Mauricio Pochettio provides port in storm for Spurs

Bale’s sale left club with sinking feeling but Argentine has turned fortunes around

Mauricio Pochettino was unusually animated during Tottenham's 1-0 defeat by Leicester at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night. Not just at the final whistle or in the seven minutes of play remaining after Robert Huth had headed the winning goal.

But pretty much right from the start Pochettino could be seen leaping up, banging his fist into his palm, yelling in that alarmingly deep and booming voice, and generally capering about in his overcoat like a man driven to distraction by flickering premonitions of disaster.

Not that this quite qualifies as one. Spurs are still fourth in the league. They played well in defeat. It was just their second loss in 16 games, a fine-margins affair that could have gone the other way. Perhaps the greater significance is that defeat should be taken so hard, that even slight dips in his team’s intensity should so anger Pochettino.

Spurs have a sympathetic mini-run of games in the league now, tomorrow’s match at home to Sunderland being followed by fixtures against Crystal Palace, Norwich and Watford. They will take into it the same qualities that have so far defined a team who may just turn out to be – in the best possible sense – the least “Spursy” team in recent Spurs history.


The fact is even in defeat there are plenty of reasons to be both optimistic and genuinely intrigued by this new-issue Tottenham. For all the plaudits that will come their way, Leicester aren’t the only extraordinary story floating around the top of the table.

At which point wind chimes tinkle, the screen begins to dissolve and we’re back in the immediate aftermath of 2013 and the Summer of Bale.

Two years ago this week, still stumbling through the flux, Tottenham were limping into a run of seven defeats in 14 matches, including a 5-1 and two 4-0s. A third manager in three years, Tim Sherwood, had just been appointed.

Club and supporters were seasick from an outbreak of transfer-hysteria that is still for many synonymous with waste, acrimony, and the disastrous splurging of the golden ticket that was Gareth Bale's windfall sale to Real Madrid.

Year zero

With this in mind, it is even more remarkable that year zero for the current Spurs ascendency should be that same Summer of Bale.

As it stands Spurs – wasteful, fourth-placed Spurs – are the only Premier League club in profit on transfer trading over the past five years. The team is speckled with young, settled players. Having whirled between Harry Redknapp, André Villas-Boas and Sherwood – managers so different that to appoint them one after the other is a bit like serving your players a three-course meal of sushi, Swiss cheese fondue and lamb jalfrezi and then wondering why they look a bit queasy – they have now landed on the perfect Levy-ball manager in the resourceful, uncomplaining Pochettino.

Profitable, settled, fourth in the league. Let’s face it, this wasn’t really supposed to happen at all. For Spurs fans the temptation must be not to blink, just to keep on looking straight ahead. And yet there is room for a little housekeeping here. Above all, that summer of spending is in need of reassessment.

Bale went to Real Madrid in June 2013 for between £77 million and £86 million, depending on who you believe. In response, Spurs signed seven players, funded by the sales of Bale, Tom Huddlestone, Clint Dempsey and Steven Caulker.

As Paulinho, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela were reeled in, Garth Crooks suggested Spurs had "sold Elvis and bought The Beatles".

By the autumn this had changed. It turned out Spurs had swapped the King for S Club 7. Wasted! Bungled! Thrown away! Lamela, Capoue, Soldado, Paulinho and Chadli played in the 6-0 and 5-0 defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool that did for Villas-Boas. The conviction that Daniel Levy and/or then technical director Franco Baldini had chucked away the family silver in a spasm of half-cocked moneyball was pretty much universal.

Less clear-cut

As ever the truth is less clear-cut. By now the players involved have all, with one exception, either settled in or moved on at a decent price. Paulinho, the worst of the lot, was sold to Guangzhou Evergrande for a high-fives-in-the-boardroom £9.9 million (€13 million).

Soldado remains the real disaster, sold to Villarreal for a £16 million loss after 10 league goals in two years. On the plus side Chadli looks £7 million well spent. Eriksen is a hit. Lamela has been either scratchy or sublime. On Wednesday, the Spurs fans sang his name. He’s a grower.

At the end of which the Bale splurge adds up to around £70 million spent on Lamela, Eriksen and Chadli. It’s not exactly great business. But it’s not £50 million on Fernando Torres. Plus, as the Premier League’s best players are lured periodically to the Iberian Old Firm, it turns out nobody has managed the subsequent transfer splurge that well.

In 2009 United sold Cristiano Ronaldo and converted him into Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, Chris Smalling, Bebe, Phil Jones and Ashley Young over the next two years. In 2014 Liverpool spent a Luis Suarez-sized £75 million on Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Dejan Lovren, Lazar Markovic and Emre Can. Next to this the Bale splurge now looks like relatively sane business.

And really this is just how Levy plays the game, a combination of hard bargaining, punts on promise, the odd jackpot, the odd dead-end. The successes, such as Dele Alli and Eric Dier, are part of the same process, corollary to the failures.

Right now Spurs can field a first XI – Vorm; Trippier, Dier, Alderweireld, Davies; Bentaleb, Alli; Eriksen, Lamela, Chadli; Kane – either bought, blooded or brought back to the club in the post-Bale years. And all for the same price as one departing superstar.


At the end of which, by luck, judgment or both, that splurge has now been more or less unsplurged. The sense of a wider plan has emerged through the mist. Tottenham may or may not continue to thrive through the slog of winter into spring. But they will do so no longer in recovery, no longer post-Bale, with a clarity that began to stir, paradoxically, that same giddy summer, a beginning that felt at the time a lot more like an end. Guardian Service