Regardless of whether Spurs go on and lift the Premier League title in May, or fall just short, comparisons are inevitably going to be made between the season we are having, the one enjoyed by Liverpool in 2013/14.
While Leicester are a bolt out of the blue, Spurs and Liverpool both vaulted out of the pack and mounted title challenges after years of promising but failing to deliver.
The title challenges carry a similar “vibe” — a sense of team cohesion and a clear tactical philosophy, but also a strong enough core of players to suggest a whiff of sustainability in terms of future success.
Liverpool’s struggles since that superb season, when Messrs Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling routinely shredded opposition defences, offer some useful pointers to the hierarchy at Spurs as the club plans ahead both on and off the pitch.
In his latest piece, football finance blogger Swiss Ramble makes a number of interesting observations about the situation of Liverpool, and the importance of the Champions League, that are relevant to Spurs.
Also, some of the facts and figures in Liverpool’s accounts offer useful reference for us: there is still a huge amount of work to be done at Spurs to ensure our feeling of progress is built upon something more sustainable than the underperformance of others.
1 Don’t sell your best players
Liverpool’s transfer strategy since qualifying for the Champions League has been little short of a debacle. The £60 million profit the club reported in its latest accounts sums up the difference, as put by Brendan Rodgers, between a business model and a winning model.
Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling were one of the deadliest attacking trios in Premier League history. Suarez and Sturridge combined for a whopping 55 goals, while Sterling contributed nine goals and seven assists. Yet two years on, both Suarez and Sterling have been sold, while Sturridge has struggled with injuries that are testing the patience of Jurgen Klopp.
Barcelona may have triggered a release clause for Suarez, although reports at the time suggested Liverpool were happy to be rid of him. But selling Sterling, the most talented homegrown player since Steven Gerrard (albeit via QPR) to a Champions League rival in Man City was in many ways insane. In both cases, the club’s decision-making became clouded — whether that be by weird disciplinary problems, or snotty agents.
With Champions League football, Liverpool should have become stronger, but instead they became weaker. Their huge profit this season feels hollow, as they couldn’t sustain the success.
Spurs are going to get big offers this summer for the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Daniel Levy needs to resist any reptilian urge to turn a massive profit, and just say no. I’m pretty confident our chairman has now learned this lesson after the Bale money trauma, but the only way we’re going to shake the tag of being a “selling club” is by not selling our best players over a prolonged period.
2 Take the chance to buy Champions League calibre players
This is the list of players Liverpool bought ahead of its Champions League campaign:
Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli, Dejan Lovren and Divock Origi.
The combined cost? £117 million.
For years, Liverpool had been held back in the transfer market by the inability to offer Champions League football — a feeling Spurs know all too well. There is only so much elite talent out there, and all elite players want to play in the Champions League.
Finally, Liverpool had a chance to break this cycle and bring in genuinely world-class players — and they missed it. All eight of those players bought by Liverpool would have been available if Liverpool were only offering Europa League football. Sure, they were rejected by Alexis Sanchez, but there were other possibilities out there.
Spurs need to be smart this summer. Yes, the club is building for the long-term and around a homegrown core. Yes, there is only a finite amount of money to spend on transfer fees and wages while the stadium is being built. Yes, there is a risk of upsetting squad unity by bringing in stars on huge wages. But there is also an opportunity to buy the sort of player we’ve not been able to attract in the past, and that should at least be explored.
So HYPOTHETICALLY (this is the key word), let’s say the club’s analysts feel that Spurs are struggling to create enough “good” chances, and that with Mario Gotze in the number 10 role, as opposed to Christian Eriksen, Spurs would be a much more dangerous proposition.
Gotze’s star may have waned a little since the 2014 World Cup, but he is still a player who will command Champions League football. This summer Spurs may be able to lure a player of that calibre, whereas in previous seasons it wouldn’t have even been worth trying.
I’m NOT saying Spurs should sell Eriksen — I’m just giving an example of the sort of talent we may be able to attract if there is Champions League football at White Hart Lane.
It was in the Sun on Sunday, so there is a 99.9% chance it is wrong, but there was a nugget of this sort of thinking about the speculation that Spurs may move for Jordan Henderson. I’m not sure he is the right player, but if the club is seriously engaged in some sort of “game theory” approach to strengthening ourselves while at the same time weakening potential rivals, I find that quite encouraging. I mean, if Man Utd miss out on Champions League, why not stick in a bid for Morgan Schneiderlin?
3 Where we finish matters in terms of Champions League money
Should Spurs falter in the coming games, and Leicester roll remorselessly on, the temptation may be for the players to take their foot off the gas with Champions League football all-but in the bag.
However, I did not realise that the final finishing position makes a big difference in terms of how much Champions League money is awarded. See this graph from the Swiss Ramble:
Champions League money is split in two ways: where you finish in the Premier League, and how you perform in the Champions League itself. Under the previous TV deal, the difference between finishing 1st and 4th was £14 million. This is far greater than the performance-related proportion of Premier League TV money — the gap between payouts for 1st and 4th is £2.5 million.
Under the new Champions League deal, the money on offer is up 40 to 50 percent. If the allocation is the same, the difference between finishing 1st and 4th could be approaching £20 million. That is a significant amount of money.
Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t seem like the sort of manager to allow his team to coast. But should Spurs fall out of contention for the title, there’s still millions at stake for finishing second as opposed to third or fourth.
4 One more reason why the Europa League sucks
A common misconception about the Premier League TV deal is that the money is divided equally. This is not true — while it is more even than, say La Liga, there is considerable range. Last season, champions Chelsea brought in £99 million, while relegated QPR brought in £64.9 million. It is a phenomenal amount of money for QPR to receive, sure, but that is a big difference.
While 50 percent is divided equally, the other half is split among “merit payment” (where you finish) and “facility fee” (what you get when you are shown live).
Last season, while Spurs finished ahead of Liverpool, the Reds earned £4 million more from the TV deal. The reason? They were shown more often — seven times more in fact. While 25 Liverpool games were broadcast, just 18 Spurs games were shown — less than half the fixtures.
Part of this is legacy — Liverpool have a bigger fanbase. Also, having competed for the title in the previous season, it was reasonable to expect them to be shown more early on. But Europa League also has an impact — as Spurs were forced to play on Sundays for at least eight fixture rounds, this meant our matches couldn’t be selected for the two Saturday TV timeslots.
While Spurs had 18 games shown live, and our fellow Europa League travellers Everton had 17, Newcastle had 20 games shown live, despite one of the most miserable seasons the club has endured.
When you see Spurs bring in just £6.1 million in TV revenue from the Europa League, and the pain in the balls it is having to play Thursday-Sunday and cope with the huge distances and demands on the squad, you can see why West Ham in particular this season basically told the Europa League to go shove it and focused on the league. It feels like a good call by Slaven Bilic.
5 Liverpool are still miles ahead of Spurs commercially
Champions League qualification boosted Liverpool’s bottom line tremendously. Broadcast revenue was up 22 percent, matchday income up 16 percent, and commercial income up 12 percent.
While matchday and TV income is likely to come crashing down to earth in its next accounts (although the endless replays this season may have helped at the turnstyles), the gap between Liverpool and Spurs on the commercial front is more like a chasm.
Liverpool’s commercial (so sponsorships, merchandising, etc) income stood at £116 million: this is almost double the £59 million Spurs brought in per its last accounts (the club is due to report soon).
Liverpool’s shirt sponsorship with Standard Chartered is at least £20-25 million annually, while its kit deal with New Balance is £25 million. Currently Spurs get £16 million from AIA, and £10 million a year from Under Armour. A reported £30 million deal with Nike can’t come soon enough, likewise a naming rights deal.
Meanwhile, we’ll just have to punch above our weight. Liverpool’s wage bill is £144 million, compared to Spurs’ £100 million. Since 2011/12, LIverpool’s net transfer spend is £148 million — Spurs have made a profit of £39 million since then (this season’s accounts should show us breaking even).
For stadium costs, Spurs intend to borrow £350 million from banks, while Liverpool’s owners are providing a £100 million interest-free loan for the expansion of Anfield’s main stand.
Liverpool’s owners get a lot of stick, especially after the ticketing fiasco, but they’ve put their money where their mouth is, and achieved sustained commercial growth. They just need to sort it out on the pitch, but that’s the difficult part.
For Spurs, we’ve gotten it right on the pitch at long last — but we just need to look at Liverpool to show how hard sustaining that success can be.
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