Thursday 14 November 2019

Stephen Hunt: Harry Kane has the skills to spark Spurs, but how long can they keep him?

Tottenham’s Harry Kane. Photo: PA
Tottenham’s Harry Kane. Photo: PA

Stephen Hunt

When the last transfer window closed, Tottenham Hotspur became the first club not to sign a single player. With the move from Wembley to the new stadium delayed, that was a big surprise and an even bigger gamble.

With the new White Hart Lane to pay for, and a strict wage structure to adhere to, it was perhaps not a great shock to Mauricio Pochettino that he would be starting the new season with virtually the same set of players.

If I was a Tottenham supporter, of course I'd be concerned at the prospect of going into a new campaign without proper investment in the playing squad, particularly with their rivals for the top four places spending serious money on recruitment. Arsenal alone spent nearly £100m strengthening their squad under new manager Unai Emery.

But if I was a Tottenham player, I would be delighted. You can imagine the dressing room going into deadline day. The players will be keen to see new faces coming in to bring a fresh impetus to the squad, but equally quite happy if nothing came off because it would enhance their chances of playing.

What is impressive is the way Pochettino has just got on with it. He understands the financial impact of building a new ground to bring the club into line with their Premier League and Champions League rivals. He knew they would take a hit for a spell on the playing side and he seems to have accepted it.

It is even more impressive when you look at Jose Mourinho's behaviour towards Ed Woodward, the chief executive of Manchester United. He has spent nearly £400m in more than two years, including £55m on Fred in the summer, and is still moaning about a lack of investment in his squad.

It would have been easy for Tottenham to panic buy and sign a couple of players just for the sake of it, but if he couldn't get targets A, B or even C, Pochettino was obviously not prepared to accept choices D, E or F.

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It is brave but it does send out the right message to the players. It has to help the togetherness and belief within the group of players that Pochettino is happy with them, trusts them and will not accept second best - or fifth or sixth for that matter.

And yet there is still a sense of doom around Tottenham at the moment, which is strange for a side that have made the club's best start to a Premier League season. That is testament to Pochettino and the expectations and levels of consistency his teams have produced since he has been there. There is no real hype or buzz around Spurs, which is unusual for a club who are now expected to compete for the top four, and who I would say, are ahead of Manchester United now.

A few years ago, it would be difficult to compare the two squads and include many Spurs players in a combined XI. Now, the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Eric Dier would easily get into a Manchester United side.

Yes, Spurs have struggled in the Champions League this season. They have one point in a tough group after the draw in Eindhoven last week and look like they are heading to the Europa League.

It doesn't help when your goalkeeper gets sent off in two crucial matches and they have gone on to concede three goals. Hugo Lloris is showing cracks and once that starts as a goalkeeper, it is very difficult to lose that tag, as the goalkeepers at Liverpool have discovered in the last couple of years.

Kane, of course, is the real star of this Spurs team. There have been questions about his ability and mental strength already this season but that seems to happen every time he goes a couple of games without a goal. It's a compliment to his ability.

He is a natural goalscorer who is expected to score more than 25 goals a season but in the long term, I can see him being more effective as a Number 10. He is that good. He is a bright footballer whose link-up play brings his team-mates into the game and who has the intelligence to use space, come short or get in behind the centre-backs.

This is one area he can exploit against Manchester City today. Pep Guardiola's side play a high line and if there is one question mark in their defence it is Vincent Kompany who will always be an animal and a warrior, and reads situations better than most, but has lost half a yard of pace.

Cristiano Ronaldo has never been definitively identified as a centre forward or Number 10 but is allowed to play both roles, according to the circumstances. Kane could be the same. He is a consistent goalscorer and clever enough to play the supporting role too.

Spurs have done well to keep hold of Kane and no doubt there will be more interest in him from clubs like Real Madrid. Spurs have managed to see off their rivals so far but I wonder how sustainable that is, particularly when Kane sees the deals and contracts being offered to players like Eden Hazard at Chelsea.

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