Mauricio Pochettino is preparing to start the season without many of his World Cup stars.
Premier League managers all face tricky decisions as they race time and wrestle with their instincts to have their strongest team out on the opening day of the Premier League season.
But none have seen their plans hit quite as squarely as the Spurs boss. Nine of his senior players were involved in the final weekend of the World Cup and they played nearly 1,000 minutes more football in Russia than others from the Premier League who reached the last four.
Missing players, no signings and a stadium not ready on time add to Mauricio Pochettino woes
Pochettino wants to give all his players a 21-day break; time to rest, recharge and disconnect from the emotion of the competition.
This means Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele will not return to training until six days before Tottenham’s campaign starts with a Saturday lunchtime TV game at Newcastle on August 11.
Each player has been given a summer programme to keep them ticking over and Pochettino will stay in regular contact via his WhatsApp groups.
Dele Alli (left), Harry Kane (centre) and Eric Dier (right) played in England's semi-final defeat
Some will visit the training ground in Enfield when Spurs are in the United States on the pre-season tour and others will receive visits from coaches to perform tests or help them with fitness work.
Which of the Big Six had players in the semi's
All nine might report back and claim they are ready to play at Newcastle, but Pochettino and his staff will assess them individually and determine who, if anyone, will travel to Tyneside.
Without them, Spurs — who have yet to make a signing this summer — could still field a team of internationals: Vorm; Aurier, Sanchez, Wanyama, Davies; Sissoko, Winks; Lamela, Eriksen, Moura; Llorente.
Pochettino is aware of the increased risk of injury to those underprepared and of the potential impact on his fringe players if he drives them hard through pre-season and then overlooks them to rush back the stars.
Managers love to say it’s a squad game. Usually the depth in the squad comes into the equation as the season grinds on. This year, the depth will be important in the opening weeks of the campaign.
Hugo Lloris (centre, right) lifts World Cup and is one of nine Spurs players missing pre-season
For Pochettino it is a new test, although he will have learned from the European Championship two years ago. Spurs players involved in Euro 2016 did not go on tour but joined the squad for the final pre-season friendly against Inter Milan in Norway and were thrown into the season opener at Everton.
Lloris, having played for France in the final against Portugal on July 10, pulled a hamstring making a sprint in the first half.
Rose and Dembele also suffered early season muscle injuries early.
Erik Lamela, who was in the Argentina squad beaten in the final of Copa America in 2016, suffered a hip problem which kept him out for a year.
Toby Alderweireld (left), Jan Vertonghen (centre) and Mousa Dembele (right) are on holiday
In 2016, there were 34 days between France’s loss to Portugal in the final and Tottenham’s 1-1 draw at Everton. This year there are only 27 days between the World Cup final and the first Saturday of the League season.
In his book Brave New World, a diary of the 2016-17 season, Pochettino wrote: ‘The most important thing is the players’ fitness. Footballers aren’t machines, they need rest and training regimes to be able to compete for 10 months.
‘Whenever there is a World Cup or European Championship it makes for a tricky pre-season. Players report back later than usual and are often burnt out, short of motivation.’
Tottenham's new stadium will not be ready until they play Liverpool on September 15
Spurs announced on Friday that South Korea striker Son Heung-min and Lamela, both 26, had signed new deals tying them to the club until 2023 and 2022 respectively. But they are one of only two top flight teams yet to sign a player this summer.
Chairman Daniel Levy likes to leave it late, as he did last year before signing Davinson Sanchez, Serge Aurier and Fernando Llorente. There’s interest in Jack Grealish, although Levy’s waiting game could backfire with Aston Villa set for a cash boost from new investors. Central defence is also a worry with Alderweireld’s future still uncertain.
For Pochettino, the challenge is complicated by the new White Hart Lane stadium not being ready until September 15, when they face Liverpool. So, not only will his squad be stretched but the campaign starts with three away games and one at Wembley.