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Lucas Moura: The Newest Referendum on Tottenham’s Transfer Strategy

While the other “Big Six” teams made high profile winter additions such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aymeric Laporte, Olivier Giroud, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alexis Sanchez and Virgil van Dijk, Tottenham Hotspur continued its comparatively low-key, frugal approach. Will the talented Lucas Moura become a star or merely add depth?

Arsenal FC v Paris Saint-Germain - UEFA Champions League
Lucas Moura’s tremendous skills were wasted at PSG this season; what’s in store at Tottenham?
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

When Tottenham sold talisman Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in the summer of 2013 for a then world record £90.9 million, it was a watershed moment for the team along with the footballing sphere as a whole. Spurs also let go of others such as Steven Caulker, Jermain Defoe, Clint Dempsey, Tom Huddlestone, and Scott Parker.


Trade in a Dollar, Get Back Four Quarters

What did Spurs do with the buckets of gold and silver it earned for its sales that summer? It brought in the likes of Etienne Capoue (from Toulouse), Nacer Chadli (Twente), Vlad Chiriches (Steaua Bucuresti), Christian Eriksen (Ajax), Paulinho (Corinthians), and Roberto Soldado (Valencia), none of whom cost more than £30M.

Borrowing from Bill Simmons, that’s a classic “trade a dollar for four quarters” type deal. Eriksen has proven an extremely brilliant signing, but surely not up to the otherworldly level of Bale; meanwhile, the other players have for the most part proven decent for depth... either that or relatively worthless.


The Chicken or the Egg

Of course, there’s still a bit of the “chicken or the egg” paradox at play. If Tottenham establishes itself as a Champions League regular, and if it breaks through with a strong performance therein once in a while, it will join the the other, more historically successful “Big Six” teams in the Premier League and become a magnet for top world talent. Or, if Spurs lure the biggest and brightest players, the team would become a Champions League regular.

It’s not simply a matter of wanting to buy the best the world has to offer. There’s also the question of whether or not those players want to come to Tottenham. That said, there have been inquiries into just how serious the Spurs ownership is when it comes to making a true effort and splashing the cash for the truly elite talent.

Tottenham has found itself in a truly unique situation, on the outside looking in with respect to how it conducts business compared to the other Big Six teams, but firmly on the inside with respect to recent success in the Premier League table, with things looking promising at the moment in Champions League play as well.


Spending: The Big Five and Spurs Lagging in Sixth

Let’s take a look at how the Big Six teams have conducted incoming transfer business in the past five seasons. In terms of the actual amount a team was willing to go into the red (money spent buying players, then subtracting money earned selling/loaning players) to improve the roster, Tottenham came out well behind the other teams. Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea were somewhat on their own planet when it came to making outlays, but Tottenham came out looking thrifty even when compared to Arsenal and Liverpool. Tottenham did manage to outspend Arsenal, but the Gunners sold far less than Spurs, giving Wenger’s side a distinct advantage with respect to the difference.

Big Six Transfer Buying/Selling by Team, 2013/14 - 2017/18 Avg.

TEAM IN (�) OUT (�) DIFF. (�) % DIFF.
TEAM IN (�) OUT (�) DIFF. (�) % DIFF.
Man. City 170.6 43.3 127.3 75%
Man. Utd. 140.0 38.1 101.9 73%
Arsenal 75.7 31.5 44.2 58%
Chelsea 134.8 111.4 23.4 17%
Liverpool 104.9 85.2 19.7 19%
Tottenham 89.3 84.3 5.0 6%

Now let’s focus on 2017/18 and see if anything has changed in terms of the individual value of players that Tottenham goes after compared to the other “Big Six” teams. In the summer, Spurs sold Kyle Walker to Manchester City for £51.0m, while the most it spent on a single player was £40.0m for Davinson Sanchez; otherwise it added Serge Aurier (£25.0m), Fernando Llorente (£15.1m) and Juan Foyth (£13.0m). Meanwhile, Chelsea sold Diego Costa (£59.4m) but brought in Alvaro Morata (£59.4m), Manchester United bought Romelu Lukaku (£76.2m) and Nemanja Matic (£40.2m), Arsenal sold Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£34.2) but purchased Alexandre Lacazette (£47.7m), Liverpool brought in Mohamed Salah (£37.8m) along with Oxlade-Chamberlain while merely selling Mamadou Sakho (£25.4), and the Citizens offloaded Kelechi Iheanacho (£24.9m) while buying Benjamin Mendy (£51.8m) and Bernardo Silva (£45.0) in addition to Walker.

What about the winter window? With every Big Six team other than Manchester City battling it out for a guaranteed Champions League spot next season (the Citizens instead seem focused on winning this year’s global competition), Manchester United traded for Alexis Sanchez, Liverpool bought Virgil van Dijk for £70.9m, Manchester City spent £65.0m for Aymeric Laporte, Arsenal got Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for £57.4m, and Chelsea brought in Olivier Giroud, Ross Barkley and Emerson for a combined total of £53.9m in January. Tottenham, on the other hand, spent a total of £28.4m on the single Lucas Moura buy.

It is worthwhile to mention that when Liverpool sold Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona, it bought Virgil van Dijk at a world record fee for a defender. It may have fallen short of dollar-for-dollar, but it was still was completely unlike the “four quarters for a dollar” approach by Spurs when it sold Gareth Bale.

Overall, for 2017/18, Spurs made the third-priciest individual player sale of any of the Big Six teams, and three of the most 12 expensive. However, it was not willing to make any of the 10 richest purchases, as the Davinson Sanchez fee tied for only 11th most.

Big Six Transfers by Player Price, 2017/18

1 Man Utd. F R. Lukaku 76.2 1 Liverpool M P. Coutinho 108.0
2 Liverpool D V. van Dijk 70.9 2 Chelsea F D. Costa 66.0
3 Chelsea F A. Morata 66.0 3 Tottenham D K. Walker 51.0
4 Man. City D A. Laporte 65.0 4 Chelsea M N. Matic 44.7
5 Man. City D B. Mendy 57.5 5 Arsenal M A. Oxlade-Chamberlain 34.2
6 Arsenal F P. Aubameyang 57.4 6 Man. City F K. Iheanacho 27.7
7 Man. City D K. Walker 51.0 7 Liverpool D M. Sakho 25.4
8 Man. City M B. Silva 50.0 8 Chelsea D N. Ake 22.8
9 Arsenal F A. Lacazette 47.7 9 Arsenal M T. Walcott 20.3
10 Man Utd. M N. Matic 40.2 10 Chelsea M J. Cuadrado 20.0
11 Chelsea M T. Bakayoko 40.0 11 Tottenham D K. Wimmer 19.4
11 Man. City G Ederson 40.0 12 Tottenham M N. Bentaleb 19.0
11 Tottenham D D. Sanchez 40.0 13 Arsenal F O. Giroud 15.3
14 Chelsea M D. Drinkwater 37.9 14 Man. City F E. Unal 14.0
15 Liverpool M M. Salah 37.8 15 Man. City F W. Bony 13.0
16 Chelsea D A. Rudiger 35.0 16 Arsenal M F. Coquelin 12.6
17 Liverpool M A. Oxlade-Chamberlain 34.2 17 Chelsea G A. Begovic 11.5
18 Man Utd. D V. Lindelof 31.5 18 Arsenal G W. Szczesny 11.0
19 Man. City D Danilo 30.0 19 Chelsea M B. Traore 10.0
20 Tottenham M L. Moura 28.4 20 Arsenal D G. Paulista 9.9
21 Chelsea D D. Zappacosta 25.0 21 Man. City M A. Mooy 9.1
21 Tottenham D S. Aurier 25.0 22 Man. Utd. M A. Januzaj 7.7
23 Chelsea D Emerson 20.0 23 Chelsea M C. Atsu 7.5
24 Chelsea F O. Giroud 17.0 24 Tottenham F C. N'Jie 7.0
25 Chelsea M R. Barkley 16.9 24 Man. City F Nolito 7.0
26 Tottenham F F. Llorente 15.1 26 Arsenal D K. Gibbs 6.8
27 Tottenham D J. Foyth 13.0 27 Chelsea M N. Chalobah 6.3
28 Man. City M D. Luiz 12.0 28 Man. City M Fernando 5.3
29 Liverpool D A. Robertson 8.1 29 Liverpool M L. Leiva 5.1
30 Man. City M J. Harrison 4.0 30 Man. City M O. Ntcham 5.0
31 Man. City F O. Kayode 3.8 30 Man. City D A. Kolarov 5.0
32 Man. City M L. Ilic 2.5 32 Liverpool M K. Stewart 4.1
33 Arsenal D K. Mavropanos 1.9 33 Man. City M S. Nasri 3.5
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 34 Tottenham D F. Fazio 3.2
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 35 Liverpool D A. Wilson 2.1
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 36 Man. City F R. Sobrino 2.0
N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 37 Man. City M B. Zuculini 1.3

(Minimum £1.0m; does not include swaps of Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.)


Cheap or Shrewd?

Of course, there’s a big difference between being needlessly cheap and brilliantly shrewd. After all, a great bargain is a great bargain, no matter what the cost. Rather than being anything to grumble about, it is quite an admirable feature that the Tottenham brass has assembled on the cheap a team that finished in third place in the Premier League in 2015/16 and second place in 2016/17. While of course the team is headlined by Harry Kane who rose up through the ranks of its youth system, the other core stars have been brilliant value buys, the envy of bean counters for any team in the league: Toby Alderweireld (£16.0 in 2015/16), Dele Alli (£6.6 in 2014/15), Eric Dier (£5.0 in 2014/15), Christian Eriksen (£13.5 in 2013/14), Son Heung-Min (£30.0 in 2015/16), Hugo Lloris (£12.6 in 2012/13), and Jan Vertonghen (£11.3 in 2012/13). If it’s working, why buck the system?

Naturally, not every Spurs purchase has been shrouded in glory. There have been plenty of signings who have merely provided good depth, such as Ben Davies (£12.7 in 2014/15), Erik Lamela (£30.0m in 2013-14), Victor Wanyama (£14.4m in 2016/17), Moussa Sissoko (£35.0m in 2016/17) and Kieran Trippier (£4.9 in 2015/16):

On the other hand, there has been no shortage of busts, including Vlad Chiriches (£9.5 in 2013/14), Federico Fazio (£10.0m in 2014-15), Vincent Janssen (£22.1m in 2016/17), and Roberto Soldado (£30.0m in 2013-14). The beauty though, is that Tottenham’s busts hardly break the bank. Compare to Manchester United striking out with Angel Di Maria (£67.5 in 2014/15), Chelsea whiffing on Fernando Torres (£52.7m in 2010/11), or Liverpool coming up short with Christian Benteke (£41.9 in 2015/16) or Andy Carroll (£36.9 in 2010/11).

Whether by design or out of necessity, Tottenham has done an admirable job, on balance, with talent evaluation as well as team integration. However, the team is currently spread rather thin, as it relies overly on the Kane/Eriksen/Alli/Son quartet for offense. If any of them suffer significant injury or leave for greener pastures a la Bale, the falloff to Llorente and Lamela would be quite severe.


What Talents Does Lucas Moura Bring to the Table?

Young Brazilian Lucas Moura broke onto the scene with Sao Paolo of his home nation, tallying 19 goals and 15 assists in three seasons from 2010 through 2012. Transferring over to Paris Saint Germain of Ligue 1 in 2012/13, he started a bit slowly with no goals and five assists in his first part season, then picked things up quickly with five goals and 13 assists in 2013/14. His playmaking has tailed off since then, as he has asserted himself as more of a finisher, seeing his goal tally rise from seven in 2014/15, up to nine in 2015/16 and finally further to 12 in 2016/17. Unfortunately, though, just as Moura looked like he was rounding into prime form, the team brought in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, pushing the holdover down into purgatory; Moura had only one goal and one assist in just five bench appearances in 2017/18, not even seeing a single minute of Champions League play for the club.

What the 25-year old Moura brings to the wing is a whole lot of speed, combined with niftiness and shiftiness of touch and ball control as he puts defenders off balance and on edge. Not just a mazy dribbler, Moura is a complete player, boasting an excellent footballing IQ with respect to knowing when to dribble, pass or shoot that should fit perfectly in Tottenham. On top of that, he looks to have a knack for defensive pressure as well, not being at all shy about putting in his nose there and winning the ball back.

What are Moura’s Prospects with Spurs?

When Spurs brought in defenders Aurier, Foyth and Sanchez this summer, Kyle Walker had just been sold, and Danny Rose was dealing with injury (along with transfer rumors of his own). On top of that, Toby Alderweireld got hurt in early November, opening up another spot in the starting XI.

That is not the case on the offensive end at present, where the side is fit and thriving. As such, it’s difficult to see Moura as anything but a depth signing. For the newcomer to become valuable from a fantasy perspective, it’s going to take earning a regular starting spot in Premier League games. Particularly given Spurs’ fierce fight for a top four finish, it’s not easy to see that happening this season unless someone in the Kane/Eriksen/Alli/Son universe gets injured or suspended.

Even in that case, Llorente may remain the primary replacement for Kane, and likewise Lamela for Son; recently, Mauricio Pochettino elected to adopt a more conservative approach than usual at Juventus in the Champions League Round of 16 first leg, going with the combative Lamela instead of the explosive South Korean international. Son was the first player off the bench, followed later by Moura in garbage time.

Where Moura can show immediate value to the team is in peripheral competitions. He is rumored to earn a start, or at least serious playing time, in this weekend’s FA Cup match at Rochdale, as Harry Kane is doubtful with an ankle injury. We’ve seen with Manchester City this season that depth is anything but a luxury as the Citizens have withstood absences from offensive stars such as Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, and David Silva thanks to an abundantly talented, and simply overabundant, roster.

But Premier League fantasy managers don’t get any points for FA Cup or Carabao Cup appearances. In that respect, it may be more in the future that the move will pay off for Moura and Spurs; after all, PSG is not expected to be averse at all to bringing in even more galactic stars next season to go with the starry likes of Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler, Marquinhos, Kylian Mbappe, Thiago Silva, Marco Verratti and Dani Alves. As we have seen, that is the opposite of the more cautious, miserly Tottenham approach.

The rest of this season should offer us a few glimpses at what is in store for 2018/19, but right now patience seems in order. Don’t despair. The Spurs’ strategists have placed yet another reasonably priced bet, and if the recent past is any indication, you can be confident that they got good odds to go with it. A tidy payoff should not be too far away.

(Note: Transfer prices and information used in this article came via )

What do you think of Lucas Moura’s immediate and future prospects with Tottenham? Are you adding him to your fantasy teams now or are you taking a wait-and-see approach? Let us know in the comments!