Ross Barkley and Wilfried Zaha have both been linked with Tottenham in the last week and while we should always take January rumours with a pinch of salt, these two, in the context of Tottenham’s season, make perfect sense.
Perfect sense in terms of football, that is. It’s hard to believe that Spurs will spend any money in January, let alone splash out what will come close to £70m on two players. The rumours are financially illogical yet remain thought-provoking.
Ross Barkley. The scouse gift that keeps on disappointing. Perhaps that’s harsh but in truth, Barkley has done little to justify his label as one of England’s most promising prospects. Being likened to Paul Gascoigne does little to help. To be bombarded with pressure from an early age is becoming something of a habit with English stars, but Barkley’s performances this season have shown not only a faltering in development, but a significant decline in his football. His passing is off, his creativity is absent and his decision-making is almost always incorrect. That’s why he’s been demoted to the Everton bench.
Wilfried Zaha, on the other hand, is developing into an exciting, unpredictable, but well-rounded winger. His 3 goals and 6 assists make this his best Premier League return even as early as December. Since being linked to Tottenham in summer, he has grown in maturity while retaining his natural knack for flair, stepovers and pace. With Crystal Palace’s current form, Zaha of old would have been in hiding but at present, he is their most significant attribute.
So why do Spurs need them? There are four reasons. Firstly, Spurs didn’t do well in summer. Victor Wanyama has been a sound acquisition, but Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko and Georges-Kevin N’Koudou have yet to find form that merit their price tags. Secondly, both players bring with them exuberance. Barkley is in a rut, but anyone with a footballing brain, especially someone like Mauricio Pochettino, can see that there is a very able footballer waiting to come out. He requires nurturing but that is all part of the development process, somewhere Everton must have made errors down the lines. Thirdly, Spurs haven’t taken a gamble for a number of years. They spent big but unsuccessfully in the summer of 2013, but even those risks were intricately calculated off the back of Bale’s inevitable departure. Either one of Zaha or Barkley would be a certain gamble considering Spurs’ stadium plans, but both offer something Spurs don’t have. Zaha can produce something out of nothing, beat men at will and hammer home strikes like his one against Hull. Barkley is completely out of sorts but that calibre of signing is always stimulating. I think back to his goal against Newcastle at St James Park a couple of seasons ago where he dribbled the length of the pitch, beat a few men, shunned easy passes and struck it fiercely into the back of the net. Spurs are crying out for someone other than Dele Alli to do the extraordinary. And fourth, well simplistically, they’re both English. Spurs’ crux for success is built upon English talent and Pochettino’s trust in the nation’s best was in evidence last season. Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Dele Alli and Harry Kane are England regulars and moves for Barkley and Zaha make sense for both parties.
Unfortunately, transfers involve three parties. One club, the player and the usually less enthusiastic other club. Those clubs are teetering Everton and relegation-threatened Crystal Palace. Unless Spurs come close to £35m for both, they can consider themselves out of the equation. Daniel Levy has already insulted Palace chairman Steve Parish with his quintessentially Levy-like bid of around 15m for Zaha in summer and will probably test the waters in similar fashion with Everton.
The reality is that neither will happen. Frugality is an attribute that has seen Spurs rise to England’s top 5 and put in place plans for an exciting future, but Levy has often rubbed fans up the wrong way. When performances wane, Levy is pointed in the direction of his missed opportunities. If rumours are to be believed, Spurs missed out on both Sadio Mane and Wilfried Zaha before going with their 3rd option Moussa Sissoko. Spurs failed to make a ‘Champions League signing’ in the summer, took a couple of years to find a secondary striker and managerial appointments have at times been farcical.
This time last year it was all about group togetherness and having no reason to add in January. Now that Spurs are out of the Champions League, losing big games and commonly underperforming, these sort of players begin to make sense.