The last time there was this much anxiety about Tottenham being a “selling club” was way back in 2013. In back-to-back offseasons, Real Madrid snatched away Spurs superstars Gareth Bale and Luka Modrić, both of whom had worked together to take Tottenham to previously unseen heights—most notably the 2011 Champions League quarterfinals.
Many saw the club’s inability to keep Modrić and Bale, as well as its previous loss of Premier League 2011 golden boot winner Dimitar Berbatov, as a sign of weakness, evidence of Tottenham yet again hitting that usually-pretty-good-but-rarely-great-and-when-actually-great-only-briefly-so ceiling that would doom the team from ever actually doing anything major for a sustained period of time. For pessimists, those moves solidified Tottenham’s status as permanent Premier League also-rans.
Less than five years later, however, Tottenham is better than it’s ever been. The past two seasons have each set new club-highs for EPL finishes, and the team’s 86 points in 2016-17 would have been enough to win the title in some seasons. They’re now led by a new generation of young stars—particularly Dele Alli and Harry Kane—who, as great as they already are, still have room to get even better. Behind players like that and their superb manager Mauricio Pochettino, everything about the club looks to be trending up.
With success, though, inevitably come problems—specifically of the Hmmm little ol’ Tottenham has some studs, how about we go raid them? variety. Aside from the more (at this point) improbable speculation linking Kane to Real Madrid and Dele to Barcelona, Tottenham has in fact lost right back Kyle Walker to Manchester City for £45 million already this summer, on top of the very real chance that midfielder Eric Dier might soon depart for Manchester United.
Walker and Dier aren’t just key players leaving (or potentially leaving) Spurs, they’re key players ditching (or potentially ditching) Tottenham for direct rivals. If the natural next step for Walker and Dier in their primes is a move to Manchester, what does that say about Tottenham’s status? Because of all this, it would be logical for fans to worry about the team slipping back to that dreaded also-ran tier, swapping the legitimate title challenges of these past couple years for the old hopes for the odd top-four finish.
In reality, though, the Walker transfer, coupled with the potential Dier move, are notably different from the Bale and Modrić losses. Those transfers before saw Spurs lose critical, unreplaceable pieces that massively limited the team’s chances of short-term success. This summer’s potential losses, in contrast, are ones that Tottenham should be able to weather and maybe even grow from.
Selling Walker is obviously a blow, but it doesn’t have to be a debilitating one. Spurs did have probably the best back line in the whole league last season, and it does suck losing a key cog in that defense. Nevertheless, this isn’t a loss they’re unprepared for. Even if they don’t buy a replacement full back, they already have a readymade one in Kieran Trippier.
The 26-year-old Trippier made 22 appearances for Spurs last season, and played well enough to threaten Walker’s starting position. Trippier will almost certainly prove a downgrade to Walker, who became one of the Prem’s best right backs over the past couple years, but it shouldn’t be a huge dropoff. And either way, the eye-popping fee the club received for Walker should give the club leeway to either get a better right back or to strengthen other, more crucial areas of the pitch.
Eric Dier’s potential transfer, meanwhile, is almost the exact same situation. Dier, too, is priced at a nearly unbelievable level—£60 million reportedly—but Spurs also don’t desperately need him like they do Kane or Dele. The versatile, defensive-minded Dier is part of both a talented midfield that includes Victor Wanyama, Moussa Dembélé, and promising youngster Harry Winks, as well as a world-class central defender force along with Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Any one of those players or the other potential-laden younger kids (America’s own Cameron Carter-Vickers anybody?) should be able to, depending on formation, fill in for Dier in defense or midfield without Tottenham’s level falling off a cliff. And again, the huge cash influx the team is in line for should they deal Dier away opens the possibilities for the team to go out and acquire even more talent and depth.
From a historical perspective, there are of course reasons for Spurs fans to worry. Singular talents have developed in and subsequently left the club just before rocketing into superstardom time and again. Plus, a look at how Arsenal’s stadium costs in recent years have led to a painful period of belt-tightening could give Tottenham cause for concern as the team moves out of White Hart Lane.
But these moves aren’t a fire sale, nor are they necessarily an abandonment of ambition. Despite their newfound success, Spurs still aren’t capable of any true blockbuster moves, which does limit the quality of player they can attract and makes losing the established starters a more difficult blow to rebound from than it would be for most of their title rivals. But by sticking with the strategy that has brought them to this level—doing the hard work of sussing out and investing in potential superstars in lieu of proven ones—they should be able to stay near the top for a while longer. (Until Real and Barça really do swoop in for Kane and Dele, in which case, yes, Tottenham will be screwed. But not today.)
Tottenham very well might lose two core pieces of the league runners-up team of last season, to the enrichment of two teams in Manchester, but Tottenham’s squad will still be one of the strongest around. And that’s before they spend something like £110 million to get even better.