As if reading from a script, Jose Mourinho is already reeling off familiar lines. Not the typical quips we are accustomed to hearing from his press conferences, but more the same tired retorts Mauricio Pochettino would deliver in his final year in charge.
Like Hugo Lloris, expected to return to action in early February, being akin to a new signing. Mourinho has said the same, admittedly with a wry smile, about Japhet Tanganga thanks to the 20-year-old quickly establishing himself in the first team.
Between now and January 31, the Spurs boss will learn whether he will also be operating under the same constraints as Pochettino going forward, constantly attempting to clamber up the table with one hand tied behind his back while the rest of the top six-step clumsily on his fingers with the full weight of their financial muscle.
To those uninitiated in the ways of Daniel Levy, it was assumed the new manager would be backed when he took over almost two months ago to the day. After all, why appoint a man who has won more trophies single-handedly than your club has in its 138-year history, but one who has spent close to £1 billion in transfer fees, if you expect him to suddenly buy into a project you have (whether knowingly or unwittingly) been undoing for the last 18 months?
All the signs are there that another transfer window could pass Tottenham by. AC Milan pulled the plug on Krzysztof Piatek’s move as they could not agree terms with Spurs, while contrary to reports, the board have no interest in re-signing Fernando Llorente from Napoli.
That leaves Islam Slimani and Luka Jovic as their new targets for a position that needed filling even before Harry Kane’s potentially season-ending injury.
Even a move for Porto’s Ze Luis, ostensibly a target simply because of his representation by Jorge Mendes, is no longer on the cards.
A right-back is no longer a priority at least, thanks to Serge Aurier’s upturn in form, though he is still lacking a trusted deputy with Kyle Walker-Peters frozen out. Another *proper* defensive midfielder is needed. Danny Rose’s future remains up in the air, Jan Vertonghen is no closer to agreeing on a new contract, and Christian Eriksen – whom Mourinho openly admits is drastically underperforming due to his contract expiring in six months’ time – is being priced out of a move.
Inter Milan are yet to make a formal bid for the playmaker, not least because Spurs are demanding €20 million; Antonio Conte, incidentally, is now refusing to comment after being publicly criticised by Mourinho.
“I no longer talk about the transfer market,” the Nerazzurri boss told Sky Sport Italia.
“The last time I did it, someone we all know twisted my words so I won’t say anything more."
Spurs are in severe danger of repeating the mistakes of the summer, when Victor Wanyama’s natural switch to Club Brugge fell through when Levy demanded €13m. No bids were received for Eriksen, but neither was an active attempt made to oust a player whose presence has become toxic.
Why does Mourinho tolerate this? In an interview months before his arrival, he declared he would not take another job until he was given assurances about the team’s aims and the resources at their disposal?
Perhaps this traditional quick-fixer has been given assurances of a different kind. There have been whisperings, though with no evidence that is likely to bear fruit even in the next year or so, that Tottenham’s current business points towards an eventual takeover. Giovani Lo Celso and Gedson Fernandes were both signed on initial loan deals, while the stadium has been refinanced. There has long been a feeling that ENIC, among supporters, would consider selling once the stadium move had been completed.
It is wishful thinking that Mourinho can sit tight. He has several times pointed to Jurgen Klopp’s evolution at Liverpool, which did not yield trophies for almost four years. His eternal rival Pep Guardiola is also in a vastly different position at Manchester City, where he has had several transfer windows to construct his double title-winning teams.
If the next few weeks do eclipse without the sound of so much as a slowly revolving door at Hotspur Way, it could be too late. By the summer, Spurs could find themselves without Champions League football, having lost several of their most experienced players, and struggling to attract top acquisitions. It is unfair to expect anything more of Mourinho and the now mid-table squad he inherited.
The fact that their demise has been at least a season or so in the making – barring the obvious exception of the Champions League final – could explain the ostensible lack of urgency at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
It is the next few weeks which could dictate whether Levy allows Spurs to slump back into mediocrity.