yves Bissouma, for instance, is someone Maddison described in July as “a leader, he talks. He’s very demanding and very vocal”. Soon after taking the Spurs job, Postecoglou encouraged Bissouma to take more responsibility and help set the standards for the younger players, and if the three captains are expanded into a bigger leadership group, Bissouma, along with Skipp, may well be a part of it. Pape Matar Sarr told The Athletic in a recent interview that he saw Bissouma as a “big brother” after the way he helped him settle on and off the pitch last year.
Then there’s Guglielmo Vicario, who will be a vocal presence in goal and has a gregarious personality.
As with so many elements at Spurs, their leadership is entering a brave new world.
Emotions will be stark. There will be anger, despair, confusion, devastation, exhaustion, and perhaps even some relief that it’s over one way or the other — especially after yesterday (Thursday), when waiting for Caesar’s thumb to turn will have felt like purgatory.
It will take days, weeks, months, maybe years for some to truly get over it.
Seeing Harry Kane in the colours of another club will never be normalised.
There will be a palpable sense of shock, even grief, at one of their own choosing to play for someone else, but given the protracted summer of will-he?-won’t-he? negotiations, what there won’t be is surprise.
To many, this day will have felt inevitable — which says more about Tottenham than it does about Kane. He had outgrown them a long time ago and Spurs just never caught up.
He stayed for love, he listened to his heart for years. This summer, he has listened to his head and decided to join Bayern Munich: barring any unexpected late hitches, he will become their player in the coming hours.
The timing of it all, however, leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s August 11, two days before Tottenham kick off their Premier League campaign.
New head coach Ange Postecoglou must be wondering what on earth he’s signed up to.
No one can blame him for leaving. OK, Bayern are a step below the wholly palatable landing zones of Barcelona or Real Madrid for any player furthering their career ambitions and play at the very, very top level, but they are a gigantic club, six-time European champions, a global footballing institution who will offer a stage fit for Kane’s mastery.
He’ll thrive there, he’ll win the first trophies of his career — who knows he may even win a Champions League. And he can still return to the Premier League down the line and have a crack at scoring the 48 goals he needs to beat Alan Shearer’s record — career completed.
But what about Spurs? How do they move forward from here? How do you replace the irreplaceable?
Well, you don’t.
Not only will there never be another Harry Kane at Spurs, but it’s hard to imagine them finding a player even of similar attributes and capabilities… and then you’ve got to ask him to move to a team who aren’t even playing in Europe this season. It won’t happen.
No player meant more to a team than Kane did last season — he scored 30 of Spurs’ 70 league goals, 43 per cent, the highest ratio of anyone in the Premier League. His winning and equalising goals earned them 24 of their 60 points (40 per cent). It was an extraordinary effort in a listless team. It was also the final straw for Kane.
If, on a personal level, he could enjoy the joint-best league season of his incredible career and the team still finished eighth, nearer relegation than the title in pure points terms, then you cannot blame him for being disillusioned and wanting to try something new.
Postecoglou may be a gregarious and excellent coach who will serve up football that Kane would feast on, but the gap to the trophy winners such as Manchester City is cavernous. Tottenham might win the Carabao Cup this season. But they probably won’t (it would certainly be ironic if they did). Kane enjoyed a fun pre-season, but it was too late. Too many previous dawns have been false.
From Spurs and Daniel Levy’s point of view, removing all emotion from the equation, they took a safe bet on the money. They looked at the possibility of their most valuable asset leaving for nothing next summer when his contract was due to expire and said no. They negotiated a bit, drove the price up to a level that could be stomached, then shook hands.
Your average fan who doesn’t play Football Manager can’t relate to that. Football isn’t about money, it’s about glory, about emotion, about heroes. Some will say Kane was pushed out, his hand forced by the acceptance of a bid.
And so you have further discord between the boardroom and the stands.
They chanted vociferously for Levy to go last season. Then the matchday ticket prices went up (there will be protests about that next weekend at their first home game of 2023-24). Now the player they adore, the player who almost felt more important or more cherished than the club itself in recent years, is being sold.
Daniel Levy (Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Lose away to Brentford on Sunday and you can only imagine how that atmosphere could turn for that home opener against Manchester United the following Saturday. Happy new season.
And then from a practical point of view, Spurs have 21 days to spend the Kane money in this window — if they haven’t forked out a chunk of it already by pre-empting his sale and splashing up to £43million on defender Micky van de Ven.
They have Brazil’s No 9 waiting to step up, but the most league goals Richarlison has ever managed in a single campaign is 13. What if Son Heung-min, who turned 31 over the summer, can’t rediscover his goalscoring levels of two years ago? What if goals become a problem for an attack-minded team who will leave yawning gaps at the back?
They may very well beat Brentford, Richarlison may click, they may sign another striker worthy of lacing Kane’s boots, there may be a recruitment masterplan ready to enact and you cannot help but be enthused by Postecoglou’s exuberant approach on and off the field. He’s trying something new and it looks genuinely thrilling — a perfect antidote to last year.
Richarlison (Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images)
Or Tottenham may take years — no exaggeration — to recover. Kane’s goals, his determination, his creativity, his staunch will to win, his leadership from the front; on so many levels, he dug Spurs out of so many holes.
But this is about more than some football results, or some replacements in the transfer market.
Last season, Kane gave everything — and was given nothing.
The fact that Tottenham felt they couldn’t keep him — that they felt there was no realistic possibility of him signing a new contract to stay with the club he loves and adores — feels pretty damning on themselves.
As is needing or desiring to take the offer of more than €100million (£86.5m; $100m) that was accepted on Thursday instead of one more year at least. They paid almost that much for Tanguy Ndombele and Sergio Reguilon. Maybe it’s best not to think about it.
They nurtured Kane, they gave him his chance; he repaid them and gave so, so much, but then they could no longer keep up with the objectives and aspirations of one of their own. Their greatest.
His legacy to them is secured, it may never be surpassed, but theirs to him was never met.
(Top photo: Jacques Feeney/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
By Charlie Eccleshare, Matt Slater and more, The Athletic
It was shortly after 6am in Singapore, where Tottenham Hotspur’s power brokers are gathered for the club’s pre-season tour, that the news broke.
It wasn’t about Harry Kane or the club’s search for a centre-back, it was far more serious.
Joe Lewis, whose family trust is the majority shareholder of ENIC Sports Inc — the company that owns the vast majority of shares in Spurs — had been indicted for “orchestrating a brazen insider trading scheme”. This involved passing information to “romantic partners and his private pilots,” according to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams.
Lewis’ lawyer David M. Zornow said in a statement to Bloomberg on Wednesday: “The government has made an egregious error in judgment in charging Mr. Lewis, an 86-year-old man of impeccable integrity and prodigious accomplishment.
“Mr. Lewis has come to the U.S. voluntarily to answer these ill-conceived charges, and we will defend him vigorously in court.”
The claims in the 29-page indictment read like the plot of a television drama, involving companies with interests as diverse as Australian cattle farming and genetic diseases, glamorous locations around the world, and a 98-metre superyacht.
One woman, referred to as “the Girlfriend” is alleged to have made $849,000 (now £657,000) after a tip-off from Lewis about buying stock while they were staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul, South Korea, in 2019.
On another occasion, it is claimed one of Lewis’ pilots — Pilot-1 — texted a friend to say: “Boss is helping us out and told us to get ASAP”, referring to buying stock in an oncology company called Mirati Therapeutics. Lewis, it is claimed, then transferred his pilots $500,000 each to do just that.
Another time, the indictment says one of the pilots did not receive the tip early enough to sell before his stock fell. “Just wish the Boss would have given us a little earlier heads up,” wrote Pilot-1 in an email to his stockbroker.
On a tour that’s already been clouded by the Kane transfer saga, postponed matches and opponents pulling out, Tottenham are now dealing with the fallout of one of the most high-profile figures associated with the club facing a number of extremely serious charges.
Here, The Athletic breaks down what these developments mean for Lewis, Spurs, chairman Daniel Levy and a potential sale of the club, and why — despite Spurs’ attempts to distance themselves from the development and insist Lewis is not the club’s owner — the view from one financial crime lawyer is that: “They now have some serious questions to ask themselves.”
What does the indictment say?
A 29-page document, United States of America v Joseph Lewis, sets out the reasons for charging Lewis, an 86-year-old “billionaire businessman and investor”.
There are 13 counts of securities fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; three counts of securities fraud (each a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison); and three counts of conspiracy (each a maximum sentence of five years in prison).
The U.S. government alleges that between 2013 and 2021, Lewis violated securities laws through inside trading and submitting false and misleading filings with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which enforces the law against market manipulation.
They accuse him of using inside information about companies in order to tip off friends and associates, including “his personal pilots, personal assistants, romantic partners”, so that they could profit from the information by trading securities in advance of disclosure to the public.
The indictment alleges that Lewis did this “as a way to give them compensation and gifts”, despite already being a billionaire, and that he “tipped his personal pilot and encouraged them to trade”. Lewis has a net worth of £5.096 billion, according to the 2023 Sunday Times Rich List.
The document says that “using the information stolen by Lewis”, he and his employees, romantic partners and friends were able to “collectively make millions of dollars by insider trading” in the stocks of four companies: Solid Biosciences, Mirati Therapeutics, Australian Agricultural Company, and BCTG Acquisition Corporation.
Lewis is also alleged to “conspired with others to defraud Mirati Therapeutics, the investing public, and the SEC” by “amassing beneficial ownership” of more than 20 per cent of the oncology company and “hiding” that “undisclosed ownership”.
The charges have been described as “ill-conceived” by Lewis’ lawyer.
US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams (Photo: Getty)
What else does the indictment tell us?
Lewis is a “significant shareholder” in Solid Biosciences (SLBD), a biotechnology firm which develops treatments for a genetic disease known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
The indictment says Lewis was staying in the Four Seasons Hotel in Seoul with “the Girlfriend” in July 2019. Before news of a clinical trial was made public, Lewis “tipped the Girlfriend and told her to purchase SLBD stock”, which it is said she did — logging into her brokerage account, checking her balance and then using “nearly all of her available funds to purchase 150,000 shares of SLBD for approximately $700,000”.
The next day, it is claimed, Lewis and the woman flew to Massachusetts on his private plane. During the flight, Lewis told his pilots — Pilot-1 and Pilot-2 — that he had purchased a large share of SLBD and “they should buy the stock as soon as possible”, which they eventually did.
In July 2019, SLBD’s share price increased by “approximately 34.4 per cent”. In August, the results of the clinical trial were released and the share price went up by another 23 per cent, and then an additional 43 per cent.
“The Girlfriend subsequently sold her SLDB shares for a profit of approximately $849,000, for a 118 per cent gain,” the indictment says. The pilots also sold their stock for profit.
In January and February 2019, flooding caused significant damage in Queensland, Australia. At the beginning of February, according to the indictment, Lewis began receiving updates about how it might impact the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC), which operates cattle farms and in which Lewis “beneficially owned a majority of stock”.
On or around February 10, before any information was public, Lewis is said to have called his pilots and told them to trade their AAC stock as soon as possible. They could not complete the transaction, however, before an announcement sent AAC’s stock price down by 12.3 per cent. “Just wish the Boss would have given us a little earlier heads up,” said Pilot-1 in an email to his stockbroker.
Here’s another case study: Mirati Therapeutics
The indictment cites the case of Mirati Therapeutics, a publicly listed company on the Nasdaq stock exchange that works on therapeutics for cancer treatment. Lewis is one of the company’s largest shareholders, and has a seat on the board, which is occupied by an employee of a hedge fund of which Lewis was the beneficial owner.
This employee shared information about Mirati with Lewis, including “information about clinical trials, the timing of corporate announcements, and planned presentations”. In 2019, Mirati was conducting a major clinical trial and Lewis received a confidential update (via the employee of his hedge fund) to say that the trials had gone positively. The employee shared this information with Lewis aboard his yacht — the “98-meter super yacht known as the Aviva” which “at times serves as Lewis’s primary residence” — which was docked in California.
Lewis’s yacht Aviva docked in London back in 2007 (Photo: Getty)
The indictment says the hedge fund employee and Lewis discussed how the company’s share price may rise from approximately $80 (now £62) per share to in excess of $100 per share. It says Lewis then called a woman, described in the indictment only as “the Girlfriend”, to provide her with material non-public information about Mirati and told her to purchase stock. She called her stock broker the following morning, telling the broker “time is of the essence” and, after placing trades, she told Lewis “All good and confirmed”.
One month later, Lewis received additional information about the timing of Mirati’s announcement of its clinical trial results. On October 10, 2019, two pilots flew Lewis from San Diego to The Bahamas, and Lewis “told the pilots to purchase as much Mirati stock as they could”. Both pilots acquired stock the day after they flew Lewis. One of the pilots, while communicating with the other on a messaging service, wrote: “All conversations on app is encrypted so all good. No one can ever see.”
Then, on October 15, 2019, Lewis wired $500,000 each to the pilots, which the indictment says was as a loan to purchase additional stock. One of the pilots sent a text to say he thought “the Boss has inside info” and “knows the outcome” because “otherwise why would he make us invest.” Lewis also told his executive assistant to purchase Mirati stock before the scheduled announcement of the clinical trial results, as well as three others friends, “including one with whom he was romantically involved and another with whom he sometimes played poker in Argentina”.
When Mirati’s share closed up 16.7 per cent up from the previous day’s close on October 29, 2019, the two pilots, “the Girlfriend”, Lewis himself, and Lewis’s assistant and friends sold their shares of the profits for a profit. The pilots subsequently repaid their loans to Lewis, but without any interest charged.
What does this mean for Tottenham Hotspur?
Tottenham Hotspur is not mentioned by name in the indictment; only that Lewis is the “principal owner of the Tavistock Group” and its investment portfolio includes “hundreds of companies, including in agriculture, sports, resort properties, and life sciences”.
At 7am UK time (around eight hours after the story broke), Spurs issued the following statement: “This is a legal matter unconnected with the club and as such we have no comment.”
Given Lewis’s long-standing relationship to the club, this raised some eyebrows. Lewis has been synonymous with Spurs since ENIC bought Alan Sugar’s 29.9 per cent stake for £22million (then around $32m) in December 2000.
“It very much is an issue for Spurs,” says Evan Wright, a financial crime lawyer at JMW solicitors. “It’s a live issue for them and very serious for Lewis… They (Tottenham) now have some serious questions to ask themselves.”
But Lewis ‘ceded official control’ of Spurs in October 2022, didn’t he?
Technically, yes. But, in reality, not a lot changed, and the noises coming out of Spurs at that time were that it was business as usual.
The club’s steer last year was that the decision was part of the restructuring of the Lewis Family Trusts, with one eye on the long-term future (Lewis turned 86 in February). The day-to-day running of the club would be unaffected and Spurs remained essentially Lewis’s club.
The Athletic’s report on the change at Companies House, the UK’s registrar of companies, described it like this: “The key point here is that Tottenham Hotspur is still essentially Joe Lewis’s club. ENIC Sports Inc. owns 85.56 per cent of the club’s shares. And, to quote from the club’s website, ‘a discretionary trust of which certain members of Mr J Lewis’s family are potential beneficiaries ultimately owns 70.12% of the share capital of ENIC.’”
That was an uncontroversial and widely reported take at the time, with the headline: “Tottenham Hotspur is still Joe Lewis’ club”. Unsurprisingly, the club’s tune has changed in the last 24 hours, with Tottenham disputing Lewis can still be called the “owner” of the club.
Lewis in discussion with Daniel Levy at White Hart Lane in 2014 (Photo: Getty)
But it is perhaps worth pointing out that Lewis effectively controls just over 60 per cent of the club’s shares (70.1 per cent of ENIC’s 85.6 per cent). The rest of ENIC’s shares are owned by Levy and his family via a similar set-up of discretionary trusts.
And, as The Athletic wrote in October, the close relationship between Lewis and Levy is still important at Tottenham. They have been working together for almost 30 years, ever since Lewis met Levy and made the younger man — still in his early thirties — his protegee and point man. Levy still tends to refer to the majority shareholder as ‘Mr Lewis’, even though it is Levy who is the public face of Tottenham.
When Lewis ceased to be a “person with significant control” at Companies House, he was replaced by Bryan Antoine Glinton, a Bahamian lawyer, understood to be one of the officers of the Lewis family trusts which owns the shares in Spurs, and Katie Louise Booth, a British solicitor based in the Bahamas who was said to have “managed the consolidation, preservation and succession of some of the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs”.
However, Lewis’s attitude to who really controls the trusts that have been set up to hold his investments is another point made in the indictment.
In a section about the creation of an offshore trust that was set up in 2013, “purportedly for the benefit of his granddaughter”, to allegedly buy more shares than Lewis was personally allowed to own in a Canadian life sciences firm, the indictment notes: “Although Lewis was not the named beneficiary of the trust, he considered himself as the beneficial owner of the trusts.”
What does this mean for a potential sale of the club?
In the short term, nothing good. Anyone who was thinking about doing business with Lewis is now thanking their lucky stars that they didn’t.
That said, anyone who was in serious talks with Lewis or any of his businesses should have learned about this potential obstacle to completion during their due diligence process.
And that may be why the recent rumours of interest in Spurs -— and other leading European clubs — from American media and sports company Liberty Media appear to be stuck in the gravel trap.
Spun off from an American cable-TV business in 1991, Liberty Media entered the national conversation when they acquired Major League Baseball’s Atlanta Braves in 2007. In the following years it would add satellite and online radio network SiriusXM and a stake in America’s biggest chain of bookshops, Barnes & Noble, to its large portfolio.
But Liberty Media became international news in 2016 when it bought F1, the world’s biggest motorsport property. And it has done a phenomenally good job of running that business.
In a recent interview on a business podcast, Liberty Media’s chief executive Greg Maffei admitted it has been looking at English Premier League clubs. He did not name Spurs but several sources, who wish to remain anonymous to protect relationships, have told The Athletic that talks with the North London club went beyond the “pleased to meet you” stage.
This is hardly a surprise, as Lewis has been in “make me an offer” territory with Spurs for years. Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly and his business partner Jonathan Goldstein tried to buy the club a decade ago via their UK property business Cain Hoy.
Lewis has been in “make me an offer” territory with Spurs for years (Photo: Getty)
But Liberty Media’s relationship with Spurs goes beyond interested shopper and potential seller: they are already in business together. In February, it announced that it was building its first “in-stadium electric karting facility and London’s longest indoor track” below the club’s stadium.
So, Liberty Media and Spurs have been going round and round in circles for some time.
Could Liberty Media, or some other wealthy individual, company or group, finally see the chequered flag and buy Tottenham?
Of course, and while Tuesday’s revelations make that unlikely in the coming weeks and months, they could make it more likely in the medium-to-long term.
Lewis and his family are unlikely to need the money to put up a good legal defence but do they need the added scrutiny that a Premier League team brings? Might this be a good moment to cash in dad’s chips and do something else?
Once everyone has got over the shock of this week’s news, there will be no shortage of people thinking the answer to those questions is “no” and “yes”, which means it could be a good time to call Glinton and Booth and enquire about the football team they control.
And in the last 18 months alone, there have been rumours of bids from Singaporean internet tycoon Forrest Li and Paris Saint-Germain owner Qatar Sports Investments.
They never got off the grid either but someone will buy Spurs eventually. You cannot be “kind of” for sale for that long and never do the deal.
A Premier League club with a high-profile figure facing legal action. Haven’t I heard that before?
Many were asking on Wednesday how comparable this situation is with Roman Abramovich’s position after the former Chelsea owner was sanctioned by the UK government following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In that instance, the Russian oligarch’s UK assets were frozen and Chelsea had to operate under a special licence before the club was sold.
“There are similarities in principle,” says Wright. “(But) there are always factual differences. However, I come back to the question the club (Spurs) must ask: is this a fit and proper person to own the club?”
The Premier League’s owners’ and directors’ test — the OADT, formerly known as the fit and proper persons’ test — means that any prospective owner, part-owner or club director must meet a number of requirements if they are to be allowed to perform one of those roles by a Premier League club, and this will be reviewed every year.
The threshold for what counts as “control” was lowered from 30 per cent to 25 per cent in March, and a number of disqualifying events were added — including potential disqualifications for individuals or companies under government sanctions or those under investigation for “conduct that would result in a ‘Disqualifying Event’ if proven”.
Tottenham, however, argue this does not apply to Lewis because he is no longer considered an owner or director under the Premier League test since he “ceded control”.
In another potential parallel with the Chelsea situation, however, Wright says the freezing of assets is a possibility and would give the case a UK dimension.
The indictment makes it clear that the US authorities will pursue “any and all property, real and personal, that constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the commission of said offences”.
Could there be any similarities between this situation and Abramovich’s departure from Chelsea in 2022? (Photo: Getty)
If any of “forfeitable property” cannot be found because the defendant has somehow hidden it, given it to a third party, placed it beyond the court’s jurisdiction, it has lost value or has been mixed with other assets which cannot be easily divided, the US will go after other property belonging to the defendant of the same value.
“Cases like that often come with an assets-restraint order that is enforceable in different jurisdictions because, as you can imagine, someone like that could have assets all over the world,” explains Wright.
“That could cause an issue for him in terms of trading his shares. That in turn could cause a problem for Spurs. That’s where it gets really serious.
“If banks in this country think Joe Lewis’ transactions in the UK may be linked to the proceeds of crime, they are obliged to make a report to the NCA (National Crime Agency) under their own anti-money laundering measures.
“It could give the banks assurances that they can continue to deal with this guy. But there will be lots of people now — Spurs, the banks, individual companies — who are asking themselves questions about whether they can deal with Joe Lewis.
“The banks could say we can’t deal with you. If they do, the banks could say to Lewis, ‘We’ll freeze your account until such time as we’re given permission to do something else with it. That’s a possibility.”
Given Lewis’s company ENIC owns the vast majority of Spurs, should any of the above happen that would have major ramifications for the club. Let alone the fact that he could face serious jail time.
What happens now?
The next substantive stage is that Lewis must disclose his position on each of those counts on the indictment. The expectation after his lawyer’s initial statement is that he will deny all of them, but this should become clearer over the next few weeks.
Assuming he pleads not guilty, there will be a trial where the defence and prosecution will serve their evidence. In the UK this whole process could take two to three years to resolve, but in the US things are expected to move more quickly.
“It seems that he’s going to run a trial,” Wright says. “He’s certainly denying these matters. Whether they will reach a deal on some of the counts on the indictment, I don’t know because some evidence may be stronger than others. They may well cut a deal, which you can’t do in this country.
“There are counts on the indictment that justify a 20-year prison sentence. Some justify a five-year one, and if he, for example, made some admission of liability with respect of some of the minor charges it may be he doesn’t go to prison at all and therefore his position is much better in respect of continuing in the businesses he’s still in.
“Whether Spurs would be able to justify his involvement in the club is another question.”
What else do we know about Joe Lewis?
Lewis, born above a pub in east London in 1937, is a self-made billionaire.
He left school at 15 to work for his father’s catering company and quickly displayed a flair for making money.
He made his early fortune from the Beefeater pub chain, before earning serious money from playing currency and futures markets.
He set up the Tavistock Group, which now has more than 200 assets across 15 countries. One of Tavistock’s assets is the investment firm ENIC.
In 2001, ENIC bought a controlling stake in Tottenham. Lewis entrusted Levy with the day-to-day running of the club, and has always been extremely detached.
Lewis chats with Tiger Woods during the 2012 Tavistock Cup in Florida (Photo: Getty)
He attends Tottenham games very rarely (on average less than one per season) and usually for specific reasons, such as the first game at the new stadium or the 2019 Champions League final. His last match was Tottenham’s home win over West Ham last March.
He is understood to watch matches from the big screens on his 98.4-metre yacht Aviva III, where he has his own trading desk, surrounded by his billion-pound art collection. His collection is said to include work from Picasso, Matisse and Freud.
Yacht-tracking data from the website Vessel Tracking reports the Aviva is currently in Italy where it appears to be docked at Porto Ercole in Tuscany.
Over the last few months it has been cruising around the Mediterranean, docking at Malaga in Spain, Gibraltar and Malta before spending the last two months along the Italian coast.
Lewis spends most of his time in the Bahamas, home of his 600-acre Albany resort. It is, according to Lewis’ company’s website, jointly owned with Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Justin Timberlake. He also owns huge amounts of land in places like Orlando, Florida and Argentina.
Additional reporting: Adam Crafton
(Lead graphic: Sam Richardson, Mark Leech/Offside, Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
Kane uncertainty, transfer frustration – and so much rain
By Charlie Eccleshare
Jul 23, 2023
Ange Postecoglou knew how big a job he had when taking over at Tottenham Hotspur, but this pre-season tour alone has confirmed that, at his new club, it never rains but it pours.
That was quite literally the case on Sunday, when a Bangkok monsoon put paid to the friendly against Leicester City. Combined with Roma pulling out of this Wednesday’s game and it means that the only serious opposition Spurs will have faced on a gruelling tour that has taken in Australia, Thailand and Singapore are an under-strength West Ham, missing players who were involved in the most recent internationals. On Wednesday in Singapore, local side Lion City Sailors have stepped in for Roma, monsoons permitting.
This tour will have been lucrative for Spurs, but it hardly feels like ideal preparation for a team that badly needs time on the pitch to get used to Postecoglou’s ideas. Sunday was effectively a wasted day — the players’ exercise consisted of warming up in torrential rain before hanging around and waiting to be told the game wouldn’t be happening — when there really isn’t time to waste. They had also trained during a downpour the previous evening after flying through a storm to get to Thailand.
(Photo: Pakawich Damrongkiattisak/Getty Images)
Things like this can happen on a pre-season tour, especially in tropical climates at the start of the monsoon season, but it’s also the case that schedules for these kinds of trips are so carefully mapped out that a cancellation like this is infuriatingly disruptive. Not that Spurs will get much sympathy from their supporters, many of whom questioned the decision to play a friendly in a country during monsoon season in the first place.
Perhaps the misfortunes Spurs have suffered wouldn’t be being felt so keenly if it wasn’t for the spectre of Harry Kane’s future hovering above the tour. The matches themselves were supposed to offer some relief from the incessant noise surrounding Kane. Saturday’s pre-game press conference, for instance, featured some interesting lines from James Maddison about his hopes at Spurs, and from Postecoglou about why his new signing could be “a leader” for the team.
Ange Postecoglou (Photo: LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)
Instead, all anyone could talk about was the German journalist who presented Postecoglou with a Bayern Munich shirt with ‘Kane 9’ on the back. Postecoglou dealt with him well, like a stand-up comedian putting down a heckler, but he looked furious and the reporter in question was subsequently banned from Sunday’s game.
Kane’s future was also, unsurprisingly, the very first question asked in Postecoglou’s homecoming press conference in Perth on Monday ahead of the West Ham game. “Question one, eh?” was the manager’s response.
It’s tedious for all concerned, and later in the week Postecoglou said he didn’t want the uncertainty over Kane’s future to drag on for “too long”.
Postecoglou has also had to manage with no new centre-backs. He was clear on Wednesday that this is something he wants addressed. When asked if he would like to sign one before Spurs’ season starts against Brentford on August 13, Postecoglou replied: “Yeah, I think that’s definitely our intention, absolutely. We’ve been working on it for a while and we’ll definitely try to get it done as quickly as possible.”
Tottenham conceded 63 Premier League goals last season and another three in Tuesday’s friendly defeat to West Ham. Ben Davies, a left-back or left-sided central defender in a three, was down to be one of Tottenham’s two starting centre-backs against Leicester.
Postecoglou ideally wants two new centre-backs this window, but progress remains frustratingly slow. Wolfsburg’s Micky van de Ven and Edmond Tapsoba of Bayer Leverkusen are among their main targets, but a breakthrough on either remains elusive. Then there’s Blackburn’s 18-year-old Ashley Phillips, who, if signed, would be separate from the two senior central defenders Tottenham want to sign this window. He was thought to be on the verge of joining the club, but a fee has yet to be agreed and Blackburn are reportedly upping their asking price.
You can guess at Postecoglou’s frustration at the Leicester game being washed out given what he said earlier in the week in Perth, when he explained that while the “fog is lifting” there are some things you can only learn from playing matches.
“It’s just a matter of being really alert, having eyes and ears open to get a real picture and as quickly as possible fill the gaps and rectify things that need rectifying,” he said. “I’m still in that stage. I haven’t got a full picture of everything I need to have real clarity about but in the 12-13 days I’ve been at the club, the fog is lifting. I can see more of what needs to be done. The West Ham game revealed some things that you can’t see unless you play that first game.”
There would have been lots of things the Leicester game would have revealed, too, only for the fog to be replaced with rain and with Spurs flying again tonight, there is no chance to reschedule.
How much Postecoglou will learn from playing the third-best team in the Singapore Premier League – who lost 7-2 to a Borussia Dortmund side stripped of their World Cup players last November – is open to question. And this is a head coach, remember, whose teams often start slowly after he joins as they acclimatise to his methods.
He and the players will still have got a lot out of this trip, and many have referenced how good a bonding opportunity it’s been, but Postecoglou will return with a number of the issues still there and only intensifying.
An untimely bout of COVID-19, injuries and a lack of faith from the head coach Antonio Conte meant his debut campaign was a non-event — a big disappointment after he arrived from Brighton for an initial £25million ($32m) last summer to much fanfare.
The sense now though is that Bissouma is more settled, and has a manager who has a bit more faith in him. Ange Postecoglou has already told Bissouma how important a player he could be for Spurs this season, and encouraged him to take more responsibility and set the standards for some of the younger players. Bissouma appeared to have taken this on board already during Monday’s open training session, encouraging and offering words of advice to some of his more junior team-mates.
Bissouma, who turns 27 next month, is enjoying working with the new head coach. “He gives us confidence,” Bissouma said of Postecoglou after impressing in Tuesday’s 3-2 friendly defeat to West Ham in Perth. “He’s like a dad, uncle, friend for us so we’re happy to be with him and we’re trying to do what he wants. Today he was good because we played our football the way he wanted the team to play.
“He’s good with us. He gives us confidence. He comes to his players and talks to us all. That’s really important in the changing room. When the gaffer comes and speaks to his players that means everything. You know how we have to do it.”
Bissouma certainly looked quickly up to speed with how to play under Postecoglou. Stationed in the all-important No 6 role behind James Maddison and Oliver Skipp, Bissouma was tasked with both stopping West Ham attacks and starting Spurs ones. There were times when he was overrun and caught out defensively, but a smart tackle on Jarrod Bowen early on would have pleased Postecoglou. And from an attacking sense, Bissouma was at the centre of Tottenham’s best move of the match — exchanging passes with Skipp and then having a shot saved from close range.
That chance followed another slick move, which started when Bissouma dropped in between the centre-backs as he did throughout the first half, received a pass under pressure from goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario and managed to not only keep the ball but take out a couple of West Ham players by sliding it out to the right. Tottenham went down the other end and nearly scored, and it seemed to flick a switch. The players suddenly believed in what they were doing and created five decent openings in the five minutes before half-time.
“I really like the way we play but you have to adapt yourself,” Bissouma said of his role in the team. “The coach can ask me to play right-back, left-back, centre-back. In my head, I’m ready to play every position for my team. But I’m happy to play the way I played today. I really like it.”
When asked about last season, a pretty dismal campaign on a personal level that began with Bissouma self-isolating in Korea after testing positive for Covid-19 at the start of Tottenham’s pre-season tour, Bissouma said he didn’t want to look back. “Last year is last year,” he said. “I don’t have to talk about last year. It’s past. You have to look forward and focus on the future. I’m trying to work really hard to be ready for the season.”
Fair enough, but just to quickly recap, after that bout of Covid, Bissouma was a substitute for Spurs’ first four games of the season. His first start was away at West Ham and proved to be a difficult night for a midfielder who had looked so composed when destroying Spurs for Brighton four months earlier in a 1-0 win for Graham Potter’s side. By contrast, Bissouma was off the pace at the London Stadium and booked after just 20 minutes for bringing down Bowen and then showing his frustration.
Bissouma made his first Tottenham start at West Ham last August (Photo: Getty)
Bissouma made a positive difference off the bench in Spurs’ next game — the 6-2 win over Leicester — but only started seven more league games under Conte. His last appearance under the Italian was a late cameo against Manchester City in early February. He then had to undergo an ankle operation after suffering a stress fracture and didn’t return until May, by which time Spurs were onto their third manager of the season. That’s another important bit of context to bear in mind when evaluating Bissouma’s debut season: the perma-crisis that was Tottenham Hotspur in 2022-23. In any case, Bissouma made an instant impression on his return with a productive appearance off the bench away at Aston Villa.
Ryan Mason, by then interim head coach, said of Bissouma the following week: “Every one of our midfielders has different strengths and probably one of Yves’ biggest strengths is his ability to get on the ball and drive. He can be an all-round midfielder. We have good midfielders that can do the same thing but I think he is an explosive player and hopefully he can help us in the next two games.”
Bissouma did that, starting the next two to finish the season strongly and looking as though he would be ready to make his mark in the next campaign.
“I think that is quite normal when you come into a different style of play and a different system, it can take time,” Mason said of Bissouma’s first year at Tottenham.
Mason’s positivity was echoed by others at Spurs. The sense was that coming on here and there and being given very precise, predominantly defensive instructions from Conte hadn’t really brought out the best in him. It was felt that Bissouma might benefit from a bit more freedom and licence to get forward, and that under a new manager we might see a very different version of him.
Enter Postecoglou. It’s very early days but it’s worth remembering that Bissouma took a little while to settle at Brighton too. And although he enjoyed working under Chris Hughton, it was the arrival of Graham Potter in the summer of 2019 ahead of Bissouma’s second season at the Amex Stadium that really precipitated his improvement from unknown to one of the Premier League’s most highly-rated midfielders. To the point where within two years he was being hailed as an “exceptional footballer” by Match of the Day host and former England captain Gary Lineker in April 2021. At around that time, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher predicted clubs “will not just be looking this summer — they will be bidding,” adding that they would have to pay “top dollar”.
Returning to Potter, it’s worth noting that like with Postecoglou, Bissouma described him as “like my dad”.
There are other similarities between the two head coaches in relation to Bissouma. Tactically, Potter asked for similar things to what Postecoglou is demanding from the midfielder. In his final season at Brighton, Bissouma played in the No 6 role in front of the defence for 96 per cent of his minutes, often as the lone defensive pivot and asked to constantly drop in between the centre-backs and collect the ball in tight areas. Just as he is being asked to by Postecoglou. Likewise, he was tasked with getting through a lot of aggressive defensive work, doing so very successfully and winning the vast majority of his individual battles. Smarterscout’s duel ratings, which take into account the quality of opponent a player has faced in those duels, had Bissouma in the 96th percentile in his final season at Brighton.
This all followed him gradually evolving from a No 8 early on in Potter’s first season to a No 6 in a double pivot and then being able to play at the base of midfield on his own.
Potter worked hard with him on the tactical side of his game, and Bissouma responded well to his teachings.
“He has improved me tactically a lot,” Bissouma said two years ago. “He will say to me, ‘Biss. Don’t go here, don’t go there. Stay in your position’. He has helped me understand the game better and that understanding in the Premier League is so important.”
Bissouma also excelled at Brighton once the club’s staff worked out how best to manage him. As one source put it to The Athletic in 2021: “Everyone loves him and, because of that, everyone forgives him for some of the little things that drive you mad.”
It will be interesting to see how this side of things develops at Tottenham.
Generally, Bissouma is well-liked at the club, a fairly quiet character who naturally gravitates towards the francophone players like Pape Matar Sarr. His father remains one of his biggest influences, someone he speaks to regularly on the phone after games.
Preferring to look forward rather than back, Bissouma says of this season: “We always have big ambitions. Everyone knows the Premier League is not easy but we’re working to get ready and we’ll see.”
It comes from the end of January this year, when his Wolfsburg team were searching for a goal deep in stoppage time as a way back into a DFB-Pokal tie they were losing 2-1 away to Union Berlin.
Wolfsburg loaded the penalty box, goalkeeper and all, for one last corner, only to see the ball cleared and punted back into their half, towards the unguarded net.
The game was over, time was up. Jerome Roussillon, one of the quicker wing-backs in Germany, raced away and towards the loose ball, and would have scored a third goal in front of his own supporters were it not for Van de Ven, who ran from one six-yard box to the other, making up enough ground to block his goal-bound shot just before the line.
It was a miraculous clearance — because of the blur-like acceleration but also Van de Ven’s willingness to chase two different sorts of lost cause. Whether Roussillon had scored or not, Union were going through, and the referee allowed the action to continue only because it would have seemed churlish to blow the whistle.
By some distance, it was the finest goal-line clearance in German football last season. Most likely, it will be the best for many years to come.
Van de Ven’s Netherlands side were eliminated from this summer’s European Under-21 Championship in Romania and Georgia at the group stage.
The Wolfsburg defender was certainly among their better performers, however, and the tournament was still a stage for his personality.
Their final game against Georgia, a 1-1 draw that was terminal to Dutch hopes, was contested in a bear pit of an atmosphere in Tbilisi. The first two games, however, were both sparsely attended and had a lockdown atmosphere that allowed conversations on the pitch to echo around. Van de Ven was his side’s captain for many of those minutes and he was loud and fierce, and walked with a strut.
And why not? His rise in the game has been extremely quick.
Within the space of 18 months, he’s graduated from the second tier of Dutch football with FC Volendam to become, at just 22, one of the most talked-about young centre-backs in the Bundesliga.
Running speed statistics shouldn’t always be taken literally but in this case, they do describe the athlete; outrunning him would be like to trying to evade that big rock rumbling after Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. He’s been largely excellent for Wolfsburg and it’s not unreasonable for him to be deemed an option for RB Leipzig, should they sell the mighty Josko Gvardiol this summer.
These are not impressions formed only from youth tournaments and theory. Van de Ven authored a strong body of work at Wolfsburg last season. Niko Kovac’s team have generally operated from a back four, with Van de Ven partnering Maxence Lacroix in the middle, but he’s also been pushed out to the left of a back three and, on occasion, used as the left-back in a four.
Specifically, the Lacroix partnership has worked well. Whereas Van de Ven habitually carries the ball forward into midfield and sometimes beyond, 23-year-old Frenchman Lacroix is a more static player and a more traditional centre-back. There’s good chemistry between the two; they are balanced and complementary.
While the Bundesliga’s defensive standards are not high currently and Wolfsburg suffered a late-season 6-0 hammering at Borussia Dortmund which sullied their goals-against tally, that pairing — and their defence as a whole — has been resolute.
Van de Ven on the ball for Wolfsburg (Photo: Helge Prang/Getty Images)
It’s worth noting also that Dortmund defeat, a humbling afternoon for Van de Ven, saw him pushed to the left of a back three with two unfamiliar central defensive partners to his right and a wing-back in Jakub Kaminski on his outside who is both young and, really, more of a wide midfielder.
Van de Ven did not play well. It was arguably his worst game of the season. But he was left badly exposed against Dortmund’s lightning-quick wide-forwards, and he was really more symptom than cause.
Focusing instead on last season as a whole, Van de Ven’s profile is compelling.
His size and speed have been noted and, naturally, they make him a formidable opponent either in a race, or in a shoulder-to-shoulder situation. He doesn’t lose many of those duels.
With the ball, he’s also an asset. Aesthetically, he can look a bit like a lorry without brakes, rolling downhill and gathering speed. He’s definitely not one of those artist-like centre-backs; he plays in heavy boots rather than velvet slippers, but he is more technical than he looks and capable of finding a way to escape opponents and protecting the ball under pressure.
His distribution is not adventurous. He’s safe and reliable in possession and can knife the odd pass into midfield, but he doesn’t clip the ball 60 yards and land it on the toe of a team-mate. Actually, his long-range distribution can be quite agricultural and while he is bold at taking players on, he knows his limitations as a playmaker.
What’s also interesting, is that despite a generally active, aggressive profile, his defensive engagement is not high at all. In any way, in fact: on the ground or in the air, despite his height.
In the Smarterscout chart above, which comes courtesy of The Athletic’s Mark Carey, the defensive numbers point to a player who doesn’t force himself upon attacking moves and who doesn’t jump “up and out” in pursuit of the ball. In style, he’s actually quite laissez-faire. For instance, watching Van de Ven defend against counter-attacks, his tendency is really to delay the move rather than to try to stop it dead. He’s a considered defender; patient, even.
As far as Tottenham’s overtures are concerned, considering Cristian Romero is highly compulsive, always drawn to the ball, and always determined to make a challenge one way or another, that kind of partnership would have balance. There would be overlap in the sense that both players like to range upfield, but they fundamentally contrast in the way that they prefer to defend.
There are still reasons to be cautious.
Van de Ven is a powerful and forceful tackler. In close-range situations, his size is often a strength in the sense that he blocks out the sun; he takes away passing avenues and the path to goal very well. However, he also has a scything technique that produces a “ball and all” impact that, if interpreted in a certain way, might draw refereeing attention, fouls and cards of various hues.
Perhaps more concerning is what looks like a vulnerability against a certain type of player.
The screen grab below is taken from Wolfsburg’s visit to Borussia Monchengladbach in April. It shows Nathan Ngoumou in possession and Van de Ven facing him in a good position, but with loose marking from his team-mates nearer the penalty spot.
Ngoumou was signed by Gladbach last summer and aside from a few minutes at the end of October’s reverse fixture, this was the first time the two had faced each other in the Bundesliga. As the position of his left foot suggests, Van de Ven is anticipating that Ngoumou will head for the byline, keep the ball on his stronger right side, and aim to stand up a cross to the back post.
But when Ngoumou chops inside, Van de Ven’s weight distribution leaves him unable to recover ground quickly enough, and the winger has the time to bend the opening goal inside the far post. Wolfsburg lost the game, 2-0.
There was mitigation.
Data from Ngoumou’s performances show he was far more likely to cross in this situation than to cut back and shoot. He averaged just 0.46 shots per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga last season and Van de Ven, who was presumably made aware of such numbers, was likely just playing those percentages.
To further emphasise that point, this was actually Ngoumou’s only goal in 21 appearances for Gladbach last season, so this might just have been a case of a defender being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and paying a heavy price.
However, Van de Ven was also tilted off-balance in a very similar way by Youssoufa Moukoko in that six-goal hiding at the Westfalenstadion, giving up a scoring chance that his goalkeeper Koen Casteels did well to parry. Other moments from his season — particularly against Hertha Berlin at home and, coincidently, from that cup tie with Union — also suggest that his footwork isn’t always as efficient as it might be, and that he can be slow to respond when the ball is moved quickly in front of him.
That hardly constitutes a red flag or a terminal flaw, but it’s a weakness dynamic and technical opponents can target.
And obviously, the higher in the game Van de Ven goes, the more of those players he’ll encounter.
From the perspective of how Van de Ven’s career might develop, it’s worth considering where he’s come from and what the catalysts behind his rapid rise have been.
He was born in Wormer, a small town not far north of Amsterdam, and his formative footballing years were spent in Volendam, which, by population, is smaller than Chippenham in Wiltshire or Paris, Texas. Wolfsburg is several times bigger, obviously, but its atmosphere still isn’t comparable to a major city.
Van de Van acknowledges Wolfsburg fans (Photo: Boris Streubel/Getty Images)
The point being: it’s not a bright spotlight if you’re playing your football there.
The Volkswagen Arena looks bigger than it is and Wolfsburg rarely even come close to selling out its 30,000 capacity. Financially, they are a big club that attracts talented players and has been periodically competitive in the Bundesliga, but they don’t compare to teams such as Schalke, Hamburg and Stuttgart, despite being much more successful than them in recent years.
Depending on a player’s personality, it’s an ideal place to learn and develop. There are expectations, yes, but bad results and performances in Wolfsburg don’t necessarily attract as much scrutiny and opprobrium as they do elsewhere.
All of which might be irrelevant; talented, emotionally resilient players come from capital cities and hamlets alike, but if Van de Ven were to move to a major club, either within Germany or beyond, and be exposed to the viciousness of the news cycle and the fans’ tantrums on social media, it would be a new challenge and something that he hasn’t experienced before.
It’s in his future, though. That’s inevitable. How he copes with that change when it comes and how well his next club can refine his abilities will determine whether he keeps rising on the same trajectory.
In the short term, James Maddison’s move from Leicester City to Tottenham Hotspur has been completed extremely quickly. The transfer window has only been open for two weeks, we’re not even in July, and an agreement was reached this week after just a couple of days of talks.
Zoom out however, and this is a deal almost a decade in the making. Spurs considered signing Maddison, now 26 years old, from Coventry City in January 2015 when he was 18 — and even by then they had been tracking him for a little while. They thought about going in for him in 2016 too, when he moved to Norwich City, then again in 2018, when Leicester bought him, and then again last summer.
Finally, they’ve got their man.
What’s changed? Well, before revisiting how Tottenham missed out on Maddison previously, it’s worth explaining why things have moved so quickly this time around.
The two clubs began serious conversations a couple of weeks ago, but were far apart on their valuations. There were even reports of a £50million double bid for Maddison and team-mate Harvey Barnes, which were denied by Spurs sources. In any case, Leicester wanted around £60million just for Maddison, which was far higher than Tottenham were prepared to go.
(Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
Spurs were helped, though, by a few factors. One was that Leicester had just been relegated from the Premier League, and so were clearly in a position where they needed to sell their most prized assets. Even prior to them going down, Leicester’s chief executive Susan Whelan said in March that, with the club making big financial losses, they needed to return to their model of “profits from player trading and continued successful recruitment”.
In other words, selling off their most valuable players — and that meant Maddison.
Also, Maddison is clearly too good for the Championship — he started a European Championship qualifier for England earlier this month — and wanted to move on. Champions League-bound Newcastle United were also in the running, but Tottenham, who he had nearly joined previously remember, were his preference. And the fact he only had a year left on his contract put him, and Spurs, in an even stronger position.
James Maddison has been on Tottenham’s radar since 2015 (Photo: Getty)
A position that was further helped by Newcastle, who had been Tottenham’s only serious rivals for Maddison’s signature, stepping away from the table. They liked the player, and made two bids for him last summer, but their focus was on other targets — including fellow midfielder Sandro Tonali, who will soon join from AC Milan for around €70million (£60.4m, $76.4m).
No serious competition for his signature meant Leicester were in no position to try to drive up the price.
There are other important bits of context to consider too in understanding why this deal came together so swiftly.
One is that Leicester got badly burnt last year by selling a star player too late. Then it was Wesley Fofana, who they played hardball over with Chelsea. It worked to an extent in that they were able to extract a £75million fee, but it dragged on until the penultimate day of the summer window, disrupting their start to the season (one point from the first seven league games) and leaving them with precious little time to source a replacement. In the end, Wout Faes was brought in late the following day for £15million.
With a huge post-relegation rebuild required this summer, they wanted proper time to spend the money from this transfer.
Another factor to consider is that Friday, June 30, marks the end of the financial year for football clubs, and so there tends to be a rush to get deals done at this time in order to comply with financial regulations. And so, for a club in a tricky economic position such as Leicester, an extra £40million would be very useful. Similarly, it made sense for Spurs to get a deal done before other clubs felt emboldened to start spending again and potentially enter the race for Maddison once we were into a fresh financial year.
A breakthrough was reached in negotiations on Monday, and it didn’t take long for an agreement to follow.
By Wednesday, Maddison was in north London for his medical. Spurs’ new head coach Ange Postecoglou will no doubt be delighted that one of his main targets has been purchased so speedily. And while it’s been assumed Maddison will play as a No 8 in a 4-3-3, it’s been suggested Postecoglou could use him as a No 10 behind a front two of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min (more on that later).
In any case, the swiftness of the Maddison deal was in stark contrast to those years of interest that never amounted to anything.
This is the story of a deal almost a decade in the making.
In the January transfer window of 2015, Tottenham were closely monitoring two 18-year-olds then playing in League One: Coventry City’s James Maddison and Dele Alli of MK Dons.
They ended up signing Dele and immediately loaning him back, but had some at Spurs had their way they would have got them both. Maddison, who the club had been tracking for a while, had made a huge impression on those who had watched him. The cleverness on the ball, the vision — those who saw him back then say it was like he had eyes in the back of his head. His talent was so obvious that supposedly anyone who watched him could have seen he was special.
Spurs though decided not to pursue the transfer. This was partly down to his wiry frame, not everyone was convinced he had what was required to make it at the top level.
A year on, Spurs were again weighing up a move. Maddison was 19 by this stage and, after recovering from a back injury, was continuing to look every inch a Premier League star in the making.
Maddison played 42 times for hometown club Coventry City (Photo: Getty)
David Pleat, working in a consultancy capacity for Spurs, had spotted both Maddison and Dele, and it was joked in January 2016 in the pages of the Coventry Telegraph that: “He (Pleat) might as well be a season-ticket holder at the Ricoh Arena (Coventry’s ground) this season given the amount of games he’s taken in tracking Madders.”
Dele’s success in his 2015-16 debut season at Spurs — he was on his way to winning the first of back-to-back PFA Young Player of the Year awards — strengthened Pleat and the club’s sense that there were gems to be found in the English game’s lower leagues. Teenage forwards Moussa Dembele and Ademola Lookman of then-Championship sides Fulham and Charlton Athletic were also on Tottenham’s wishlist, but it was Maddison, with his impudence and self-assuredness, who was seen as most similar to Dele. And the most natural fit for Mauricio Pochettino’s upwardly-mobile young team.
Again though, Spurs’ decision-makers didn’t see enough in Maddison to pursue it, and on February 1, 2016 he instead joined Norwich City for £2.4million amid reported interest from other Premier League clubs including Liverpool, Manchester City and Newcastle. With Norwich involved an ultimately unsuccessful relegation battle, he was immediately loaned back to Coventry for the rest of the League One season.
The Premier League was always the dream but for Maddison and his father Gary, it also made sense to take things one step at a time and join a smaller club while he was still developing and would play more, rather than move to a big top-flight team where first-team chances would be scarce.
Part of what makes Maddison different is that he plays more instinctively than most — a product of the fact he’s been playing first-team football since he was 17 rather than the more sanitised, homogenised world of Premier League academies — another similarity with Dele, who Maddison compared himself to while at Norwich.
Fast forward a couple of years and Spurs again made inquiries about Maddison.
By now though, his outstanding performances in the Championship meant his price was 10 times what it had been in 2016. Spurs were also in the middle of their stadium rebuild — this was the infamous summer of no signings — and in June 2018 he joined Premier League Leicester in a deal worth £24million, including add-ons.
After initially being misread by manager Claude Puel as a deep-lying midfielder, Maddison excelled as a No 10.
Spurs retained their interest and last summer considered making a move, with then-head coach Antonio Conte a fan. They ultimately opted against pursuing Maddison once more but, 12 months on, the time had finally arrived. By now, any concerns they had once had were gone.
For instance, Maddison had a reputation as a young man for allowing his confidence to spill over into arrogance. He was also prone to lapses of judgement — he was dropped by Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers in April 2021, along with team-mates Hamza Choudhury and Ayoze Perez, for attending a party in breach of Covid-19 protocols.
Since becoming a father a few months later, however, he is said to have matured a lot. Maddison became increasingly vocal and articulate in team meetings, and captained Leicester on several occasions last season.
After being on the bench for the 2021 FA Cup final win over Chelsea, Maddison knuckled down and worked hard to refute any suggestion he didn’t apply himself as much as he should. Where once he could drift in and out of games, he became more assertive and difficult to keep on the periphery.
Maddison (left) won the FA Cup with Leicester, although he was benched for the final (Photo: Getty)
Some at Tottenham were struck last September when, even in a 6-2 away defeat, Maddison ran the game, constantly linking the play and scoring a stunning goal. The way he kept demanding the ball and manipulating it evoked memories for others of the great Luka Modric’s days at White Hart Lane. Then there was his ability to keep the ball in tight areas, spread the play and lose defenders by allowing the ball to run past him and wrongfoot them. The fact he doesn’t really run beyond the strikers is why it’s been suggested he should operate in a No 10 position behind Kane and Son.
The ability to play in multiple roles makes Maddison even more appealing, and wherever he is used he has massively improved his efficiency in the final third. Over the past three seasons, only six players, two of whom are now team-mates — Kane, Mohamed Salah, Son, Kevin De Bruyne, Bruno Fernandes and Ollie Watkins — have been directly involved in more Premier League goals than his 52.
And with Postecoglou as his coach, he could reach even greater heights. The former Celtic manager’s appointment is also significant as it means Maddison will have a Spurs boss who will encourage rather than inhibit his creative impulses.
It’s taken a while but the time is finally right for the Maddison-Tottenham union.
Bayern Munich have made a €70million (£60.2m; $76.7m) offer for Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane and are optimistic about completing a deal.
Tottenham are expected to reject Bayern’s approach, and insist they will not sell the England captain this summer. But with Kane turning 30 next month and having only a year left on his contract, perhaps the club’s stance would change if a bigger bid landed at their door.
Our reporters look at why the German champions and their coach Thomas Tuchel are so keen on Kane, as well as at Spurs’ stance, the player’s situation and whether other clubs might get involved now Bayern have started the bidding…
Why Bayern want him
Just over 12 months ago, Bayern identified Kane as a suitable replacement for Robert Lewandowski, who was about to join Barcelona after eight seasons at the Allianz Arena.
Initial talks with the England skipper’s camp were encouraging but Bayern weren’t quite convinced the transfer was feasible, nor were they entirely sure Kane would be really prepared to push for the difficult move to go through.
With only one year left on his contract, the 29-year-old has a bit more leverage this time. Still, more importantly, the Tottenham striker declared his readiness to join Bayern in recent talks with Tuchel. They’re now optimistic that a deal can be struck.
It’s easy to see why the serial German champions have made Kane their No 1 priority this summer. He is two players in one: a wonderful finisher in the box but just as adept at holding the ball up and playing in fast runners — which Bayern’s squad have in abundance — moving beyond him.
Looking at Kane’s most common progressive passes — defined as a pass of a minimum five metres (5.5 yards) that advances the ball 25 per cent or more closer to the opposition goal line — since the 2019-20 season, you can see how he is likely to drop into central areas near the halfway line, spin off, then play those diagonal or vertical balls forward.
Similarly, Kane will commonly drift into half-spaces in attacking phases to try to play a killer ball between the lines — commonly to unlock a defence or play the “pass before the assist” — rather than always being that striker prowling the zone between the goalposts.
Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Jamal Musiala and Sadio Mane — if he’s still at the club after deadline day — would all thrive on his service. Tuchel’s possession game will be greatly enhanced by a technical forward who can create depth by dragging defenders out of the back line. At the same time, Kane can also play like a more orthodox target man, holding up the ball for his team’s midfielders to join the attack.
It goes without saying that Kane is an elite penalty-box striker, with his 25 non-penalty goals last season — scored from 16.7 xG — only beaten by Manchester City’s Erling Haaland. A rate of 0.66 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes in the Premier League in 2022-23 was Kane’s best return for five seasons.
He is quite simply a chief goalscorer and creator for club and country.
Bayern haven’t had much need for such directness in recent years, but there were signs in the games against Borussia Dortmund (4-2 win) and Manchester City (4-1 defeat on aggregate) that Tuchel won’t mind ceding space and going down the more vertical route in key fixtures. Drilled excessively to make the most out of a couple of transitional opportunities in big matches by former Spurs manager Antonio Conte, Kane would undoubtedly play that role to perfection.
He also brings other benefits. Bayern are very impressed by his professionalism and character. They see him as a potentially important voice and role model in the dressing room. Signing the England captain would also raise Bayern’s profile in the English-speaking media, which is of importance to their marketing efforts.
Raphael Honigstein and Mark Carey
Tottenham’s stance on Kane
Just as in 2021 and 2022, Spurs continue to insist they will not be selling Kane this summer — and that any bids will be rejected. As such, there is no official valuation placed on the player.
Chairman Daniel Levy has no desire to let him go and will keep trying to get the striker to sign a new contract, even if that process goes into next season. Although, it has been suggested that a package of more than £100million would surely have to at least be considered for a player who is currently going to be out of contract next summer — especially if it came from a foreign club rather than one in the Premier League.
Despite there being hope that Kane stays, internally Spurs have been planning since last year in case he were to leave (as any club would). Their recruitment team have a list of possible replacements ready to go if he does move on, as is the case for all positions. Given the importance of Kane to the team, though, there is special attention on how they would deal with his departure.
They have drawn up a range of options, from experienced strikers similar to Kane to much younger players. Using existing players in a different or similar system is part of the conversation, too. For example, playing Richarlison or Son Heung-min as the starting striker and bringing in a top young talent to compete with them.
Charlie Eccleshare, David Ornstein and Adam Leventhal
And what about Kane himself?
Kane’s Spurs contract expires at the end of June next year and talks are not advanced about a new one. Despite this, nothing has been decided about his future.
At this stage, the dialogue is between the two clubs and Kane is not actively agitating for a move. Bayern will have felt emboldened to make Tuesday’s bid but this is not yet a 2021 situation — when the player made his desire for a move to Manchester City clear.
Naturally, though, a move to a club such as Real Madrid or Bayern would appeal to Kane. The stumbling block in these situations is the club-to-club negotiations; personal terms between Kane and Bayern would not be a problem.
Kane’s position down the years has been clear: he wants to win trophies — ideally at Spurs, but if that doesn’t look possible then somewhere else. Off the back of a dismal season when Tottenham finished eighth to miss out on European football altogether for 2023-24, Kane may decide he needs to move on to achieve those ambitions. But it is still possible that things will go well from the off under new head coach Ange Postecoglou and he will end up staying. Certainly, there’s no reason to question Kane’s commitment right now or if he stays into next season.
It’s undeniable that his ability and contract status make him a very attractive target for some of Europe’s elite sides. And should Bayern, Madrid or another of the continent’s superclubs make a concerted effort to sign him, then he and Tottenham will have a big decision to make.
(Photo: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Breaking Alan Shearer’s Premier League goalscoring record of 260 is not the be-all and end-all for Kane (currently on 213); his priority is to have success and challenge for/win the biggest trophies in club football. And he could always return to the Premier League after a short spell abroad and still have the legs to overtake Shearer.
Charlie Eccleshare and David Ornstein
Might other clubs get involved?
Erik ten Hag wants Kane to be his No 1 striker next season, and communicated that internally at United several weeks ago. Ten Hag wants a proven scorer and Kane is the surest thing out there. His ability to link play from the front is also seen as fitting Ten Hag’s approach perfectly.
United’s football director John Murtough has, however, been aware of the difficulties involved in buying Kane from Tottenham and was reluctant to get drawn into a pursuit that could go to deadline day on September 1 with no resolution.
Still, Ten Hag felt there was a chance of getting Kane, given the player’s desire for Champions League football and silverware — both of which the Dutchman has delivered in his 2022-23 debut season at Old Trafford.
Ten Hag wanted United to try to test Levy’s resolve. After conversations, though, United have stepped away without making a bid, in the clear belief that Levy will not sell Kane this summer, especially to a direct Premier League rival.
Whether this proves to be the case as the window continues — and quite how satisfied Ten Hag is with the decision, given the need for a new centre-forward at United — remains to be seen.
There are certainly people close to the situation who feel Levy would agree to a sale this summer rather than lose Kane as a free agent in a year’s time.
On June 1, Real Madrid’s president Florentino Perez, director general Jose Angel Sanchez and manager Carlo Ancelotti met to discuss transfer plans for the summer. Ancelotti, as he had done a year earlier, called for reinforcements in attack, with one name above the rest: Kane.
Given the complications of any deal for Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain or Haaland, the England striker was the Italian’s preferred target. He believes Kane would bring a lot of goals and also greatly help knit Madrid’s team together up front.
Perez and Sanchez approved the name and told Ancelotti they would do their best to sign him. However, they also both warned of the difficulties involved. Levy is considered by those in control at the Santiago Bernabeu to be the most difficult negotiator in the business.
(Photo: Jose Breton/Pics Action/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
A few days later, a club source, who requested anonymity to protect relationships, told The Athletic that Kane had made signs he would be attracted by a move to Real Madrid. This emerged shortly after something similar had been conveyed to each of the clubs vying for his signature.
Madrid understood that Kane would likely cost well over €100million. They do not consider that figure good value for a player of his age and with only a year left on his contract.
Almost from the outset, Madrid didn’t consider a move for Kane to be realistic — despite Ancelotti’s admiration for the player.
Mario Cortegana Santos
PSG will be watching developments on this one closely but, for now, they will be unmoved. There is interest in Kane from the French champions: they want to sign a recognised No 9, and he is one of the best in the world in that position. But as with many things at the Parc des Princes, much depends on Mbappe.
Once more, Mbappe’s own future is uncertain. Like Kane, his contract expires at the end of next season, but he had the option to extend it by a further year. Earlier this month, Mbappe sent a letter to PSG outlining that he has no intention of doing that. He has repeated publicly his intention to stay for 2023-24. But after that? He will not be drawn publicly. PSG, meanwhile, do not want to allow Mbappe to walk away for free next summer.
(Photo: Franck Fife/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
That stalemate is now simmering away in Paris and it has big implications for their work in the transfer market.
Should Mbappe leave this summer, it would open up financial fair play (FFP) headroom for PSG. The club are also on the verge of appointing Luis Enrique as head coach and they would want to offer him a strong squad — even if France captain Mbappe departs. At that point, their interest in Kane may become material. If Mbappe, stays, however, Kane may prove beyond their FFP parameters.
Without certainty over Mbappe, a financial decision about a Kane move is exceptionally difficult.
There is, despite everything, still hope at PSG that Mbappe will renew his contract.
For now then, it is wait-and-see. In the meantime, they will surely hope though that a club like Bayern do not steal a march on them. Particularly if Mbappe jumps ship after all.
You have got to be joking, right?
There are many reasons why Kane to City is not going to happen, but we will start with the obvious one: Haaland. City signing Kane makes zero sense right now, considering not just the presence of Haaland but that they already have Julian Alvarez as another front man waiting patiently for opportunities.
And then business-wise, City remember how difficult it was to negotiate with Spurs and that they were ultimately led on a dance of false promises from the Kane camp.