• Time for Spurs to end self-defeating transfer policy

  • By John Crace | July 24, 2013 5:52:35 AM PDT

Minutes before the transfer deadline closed in September 2008, Manchester United finally got their man. It was the end of several months of hardball negotiations between two of football's toughest negotiators, Sir Alex Ferguson and Daniel Levy. There had been little doubt that the Spurs striker, Dimitar Berbatov, would leave the club; what was at issue was the price. Man United wanted to pay £25 million. Levy wanted more than £30 million. The brinkmanship went down to the wire with Levy coming out on top. Berbatov was sold for £30.75 million.

It was a brilliant balance sheet deal for Spurs. It was also a fairly disastrous one for the club in footballing terms. Not because the Bulgarian striker left the club -- that had looked like a foregone conclusion since the end of the previous season -- but because it unsettled the rest of the team and left Spurs struggling for a replacement. Never the most enthusiastic of players at the best of times, Berbatov refused to play more than the first game of the season as his transfer saga dragged on and Spurs started the campaign with just one point from three games.

Nor had Spurs really had their eye on the ball when it came to finding a replacement for Berbatov. Bringing in Frazier Campbell on loan and cobbling together a last-day purchase of Roman Pavlyuchenko -- a striker whom the fans warmed to but who seldom delivered -- for £14 million from Spartak Moscow never looked like papering over the cracks left by the Bulgarian's departure. So it proved.

You can't help feeling that the Berbatov transfer has acted as a template for all other deals in Spurs' ongoing and elusive search for a quality striker. Levy's habit of overvaluing his own assets and undervaluing everyone else's may sound like astute financial sense, but it's also one that accrues hidden -- and extremely expensive -- costs. It's not hard to argue that the lack of one quality striker has cost Spurs a Champions League place in both the past two seasons.

In 2011-12, the club struggled to find goals in the latter half of the season as Defoe and Adebayor picked up knocks and lost confidence. Bringing in Louis Saha on a free transfer from Everton during January was never going to paper over the cracks. Last season, the situation was even worse with Defoe and Adebayor suffering longer term injuries and greater lack of confidence and the club had no cover as Spurs claimed there were no suitable strikers available in last season's transfer window. Chelsea did manage to acquire Demba Ba from Newcastle for about £7 million. Spurs would have recouped that money and more if Ba had scored as many goals for Spurs as he did for Chelsea in the last half of last season.

Six months on and Spurs seem not much further on. Everyone at the club knows that signing a new striker is still the No. 1 priority. It's more important even than whether Gareth Bale stays or leaves for Real Madrid, because the Welshman's transfer is largely out of Levy's hands if the Spanish club offers silly money and Bale says he wants to go. But buying a new striker is very much under Levy's control.

A while ago, Spurs were meant to be interested in the Brazilian striker Leandro Damiao, only for the deal to apparently go cold at the last minute when it was revealed there were issues over third-party ownership. How both clubs failed to realise there was a problem over third-party ownership so late in the piece has never been adequately explained.

Then Spurs were meant to be interested in David Villa, though Levy was reported to be concerned that the 31-year-old striker would have little sell-on value. Barcelona sold him under everyone's noses for €5.1 million to Atletico Madrid. A complete steal at that price, even if he only played for a couple of seasons.

Then there was the Christian Benteke saga. Aston Villa wanted £25 million. Spurs wanted to drag out the negotiations for as long as possible and get him for substantially less. Benteke eventually re-signed for Villa. Much the same process is going on with Roberto Soldado, the Valencia striker. Valencia want the full £26 million of Soldado's buy-out clause; Spurs want to pay less. If the haggling reaches stalemate, Soldado could go to Liverpool. Leaving Spurs back where they started. Strikerless.

Only those on the inside of these deals ever really know what's going on. And even then they probably don't have all the facts as agents like nothing more than muddying clear waters. But Spurs have reached the point where they have to act. They need to identify which striker they want and move decisively. Paying top dollar if necessary. It's more important that the club have a settled squad that can get to know each other during the remaining preseason, than for Spurs to save themselves a couple of million quid on a deal.

It's hard enough qualifying for the Champions league as it is without giving yourself a three-game handicap by always waiting until Sept. 1 to finalise your squad.


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