By Ewan Roberts
Too little, too late – the theme of another failed transfer window for Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. The north London clubs, as has become customary, dominated a Deadline Day of little incident, but ended the day as they began it: empty-handed.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has become the master of the tantalising but ultimately unsuccessful deadline day bid. Every window, without fail, Spurs are linked with a high-profile signing. Last-minute bids went in for Leandro Damiao on Thursday, Joao Moutinho last August and Sergio Aguero this time two years ago.
But the north London club’s efforts invariably prove fruitless, as was the case again with Damiao. It was no great surprise to see Spurs prepare a frantic, last-ditch bid for the Brazilian, and there was a familiarly gloomy inevitability about their defeat in the pursuit of his signature.
Levy will likely point to the hurried chase as a sign of intent, and Internacional may even be accused of moving goalposts or demanding an exorbitant fee. But no level-headed, sensible chairman attempts to complete a complicated deal, wrapped in confusions over third party ownership, in the space of 24 hours. The whole spectacle detracts from a simple truth: for Levy, to dare is too dear.
Tottenham’s bid of around €15m was never likely to be enough to tempt Inter, especially when you consider that Damiao has a release of around €49m, and Spurs have now been left bewilderingly short up front.
A further point of disappointment for the Spurs faithful will be the lack of a back-up plan, forcing Andre Villas-Boas to make do with just the injured Jermain Defoe (who has one goal in his last nine games) and Emmanuel Adebayor, currently on Africa Cup of Nations duty.
Additionally, the failure to sign a midfielder leaves the White Hart Lane outfit overly reliant on Scott Parker, who has looked a spent force in his appearances this season and incompatible with Villas-Boas’ aggressive pressing system.
The chance to sign Damiao next summer will be labelled a minor victory, just as the “special relationship” with Real Madrid was lauded in the wake of Luka Modric’s long drawn-out transfer to Los Blancos last summer, but the reality is that Tottenham have exited another window undermanned and with gaping holes in the squad.
It was a similar story at Highbury, where Arsenal began the day bubbling with dreams of David Villa and Mohamed Diame but had to settle instead for Malaga full-back Nacho Monreal.
Given the good form of Kieran Gibbs – who will return to action in just three weeks and has unquestionably been the best performer in Arsenal’s ailing defence – the signing of the 26-year-old Spanish full-back (who is not even eligible for the Champions League) hardly seems like a necessity and his signing only marginally strengthens the Gunners.
The acquisition of Monreal seams even more superfluous in light of very apparent weaknesses in Arsene Wenger’s squad; in attack, the Gunners’ only out-and-out striker, Olivier Giroud, has just nine league goals – half as many as Robin van Persie – while a soft midfield core, devoid of tenacity and aggression, has provided little protection for a vulnerable and porous central defence.
Wenger had long considered moving for West Ham’s defensive midfielder Mohamed Diame, who has a particularly appetising £3.5m release clause, but declined to activate the clause, and instead made Monreal his only signing in an underwhelming window.
The virtually incomprehensible aspect for both Arsenal and Spurs is that they were one bold signing away from practically guaranteeing Champions League qualification, and instead must consider the transfer window as a huge opportunity missed. To use a pontoon metaphor, the two clubs have decided to stick on a pair of sixes, when a brave twist could have pushed the club forward.
Like last year – when Levy offloaded the likes of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Vedran Corluka, and recruited only Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen – Spurs have arguably left the window with a weaker, less varied squad. Seven players left the club on deadline day alone, while only one senior player, Lewis Holtby, arrived in the window as a whole.
Spurs simply have not learned from the lesson of last year, when a tepid, cautious window was proceeded by the forfeiture of their grip on third place and the loss of a place in the Champions League. Similarly, Arsenal’s lack of business implies a lack of belief in the club’s chances of qualifying for Europe’s premier cup competition – or faith in Tottenham’s potential to implode.
Of course there is a lot to commend about Levy’s responsible spending (and from his perspective, the wage bill is in a healthier state than it was at the start of January), and it is worth remembering that Tottenham – unlike Arsenal – are not a rich club. Spurs made a loss of €5m last season, with revenue falling by 12 per cent on the previous season, mainly due to Spurs’ failure to qualify for the Champions League.
Both sides can still finish fourth, but one will not, and the root of that failure will be traced back to this window. Arsenal’s assault on the top four is barely strengthened by the arrival of Monreal, a minor upgrade on Gibbs, while Tottenham are perilously devoid of depth in attack. Both clubs have been here before though, and, with Levy and Wenger at the helm, they will probably be here again.
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