LONDON, ENGLAND – Signing of the summer in the Premier League ? A 52-year-old grey haired Italian gent, whose influence may well reverberate around the Emirates Stadium this weekend, is certainly a contender. Franco Baldini has only been Tottenham's technical director since the middle of June. But within a matter of weeks he has had such a transformative effect it's a wonder he didn't pack a magic wand and book of spells in his suitcase when he moved to north London.
Tottenham has bought players before -- some very good ones too -- but never like this. In one window, they have broken their own transfer record three times on high caliber talent in a buying mission more normally associated with clubs under new, super-rich ownership who seek a shortcut to success. Yet they have not changed owner or got a new backer. They have attracted the kind of player who normally looks to move to a Champions League club. Yet they are not in the Champions League. Perhaps only Monaco can argue they have had a more eye-opening summer splurge with their heavyweight billing. Yet Tottenham, unlike Monaco, does not offer the kind of financial incentives that come from being a tax haven.
What Tottenham has achieved during this transfer window -- and remember it is not actually finished until after the weekend so there could be more surprises to come -- is highly unusual.
Baldini's touch, in using his contacts and experience to identify, pursue and successfully negotiate with some fascinating targets, has given Andre Villas-Boas the tools to re-create his team. Strategically, it's hard to imagine they could have done a much better job in offsetting the loss of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid .
The trio responsible for Tottenham's sunny summer have played their hand with audacity. It could have been far different. Back in June, chairman Daniel Levy saw his coach, Villas-Boas openly courted by Paris Saint-Germain , a financially powerful Champions League club on the rise. The wheels were beginning to whir about Bale's move to Spain. Tottenham could have gone off the rails right there.
Former Roma director Franco Baldini has helped bring in world-class talent to White Hart Lane this season (Image: Michael Regan/Getty Images).
In persuading Villas-Boas that Baldini would come and be his team-building partner, and that the money they anticipated from the Bale sale would be invested in advance, Tottenham came up with a master-plan. They have been methodical, imaginative, ambitious and efficient. Levy had got to know Baldini when the Italian was Fabio Capello's right hand man as England manager, and would often come to White Hart Lane to watch matches. They chatted in the Directors Box, and a relationship was formed. Baldini -- when he with AS Roma -- made an approach for Villas-Boas to be their coach. So the relationships were already in place. The respect between the three key men was already there.
With Erik Lamela and Christian Erikssen, two exciting, creative players who can score goals, due to follow a couple of powerful midfielders (Paulinho and Etienne Capoue), a predatory scorer (Roberto Soldado) and promising defender (Vlad Chiriches) Spurs have pulled off quite some haul already.
Of course, purchasing a load of new players is no guarantee of success. Villas-Boas still has to gel a new team, and coach them into a position where they push to challenge beyond just the annual attempt to elbow their way into the top four. But what Tottenham as a club has done is put everything in place to try be the best that they can be. Can you ask for more than that?
That is the acid question that Arsenal needs to ask itself. And so far the answer is an unequivocal no. Unless Arsene Wenger springs a massive surprise or two (or three or four) before the window closes, North London derby day this weekend has this important narrative hanging in the air.
For all the ways that Tottenham has impressed in this window, Arsenal has not. And the most inexcusable part of it is that while Tottenham had to take that gamble to spend the Bale money before it arrived, Arsenal had at least as much ready to spend just sitting idly in the bank.
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Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal's chief executive, is brutally aware that the pressure has been building since he announced early summer than the club's escalation of financial firepower would herald some exciting signings to push the team upwards. Arsenal have the foundations of a promising team. Had they built on that, there would be plenty of optimism around.
But has Arsenal done everything to be the best that they can be? They were in the perfect position to, the opportunity knocked loud and clear. But Arsene Wenger and the people he has around him to deal with transfers have been dithering behind the door.
If Arsenal has the edge when they meet the neighbors on Sunday afternoon -- and this unchanged team has good memories of big scorelines in this fixture when the pressure was on -- Tottenham will at least have the excuse that it can take time for a new group to come together. If Villas-Boas's men can click and cause some damage on their old foes, Wenger will have no excuses.