Tottenham Hotspur: The kings of the transfer window

“Some Spurs fans will feel I let them down by leaving but I can assure them I shall give my all.” – Robbie Keane.

And so was concluded one of the strangest transfer stories in modern times. Except one cannot really see this move on its own but in the full context of how Spurs have conducted their transfer policy, not just over the past month but in recent years. Because, re-signing Keane is just as bizarre as bringing Jermain Defoe and Pascal Chimbonda back to the club.

It would be easy to make jokes and question whether Glenn Hoddle or Jimmy Greaves can be expected back at the Lane in the coming months, but the truth is Tottenham’s transfer policy in recent years has been nothing short of a shambles.

Spurs have become the kings of the transfer window. The club are linked with numerous players at the best of times, this past January probably took it to a whole new level with almost the complete Inter Milan squad linked with a move to north London after Harry Redknapp had watched the Coppa Italia game between Inter and Genoa earlier in the month.

During the last month Daniel Levy also managed to anger Sunderland (over Kenwyne Jones) and Middlesbrough (over Stewart Downing). Spurs are a club who seem to thrive on transfer gossip.

But it isn’t just this past January, Spurs being one of the major protagonists in a transfer window has been common practice for a number of seasons. Last August it was the Dimitar Berbatov saga and a year ago the club bought in Jonathan Woodgate and Alan Hutton with all these transfers happening late on in the window, in the case of the Bulgarian, in the final minutes available. In January 2006, it was the same case, with Spurs signing Danny Murphy on the final day.

Chairman Daniel Levy would argue that the club often get the best value by leaving their transfers to late in the day. After all, The Sun were quick this morning to label Rafa Benitez as the fall-guy in the Keane transfer (“Rafa’s £8m Rob blunder”), but where it matters, i.e. on the pitch, Tottenham often lose out due to their off-field policies.

And it seems likely that this January transfer window may not have solved Spurs’ obvious shortcomings. During their previous spell at the club it became obvious to a succession of managers that Defoe and Keane could not play together, this is not an immediate concern since Defoe is out for 10 weeks, but is a clear sign of the shortcomings of bringing Keane back to the club.

It has also been obvious, not just in recent weeks but over a number of seasons that Spurs cannot defend set-pieces, if any more evidence were needed Bolton proved that point on Saturday. Wilson Palacios may improve Tottenham’s famous soft-centre, but the corners and free-kicks will continue to be conceded by such a small team. If Redknapp has a full squad to choose from he will likely include Lennon, Modric, Defoe and Keane in his first team – he will need seven other giants to compensate.

For a number of years Spurs have seemed to employ a “pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey” transfer policy, almost continually fighting fires but never truly extinguishing them. The January 2009 transfer window will be remembered for a club desperate to stay in the Premier League who splashed out on anyone who they could find even if it simply compounded previous errors.

One wonders if there is any long-term thinking behind bringing in expensive players at many high-profile clubs, including some of the biggest such as Real Madrid. Spurs now seem to be the experts and in many ways having “wheeler dealer” Harry Redknapp just compliments the whole operation.

Spurs achieved two fifth placed finishes not so long ago, on the back of a clear club policy to sign up-and-coming English talent. It would be easy to blame dodgy lasagne for failure, but Martin Jol so nearly got it right and the decision to sack the Dutchman seems to get worse by the season.

In the closing minutes of the window yesterday it was as if Spurs were the winners of the day, Keane was on his way back to the Lane whilst Arsenal had seemingly missed out on Arshavin. But the truth is that Tottenham are watching well-run clubs such as Aston Villa pass them by because there is no direction on signing players.

Keane, Defoe and Chimbonda may well keep Spurs in the promised land of the Premier League this season but the soap opera will continue and judging by the last few seasons, Tottenham fans are in for a long wait to ever see Champions League football under Daniel Levy. It is all well and good being the kings of the transfer window, football is played on grass not on paper.