Monthly Archives: January 2016

A psychological study of Spurs fans ahead of transfer deadline day

sonleicester

Via Google Images

In the field of psychology there is a phenomenon called “attitude polarization”, in which a disagreement becomes more extreme as different parties consider new evidence on the issue in question.

What happens is that, when new evidence is introduced, it is interpreted in such a way as to reinforce existing biases towards the issue. So instead of narrowing a disagreement, or at least moving the disagreement along, as one may expect new evidence to do, it instead just jacks up the level of disagreement yet further.

If any shrinks out there are looking for a new case study, they may want to look at Spurs fans whenever the issue of signing a striker comes up.

In one corner is the school of thought that Spurs desperately need to sign a striker this January. Failing to do so leaves us exposed if Harry Kane gets injured, and could fatally undermine our chances of a top four place, or even a title run.*

Here is one tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this side of the argument:

In the other corner, is the school of thought that Spurs already have excellent cover for Kane in the form of Son Heung-min, and buying a striker for the sake of it could harm the balance of the squad and waste money that could be used better in another way.

Here is another tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this:

(Harry is my source of Arsenal Fan TV cuts, Caley needs no recommendation from such a minor blog as this one).

I don’t think, short of a serious injury to Kane in the FA Cup or in training, that any new evidence could emerge between now and the end of January that is significant enough to change minds. A man-of-the-match performance by Son against Leicester in the FA Cup, for example, or the inability to break down Leicester in the Premier League clash, were both not enough.

More likely, the small pieces of news that emerge from the camp, plus the drip-drip of gossip and speculation spewed out by the assorted footballing media, will simply serve to reinforce existing views further as February 1 draws near.

This same dynamic was in place in September, and the club hierarchy was so taken aback by the outpouring of frustration that Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino needed to issue a statement to try and explain their views.

A lot has gone right for Spurs since then, and Pochettino in particular has won the admiration and trust of the fanbase. But this success has only served to heighten the demand, from some, to bring in another striker, given the opportunities this weird season is presenting.

Even as the views of us fans have evolved, albeit only further in one particular direction or the other, it is worth remembering that Pochettino’s view hasn’t changed at all. Every time the question is asked, and it is asked a lot, he says that he believes Spurs have sufficient options up front, he won’t buy a striker just for the sake of it, but if the right player was available he would like to add to the squad.

We don’t know Levy’s views — but the fact, as of the publishing date of this article, that the sum total of the club’s incoming business this window has been an 18-year-old midfielder from Ebbsfleet Town, makes his stance pretty clear.

My two cents is that Spurs need to sign another striker. But it’s not because Son isn’t able to cover for Kane, it is that when he plays up top he is too similar. We need a “different” option, especially off the bench. There have been a number of tight games — against Everton at home, West Brom away, Leicester at home for example — where a striker who likes to play in behind a defence, rather than from side-to-side, may have made the difference.

At the right price, I’m all for bringing in someone like Saido Berahino, although this appears increasingly unlikely. A loan, if the right player was available, would make a lot of sense if Spurs don’t want to take the risk of a big outlay on someone they are not completely convinced by. Moussa Dembele from Fulham sounds an interesting prospect, although he would appear very much at the development stage.

But that is just my opinion. Nothing will change my view at this point, just as nothing I say will change your view. It’s going to be a long seven days.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, and I greatly appreciate your help sharing this article.

* Quick update: To make clear, a lot more fans think Spurs should sign another striker than stick with current options. 

Spurs take a gamble on the NFL — New Stadium Deep Dive (Part 2)

[Part one of this series can be found here]

The most curious, and talked about, aspect of the new Spurs stadium scheme is the NFL connection. Why are Spurs, a prudently run Premier League club, going to what appears a considerable amount of trouble to incorporate facilities for American Football?

In part one of this series, I looked at the Viability Report for the scheme, and examined the huge financial challenge facing Spurs. The report also contains a couple of interesting references to the NFL provisions: I plan to explore these in detail.

While my last piece built upon what was stated in the Viability Report, this piece is inherently more hypothetical nature. Without wishing to come over all Donald Rumsfeld, there are a few “known unknowns” in play here

To repeat, the Viability Report is a document produced by KPMG for Haringey Council and the Greater London Authority. It does exactly what it says on the tin — assesses the feasibility of what Spurs are setting out to do with its stadium scheme. Its primary source is information provided by the club.

From the outset, it is important to make one thing clear: Spurs did not need to include NFL facilities in the new stadium. The club had planning permission for a 56,000 seater stadium in place, and was building a new stadium regardless.

Initial planning permission was granted back in September 2010, but as the project stalled amid the legal battle with Archway Sheet Metal Works, new plans were hatched. The first hints that something more substantial was being planned came in October 2013, when it was reported that Spurs had switched architects from KSS, which designed the training facility at Hotspur Way, to Populous, a major US architect which designed Wembley, The Emirates and 13 current NFL venues.

Spurs may well have wanted to increase the capacity from the original 56,000 before the NFL became involved. There’s the “willy waving” desire for a bigger arena than Arsenal, for one thing, but also the fundamental principle of maximising potential — if the site could, at a push, hold something bigger than 56,000, then it should be considered.

But going back for planning permission on a new stadium, and squeezing in even more into what remains a small site in a poorly connected, residential area of the capital, carried risks, in particular due to the need to demolish listed buildings.

The expanded scheme may never have been in serious danger of being rejected by the local authority. But, due to the heritage concerns and the technical challenge of incorporating a first-of-its-kind retractable pitch, there may be a risk of further delays. In 2014, Arsenal brought in £100.2 million in match-day revenue, while Spurs managed £43.9 million. Every home match, we fall further behind. Delays are seriously expensive.

In this article, I am going to examine the cost and potential benefit of Spurs having an NFL-equipped stadium, the rationale that led the club to take this gamble, and what the potential long-term implications could be.

A retractable revenue stream

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From stadium plans, via Google Images

Even if Spurs were always eyeing a more substantial stadium, the scheme has become significantly more expensive with NFL provisions such as the retractable pitch.

How much more? It is very hard to say — I have not seen a breakdown of stadium expenditure that spells out exactly how much each part costs, and would welcome any input.

Retractable things are expensive though. The last time Populous attempted something of this nature in the UK, adding a roof on top of Wimbledon’s Centre Court, it ended up costing between £80 million and £100 million, way more than originally planned. A similar cost is expected when a roof is added at Arthur Ashe stadium in New York.

These are very different projects (and sports) of course — adding structures to venerable existing facilities — and Wimbledon’s spend included new corporate facilities and more seats. But it hints at the cost of such engineering.

Spurs aren’t sliding out a pitch into open space like has been done at the Populous-designed University of Phoenix stadium in Arizona. Spurs are sliding the pitch under the stadium and other parts of the development, where there is little or no access. Issues such as drainage and environment (ensuring the grass is not harmed while the stadium is in NFL mode) will be to the fore. Also, it fundamentally has to be a high-spec piece of retractable kit — or to put it another way, I can’t imagine it is going to be a case of sending someone under there with a wrench if it isn’t working properly.

In the deal struck between Spurs and the NFL, Spurs get to host a minimum of 20 NFL games at the stadium over the next 10 years. From the reports I’ve read, Wembley’s profit from the NFL games there is between £500,000 and £1 million per game. Let’s assume Spurs are able to strike a very good deal that enables the club to match what Wembley brings in, despite fewer tickets being sold. That would be £10 million to £20 million over 10 years. Is that enough to cover the cost of adding a retractable pitch? I strongly doubt it.

Even if the club has reasonable assurances that the 10-year deal would be extended, it feels like we’re talking about marginal amounts in a £675 million to £750 million project. Added to this is the risk, as stated earlier, that comes from installing a first-of-its-kind piece of technology, both in terms of cost but also from the potential for delays (should the technology not work as envisaged, say).

The Viability Report considers the NFL provisions, as they stand, a negative.

In a section analysing the “internal rate of return” (a measure of potential return for investors in development projects such as this), the IRR for the amended scheme is lower than for the original, smaller stadium. The NFL facilities are pinpointed alongside the larger stadium size and the high-specification corporate facilities as dragging down the expected return.

“This principally arise because capital costs have increased significantly between the two applications, partly because of the construction of NFL facilities, whereas income streams are not forecast to increase in the same ratio”, the KPMG report notes.

Per KPMG, it would appear that the additional cost of incorporating NFL facilities may not be worthwhile.

In reaching that conclusion, one imagines KPMG will have considered both the income from the deal between Spurs and the NFL, and the other revenue that may be derived due to the installation of a retractable pitch.

The Spurs stadium project has always been more than just a football stadium — it has long been sold as a multi-purpose venue that will bring visitors to Haringey year-round.* A retractable pitch may make the new stadium more attractive for hosting other events, such as boxing or concerts, or enable Spurs to host more events than could be hosted at Wembley, the Emirates and the Olympic stadium where there is concern over damaging the playing surface.  A sell-out title fight, or a sell-out Coldplay gig, could be just as lucrative an earner for the host stadium as an NFL game.

But this must be very difficult to accurately project, not least due to the incredible competition that Spurs face in luring stadium-filling acts. London is the stadium capital of the world: Wembley and Twickenham host over 80,000 people, the Spurs stadium and Emirates will both hold 60,000, the Olympic stadium 54,000. Other venues over 20,000 capacity include Stamford Bridge (which is about to get a lot bigger and no doubt plusher), Lords, The Valley, Selhurst Park, Craven Cottage, the new stadium in Brentford, and the Oval, not to mention the O2 arena. No other city in the world comes close.

A retractable pitch offers Spurs a competitive advantage in terms of the frequency it can host events — and a good thing too, as judging by that list Spurs will need an edge. Wembley has its own competitive advantage in terms of capacity, and the Olympic Stadium has an edge in terms of transport links and size of its in-stadium area (this is useful for things like Race of Champions, but is going to suck for football as West Ham may discover…)

There is one other revenue source that should be considered: additional marketing income. In my previous piece, I discussed naming rights, and several people pointed out that a deal with the NFL and exposure to the US market at least twice a year will enable Spurs to potentially command more. How much? Again, it is a “how long is a piece of string” assessment — the examples of previous NFL stadium rights deals I cited in my last piece may offer guidance, or they may not. Certainly, it is safe to say that once naming rights negotiations begin, the subject of the NFL deal will come up.

It was also suggested in feedback from my last piece that there may be additional marketing upside in terms of the exposure that an NFL stadium deal will give to Spurs itself. I’m sure there are very smart marketing people who can put a value on this, although personally I’m pretty cynical — this stuff gets tangential and fast. A more specific relationship between Spurs and an NFL franchise may have greater benefits, but we’re into fuzzy territory here.

In sum, Spurs appear to be making a considered gamble that the addition of NFL facilities will eventually bring in sufficient revenue, through hosting events and through a better naming rights deal, that it justifies the additional cost of installing them, and the risk from delays. The 20-game NFL agreement is a nice little hedge in case it doesn’t work out, and may be seen as a precursor to a larger hosting agreement if the number of NFL games taking place in London increases.

It is quite visionary, in its own way, and appears a reasonable roll of the dice.

So why then does a staid Viability Report produced by the accountants of KPMG hint that a bigger gamble is being made?

The London Spurs

London_1

When assessing how the rate of return for potential investors in the stadium development could increase, the KPMG report outlines five scenarios:

1 Reduced construction cost

2 Better than estimated on-field performance (all calculations, sensibly, are based on Spurs not participating in the Champions League)

3 The club spends less than the forecast 45 percent of revenues on player costs

4 The club secures an NFL franchise

5 Greater than forecast revenues from commercial development

Number 4 jumps out a bit, doesn’t it?

Yes, it is hypothetical, but the fact that it is was even stated as a potential scenario, and so specifically (the wording is not, say, “The stadium hosts an NFL franchise”) in this document suggests it has been discussed as a possibility between KPMG and Spurs. Remember, the primary source of this Viability Report is information from the club.

(More cynically, I’d also add this may prove a rather useful line in the smoke-and-mirrors world of naming rights negotiations, but for now let’s not disappear down that particular rabbit hole.)

Is THIS the play? It’s not that ENIC is gambling on Spurs hosting more NFL games, or even hosting an NFL franchise, but is instead gambling on actually owning an NFL franchise?

It is an interesting possibility to explore.

Generally, the assumption is that, if and when the NFL finally pushes the button on having a team in London, an existing NFL franchise will move. The most likely contender is the Jacksonville Jaguars — it is owned by Shahid Khan (think Fulham and moustaches), has agreed to play one game a year in London until 2020, and is a small-market team with a (by NFL standards) relatively old stadium.

But there is another possibility to be considered: the league expands, something it has continued to do through its history.

The last NFL expansion was in 2002 when the Houston Texans were added, making the league 32 teams. If the league does expand, London will be high on the list of potential cities. A crucial factor in deciding which city gets a team is stadia. Spurs will own an NFL-ready stadium, in a market the NFL has invested heavily in. This is quite an advantage.

NFL franchises, potentially, make a lot of money. In 2014, each franchise earned $226.4 million in “revenue sharing” — this primarily means income from the league’s TV rights sales. There is “local income”, or merchandising and ticket sales, on top.

For what it’s worth $226.4 million is around £154 million at current rates — under the next Premier League TV deal, the team that finishes first would receive £146 million.

There is a catch though: a wannabe owner can’t just stick its name in a hat, and hope it gets lucky. A franchise owner must pay a fee, and a potentially astronomical one at that.

When the league expanded in 2002, the owner of the Houston Texans, Bob McNair, paid a cool $700 million for his franchise fee — adjusted for inflation, that is $923 million in today’s money. Back in 2002, under the TV deal in place then, annual revenue sharing was $2.6 billion. The figure is now $7.3 billion. The Rams franchise owned by Arsenal’s Stan Kroenke is paying a $550 million fee to relocate from St Louis to Los Angeles. That is the relocation of an existing franchise: one can only wonder how much a new franchise would cost, but certainly the figure would be huge.

As mentioned in my previous post, ENIC (via Joe Lewis) surely has sufficient funds that it can fill any gaps in financing the stadium through equity investment. But securing an NFL franchise is a whole different ball game. ENIC, in the grand scheme of things, is small fry.

As for Lewis, Forbes list his net worth at $5.3 billion, and ranks him comfortably ahead of, say, the Texans owner McNair. But has there ever, in Lewis’ ownership of Spurs, been any suggestion that his net worth is there for the spending? Let alone to the degree required for an NFL franchise? Is his ambition, really, to become an NFL owner too?

I just can’t get there: Harry Kane probably knows more about the NFL than anyone does in the Spurs boardroom.

In fact, the more I think about it, the less likely it seems. But the idea that ENIC don’t really know all that much about the NFL leads onto another scenario, which is much less edifying for all concerned: Spurs are being played.

The fool’s errand

goodellkroenke

Stan Kroenke (Rams and Arsenal owner) with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, via Google Images

As I have stated, the NFL gambit has always struck me as an odd one for ENIC to take.

Daniel Levy, having been in charge of Spurs for 15 years, knows a tremendous amount about running a football club and the business of football (yes, there are plenty of jokes that could be inserted here, particularly during a transfer window). But it isn’t clear from what is known about his CV that he has any knowledge at all about the US sports business.

ENIC is in new territory here, and as smart a businessman as Levy thinks he is, it is at risk of being taken advantage of by a league, and a group of immensely wealthy owners, that hold all the aces in terms of awarding of franchises and making decisions on where games are played.

The NFL has made no secret of its desire to expand the league outside of North America, starting in London. Its International Series at Wembley has been a huge success: the games, now up to three per season, are generally sell-outs and earn an estimated £3 million a time. The league already sells season tickets for dedicated fans wanting to attend all games. Slowly but steadily, the league is building up its fan-base in London in preparation for adding a team in the city permanently.

It was reported that the NFL, in 2012, bid to become the anchor tenant for the Olympic Stadium, but were rebuffed. If true, this interest showed the NFL was aware that Wembley was not a viable long-term option.

With the Spurs project stalled due to the Archway dispute, but the club desperate to push ahead as soon as possible with a new stadium, could this be the opportunity the American league was looking for in terms of having an NFL-equipped stadium in London?

There is some debate over whether an NFL franchise will ever be located in London due to logistical issues such as travel and time difference. But personally, I think the NFL is sincere in wanting to expand to London and take the sport beyond North America — they’ve put a huge amount of effort into this project.

The NFL has tried to internationalize before, albeit unsuccessfully, with NFL Europe — in fact the now-defunct London Monarchs even played at White Hart Lane for a while. In a more globalised world, a sport like the NFL risks becoming parochial if it doesn’t reach beyond North America. The league must look on at the global TV rights secured by the Premier League with envy.

Arguably, the hardest step for the NFL in London was finding a stadium — it now has accomplished this through its deal with Spurs. As discussed above, the 20-game agreement is quite modest compensation in terms of the outlay Spurs are likely making. Did the NFL try to encourage Spurs into taking the risk by dangling the carrot of NFL ownership? It is hardly beyond the realms of possibility.

Nor is the idea that they appealed to the reptilian side of Daniel Levy’s brain — the part that thought spending £26 million on 28-year-old Roberto Soldado or appointing Juande Ramos, say, were good ideas — through some convincing talk of future marketing or revenue-generating possibilities.

Perhaps a gambler was encouraged to up his stake, and the NFL, London base achieved with minimal cost and effort, is rubbing its hands with glee?

Those who take a more negative view on Levy’s chairmanship may be inclined to agree.

But there is a counterpoint to this theory, which is only fair to suggest. Sure, Levy may have been naive, but he may also have been very smart indeed.

Levy the Investor vs Levy the Fan

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Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy, via Google Images

In researching this article, I came across the Guardian’s original report on ENIC’s securing of a majority stake in Spurs back in 2000. ENIC paid £22 million for then plain old Alan Sugar’s 27 percent stake, taking its total shareholding to 29.9 percent. The deal valued the club at around £60 million.

“Levy hates publicity and has no desire to take on the chairmanship, preferring instead to find a figurehead and pull the strings in the background,” the report stated, before adding, optimistically, that Levy’s first priority would be “to put together the plan to bring the glory days back to White Hart Lane.”

Interestingly, the article also identified a dichotomy that has never really gone away throughout ENIC’s tenure. Describing Levy as a season-ticket holder, the Guardian noted he was “certain to invest in the club but will not let his passion for the team overrule his business sense.”

“Levy the Investor” versus “Levy the Fan”. We’ve seen the fruits of this conflict throughout the last 15 years. The long-term vision of, say, investing in a world-class training facility, versus the knee-jerk impulse to sack managers after a poor run and the manic switching between continental and English footballing philosophies.

For Levy the Investor, Spurs has been an incredible success. In 2007, ENIC brought out Sugar’s remaining stake for a further £25 million. This time, the deal valued the club at £209.5 million. Nothing that has happened recently suggests the investment hasn’t performed extremely well since. The £1 billion valuation put about by the club amid the Cain Hoy interest appeared purposefully high, but the idea that the club has at least doubled again in value since 2007 is hardly unlikely.

The biggest constraint on Spurs’ value has been the small stadium capacity that limits its ability to compete with rivals such as Arsenal. Right now, the club is making a huge, and risky, investment to change this. While debt will increase tremendously, revenues will increase once the stadium is built, and so will its value.

For Levy the Investor, it may be a tempting time to cash out. And in the NFL, he may have been handed the tools to cash out in a truly spectacular fashion.

Think of the pitch: with Spurs, you’re not just getting an established Premier League club (TV money ranging from £99 million to £150 million per season, at least the same again in match-day and commercial revenue). With an NFL-equipped stadium in a desirous market, you’re also getting the potential keys to an NFL franchise (revenue sharing £154 million, plus local revenue on top).

Your pockets are going to have to be deep, to cover both buying out ENIC and a potential franchise fee. But if it is within your range, and you are serious about investing in sports ownership, it’s not a bad play. My thoughts instantly go to someone like Guggenheim Partners, not just due to the Cain Hoy connections. Guggenheim Partners has $250 billion of assets under management, and in 2012 it was part of a consortium with Magic Johnson that bought the LA Dodgers baseball franchise for $2.15 billion. I’m not saying “it will be them”, but rather giving an example of the type of party that may be interested.

The NFL additions would make Spurs more appealing to US investors specifically — even more appealing than they already are as a highly profitable club in the Premier League. ENIC may not be able to realise the club’s maximum value as it lacks sufficient resources to secure an NFL franchise itself, but this is the sort of upside that may appeal to a group with deeper pockets and the right knowledge and connections.

The risk of installing a sliding pitch appears a very reasonable gamble from the view of significantly increasing the value of an asset before a sale, with a deliberate market in mind.

I don’t doubt that if ENIC wants to cash out after the stadium is built, it could. The question is whether Joe Lewis and Levy want to? With Premier League TV cash pouring in from all corners of the globe, it may be a tempting to sit back and count the money as it rolls in.

On a human level, Lewis is now 78. We really know very little about him, although this piece by David Hytner from the giddy summer of 2013 was an interesting glimpse. Is Spurs just a part of the Tavistock group, to be bought low and sold high, or is it more to him and his family than that? It is impossible to say.

And what of Levy? If Levy the Investor may be tempted to cash out, could he sell the idea to Levy the Fan?

Levy is 53, and has been running the club for 15 years, a good part of his professional life. Surely, you would think, there comes a point when he decides that he has had enough of negotiating with agents, firing managers and dealing with snotty fans. He has already made a fortune from his time with Spurs — both in salary and the fact that he and his family are “potential beneficiaries of a discretionary trust that ultimates owns 29.41 percent” of ENIC. Selling his stake would take him to the next level of wealth, and may significantly reduces his stress.

But does this quite match up with reality?

Love him or loathe him, Levy is at the Spurs games, home and away, week-in and week-out. Fifteen years on, he still appears to engage in transfer negotiations with relish, in particularly driving fellow executives such as Messrs Aulas and Peace to distraction. He is deeply involved in the stadium project — at the final planning meeting in December, which stretched late into the night, he was sat in the front row even though it was another Spurs executive, Donna-Marie Cullen, who was representing the club.

His son, Josh, who works as an investment banker, increasingly accompanies him at matches. Is Spurs going to go the route of many a sports team, and become a hereditary asset that is more than a mere investment? Levy is a Spurs fan, is getting to run Spurs, and is getting rich doing so — why walk away from that? Or to put it another way, what on earth would Levy do with himself if he wasn’t running Spurs?

Once the stadium is completed in 2018, by which time the NFL’s future in London may be more clear, the logical play from an investment standpoint may be to sell.

But this is football, where logic is generally checked at the door.

Conclusion

As stated, much of what I have discussed here is hypothetical. As the KPMG report itself notes, Spurs are investing up to £750 million in a new stadium development, but the “ever-changing nature of the industry in which it operates” poses inherent risks. Much of what is to come is unknown — including by those making the decisions.

By installing NFL facilities, Spurs are taking several risks. There is the increased cost of installing them, the potential for delays either in planning or construction, and the gamble that, once installed, the club can derive the anticipated benefits.

The 20-game NFL deal offsets some of the cost, and the planning permission has now been secured. The key now will be project management to ensure the stadium is built on time, on budget, and to specification.

Whether the ultimate goal is merely enhanced hosting and marketing revenue, as Occam’s Razor would suggest, or something altogether grander, will become clear in time. But to me, it appears Spurs are taking a calculated and reasonable gamble. It is certainly imaginative.

Whatever happens, Spurs are set for a fascinating period, both on and off the field. I’ll be watching both aspects, closely.

 

Thanks for reading, please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, my handle is @spurs_report. I’d welcome any feedback on this article.

Part One of this deep dive can be found here.

* Update via HotspurSam, who has added some very insightful comments this series: “It is worth noting that in the old consented scheme there was only provision for to 4 additional events per annum. In this scheme it is for up 10 non-THFC sporting events and 6 non sporting events (concerts)”

** I’ve also changed the headline from “anatomy of a gamble” — it’s my blog, I can do these things

Tom Carroll: An early assessment of Poch’s midfield experiment

A curious phenomenon has emerged in the past three Spurs games: one set of fans seem to be watching two entirely different performances.

I commented upon this in my recent piece on Christian Eriksen following the draw at Everton, but it continued in our disappointing double-header against Leicester.

On Wednesday night, particularly in the first half, the divide became even more stark if my Twitter timeline is a decent guide. While those in the stadium thought Spurs were excellent, those watching at home thought the team wasn’t creating nearly enough chances.

At the heart of this divide is one player: Tom Carroll.

This was nicely demonstrated by the Reddit poll after the Leicester game.

carrolllamelapoll

Was Carroll really much worse than Lamela, who had an average game and missed two good chances? It feels very harsh. Nonetheless, it is clear that his performances are causing considerable frustration among some parts of the fanbase.

I’d include myself in this camp. Of course, I want to see Carroll succeed and continue the “one of our own” philosophy that is bringing the club and fans together. But I am concerned that the recent inclusion of Carroll, over other potential Mousa Dembele replacements, is making Spurs a less effective team. There comes a point where you have to ask whether it is worthwhile persisting, not least because this ultra tight season potentially offers so much.

My theory is that, with Carroll, we play too “safe” — we have lots of possession, but there is limited movement from midfield into advanced areas. This means we aren’t creating many chances, let alone good ones. The football reminds me of the early AVB era, when we were competitive and organised, but too often the passing went nowhere. We’d appeared to crack that earlier this season when Dele Alli started in central midfield alongside Eric Dier, interchanging with Dembele in a more advanced role according to the match situation. It is frustrating seeing us slip back into bad habits.

So I thought I would try to back up this argument with some evidence, using various online tools. I’m going to ignore the Europa League, because no-one cares.

Possession vs productivity

The basics: Carroll has played 520 minutes in the league and two domestic cup competitions. He has started six times, scored once and has zero assists.

I wanted above to all see if Spurs had more possession when Carroll was playing, and whether we were creating fewer chances.

Using data from the club website, without Carroll in the starting line-up, through 17 matches Spurs average 54.8 percent possession, and 7.0 shots on target per game.

In six matches with Carroll starting, Spurs average 61.6 percent of possession, and 5.3 shots on target.

I’m not reading too much into the shots on target as it is a clumsy tool, I’d much rather know the expected goals per game with and without Carroll. Greatly appreciate anyone who can provide me with this information.

But the difference in possession seems quite large. Yes, it is a small sample size, and we’ve played a low-possession team in Leicester twice, but Carroll also started against Arsenal and Everton, two teams you would think see a lot of the ball. It feels a decent guide at least.

Passing troubles

Watching Spurs, you can see the ball going through Carroll a lot. At times, we’ve seen that lovely left foot attempt to slide in a through ball, but more often he is merely recycling possession.

Via @footballfactman, this is Carroll’s key pass map for his league appearances. In 362 minutes, the number of important contributions seems modest.

carrollkeypass

For comparison, this is the same map for Dembele and Ryan Mason, both of whom have played more minutes.

carrollkeypass_dembmas

As you can see, they would both appear to be making key passes slightly further forward than Carroll. (I’d add that Dembele is a unique player who defies this sort of analysis — he is all about ball carrying and retention at key moments when he is playing well.)

What both Mason and Dembele do, and Alli even more so, is get forward from the central midfield role. With Eric Dier on patrol, they have license to do this.

carroll_passingI pulled together Carroll’s passing maps from Watford, Everton and Leicester (on the left) in the league (via Squawka). I thought these told a story.

Against Leicester (the bottom one, sorry they are so small but data viz is not my strength), you see a couple of attempts at passing into the area from an advanced position. But against Everton and Watford, Carroll made no forward passes from within 25 yards. In all three matches, there are no passes from what you would consider “behind” the defensive line, the sort of passes when you’ve made a break forward and stretched the defense.

To me, this may indicate what could be called “static” play. For what it is worth, Harry Kane hasn’t scored from open play in any of the six games that Carroll has started in domestic competition — he had one good chance against Leicester on Wednesday, but I can’t recall him having many chances in the other ones.

Is this Carroll’s fault? Of course it isn’t entirely his fault — the likes of Lamela and Eriksen should also be creating chances. But it is reasonable to suggest that Carroll’s inclusion is part of the creativity problem for Spurs of late. He may be being “scapegoated”, but not entirely unfairly.

I understand why, when you are at the game, it must feel like Spurs are playing well. Possession makes you think you are dominating, and Spurs try to play with tempo — they do zip the ball about.

But possession does not necessarily translate into effectiveness — just ask Manchester United fans how Louis van Gaal’s possession-based approach is going. They’ve not scored a first-half goal at home in 10 games. Likewise, it was noted on Monday Night Football a while back that Arsenal’s record in “big” matches was much improved this season, and one noticeable change was less emphasis on possession.

I suspect, judging from the Leicester match on Wednesday, that Pochettino has noticed this. In the second half, Spurs were much better — there were more attempts to get behind the solid Leicester defence, and Spurs created some good chances. It was ultimately an unlucky defeat, but it was hard to have much sympathy after a sterile first half.

I suggested previously that Carroll was essentially getting the Townsend treatment of last season — a run of games to prove himself. Poch is a stubborn man, so don’t expect him to deviate from this plan. Townsend started seven in his mini run, so Carroll may have another couple of starts coming up — Sunderland at home would be exactly the sort of game where a manager may “experiment”.

But I would suggest the evidence is building that Spurs would be better off ending the Carroll experiment and returning to either Dembele or Alli alongside Dier in the central role. Eriksen, meanwhile, is evidently frustrated with his peripheral role — we’ve had very few rumblings of this type from within the camp under Poch.

I await the starting line-up on Saturday with interest.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles and general Spurs chat.

‘He’s not good enough for Spurs’ — The view from Sunderland on DeAndre Yedlin

Arsenal v Sunderland - Premier League

Via Google Images

A couple of months ago, I checked in on DeAndre Yedlin at Sunderland. Things were going well for the Spurs loanee: he’d had a run of games under Sam Allardyce, and heading back from international duty with the USA he appeared to be edging ahead of Billy Jones to be first-choice right-back.

Sadly, things have gone downhill. Since mid November, Yedlin has started only three times in the league, and in the last of those starts against Watford he played just 19 minutes before Big Sam hauled him off in a tactical rejig. He started against Arsenal in the FA Cup, but otherwise managed just 18 minutes of action over the Christmas period. The prospect of an early termination of his loan was even mooted in the local press as Big Sam reshuffles his squad in a bid to escape the drop.

I was keen to find out more, and the opportunity presented itself when the good people of Salut! Sunderland asked me to do a Q&A before Spurs take on the Mackems on Saturday at White Hart Lane. Colin regretted this greatly once my pro-Newcastle leanings surfaced, but ran it nonetheless.

Sunderland regular Pete Sixsmith kindly agreed in return to answer my questions on Yedlin:

What are your initial impressions of DeAndre Yedlin?

He is a busy player who seems eager to learn and to impose himself. His (relatively) slight physique may hold him back as may his defensive deficiencies.

Yedlin started to get a run when Big Sam first came in, but is now out of the side. What went wrong?

When we went to 3-5-2, there was no place for him. Allardyce clearly prefers Billy Jones, who is a better defender.

What are his chances of featuring regularly for the rest of the season? Surely he can do more from right back than Billy Jones?

Jones is a plodder but he knows the Premier League – and Allardyce values that. Yedlin offers cover if either Jones or Van Aanholt are injured. If/when he gets a chance, it is up to him to take it

Do you think him having to leave for international duty has damaged his chances of establishing himself?

Not really. All clubs have players whizzing to the four corners of the earth (I know, it’s a sphere and spheres don’t have corners) so I don’t think that has had much impact on him.

Gut feeling — does Yedlin have what it takes to be a Premier League player, or should Spurs be looking to shift him back to Major League Soccer?

He isn’t good enough for Spurs – if Danny Rose can’t always get a game you must be strong at the back – but he could hack it at another Premier League club although I do think he is a bit lightweight. He learns well and his struggles at Sunderland could well be character building. I think he would do well in the Netherlands or in Germany.

So, in conclusion… it’s not too promising.

Yedlin’s situation would appear straightforward: If he can’t make it at a struggling Sunderland this season, he surely won’t make it at Spurs.

While Big Sam understandably is putting a focus on experience, Billy Jones is deeply average, or a “plodder” as Sixsmith puts it. If Yedlin can’t win a head-to-head against Jones, it is hard to see how he is going to challenge Kyle Walker or Kieran Trippier for a spot at Spurs. At £2.5 million, Yedlin was a cheap gamble — he is still a USA regular,  and his value shouldn’t be too damaged if Spurs decide he isn’t going to make the cut.

I’d add: Yedlin is only 22, and there are 17 games left this season, so he has time to turn it around — I really hope he does. But this feels a sink-or-swim scenario for him at Sunderland, and right now he’s taking on water.

Thanks to Pete for answering my questions, and to Colin Randall for inviting me to do the Q&A. And do check out Salut! Sunderland — it’s a great fan site, with proper writing.

The £300 million funding question and the dangers of “doing an Arsenal” — New Spurs Stadium Deep Dive (Part 1)

[Part two of this series can be found here]

In a quiet moment over the Christmas break, and being a fun guy, I had time to sit down and go through some of the documents published as part of the planning review process for the new Spurs stadium.

Spurs, normally quite circumspect in how they go about their business, have been quite transparent in publicising information on the new stadium. But there is nothing like a public review process to impell companies to truly let the light in on their plans.

I’ve always been curious about how Spurs are going to actually fund such a massive project, and what repercussions this could have on the team we see once the stadium finally opens.

Among the documentation bundle available to the public was a Viability Report on the scheme.

This report was produced by accountancy firm KPMG for Haringey Council and the Greater London Authority. It does exactly what it says in the tin — assesses whether a planning applicant such as Spurs has a feasible plan to ensure their project is completed.

Having gone through it, it is fair to say this is an interesting document. As the report states, its primary source is information provided by the club.

The report highlights the huge financial challenge facing Spurs, and details the commercial assumptions that are underpinning the project. It also offers some hints about the long-term strategy that may be in play by ENIC.

In this post, I’m going to look at the key financial questions surrounding the stadium scheme. In part two, I’ll look in detail at the most eye-grabbing part of the whole scheme — the NFL provisions.

1 Project Cost and risk

The Viability Report lays bare the immense cost of the project that Spurs have embarked upon. While Daniel Levy, at the recent fan forum, put the final stadium cost at £500 million, KPMG estimates the cost of the entire scheme at between £675 million and £750 million. This includes the development of the land at the south of site — where the apartment blocks, hotel, climbing wall and scuba tank (indeed) will be located.

Whichever way you shake it, this is a lot of money, particularly in comparison with other stadium projects. Per the report, the Stadium of Light cost just £15 million to construct, helped tremendously by the fact it is located in Sunderland and presumably built from cardboard. West Ham are chipping in a derisory £16 million of the £194 million cost of the Olympic Stadium refit. I’ve struggled to find an accurate figure for the Emirates Stadium — on Wikipedia, it cites both £390 million (the commonly held figure) and £440 million. Either way, the cost facing Spurs is significantly above any of this.

The report notes the relative decline in importance of the increased match-day revenues a new stadium would generate amid soaring TV income. “The financial benefits of a new stadium could be less than the merit payments attributed to finishing a few places higher (in the Premier League),” it states.

I’d add on that point though, TV rights may be soaring now, but there is no guarantee they will continue to do so — the Premier League deal is revisited every three years. A world-class stadium, so long as you can continue to fill it, offers secure long-term revenues.

But it just shows how the huge influx of TV money is transforming the environment. The TV income is so high it is seen to be creating an argument AGAINST expanding stadia, even as it provides the finance that should be enabling every club to build for the future like Spurs are doing.

2 The £300 million funding gap

A key area of consideration in the KPMG viability report is the “funding gap” — the difference between what Spurs have already invested and the commitments they have been able to secure, and what still needs to be found. The gap is considerable.

So far, Spurs have spent around £100 million — including in purchasing land. They have also found three banks willing to loan £350 million towards the project. This is no mean feat — the KPMG report notes there has been “little recent appetite to fund stadia projects” This loan is £90 million more than Arsenal secured, more than 10 years ago (more on them later).

This still leaves between £225 million and £300 million to find.

The report lists the potential funding options as public sector contribution, junior debt, equity investment, sales from the southern development, and advanced sales of naming rights and hospitality/season tickets.

I’ll talk about equity investment shortly, but the report shows that Spurs are facing a delicate balancing act. For example, it states securitizing future naming rights and hospitality sales could restrict options when it comes to issuing new debt.

A key to this balancing act is the “bridge loan” that the three banks have offered. Essentially, the banks will advance Spurs £200 million of the £350 million total loan, enabling the club to push on with construction. Levy has spoken previously (I can’t recall exactly when so I can’t find the link) about the naming rights issue — how typically, agreements are reached once construction is well advanced. This removes the risk of a brand being associated with a heavily delayed project such as Wembley, for example.

The report also sets out the likely financing terms: the £350 million loan (including the bridge element), will be a five-year loan that will then be refinanced. This is important guidance for us fans — for five years money will be tight due to high interest payments, but then the burden should soften. This is similar to the Arsenal experience — after they refinanced they were able to push the boat out and make signings like Ozil and Sanchez (Arsenal now have both a massive cash balance and massive debt).

The report stated that the “bridge” loan could have been in place by the end of December 2015. I’ve seen no announcement of this by the club yet. Approval is still needed by the Mayor of London and Secretary of State before construction can advance at full speed, which should be a formality.

You can clearly see Levy’s strategy in terms of ensuring a “train” of money rolling steadily onwards to ensure that adequate finance is in place through the phases of the project.

The £100 million that has already been spent (a proportion of which came from equity investment from ENIC, more later) has enabled Spurs to complete the first phase of the redevelopment (Lilywhite House), and reach the “shovel ready” stage on phase two, the stadium itself. (In fact, it is more advanced with some groundworks already done). The £200 million bridge loan will enable Spurs to go full-speed as soon as it gets the final of the many green lights required. This would include expensive items such as purchasing raw materials. The next £150 million of the loan will then be paid out in installments as the project moves towards completion.

Accepting the £500 million cost for the actual stadium build, with £100 million already spent and £350 million already committed, Spurs are getting there. It is funding the final phase, the southern development, that is more uncertain. However, by then the stadium will be up and running, a naming rights deal will have kicked in, and increased match-day revenues should be rolling in.

3 Lessons from Arsenal

arsenal1

The closest terms of reference for what Spurs are embarking upon comes from Arsenal, understandably. And Arsenal offer some valuable lessons, in particular in funding the project.

Arsenal pushed ahead with their stadium project without adequate funding in place (they had a loan of £260 million), forcing them to halt work at one stage when the money dried up. They were required to issue fresh debt and equity, securitize commercial revenues and curtail transfer activity at a greater level than initially planned, according to KPMG.

I suspect, the cash crunch also limited what work they did on the stadium, in particularly the finishing touches that can give it that unique feeling of “home”. Subsequent to completion, The Emirates had to undergo an “Arsenalisation”, which is a little embarrassing.

Money from the redevelopment of Highbury only started to roll in after the stadium was completed. This will be the same for Spurs, who will finish the stadium then work on the redevelopment of the south of the site. So, it must be noted, the stated idea of funding for the scheme potentially coming from this redevelopment appears optimistic.

Failure to have money in place when required would be doubly painful for Spurs as we are having to play away from White Hart Lane for one season during construction.

The deadlines appear quite tight for the magnitude of the project, and from what I am aware, Premier League rules dictate that you can only play in one “home” stadium per season. One year in Milton Keynes (we need to start accepting that Wembley isn’t likely to happen as Chelsea have more money than us) will be bad, two will be very annoying for fans and cost the club millions in lost revenues.

4 Naming rights, and the assessment of a length of a piece of string

newschemeaerial

As stated, Spurs will need to find between £225 million and £300 million to complete the stadium scheme. The first priority in bridging the gap will be securing naming rights.

So how much can Spurs expect to receive from naming rights? There is a “how long is a piece of string” aspect to the question, as the report notes, but Spurs have put a clear figure on how much they think they can get from from naming rights and some other related commercial income streams: £30 million per year.

The report states: “Key drivers of commercial revenue growth in the new stadium are expected to be stadium and cornerstone naming rights, and income in respect of increased merchandising and conference events, which together will give annual incremental income of approximately £30 million per year.”

Obviously, I can’t divine how much of this £30 million would be naming rights, and how much conference or merchandising income. But is this even realistic?

Arsenal signed a £90 million, 15-year deal with Emirates, for both shirt sponsorship and naming rights, in 2004. Per The Guardian’s Daniel Taylor, the naming rights were valued at just £2.4 million per year. In 2011, Manchester City signed an FFP-busting £400 million, 10-year deal with Etihad, again for both shirt and stadium rights. In recent naming rights deals in the US, MetLife paid $400 million (£275 million) over 25 years for rights to Meadowlands, home of both New York NFL franchises. Levi’s paid $220 million over 11 years to sponsor the home of the San Francisco 49ers.

The KPMG report makes clear this £30 million figure is the club’s, and it came from an external report. But the huge disparity between what Arsenal achieved in 2004 and Manchester City engineered in 2011 provides few clues, while the rights deal in the US may suggest what Spurs are after is optimistic.

One thing I would also note is that Spurs’ shirt sponsorship with AIA runs until the end of the 2018/19 season, which may rule out a joint shirt and stadium sponsorship deal unless there is a break clause in the contract, or unless AIA is interested in a more comprehensive sponsorship.

The key in Spurs’ negotiations once the club begins marketing the rights will be twofold: securing as big a deal as possible, obviously, but also ensuring that it is “frontloaded” to as great an extent as possible to ensure finance is in place through the later stages of construction.

Can Levy pull a rabbit out of the hat, and land a £225 million to £300 million naming rights deal to cover the gap? We’ll see. But it appears likely that Spurs will need more funding to complete the scheme.

5 That £80 million profit 

At this point, it should be noted that Spurs is a profitable club, stonkingly so in the last financial year. Per football finance blogger Swiss Ramble, Spurs booked a cool £80 million profit in the last set of accounts.

This figure was helped by the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, but Spurs reinvested much of that money in the transfer market.

I suspect, the accounts were polished shinier than the silverware at Buckingham Palace in the last financial year as Spurs knew that they would soon be securing financing for the stadium — the better shape the club is in, the lower the initial rate of interest on the £350 million loan. This financial year, the wage bill will have decreased with some big earners gone, and the wage bill should still be relatively low the following financial year when the new TV deal kicks in, due to the age profile of the squad. Depending on the degree of deferment of certain costs away from last year’s accounts (for example you can do smart things with player amortisation, i.e how you write down the cost of purchasing a player), Spurs could still be quite stonkingly profitable in the next couple of seasons, too.

There is a big difference between flogging the crown jewels to fund a stadium, and reinvesting profits to build the club’s future. In fact, Spurs have been doing this with little complaint for years — the club invested £45 million on the new training facility, for example.

Daniel Levy has been clear there will still be money available to strengthen the squad through construction, and he has no intention of selling any players. He appears to have an ally in Mauricio Pochettino, who doesn’t like to spend unless necessary and is the Premier League’s “Mr Youth Development”.

It would appear that there may be profits from the club in the next couple of seasons that could be poured (almost literally) into building the new stadium.

6 Equity sale: ENIC’s last resort

newschemeatrium

For what remains, the KPMG report gives some interesting detail on the final likely source of funding: an equity sale.

(As far as I’m aware, there is no public funding for the stadium itself, and KPMG doesn’t give any further details on junior debt issuance).

Talks on an equity investment have already taken place, although the report notes that these are at an earlier stage than talks with banks over a loan. It continues: “The club have verbally indicated that they have received expressions of interest from credible counterparties, including entities with significant experience in financing similar sports stadia construction projects.”

A while back, Spurs confirmed an approach from an investment company named Cain Hoy, a London-based outfit apparently focused on real estate that was set up by several executives of Guggenheim Partners, a major investment company. The approach was serious enough that Spurs were forced to open their books so Cain Hoy could conduct due diligence. Per @ztranche, a Spurs-supporting finance professional, things never went further. The club subsequently put about a figure of £1 billion needed to buy the club. As some noted at the time, this seemed extremely high.

Currently, ENIC’s control of the club is very secure — per the last annual report, ENIC held over 182 million shares in the club, representing 85.46 percent of those in issue. I don’t know who owns the other 14.5 percent — filings to Companies House simply state “other”. Regulations mean any shareholdings over 3 percent must be disclosed. Per Tottenham Hotspur’s annual reports, the last time someone blipped above this mark was in 2009, when Michael Ashcroft (Lord Ashcroft for those who follow British politics) upped his stake to about 4 percent. Polys Haji-ioannou (the older brother of the EasyJet fella Sir Stelios) previously owned just over 9 percent, through his HODRAM vehicle, but it would appear he sold down his stake at the same time that Alan Sugar sold his remaining stake to ENIC in 2007, as it is no longer disclosed as a substantial holding.

By the way, Daniel Levy and his family are “potential beneficiaries of a discretionary trust that ultimates owns 29.41 percent” of ENIC  — I always think this is important to remember. He may drive us crazy at times, but he is a Spurs fan and has serious skin in the game.

I picked the brains of @ztranche on ENIC’s strategy, and we held a similar hunch: ENIC view an equity sale, now, as a last resort.

Simply put, the value of Spurs should soar once the stadium is built. The club is making a huge, and risky, investment in a new stadium, dragging down its value. While debt will increase tremendously, revenues will soar once the stadium is built.

By extension, you can see why investors such as Cain Hoy may fancy taking a stake in Spurs now — hence a figure of £1 billion being bandied around to deter them.

The last time Spurs issued fresh equity, it was almost all bought by ENIC itself — this occurred in 2009 and enabled Spurs to press ahead with land purchases, I believe. Could this happen again? I don’t know enough about Joe Lewis or his finances beyond what is in the public domain — but safe to say he has significant means. Forbes puts his net worth of $5.2 billion, and his Tavistock portfolio has a long list of assets. The idea that ENIC itself “buys” much of the new equity, essentially pumping money into the club, with a view that the value is going to soar, is far from outlandish.

I’d note, Spurs will be keen to avoid another lesson from Arsenal — warring factions of investors that create an atmosphere of stasis, or arguably worse, instability. So ENIC strengthening its control of Spurs isn’t a bad thing, per se.

Judging by the amounts Spurs already have committed, the potential for naming rights and the profitability of the club, the amount of finance needing to be raised by ENIC may be fairly modest — by my fag-packet maths, it would more likely be in the tens of millions than the hundreds of millions. This is a relatively small amount in the grand scheme of things. Provided it has the funds, there seems little incentive for ENIC to dilute its shareholding of the club, and even reduce its control by, say, surrendering seats on the board.

To sum up, ENIC appear to have made major strides in ensuring sufficient money is in place to fund the Spurs stadium project. And it will be fascinating to watch their strategy in securing what else needs to be found.

 

Thanks for reading, please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, my handle is @spurs_report. I’d welcome any feedback on this article.

NEXT: In part two, I’m going to look in detail at the most curious single aspect of the whole stadium scheme — the NFL connection.

Christian Eriksen: Tottenham’s chief creator goes off the boil

eriksenpic

Sky Sports via Google Images

 

While most fans, myself included, accepted that a point was ultimately a decent outcome for a match against Everton at Goodison Park at the fag end of the Christmas period, during the game the divergence of opinion was quite marked.

On the one hand, many fans on social media were thrilled by the intense pressing, quick movement and the attacking intent of Spurs, until the final 20 minutes when the team tired. On Sky Sports, Graeme Souness and Jamie Carragher — hardly Spurs cheerleaders — waxed lyrical about the exciting young team they were seeing.

On the other hand, a few grumpy pants, myself included, were moaning that, for all the promise, Spurs weren’t actually creating many good chances. In Tim Howard and Ramiro Funes Mori, Everton have a clear weakness at the back, relative to the strength of the rest of their team. Despite some pretty play, and hitting the woodwork twice, Spurs only had four shots on target all game.

Michael Caley’s XG map summed up this lack of dangerzone creativity well, even if this map doesn’t quite do justice to what was a hugely entertaining game of football.

This isn’t the first time in recent matches that we’ve struggled to create “good” chances — the same occurred against Watford, Newcastle, West Brom and Chelsea. Only against Norwich and, to a lesser extent, Southampton did we cut loose.

This period (in which, it should be noted, we’ve kept the points coming in) has coincided with a dip in form by Tottenham’s chief creator, Christian Eriksen.

Aside from taking the corner that Eric Dier nodded home against Newcastle, Eriksen hasn’t had an assist since we played West Ham on November 22. He was dropped for the visit to Watford, but regained his place against Everton.

I’ve pulled together some pass maps from some of the games in which Spurs struggled to create.

First, using the online tools from @footballfactman, it is clear that Eriksen struggled to make key passes against Chelsea, WBA, Newcastle and Watford (he played 45 minutes). That is a very modest contribution from our “number 10” — even if he has generally played from wide due to the strength of the Alli-Dembele combination.

eriksen_keypass

The basic passing information from Squawka shows Eriksen’s struggles quite starkly. Against Chelsea and Newcastle, he barely attempted any passes into the area at all and his passes were coming from relatively deep. Against West Brom and Everton, he made several passes into dangerous areas, and generally from more advanced positions, but none of them came off.

eriksen_totalpass.png

Despite the apparent recent struggles, Eriksen would appear to be having a strong Premier League season statistically. Per Whoscored, he is averaging 3.3 key passes per 90 minutes, up from 2.4 per 90 last season and 3.1 per 90 in his first season with us. He is notching up assists at the same rate as in his first season, 0.4 per 90 minutes — last season was a bit of a statistical fluke as he only managed two all season. He is passing the ball marginally less this season — 52.6 passes per 90 compared with 56.6 per 90 last season.

Eriksen is a classy player. He may not be on the level of Ozil or Silva, in my opinion, but he’s on the second tier in Premier League terms. I’m sure what we are seeing now is just a dip. As I said earlier, Eriksen has predominantly played from the left this season — understandably he may feel he can influence a game less from the left than when he is pulling the strings centrally.

I’d also note that Eriksen’s dip has appeared to coincide with Mousa Dembele’s best form. Perhaps there isn’t enough time on the ball in Poch’s system for both of them to get the touches they need? Eriksen’s performance against Everton, with Dembele out, was his most promising in a while.

But the fact Eriksen was dropped for Watford shows that Mauricio Pochettino is aware the Dane is not firing on all cylinders. Knowing what we know about the head coach, the answer to this problem is going to be even more training rather than a rest — enjoy it, Christian.

Class is permanent, form is temporary. But I’m sure Harry Kane would love to have his primary creator back in a central role and sliding in pass after pass, sooner rather than later.

Please follow me on Twitter for more articles and general Spurs chat.

Housekeeping Post: Links to recent articles on external sites

I’ve been doing some writing for some external sites in the past few weeks. These tend to disappear into the ether and are hard to find when I need to refer back to them, so I’m adding some links below for future use.

 The Tottenham Way:

January 2016

Spirited Spurs Show The Power Of Pochettino

December 2015

Spurs Must Learn Lessons From January 2012

Bournemouth Boys Show Townsend There Is Life After Spurs

Carroll Fails To Take His Chance, As Pochettino Gamble Backfires

Pulis Saw Them Coming But Spurs Survived

Pochettino’s Next Task Is To Turn Hard-To-Beat Spurs Into Winners

The Fighting Cock:

December 2015
Doing Things The Hard Way — Contrasting events at Spurs with Chelsea and Man City