‘Doing a Tottenham’. A phrase Webster’s Dictionary defines as ‘selling your best player for loads of money and attempting to replace him with loads of other players’. An art mastered by Spurs in 2013. An achievement accomplished by Liverpool the following season. The Reds did not seek to mimic their predecessors then, but the north London club provide the blueprint Liverpool seek to follow now.
“It’s a different club and different vision we have here. At Liverpool there’s a strategy behind what we are doing. I think it is totally different circumstances, but obviously over the course of the coming years we will see.”
In discussing Liverpool’s transfer business in summer 2014, then-manager Brendan Rodgers explained why he would not repeat the perceived mistakes made by Andre Villas-Boas a year earlier. For ‘Gareth Bale’ in 2013, read ‘Luis Suarez’ in 2014. For ‘£80million fee’, read ‘£60million fee’. For ‘six signings’, read ‘eight signings’. But the process was the same: Sell your best player, attempt to replace them using a scattergun approach, struggle. For both managers, it was akin to selling your iPhone and buying a landline, a fax machine, a pen and a camera.
Did either instance represent a failure? Villas-Boas spent £96million on six players after the departure of Bale for Madrid. Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Etienne Capoue were all varying degrees of rubbish, yet some of the outlay on each was recouped. Christian Eriksen, Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela all form part of a squad now challenging for the Premier League title.
Rodgers spent £117million on eight players after the departure of Suarez for Barcelona. Rickie Lambert has since been sold, while Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli have been sent on loan. Emre Can, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi and Alberto Moreno all form part of a squad whose future aspirations are indefinable.
Three years on from Tottenham’s supposed ‘nightmare’ transfer window, Mauricio Pochettino has transformed them into title challengers. Are Liverpool capable of following the same path of matching their achievements, albeit a year later?
Where Liverpool were mocked for ‘doing a Tottenham’ just two years ago, coming anywhere close to the progress achieved by Spurs in such a short space of time would represent an undoubted success for Klopp. The German will look to follow the template laid out by Pochettino, the manager over whom he almost masterminded a victory on Saturday.
The similarities between the two sides are obvious. Both have appointed promising young managers with growing reputations. Both champion a style built around pressing high up the pitch. Both take pride in their use of a young squad – James Milner was the only outfield player older than 28 to start at White Hart Lane.
And while Klopp and his Liverpool side could not quite overcome Pochettino and Tottenham at Anfield, the German will know that there is much work to do to mirror the astounding progress made by their London visitors.
When Pochettino was appointed Tottenham manager in summer 2014, Spurs had just finished sixth in the Premier League. Liverpool were second. The points gap between the two sides was 15. At the end of the Argentinean’s first season at White Hart Lane, Tottenham had finished fifth. Liverpool were sixth. The points gap between the two sides was two – in Spurs’ favour. In the midst of his second season, Tottenham remain second. Liverpool are ninth. The points gap between the two sides is 17. Liverpool’s fall has been as remarkable and sudden as Tottenham’s rise.
It is why Klopp will use Pochettino’s work as the model for his own at Liverpool. For every positive sign there has been since his appointment in October, Klopp is served a reminder that the Reds are the definition of a work in progress. The 3-1 win over Chelsea sent out a statement, but was followed by a whimper in the next league game: a 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace. November’s 4-1 victory over Manchester City secured ‘gegenpressing’ a place in the regular football lexicon, but Liverpool won just one of their next four league games. The same pattern followed the 1-0 win over Leicester in December. And when Champions League qualification became a realistic possibility, the Reds subsequently lost 3-2 to Southampton in the next game. One step forward, one step back. Two steps forward, two steps back. It was once the Tottenham way.
Neither manager will be pleased with the performances of their players from Saturday evening’s match. The game was littered with mistakes, misplaced passes and lackadaisical play. But this represented an off day for Spurs. For Liverpool, the same old inconsistencies plague them. Not for the first time, they should consider themselves privileged to ‘do a Tottenham’ in the coming years.