A lot was made of Tottenham’s ‘failure’ to sign any players during the summer window. That there were no new faces adorning the club website was often seen as a sign that the club would fail to match their recent high standards.
Yet here we are with it currently looking likely that Tottenham will virtually match both last year’s points tally and finishing position, while also retaining the realistic prospect of lifting the Champions League trophy.
The narrative that emerged around Tottenham’s recruitment is demonstrative of football’s obsession with buying players. The term ‘recruitment’ is synonymous with the phrase ‘strengthening the squad’, the implication being that you have to buy to improve.
But Tottenham’s case is instructive. They have progressed, or at the very least kept pace with big-spending rivals, without spending a pound. And it isn’t as though there has been the emergence of a new superstar from the academy or the return of a senior player from injury to compensate.
There are probably multiple reasons behind this – Mauricio Pochettino’s brilliance or Moussa Sissoko’s re-emergence among them. But one possible explanation is that the team is simply one year older, one year wiser, one year better.
Established research into peak age profiles of professional footballers shows a distinct improvement in performance as players reach their peak, around mid-20s for attacking players, and late 20s for defensive players.
During the 2017/18 season Tottenham had the youngest outfield starters in the league with an average age of 25 years and 1 month; a typical player was 1 year and 7 months shy of historical peak age. This afforded them the luxury of improvement simply through the passage of time.
That the squad was young in the first place is demonstrative of a strategy that, as well as growing the value of players, has given the club flexibility in transfer strategy. Such forward planning has enabled them to maintain performance while also delivering an infrastructure that will help to secure their long term future.
Our obsession with doing something in the transfer market can often distract us from what we already have. Ultimately, in Tottenham’s case, doing nothing last summer was still something.