Tottenham should use Southampton game to scout summer signings
Tottenham's signings over the past two summers have been a mixed bag.
In 2015, they bought five players and of them, Clinton Njie has already left the club and Kevin Wimmer no longer has his manager's trust. Kieran Trippier and Son Heung-Min have both been a success but neither gets in the first XI when everyone is fit. Last summer, Spurs signed four players, including Vincent Janssen, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Moussa Sissoko for a combined £57 million to pep up their attack. The trio have scored one goal from open play between them and all three have been publicly criticised (or, in the case of Nkoudou, not backed publicly) by Mauricio Pochettino.
There is a strong case that Spurs would have been closer to Leicester City last season and would be closer to Chelsea now if they had spent better in the transfer market, and it is no wonder that the club is currently fully restructuring its scouting and recruitment departments.
The exceptions are Toby Alderweireld, signed in July 2015, and Victor Wanyama, who joined in June. They cost a combined £20m and both came from Pochettino's former club Southampton (although Alderweireld was on loan at St. Mary's and signed from Atletico Madrid), whom Spurs host in the Premier League on Sunday.
Alderweireld transformed Spurs' defence from one that conceded more goals than relegated Hull City in 2014-15 to the joint-best in the Premier League last season, while Wanyama has been a rock in midfield. He is Tottenham's only constant in the top flight and if Chelsea's N'Golo Kante is among the favourites to be named Player of the Year, the Kenya international should be considered for the award too. After all, he is perhaps the only midfielder to win his personal battle with Kante since Chelsea switched formations, coming out on top in Spurs' 2-0 win in January.
The success of Alderweireld and Wanyama should not have come as a surprise. Both were "no brainer" signings: cheap, proven in the Premier League and in positions where Spurs needed to strengthen. "Sometimes it happens that you fit quickly with a team: in a group, in a squad. It was good for Toby and Victor because they felt at home from day one and showed the quality to play football at Tottenham," Pochettino said on Friday.
The fact that they both came from Southampton is also significant.
It's often said that Saints' head coach or manager is less important than the overall structure at the club, something that's been proven again this season. Claude Puel may not have done as well as his predecessor Ronald Koeman or Pochettino before him, but the club has still reached a cup final and safety in the Premier League despite selling its best players for a third consecutive summer.
Spurs thought they had found the key to Southampton's success when they poached Paul Mitchell and his "black box" to head up recruitment in Nov. 2014 but they were sold a dud. Mitchell, who resigned in August and is now on gardening leave, was the driving force behind the signing of Nkoudou, who is hardly rated by Pochettino; evidently, Saints' success in replacing their players was about more than one man.
Like Pochettino's Tottenham, Southampton are a club with a clear philosophy. They operate as a business and as a football team in a certain way and they recruit head coaches and players that fit those principles. The immediate success of Alderweireld and Wanyama, plus the ease with which Pochettino and his staff settled at Spurs, suggest conditions at Southampton are similar to Spurs although Pochettino has rejected the suggestion that the clubs share a similar philosophy, describing them as "completely different."
Signing players to improve the squad isn't easy at Tottenham, a club that's trying to build both a title-winning team and an £800m stadium at the same time. "It's true it's a difficult task for us to find in the English market the right profile or player to add. Always when you sign players from the outside it's always a big question mark," admitted Pochettino.
Spurs, then, might do well to consider more of Southampton's players in the summer ahead.
Ryan Bertrand can play both left-back and left wing-back and has started a Champions League final, making the 27-year-old a more suitable deputy for Danny Rose than Ben Davies, while Virgil van Dijk would be the perfect centre-half to spark competition in Pochettino's three-man defence.
Nathan Redmond, named in Gareth Southgate's England squad this week, would be a cheaper alternative to Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha as the quick and versatile winger Pochettino so desperately wants, and the Argentine and Mitchell have both wanted to bring Jay Rodriguez to Spurs in the past. Sadly, the Saints forward seems to lost his edge since a cruciate ligament injury.
Pochettino is also a fan of midfielder James Ward-Prowse -- "He's a great professional, a great player, he deserves to be called up for the national team. He is a fighter." -- and he has been "very impressed" with striker Manolo Gabbiadini.
Signing more players from Southampton won't be easy. Spurs nabbed Wanyama for a snip at £9m because he was in the last year of his contract but Saints would demand huge fees for Van Dijk, Bertrand, Ward-Prowse and Redmond, all of whom are tied to long-term deals. Spurs wanted to sign Sadio Mane in the summer but Liverpool, who have had great success at signing en masse from St. Mary's, offered more money and higher wages.
"Sometimes that is the situation: you cannot compete with another club. That's something everyone knows," admitted Pochettino. If Spurs' new recruitment team are looking for more sensible signings, though, the manager's former club would be a good place to start.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.