Football fans, outside of those of a Tottenham persuasion, seem to forget that Spurs nearly started the 2021/22 season without a manager, that they did start their pre-season without one, and then panicked.
They would go on to nearly appoint Paulo Fonseca and Genaro Gattuso before rejecting both men at the last minute, which essentially left them no options. That was after Antonio Conte refused the club, and they rejected him, at that time, because of the Italian’s win now methods and the players he needed to do that. In the end, they went the safe and very safe route with Nuno Espirito Santo, and unfortunately, the Portuguese had other issues on his head.
Harry Kane’s inevitable transfer saga had reared its horns, and Spurs spent most of the summer window battling and holding their ground against the mighty Manchester City and Kane himself. Things went their way as City refused to spend north of €120 million on a player, while brilliant, whose fitness problems at 28 were a concern. It meant that Kane stayed and then sulked for most of the first half of the season as Spurs barely competed for a place in the top ten, let alone Europe.
Then Nuno was sacked ten league games in, Conte took the reigns, and the rest is history, but then again, that is what Conte does. Few managers worldwide are as adept and effective as the Italian is at simply walking into a team and transforming them within mere months. Chelsea, Inter Milan, Juventus and even the Italian national team have all witnessed that. Besides that, except for the Azzurri, the other three sides were left in excellent shape once Conte left.
Both Chelsea and Juventus would go on to win league titles with a core of the team that Conte built while Inter Milan just missed out on the Scudetto last term under Simone Inzaghi but with a core of a squad that Conte built. And if anything, the way the Azzurri collapsed after Conte left is a testament to his managerial talent. This is why it’s not shocking that Tottenham thrived in the six months Conte turned them into a proper football team, with Harry Kane a crucial part of that equation.
Not just Kane but Heung-Min Son and Dejan Kulusevski enjoyed arguably one of the best second halves to a season the Premier League has seen. Between themselves, the trio combined to score 51 goals in the Premier League alone. No other trio managed more, and nobody even came close. Individually, only Kevin De Bruyne managed to compete with 15 goal contributions, but even that sandwiched him between Kane and Son (19) and Kulusevski (13).
It shows how much they improved because while Son thrived in the opening six months with 11 goal contributions, Kane and Kulusevski didn’t even hit double figures with their combined totals. It meant that in no time, Conte not only stabilised and made Spurs a coherent outfit but turned them into a top four contender, if not more, and it’s the more that he wants. That seems to have been something that Spurs have realised because for Conte, a top four place means absolutely nothing as the Italian has grander ambitions.
And so far, the hierarchy seems to have responded to that, especially if the signings are any measure. Yves Bissouma and Ivan Perisic are archetype Conte moves, but Richarlison will attract all the attention even five odd days later and even after Arsenal signed Gabriel Jesus. Because while one Brazilian is exactly what many would expect from one North London side, the other is not. Especially when considering how badly Tottenham have been burned in the past by big money moves.
But Richarlison changes all that because, for one, he has one thing that the others don’t, and that is genuine experience in the Premier League. The fact that the Brazilian has been, ever since he arrived, practically a one-man wrecking ball for Everton is impressive, but the fact that he has done it while carrying the team on his back is stunning. Yet, given their offensive line and the 51 goals they managed to get in just half a season, few would have thought Spurs would add another piece.
This is precisely what makes this move so shocking and sensible all at the same time, and one that has Conte’s influence stamped all over it. Because by spending €60 million on an attacker they perhaps didn’t need, Spurs have shown ambition that they haven’t in the past. You could put it down to the long and chaotic season that lies ahead but make no mistake, signing a 25-year-old forward when they didn’t need one is a sign of a team wanting to do more.
Mainly because in the past, Tottenham have had this weird thing about having elite talent as substitutes but that has what has hindered them, especially when everyone else hasn’t bothered with that. Manchester City might be the most significant example of the lot, but move back into the past, at title-winning sides, and you’ll see the same thing happening. That isn’t to say that Spurs have suddenly turned into title challengers with this one move, but they’re on that path, or so it seems.
Simply because by signing Richarlison, Tottenham have not just shown their strength in the market, but at the same time, they’ve brought in a player with minimal downside. He’s got that chutzpah and aggressiveness that makes him the perfect Conte player and a work ethic. So much so, that if Richarlison somehow manages to find another ten goals per season, he would be the new Diego Costa, which means a switch of nationalities is around the corner.
Richarlison for Everton in the PL during his time at the club:— Squawka (@Squawka) July 1, 2022
◉ Most goals (43)
◉ Most shots (326)
◉ Most take-ons completed (200)
◉ Most possession won final ⅓ (107)
◉ Most possession won middle ⅓ (313)
◉ Most duels won (940)
◎ 2nd-most tackles made (209)
At the same time, this is a Premier League proven player who not just needed but wanted the step up and would be willing to play off the bench occasionally. Add the fact that he’s just 25, and should this move fail, then Spurs have enough of his prime left to get a decent fee, but that’s just the worst case scenario.
Yet even then, like always, there are a few concerns. The fact that he has constantly overperformed his npxG by a decent amount, the fact that he is a very streaky player who tends to disappear during his bad spells but that could also be put down to the fact that it was Everton. Not only that, all those are traits that a proper manager can iron out, and as Conte has shown in the past, he is arguably one of the best in the business at turning average players into great ones.
Even then, it’s weird because you get the feeling that Spurs fans are waiting for the ball to drop. For their side to do something “Spursy” and shoot themselves a couple of times in the foot just for good measure because that’s exactly what they’ve experienced over the last few decades. Because if Tottenham have been willing to do this all this while, then why haven’t they done it in the past?
That, amongst many others Pochettino related, must be amongst the many questions floating around and yet here we sit with Tottenham making moves to rival the top dogs. Don’t get it wrong, though, because while elite coaching, sensible transfers, and Harry Kane can bridge the gap, Spurs are still a long long long way off from competing for titles and elite honors with Manchester City and Liverpool right now.
And that’s not a hit against them because, with perhaps the exception of Chelsea, every Premier League side is in that boat. That’s credit to the growth and project in place at both teams, but at least right now, Tottenham are making excellent progress for once and showing signs that they know what they want to do. That on its own is very unusual, but maybe this is just the honeymoon, and the wheels will fall off in a rather dramatic manner soon, or perhaps they’ve learned from their mistakes.