Spurs are the real deal at last! Tottenham legend Steve Perryman backs his old club to challenge for success this season after manager Antonio Conte’s ‘exciting’ summer in the transfer market
- Daniel Levy has thrown his backing to Antonio Conte in the summer window
- Players such as Richarlison and Yves Bissouma have been added to the ranks
- Tottenham legend Steve Perryman believes they could be challengers
It is hard to know which phenomenon is the most surprising at Tottenham in this pre-season like no other. The list of startling occurrences that would previously have been unthinkable at the club is fairly long.
For years, fans, former players and managers such as Mauricio Pochettino had urged Daniel Levy and Joe Lewis to invest in the squad to consolidate on their strength, but it seemed that was just not their thing. They ran a tight ship and borrowing to buy players seemed anathema, even before they had £1.1billion of stadium debt.
But then in May came the entirely unexpected announcement that club owners ENIC — which is essentially Lewis and Levy — would inject £150m of equity into the club to boost the squad.
Tottenham legend Steve Perryman has backed the club to be a success in the coming season
Antonio Conte can be happy at the backing that he has received by the Tottenham board
And it was no idle promise. Richarlison arrived for £52m, Yves Bissouma for £26m, Djed Spence for £13m.
Where once Spurs were reluctant to sign players without resale value, Ivan Perisic, 33, arrived on a free transfer, a ready-made world-class player to hit the Champions League ground running rather than a kid with potential who might be good enough with three years of careful nurturing.
Also on a free came Fraser Forster and on loan, Clement Lenglet from Barcelona. All this in addition to confirming the signing of Dejan Kulusevski and finalising payments for Rodrigo Bentancur, both of whom had arrived last January and made favourable impressions.
The next shock came in that, Spence apart, this was all done before the team set off on tour to South Korea. Not only were Spurs spending but they were doing so before the last-minute deadline-day supermarket sweep, apparently so beloved by Levy.
And last of the strange goings on in north London is the manager Antonio Conte talking about his long-term future at the club. Even Conte’s friends would probably agree he is a high-maintenance coach. If he does not get what he wants, he walks, as he has done previously at Juventus and Inter. Yet from touting his possible departure in February, just three months after taking the job, all now seems well.
The likes of Richarlison (pictured) and Yves Bissouma have been brought into the club
‘This is a young side and we can work together for many years to fight with the best teams in England and Europe,’ Conte said before last night’s friendly game against Roma in Tel Aviv.
Tottenham look a club reborn from this time last year, when it was in disarray, with the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo seemingly their 10th-choice manager and with Harry Kane desperate to get away.
Now, as Kane surveys a potential front three of himself, Son Heung-min and Richarlison, with Kulusevski and Lucas Moura as back up, Cristian Romero in defence and Bissouma to bolster midfield, he might be forgiven for thinking this might be the year.
No one would look beyond Manchester City and Liverpool for the title but, with Chelsea and Manchester United in transition, Tottenham look to be making a play to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the Big Six stragglers.
Steve Perryman, with a club record 854 appearances for Spurs and captain of the 1981 and 1982 FA Cup winning sides, is excited, surprised and sceptical in equal measure. He started his Spurs career under Bill Nicholson, coach to the Double-winning team in 1961. He thinks Nicholson would like the cut of Conte’s jib. ‘Bill Nicholson never fined anyone,’ said Perryman, who discusses the club’s affairs on his weekly The Steve Perryman Podcast.
‘But people didn’t step out of line. It wasn’t fear. It was just if you didn’t come off the field sweating, he didn’t pick you.
‘I don’t know Conte but I’m beginning to feel he might be the real deal. I like the look of him, I like what he says and he’s set his stall out with Daniel and knows exactly where he stands with him, while the players know where they stand with him on fitness and discipline.
‘For too long — and not just at Tottenham but everywhere — the most important name became the chairman: Scholar, Sugar. Who wants to know the name of the chairman? The manager is the man. And if he isn’t big enough to carry it off, get rid of him. But this one is big enough to carry it and we need it. Someone who is prepared to take the rap. That’s why he wants it done his way, be it players, staff and the people above him. They’ve all got to play by the same rules.’
Whether it was the Conte effect or not, Spurs and Levy delivered. ‘They didn’t just talk about it,’ said Perryman. ‘They did it.’
But Perryman does not set too much store by pre season. He recalls asking Ron Henry, left-back in the great 1960-61 team, who won their first 11 games that season en route to the Double, what their pre-season had been like? ‘We were so average it was unbelievable,’ Henry told him.
Perryman has described Tottenham manager Conte as the ‘real deal’ after his work so far
That said, when you look at Kane-Son-Richarlison, it is hard not to be stirred. Among the best in the world? ‘I don’t see enough of the rest of the world to say that but what I see is very exciting, even just with those two, Kane and Son. And then adding a bit from the left and the right. Wow! The possibilities are amazing.’
But Perryman is too long in the game, having managed at Brentford, Watford, as a caretaker at Spurs and at Shimizu S-Pulse and Kashiwa Reysol in Japan before becoming a director of football at Exeter City, to be too carried away.
‘We’re slightly fed up with people calling us Spursy,’ he says of the derogatory nickname directed at them, more or less synonymous with being flaky. ‘But we played Chelsea four times last year and did not lay a glove on them.
‘Now, I know Antonio Rudiger has gone but no one faced him up. Ok, they have made some changes. But until I see them face up to Chelsea, I’m not quite believing it. I’m asking my question from afar, why didn’t someone step up against Chelsea and will they step up again when the going gets tough?’
Southampton at home is the start of the season next Saturday for Spurs. For Perryman though, it will really start when they travel to Stamford Bridge the following Sunday. ‘I’ll wait to see them against Chelsea first,’ he says. After all, it could be their year. It is just history says it is best to reserve judgment where Spurs are concerned.
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