With two markedly different approaches to player acquisitions, manager Harry Redknapp and Chairman Daniel Levy were always likely to struggle to agree on potential transfer targets. Yet, somewhere between Levy’s preference for young players with high re-sale potential and Redknapp’s penchant for seasoned, experienced Premier League veterans, Spurs stumbled upon a middle ground that has the potential to greatly improve the squad and performances.
With just £5.5m spent on three senior first team players (Scott Parker for the full £5.5m, Brad Friedel on a free transfer and Emmanuel Adebayor on loan), you might think that Spurs’ transfer window was something of a failure. However, in Adebayor and Parker, Spurs have found themselves two very good players who could dramatically alter Spurs’ fortunes on the pitch.
Adebayor brings a blend of two philosophies of football. The first is the robust and physical, typically English, dimension. He’s strong, powerful, direct, great in the air (so should be effective at converting Bale/Lennon/Assou-Ekotto/Walker’s crosses), and has a burst of speed that you have to have in the Premier League to be a top striker. He’s also more than capable of contesting the very many speculative long balls Messrs Dawson, Assou-Ekotto and Huddlestone like to play. The second is the more continental, on the deck style. He integrated well into the Real Madrid team, and he spent several successful years at Arsenal who play a possession based (more European) style. With both teams he showed an effectiveness with the ball at his feet, intelligence, great close control, smart movement, good use of the ball, and an ability to link up play (and pass and move). So as well as being able to mix it physically with the likes of Vidic, Terry and the plethora of other no-nonsense, powerful centre-backs in the Premier League, he can also combine to great effect with Spurs’ foreign craftsmen, like Modric and van der Vaart.
Perhaps the greatest asset Adebayor possesses that Spurs’ current strikers do not, is a busyness and presence in the final third. Below is a chalkboard showing the final third activity of Pavlyuchenko and Defoe in the 2-1 defeat to Chelsea last season:
Pavlyuchenko and Defoe made just 15 successful passes between them in 90 minutes, and did not play a single pass inside the final third. They had minimal impact on the match, provided almost zero creativity and were ineffective in providing an outlet or release ball for the midfield and defence.
To contrast that, here is a chalkboard of Adebayor’s performance for Arsenal away to Manchester City in February 2008. In an attempt to preempt suggestions that I’ve shown one of Adebayor’s best games and one of Defoe/Pavlyuchenko’s worst, I’ve also added Defoe’s chalkboard against Wigan in 2009 when he scored five times:
The difference could not be greater. Adebayor made just one unsuccessful pass (completing 41 of 42 passes), played 15 passes in the final third (as many as Pavlyuchenko and Defoe made across the whole pitch against Chelsea) and picked up an assist. Defoe, on the other hand, attempted 15 passes (12 of which were successful) and made just five successful passes in the final third (four of which were backwards). This was Defoe’s best ever game in a Spurs shirt, and yet he completed just 12 passes.
This lack of activity, passing ability and final third creativity amongst Spurs’ strikers was/is crippling. Last season, Pavlyuchenko managed 16.3 passes per game and Defoe slumped to a measly 12.3 passes per game. In 2009/10, Adebayor clocked up an average of 31.4 passes per game (just 0.5 less than Carlos Tevez) – more than Pavlyuchenko and Defoe combined. Crouch’s passes per game average wasn’t quite as terrible at 20.9, but this came primarily in deep areas. His involvement was generally more significant than his peers, but his lack of pace allowed opposition defences to push up, thereby restricting the space available to van der Vaart between the lines. Adebayor’s speed will deny opposition defences the chance to hold a higher line, thereby creating more room for van der Vaart to operate in.
Another big plus with regard to Adebayor is how many of his goals are scored inside the penalty box. Last season, no team scored more goals from outside the box than Spurs – 15 (which accounted for nearly a third of all goals scored last year) – while Defoe failed to score a league goal from inside the box all season. In Adebayor’s Premier League career, 59 of his 61 goals have been scored from inside the penalty box. Another point worth noting is how much better Adebayor is at running the channels than Spurs’ current strikers. Below is an excellent YouTube video that exclusively shows Adebayor’s build-up play:
There are question marks over the signing of Adebayor though, namely: 1) Consistency and 2) Temperament. Point one stems from the notion that Adebayor only plays well for the first few games of the season. This is not the case. Between January and the end of the season for the last four years in all competitions, Adebayor has scored a combined total of 41 goals from 82 appearances – a goal every other game. The second point (which refers to the belief that Adebayor is a trouble-maker) may well be a media exaggerated myth. Adebayor came across very well during his pundit stint with the BBC at the 2010 World Cup, while Arsene Wenger (Adebayor’s former manager) disagrees with the idea that Adebayor is hard work: “I fight against that he is high maintenance. He is not high maintenance. When he comes in, in the morning, he is on time. He works well. He is never disrespectful. He is a top class player and attitude-wise, we had no problem with him.” Wenger also added that, “He is a player who needs confidence. He needs to feel that he is a regular.” At Tottenham, Adebayor will be the main man.
At almost 31-years old, and having played for a side that finished bottom of the league last year, Parker may not instantly strike you as a player that can propel Tottenham forward. There have been accusations that Parker will block Sandro’s development, that his legs have gone, and even that he’s simply a “jobs for the boys” style signing on Redknapp’s part. But that does Parker a great disservice.
Three time “Hammer of the Year” and FWA Footballer of the Year, Parker has been a consistently talismanic figure for West Ham over the past few years. He has almost single-handedly dragged West Ham through matches, and they would have been relegated a lot sooner but for his presence. He’s an excellent motivator (see his half-time speech against West Ham that invoked the spirit of Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day Speech…and made Carlton Cole cry like a baby), he’s a great person to have in the dressing room and he sets an example both on the field and off it (the sort of player that would never need a super-injunction, according to Alan Curbishley). Parker is vocal, he never gives up, he delivers consistently high quality performances, he’s a leader on the pitch, he’s passionate, he drags his team through matches and he never lets his side roll over. The reemergence of Spurs’ soft core (briefly plastered over by the signing of Wilson Palacios), means Parker is exactly the sort of player the Spurs team desperately needs.
But aside from those characteristics, he’s also an excellent and versatile footballer and below are four chalkboards which highlight that:
The first chalkboard shows Parker in a more disciplined, defensive role against Liverpool (who were in the middle of their “King Kenny” fueled resurgence). This is the sort of role you can expect to see him play if partnered alongside Modric in a 4-4-1-1 or 4-4-2, lots of lateral passing and not too adventurous in the final third (though he did score). He completed 37 of 43 passes. The second chalkboard shows Parker’s tenacity, bite and tackling ability against Spurs in a 0-0 draw in March. Parker was literally everywhere, pressing, marking and winning the ball back for his team. He won a massive 9 of 14 tackles and made four interceptions. He also finished the match with a passing accuracy of 87%. The third and fourth chalkboards show Parker in more all-action displays. His role is closer to that of a box-to-box midfielder, picking the ball up from the back four and retaining possession in the midfield, as well as probing offensively in the final third. Both chalkboards highlight a willingness to get on the ball and dictate proceedings. Against West Brom he attempted 81 passes with a completion rate of 88% (also winning six tackles), while against Stoke City he attempted 82 passes with a completion rate of 83% (also winning three tackles and making six interceptions). Parker is not just a pure water-carrier like many defensive midfielders, but offers calmness and creativity on the ball too.
How does Parker compare to our other central midfielders (2010/11)?:
The first point to note is that Parker makes almost twice the number of tackles as Huddlestone or Jenas and also has the highest interceptions rate. However, that comes at a cost: eight yellow cards and 1.4 fouls per match – though interestingly, that foul rate is the same as Sandro (and is more economical than Huddlestone, who concedes 1.3 fouls for every 1.6 tackles he wins).
What sets Parker apart as a defensive midfielder is his ability on the ball. His average of 46 passes per game is far higher than Spurs’ other two primary defensive shields (Sandro and Palacios), while his 83% passing accuracy actually eclipses Huddlestone. Parker also chips in with assists, completed more successful dribbles than anyone bar Modric, has the third highest key passes per game average and scores goals (with a greater goals per shot ratio than any other Spurs midfielder). He is a complete player, offering steel, grit and defensive solidity, as well as ball retention and creativity.
All things considered, Spurs did pretty well in the transfer market this summer. Three issues were addressed: 1) A misfiring frontline was strengthened (at least in the short term) by the loan signing of Emmanuel Adebayor; 2) A shaky, gaffe-prone goalkeeper (Gomes) was given competition in the form of Brad Friedel; 3) A fragile, quiet and often timid midfield core was fortified by the signing of Scott Parker.
There are still weaknesses however, and Spurs are in need of further investment in January and next summer (see Windy’s Blog on the short-term nature of Redknapp’s squad), specifically: 1) A long term goalkeeper; 2) A long term, permanent striker; 3) A centre-back; 4) Quick left/right wing cover.
But, having retained key players, shifted dead-wood (which resulted in a net profit of about £27m in the summer window) and reinforced the squad with experienced players, the transfer window should be considered a relative success. The starting XI has improved, there is competition for places, quality back-up in almost every position and Redknapp’s senior squad should receive support from some able youngsters (Yago Falque, Andros Townsend).