Mauricio Pochettino had just seen his Tottenham side draw their second game of the season when he gave a clue to his dramatic deadline night move for Moussa Sissoko. Pochettino does not go into specifics much when discussing players or transfers, but in a corridor at White Hart Lane after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool, he said what he would be looking for in the window’s final days.
“We need a player who is more direct, more aggressive offensively,” Pochettino revealed. “Because we have players like Eriksen, [Heung-Min] Son or Lamela who like the ball played into their feet. So we need someone who has characteristics like we saw from Liverpool, like Sadio Mané, the type of player that can break the defensive line. I’m not talking about kicking or punching someone, only running and having the right mentality.”
It was a fair assessment of a type of player that Spurs have been lacking. They are a team built on energy and dynamism, but they do not have much real pace. Harry Kane is a great athlete but is not the quickest, Christian Eriksen is more about speed of thought, and Erik Lamela is more of a scurrier than a sprinter.
Dele Alli is the only man in the front four with real acceleration but even then Pochettino wanted more in his front line. Everton and Liverpool have smothered Spurs effectively already this season, in two 1-1 draws that Spurs wanted more from. Pace scares teams, and Pochettino knows that Spurs need more of it.
This is why Spurs bid £12million for Wilfried Zaha on Monday, because Pochettino knew that to give his team an extra edge they needed a player who could run in behind. Crystal Palace did not want to sell Zaha, though, but Spurs found on Wednesday evening that they could sign Sissoko, just for much more money. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou is a talented young winger from Marseille, but Sissoko is established and ready to go.
Sissoko may not be an obvious Pochettino player, given the worries about his application and consistency. But he proved at Euro 2016 that he can rise to the occasion, and it may well be that in a better environment, with a better coach and team-mates, that he would deliver more often. It takes some time to learn exactly what Pochettino demands, with and without the ball, and no-one can expect Sissoko to settle in at White Hart Lane instantly. Even for that money.
But when Sissoko does adjust to the unique requirements of Pochettino football, he will give Spurs pace and power down the right that they have lacked. Opponents will be less willing to squeeze up, knowing that Sissoko can break through their defence. This, in turn, will make more space for Eriksen and Lamela to create in. Spurs play the game fast, but they still needed one more fast player. They have spent a record fee on Sissoko, and Pochettino hopes that their jigsaw is now complete.