First we build the tools, then they build us
I'll admit it, I couldn't see past the necessity to replace Luka Modric in central midfield. Luka, the football nucleus, the star at the centre of the solar system, bursts and flair, shining with sustained energy giving us light and life. Back on earth, he was simply imperative to the style and manner we went about controlling tempo and recycling possession. We revolved around him and his magnificent majesty.
That was a different team.
A team that worked by having a deep lying hub of activity to create and craft (even though imperfections elsewhere in the side meant we didn't quite make enough of his talents. A classic example during the Redknapp era was our inability to break down teams that sat deep - with Modric unable to unlock the door, not too dissimilar from a more recent problem where we opt for the battering ram of Bale. Too much emphasis on the one entry point).
That was the past. What is our future?
That necessity I couldn't see past doesn't mean we need to replace the little man like for like. It's more about injecting some creative spark back into the side to regain a balance that allows us to flourish from more than just one set of glory polished boots.
We need to add that touch of subtly and understated genius back into the fold.
During the course of last season we relied on the individual devastation of Gareth Bale whilst our midfield was more workman than wizard, Dembele holding back more often than driving forward due to the art of having to compensate.
We did have a look at João Moutinho, a play-maker who can sit deep but also has box to box qualities, capable of holding offensive positions and playing from the flanks. That, rather famously, collapsed during injury time in yet another infamous transfer window.
So where is that spark going to come from?
He's not quite a Luka or a João. That might not be a bad thing if the logic is for him to be one part of a three part solution to our midfield puzzle. A puzzle that needs to be completed before the season kicks off.
What Andre Villas-Boas appears to be moving towards is a far more robust inter-changeable template that leaves us with the ability to shape shift depending on opposition and circumstance. I'm making it sound like we're in need of outsourcing services from the X-Men.
What Paulinho offers is a box to box midfield range, strong and determined with more invention than Sandro (not as disguised as Modric) but definitely confident of bringing the ball out of the central war zone and playing a pass or taking a strike at goal. He isn't a sit in the middle of the park type of player that will spread the ball about or play cute incisive passes. So much of what Modric did was take the ball from Parker, travel, pass, move on, receive again, travel and then pass to release X player. The Brazilian is far more direct, in the same way Dembele is. That's not to be dismissive. He's a different type of player that could still fill the black hole Luka left when he went supernova. Just in a completely different way.
Now immediately, you're going to scratch your head and say this is far removed from any like for like replacement. So how different is different and how can the new player fill that gap left by the old one? In a word (or two), he can't. Because he's not the replacement.
For starters, we won't have a nucleus of one as the sole play-maker, instead we'll have a midfield that can play-make as a unit. Threesomes; always far more satisfying than a solo effort.
Imagine, if you will...
Sandro, holding between the back four and the midfield, cleaning up and marshalling the field like a unrelenting samurai, cutting down anyone that dares to approach. Dembele finding himself free of the constraints of last season, able to push forward and attack space, gliding past opposing players (just needs to be more instinctive with decision making once in space - shot or play the pass).
Paulinho* will give us double impact through the middle, winning the ball and playing it but spending more time box to box than Dembele. All three, won't shy away from bruising, crunching tackles. Bale and Lennon playing just ahead of them with a (new) striker or Adebayor (deal with it) leading the front-line giving us a very powerful dynamic. Stick Kaboul at the back and it's positively daunting for anyone facing us in the sunshine or under the floodlights (note that a lot hinders on the fitness and form of the returning Sandro and Kaboul).
Tactically, the team (as per what AVB requires) will gradually begin to fit his blueprint of play and hopefully aspire for more of that 'aggressive' nature of play that our coach first cited when he arrived at the Lane. A team that can hold onto possession with comfort and care when required, then attack with brutality.
Last season, too often, we were slow in build up. That isn't a problem if you then step up and deliver a knock-out. Our footwork is not always the best and far too many punches are wayward. We need more than just Southpaw swagger. That slow build up play that many malign, wouldn't if we delivered more than just that last minute knock-out. TKO's all round if we can dance, box and slug.
*or any midfielder with similar qualities. Let's not shy away from the fact that he might well end up somewhere else and the quotes attributed to him could be perceived as highly suspicious and a way to incite activity from other interested clubs. We dismiss quotes out of hand when they are negative, but tend to accept them when they are positive. Just keeping it real.
So we can all agree Paulinho is most definitely not a traditional play-maker. That long running necessity I obsessed about, will it still exist post-Paulinho arrival?
As stated, this new three-man midfield is shaping up to look very strong in theory. Forceful, direct and technically sound. We can't just look to contain bullying sides. We need to bully them outright.
Some of our key players last season spent time out of position. Next season we'll have them in their true roles with freedom to express and play to strength. Losing Sandro smacked our balance out of sync. We have the beasts. We still need a beauty.
Every time Luka is mentioned, so is van der Vaart. Perhaps if I move away from both names and simply reference 'spark' as the missing quality we also need to inject back into the side.
This is where the play-making conundrum will need attention.
With Paulinho taking the central role, the next player we need to acquire has to cover the flanks and provide that missing spark as an alternative creative catalyst. A bit like having Luka out on the wing, just not quite the same, better - because the player we acquire will have to be unequivocally in the zone playing from wide.
Lennon/Bale need support/competition on the flanks with the ability to cut in and assist and attack. An inventive player but not necessarily the focal point of every move. More so another option when needing to unlock a door or provide the key to someone else to do the unlocking. This will be the replacement. Not a star in the centre demanding the attention of others to circle around it. Not an asteroid smashing its way through space. Instead, a glittering moon with its all important gravitational tug, influencing the tide, breathing life into us, but also retaining a dark side to eclipse the hopes of the opposing side.
Let the midfield work and pressure and hassle and push forward. Let this catalyst craft and create from out wide or interchange with the free-roaming Bale. I'm thinking 'Isco', not literally as he was never a viable option in the current market and is Real Madrid bound. But that ilk of player would be a near perfect fit.
What makes this theorising daunting is the fact that we're asking for two top class players - a box to box (Paulinho) and that fabled attacking midfielder (?) but also not forgetting that we have to bolster our forward line with a number 9 for reasons that need not explaining unless you're not a frequent follower of Spurs.
If we can add a striker into the mix of similar build/technical skill set then our spine will put our opponents into a spin. From the heart of defence, through midfield to our attack - supreme physicality and poise.
Remember the days when we had weak, feeble players trying to battle their way through opponents and failing miserable? Now we have warriors, players with the fortitude to get stuck in and the precision to punish. We're acquiring players that can produce moments of individualism but also support their team-mates and support the tactics the coach is building towards. We build the tools, the tools then build the formation and refine the tactics giving us multi-dimensional structure.
We are not Manchester City or Chelsea. We can't sign three/four £20M midfielders, stack them up on the bench, and inter-change to our hearts content. But we do need to aim for self-preservation when it comes to how we plan to compete on the pitch week in and week out and again to refer back to the impact Sandro's injury had on us - we have to work towards eradicating the frustration that comes with the excuses.
It might be that Holtby will be allowed a far less frantic and urgent role in the side. We might see Carroll blossom, if he's given the opportunity. Not forgetting Sigurdsson who started to look confident after a shaky start. Adebayor might return to the form he displayed in his first season with us. Regardless, if we want the depth and that balance to retain its consistency throughout the entirety of next season we're going to have to complement the potential signing of Paulinho with two more players of undoubted skill. We have to add another avenue of attack to the one that Bale provides. We need more than two (very different) types of strikers up front.
Last seasons lesson was harsh. Lose just one key player and it can start to go wrong.
Paulinho isn't Luka Modric. He'll replace Scott Parker but is equally incomparable to him. He'll make us stronger and he'll score us goals and more importantly give us something new that only he can offer. If he is the one we sign. If he isn't then I'll revise this article to include the next midfield target.
So, that necessity of mine is better left alone. Our only necessity is to continue to strengthen and to look ahead and not to the past.
I need to finally let go of that star in the night sky named Luka that still appears to shine bright but is only an illusion, as it has long since exhausted its fuel leaving a remnant, a white dwarf, when the reality of the present is...we are in need of a giant. Or three.