Monthly Archives: May 2016

How many people actually watch Spurs on TV? Audience analysis of the 2015/16 season

Through the course of this campaign, I have been tracking the audience figures for Spurs matches.

This was an exercise born out of curiosity: I wanted to know how many people were actually tuning in to watch Premier League matches involving Spurs.

The tables contain the full data (explanatory notes are below) for the 2015/16 Premier League season, and also for the 2014/15 campaign. Green denotes matches with an audience over 1 million, red are matches below the threshold for the precise figure to be reported.

201516audience

201415audience

A few key numbers:

  • Spurs were shown 21 times on UK TV in 2015/16, compared with 18 in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches in 2015/16 was 1.13 million, up from 1.04 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on Sky Sports was 1.23 million in 2015/16, up from 1.05 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on BT Sport was 717,000 in 2015/16, down from 1.02 million in 2014/15. The figure for the home match against Chelsea in November on BT was not available.
  • The highest audience for a Spurs match in 2015/16 was 1.79 million against Arsenal (a). In 2014/15, the highest audience was 1.44 million against Manchester United (a). Not our best match, that one…

A few other thoughts:

*The audience varies greatly depending both on the opposition and the timing, as you would expect. The most watched match is normally the prime Sunday 4pm slot. Manchester United and Liverpool attract far more viewers than other teams — after 20 years of Mauricio Pochettino-inspired domination, Spurs will no doubt have a similar pull.

*The sample size is of course far too small to draw any big conclusions in terms of whether the Spurs audience has “increased” or not. But one thing I would note is that Spurs beat the 2014/15 maximum of 1.44 million on four occasions in 2015/16 — Arsenal (a), Man City (a), Man Utd (h) and Chelsea (a).

*Spurs were shown in the Sunday 4pm slot six times in 2015/16, averaging 1.57 million. In 2014/15, Spurs were shown seven times in the prime spot, averaging 1.07 million. Did the fact that Spurs were challenging for the title, rather than drifting around in Europa League contention, make a difference to neutral fans? Certainly, this average of 1.57 million is impressive and must encourage Sky to increase the number of Spurs games next campaign.

*Spurs were shown 21 times on UK television, up from 18 in 2014/15. Under the old TV deal, every extra match that was shown (above the minimum 10) earned an additional £747,176 in TV money (these facility fees account for 25 percent of the total TV pot). This campaign, Arsenal were shown more than any other team, in total 27 times. So simply for being chosen for broadcast, they earned £4.48 million more than Spurs in TV money. The Europa League hurts here, as it means Spurs can only be selected for the slots on Sunday or Monday after European matches, reducing the chances Spurs can secure additional facility fees.

*There were a couple of audiences that appeared disappointing. For BT to draw just 880,000 for a North London derby in March with title implications, and heralded as one of the biggest ever, seemed poor. Likewise attracting just 660,000 for the home match against Liverpool — Jurgen Klopp’s first in charge. The same channel’s failure to crack 590,000 for Spurs v Man City (this one was so low I don’t have the real number) was also below what may have been expected. Sky’s decision to show Spurs three times in a row on Monday night down the stretch didn’t really work for them any more than it did for Spurs. While the Battle of the Bridge was widely viewed, the matches against Stoke and West Brom did not capture the imagination. I hope Sky reconsiders such an unconventional choice should Spurs be competing for the title again in 2016/17 — it can’t have helped.

*The data doesn’t include pubs. However, this may change soon, if developments in the US are a guide.

*As those who follow me on Twitter are aware, I am a big critic of the TV rights system. I believe it short-changes UK fans of Premier League teams, and gives us a far inferior product to what is available everywhere else around the globe. The final day summed up the farce: The match at Old Trafford was abandoned, and instead of offering British viewers the chance to watch, say, Chelsea v Leicester or Newcastle v Spurs, which were being broadcast around the world, Sky Sports showed Swansea v Man City on two channels. I wrote about this issue extensively here — my feelings on the subject have not changed.

My comrade in audience figure monitoring, @Spurs_US, has shared his data for US viewers.

As you can see, the numbers are impressive and are part of a widely reported upward trend. As an unashamed Yankophile, I am delighted to see the English game making such huge strides. I will respond in kind by, erm, watching even more NFL in seasons to come.

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

* I use the seven-day data published by BARB, the body which monitors audience figures. The public data only encompasses the top 30 programmes per week, from ALL channels aside from the five main terrestrial ones, which are counted individually. This means certain matches (mostly European ones) don’t rate. If anyone has access to full BARB data, please get in touch. I use the threshold audience for the week in the averages, but it may be much lower.

This data averages the audience through the length of the programme, rather than the peak. It doesn’t include pubs, but it does include legal streaming. You can find out how it is gathered here. It isn’t perfect but it is the best data that is freely available for people like me without a corporate subscription. It enables consistent comparisons.

The Weekly Max: As well as Spurs, I list the most-watched match in that week among all teams, for purposes of comparison.

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How Spurs can take it to the next level: A blueprint for the summer of 2016

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If Mauricio Pochettino’s first year as Spurs manager was about knocking down a house that had become rotten, in the second year the Argentine had to relay the foundations. A leaky defence was fixed, a team culture was established, and an exciting and effective style of play emerged.

The late collapse into third place behind Arsenal was hugely disappointing and added a sour note to what was in many ways a spectacular season. We challenged for the title, something we haven’t done in the Premier League era, and secured our highest finishing position since the 1989/90 campaign. What was it that BIll Nicholson said about aiming high?

If the stumble to the finishing line showed how much of the Pochettino project remains unfinished, the season as a whole showed just how strong the foundations are that he has laid.

With only one out-and-out striker and a dearth of central midfield options, it was a miracle that Spurs managed to secure Champions League football while also coping with the gruelling Europa League schedule. It is a testament to Pochettino’s managerial ability, his fitness regime, the spirit of the team he has assembled, and improving recruitment.

The goal for Pochettino has always been to have a world-class team in place for when the new stadium opens for the 2018/19 campaign. Spurs are ahead of schedule.

The next two summers are about taking the club to “the next level”. The goal will be to identify talent, either within the academy or elsewhere, that can enable the club to challenge for titles at home and in Europe in the years to come.

Pochettino has warned that getting stronger is about more than just buying players. But being able to offer Champions League football this summer presents a huge opportunity to attract the sort of elite talent that may not previously have been interested, if Spurs so wish.

There is a need to balance the present and the future. Clearly, better first-team rotation and bench options are needed for Pochettino. But also, Spurs will continue to identify young talents and turn them into stars — Harry Kane and Dele Alli are the latest in a long line of players to hit superstar status while wearing lilywhite. It is something the club does better than any other, and the academy contains a number of extremely promising prospects.

As always, Spurs will look to find value in the transfer market. The club veered off this path under Franco Baldini, and paid a heavy price. Ultimately, it is just where the club is more comfortable, and the stadium will limit how much can be spent anyway. So, Spurs will identify players at distressed clubs, those on expiring contracts, or those they feel have the potential to hit the top level with time and training.

I would expect Spurs to look to sell to other Premier League clubs — the new TV deal means that there is more money than can possibly be spent in a sensible way. Also worth watching is the pound versus the euro — it is performing a faceplant that Spurs would be proud of amid the Brexit uncertainty.

I am going to sketch out a possible summer blueprint, in terms of contracts, sales and purchases.

It is all deeply hypothetical. Player availability is far from certain at this early stage, and only Pochettino knows who he wants to move on and who he wants to keep. This isn’t a prediction — I’m not an ITK peddler and have no insight beyond what is widely available.

What I want to do is illustrate the type of deals that may be possible, the type of players that may fit, and how far Spurs may be able to stretch the budget. It is tremendous fun trying to game it out, and please feel free to join in below the comment line. Disagreement is guaranteed.

Contracts

First order of business will be contract negotiations. The surge in Premier League TV money and Champions League lucre will mean every agent will be demanding significant wage bumps for their clients. For Spurs, it will be about balancing squad harmony and ensuring the total wage bill remains in line with what is required through stadium construction.

Both Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen have been engaged in lengthy discussions, but contracts remain unsigned as of the date of this article. These are key players that Spurs will want to keep over the next four to five years (I imagine, now 29, Jan gets a four-year deal, while Eriksen wants five).

For other players, the demand for a pay rise gives the club a chance to add years to contracts (and remove unhelpful exit clauses if any exist). This may be the case for Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose.

Meanwhile, the club must continue to increase wages of young stars. Priority number one will be Harry Kane. Having started 66 consecutive league games, and secured the Premier League Golden Boot, he will become one of the club’s top earners. New deals will no doubt be needed for Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

If this all sounds a bit much, it is just the reality of the game. With a huge TV deal kicking in, player salaries will soar in line with it. Spurs have done an excellent job controlling the wage bill since the Bale money splurge, but with revenue about to soar, now is the appropriate time to increase it.

Players out

Pochettino looked appropriately livid after the dismal defeat at Newcastle. It is fair to say it will have crystallized one or two thoughts about which players will be leaving Hotspur Way this summer. Here is a list of players who I think are on the way out, with a guess of a potential destination and guide price.

Nacer Chadli, Sunderland, £15m

I’ve written about the conundrum that Chadli poses — a productive player who rarely pushes for a place. The fact that Pochettino called for Josh Onomah over Chadli against Newcastle spoke volumes, as did the fact that Chadli barely factored in previous matches in the final stretch. There have long been whispers that Chadli lacks the intensity that Poch demands. My guess, having lost his place in the Belgian squad, Chadli will be seeking a new start regardless — this could be a mutual parting of ways. Chadli’s departure opens the door for Onomah, while more striking options (see below) will mean more chances for Son Heung-min from his preferred wide role. With his goal-scoring ability and the fact that he is just entering his prime, Spurs should get a good fee for Chadli. I think he’d be a great fit for a Sunderland side needing goals from midfield.

Ryan Mason, Bournemouth, £7.5m

Mason has been hugely important to Spurs in the Pochettino era, as much for what he has symbolised as what he has been capable of from a technical perspective. He has been a walking, talking lesson in perseverance to academy youngsters, and testament to the Pochettino ethos that workrate and character (I know that term freaks some people out as it isn’t quantifiable) are valued as highly as pure footballing talent. Mason has learned to play a different role under Pochettino, and the midfield partnership with Nabil Bentaleb was just about sufficient to keep the project on track in its first year. The “one of our own” spirit has reconnected fans to club after years of disconnect and mercenaries, and Mason, with his evident love of the club and pride in appearing in the shirt, was a key part of this. However, in 2015/16 he suffered from injury — gained while scoring a pivotal goal against Sunderland — and never rediscovered the form he had shown previously. Appearances in the Europa League knockout rounds and in place of the suspended Dembele showed his limits. As a player in a rebuilding Premier League team, he is fine; in the Champions League and a title challenger? Not quite. A rumoured move to Bournemouth may suit all parties, and his England cap last year should help Spurs achieve a premium for his services. I’d be more than happy if he stayed another year, and of all the players on this list, I think he is the least likely to leave.

Tom Carroll, Stoke, £4m

Another late bloomer, Tom Carroll was finally given his chance to make his mark at Spurs after years on loan. Did he take it? In my view, no. While he has a beautiful left foot, his passing can be too “safe”, and he lacks the physicality and defensive instinct to play a deeper role. He still has the opportunity to develop, but will be 24 when next season starts. You imagine a Premier League club looking to add a little bit of “culture” to its midfield mix will be interested. With Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay suffering long-term injuries at the end of the season, and Charlie Adam fat, old and never that good, Stoke could have an interest.

Michel Vorm, Crystal Palace, £3.5m

The world of the back-up goalkeeper is a strange one. When he signed, unless he believed Hugo Lloris was set for an exit, Michel Vorm must have known his game time would be very limited. I don’t begrudge him looking for a big contract to secure his financial future, but there must come a time, with the ongoing expectation that you won’t see meaningful action, when you lose your edge mentally and physically. You wonder, if a two-year spell as a back-up is “about right”. If he still considers himself a Premier League keeper, and not some Richard Wright-style hanger on, now may be the time for Vorm to move on. In his limited appearances, Vorm has looked predictably rusty. Clubs that may be interested in his services? Middlesbrough, whoever goes up through the playoffs (Hull or Sheffield Wednesday), and Crystal Palace. My guess: Vorm heads to Palace as an upgrade on Wayne Hennessey and Alex McCarthy, both of whom are distinctly Championship calibre.

Federico Fazio, China, £5m

I’d almost forgotten about him. If no Spanish clubs are interested, poor old Fazio will be seeking pastures new as he looks ill-suited to the English game. Look for Spurs to cash in on China’s boom, or failing that Russia or the Middle East. Fazio to Spurs was a terrible move for all parties. He is richer financially, but in every other way poorer for the experience.

DeAndre Yedlin, West Brom, £7.5m

Yedlin confounded doubters and established himself as the first-choice right back in Sunderland’s latest great escape. He won the contest against Billy Jones, and Sunderland (botched move for Emmanuel Eboue aside) felt other areas of the squad needed strengthening more in January. Having watched a number of Sunderland matches, it is clear Yedlin made huge progress defensively under the guidance of Big Sam. However, he still looks well short of what is required at Spurs to knock out Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, in particular offensively. Adding to Yedlin’s logjam at Spurs is Kyle Walker-Peters, one of the brightest talents coming through the academy. Having proven his Premier League mettle at Sunderland, and still just 22, this may be the optimum time to cash in. Spurs paid just £2.5m for Yedlin — they should secure a handsome profit with a host of Premier League clubs potentially looking to strengthen at right back. I reckon Spurs would look to triple their money. Swansea, Sunderland, a de-Pulised West Brom, Bournemouth and Watford may all be interested.

Total incoming: £42.5m

 

Players In

Spurs have two clear “needs” this summer — in central midfield and up front. Longer term, there may be a desire to find better options on the right flank, with both Kyle Walker and Erik Lamela showing limitations. But there is only so much to spend this summer, so that can wait. Budget-wise, even with Champions League money coming in, I wouldn’t expect net spend to be any more than £30m with a stadium to build and Daniel Levy in charge. I’d say, with money recouped from sales, we are looking at a pot of about £72.5m. Given the amount of money that will be sprayed around this summer, this amount, shockingly, may be at the lower end in the Premier League. Finding value will be key, and I reckon it is possible. How far could this money go?

Mateo Kovacic, 22, Real Madrid, £25m

Spurs sorely need to add a midfielder who can offer a new dimension in terms of playmaking, as none of Dier, Dembele or Alli are particularly “creative” passers. Too much reliance on Christian Eriksen can make Spurs predictable, and easy to play against. Another playmaker, operating from deep, would appear to fit the bill. Furthermore, as Dembele struggles to play twice in a week, another first-choice calibre central midfielder is absolutely essential regardless. I’ve had a crush on Mateo Kovacic since reading this article, and having failed to establish himself since joining Real Madrid, he may be available. This piece explains why he may not make the grade at the Bernabeu. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, especially when that trash is 22 and stuck behind Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Rather than heading meekly back to Italy on loan, Spurs can offer Kovacic Champions League football and the chance to join an emerging footballing force. I’m sure Luka and Gareth would put in a good word. Meanwhile, I bet Daniel Levy would relish the opportunity to negotiate with Real Madrid again. Spurs could make a signature signing, without breaking the bank. There are of course other options here — various suggestion I’ve seen in recent Twitter conversations include Tielemans, Pjanic and Kampl.

Victor Wanyama, 24, Southampton, £17m

Failure to hold leads in pivotal matches against physical opposition like West Brom and Chelsea highlighted the need for Spurs to add another defensive midfield option, in particular one with some height and physicality. It would also enable Spurs to move Eric Dier back into defence if Toby Alderweireld was unavailable, so would kill two birds with one stone. Wanyama is entering the final year of his contract, and has previously spoken of his desire to join Spurs. Relations between Spurs and Southampton are far from great, though, honestly, it is a long list of clubs who hate dealing with Spurs. Southampton are an extremely sensible club who, if Wanyama is set on leaving, may see the benefit of accepting a fair price that they can reinvest in someone who wants to be there. This is a deal that can surely be done, if Spurs don’t behave like absolute idiots by lowballing Southampton.

Michy Batshuayi, 22, Marseille, £25m

West Ham are trying their hardest to inflate the price of Batshuayi with public bids beyond what Spurs may feel is required to secure him from a financially-troubled Marseille. But Spurs can offer Champions League football, so it may be immaterial — Batshuayi is one of many players West Ham are publicly talking up. The Belgian fits a clear need for Spurs — someone able both to cover for Kane as an out-and-out striker, but also with the versatility to play with him. At the age of 22, he is in that “sweet spot” for Spurs — experienced enough for there to be meaningful data for Paul Mitchell and Co to analyse, young enough to still have room to improve.

Moussa Dembele, 19, Fulham, £5m

I expect Spurs to add two strikers this summer. Son Heung-min proved limited when covering up front, and Clinton N’Jie was a non-factor due to injury. Dembele agreed a move to Spurs in January, only for it to collapse as a dismal Fulham team couldn’t risk letting him go with relegation to League One a possibility. Could Spurs resuscitate this move, and strike a compensation deal with Fulham to avoid the uncertainty of a tribunal? It sounds like a cheap way to add a talented young striker with a promising Championship goalscoring record (15 goals in 43 appearances in his first full season). It may be that Dembele is lured away elsewhere, in which case, I’d not entirely rule out Spurs taking one final spin at Saido Berahino roulette. Timo Werner, who we have also been linked with in the past, ticks the “value” box in a number of ways after Stuttgart’s relegation. Spurs may have a talent in the academy in Kaziah Sterling, who has been mentioned in dispatches, but a three-pronged strike force is surely required immediately for the Champions League and another title tilt.

Brad Guzan, 31, Aston Villa, £500K

I wrote about how the time may have come for Vorm to move on. This represents a chance for Spurs to make a couple of million quid by essentially shuffling back-up keepers, and pocketing the difference. The key will be identifying an experienced keeper of Premier League quality who is available for free, or a cut-price amount. Do any exist? Here is one suggestion: Brad Guzan. Like everyone connected to Aston Villa, he had a horrible season in 2015/16, but in the two years previously he was quite competent, in my view. He is entering the final year of his contract, and Villa will be looking to slash their wage bill after being relegated. Spurs may be able to pick him up for free, or very cheap. Guzan gets to sign another lucrative Premier League contract, and he can follow in the footsteps of Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel as a bald, American goalkeeper for Spurs — a fine tradition. My little Vorm-for-Guzan swap may seem a bit random — but it is an illustration of how Spurs could boost the transfer kitty without getting much weaker. With a stadium to finance, we need to find smart ways to increase our spending power. I’m sure there are other keepers out there who may be better than Guzan, I’d welcome suggestions.

Total outgoing: £72.5m

 

Loans

If you haven’t already seen it, Chris Miller’s crowd-sourced loan round-up was an excellent piece of blogging and offered some hints to future loan moves.

I wrote a few months back about how loan numbers were down this year — we shall see in due course of this was a change in approach, or just an outlier.

A couple of thoughts on possible loan moves.

Josh Onomah will stay and benefit from Chadli’s departure, while new arrivals in midfield surely mean Harry Winks heads out on a season-long arrangement to the Championship.

I have always thought loans were particularly useful for young defenders. Even the best defensive talents make a bunch of mistakes, and it is far better for Spurs that they make them elsewhere. I’d like to see both Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers head to League One and find their sea legs. It would surely benefit their development more than the occasional minutes they’d pick up in the Capital One Cup.

There is a lot of chatter about Dominic Ball, who impressed for Rangers and played a very similar role to Dier. I’d be cautious about pencilling him in, given the dire state of the Scottish second tier. Surely the Championship is a logical next step.

One final thought: I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs sent Clinton N’Jie to another Premier League team. He had his debut season ruined by injury, and we barely saw him in meaningful action (386 minutes in total). When he did play, he looked raw. My concern for Clinton is that he is going to need a lot more playing time to fulfill the potential identified by the scouting team than Spurs will be able to offer him without the Europa League, which was useful in this regard. Therefore, a loan would be a logical next step. It doesn’t mean Spurs would be writing him off, it is about doing what is in the best interest of the club as it seeks to maximise the return on its investment in a young player.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat through the summer.

Deep Dive: Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge redevelopment — Trying to keep the train on the tracks

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London is in the middle of a stadium arms race. Next season, West Ham will join Arsenal in playing at a 60,000 seater venue, while the new White Hart Lane, capacity 61,000, is finally starting to emerge from the ground and will be a world-class home for Spurs.

Not wanting to be left behind, Chelsea late last year announced plans for a 60,000 capacity stadium of their own to replace Stamford Bridge.

I have written extensively about the new Spurs stadium, and will continue to monitor developments through the construction phase. I have also covered the deal that secured West Ham the use of the Olympic Stadium, an agreement that has drawn strong criticism over value for money offered to the taxpayer.

In this post, I am going to examine Chelsea’s plans in some detail. Of all the stadium projects in London, it is arguably the most ambitious.

After years of trying and failing to secure an alternative site in West London, Chelsea in December last year unveiled plans to demolish Stamford Bridge (capacity 41,798) and replace it with a new 60,000 capacity stadium.

To achieve a bigger stadium, Chelsea’s architects have drawn up innovative plans to expand the boundaries of the site, raising all manner of issues that the planners at Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council and other authorities will have to weigh up in their decision-making process.

I have spent several weeks researching the proposals and soliciting information. In this post, I will discuss various aspects of the project including the complications arising from the need to construct over railway lines, matters relating to finance and housing, and potential security concerns.

From my research, it is clear that there are serious hurdles for Chelsea to overcome. I can reveal that certain aspects of the project are now being redesigned, and a further public consultation will be required, raising the possibility of delays.

Before I start, I want to make one thing clear: I have no objection to Chelsea building a new stadium. I am writing this piece as much to educate myself as anything — as regular readers know, I find these projects fascinating.

Football stadiums are our modern-day cathedrals, vast monuments to our devotion and places of congregation. Stamford Bridge had a 99.7% attendance in 2014/15, and if the club feels there is sufficient supporter demand, and local fans in particular are being prevented from attending, then of course they have every right to try to build a bigger stadium.

It makes no difference to me as a Spurs fan if Chelsea build a new stadium — I am sure we will show it due respect when we visit.

I welcome feedback and comments — these are huge documentation bundles and no doubt there are interesting things that I have not covered. If you want to read my previous “deep dives”, you can find them here. Full coverage on the Spurs stadium project can be found here. The planning documents are here.

Railways and delays

When I first looked at these plans in December last year, there was one aspect that immediately jumped out at me as being potentially problematic beyond the more typical planning issues associated with a project of this size. Namely, the need to build over railway lines.

While Spurs had to undergo the torturous process of compulsory purchases orders to acquire the necessary land, much of what Chelsea are attempting will be achieved by knocking down the existing stadium, “Chelsea Village” apartment blocks and the two hotels on site.

The club does not own the freehold of the stadium, which is held by the fan-owned Chelsea Pitch Owners. There is no agreement yet, as far as I am aware, but one assumes that eventually the club reaches a deal that enables them to proceed.

While this makes it easier, the problem Chelsea have is that the site simply isn’t big enough for a 60,000 seater stadium. To create enough space, the project will sprawl out, Blob-like, over both the District Line underground line, and the “Southern Mainline” on the eastern side. These maps show how the boundaries will expand:

MAPCOMP

Chelsea are planning major changes to Fulham Broadway underground station to create direct access, and will construct decking over the line. On the other side, the club will again construct decking, and trains will run under the East Stand (see image below).

As you can see from the maps, this is a considerable land grab by Chelsea. While the East Stand would go over the railway, the decking stretches out all the way across the “cutting” and up to Brompton Cemetery. It covers the length of the eastern side of the scheme, and connects up with Fulham Road.

While the District Line essentially going “underground” for another hundred metres is one thing, the Southern Mainline is an overground line. If you look along its route, from Clapham to Willesden Junction, nothing is built “over” it, with the notable exception of Earls Court Two (update 14.20pm: which is being demolished — thanks to Twitter user Ross Paul for pointing this out).

The line carries passenger services — London Overground and Southern — and is also the main freight route through the west side of London.

The Chelsea plan struck me as problematic for two reasons. One, this is public infrastructure and there must be limits to what is “allowed” in terms of private development going over the top of it. Two, a long covered section, quite tightly enclosed as the long-section shows, may pose maintenance and “future-proofing” problems.

East Stand Long Section

The authority that will ultimately decide whether Chelsea can build over the Southern Mainline is Network Rail, which also owns the land. I contacted them to get their view.

In addition to answering my questions on various matters, they provided a copy of their correspondence with Hammersmith and Fulham planners. These are public documents that are part of the planning process, but they have not yet been published online by the council, at least as far as I can see.

In its correspondence, Network Rail describes Chelsea’s plan as a “major operational liability” citing maintenance and safety concerns, and says it is yet to give its approval.

“Due to the East Stand sitting directly above the railway the new structure represents a potential major operation liability for us in terms of safeguarding future access for inspection and maintenance requirements and similar (and the ongoing cost implications of this) and also to ensure that the appropriate railway standards are followed in this design to safeguard the safety of the railway and the travelling public.”

The correspondence also reveals that changes are being made to the design of the eastern decking, and these changes will require a further public consultation phase.

“We understand design of the deck is undergoing significant revision due to recent planning objections relating to neighboring properties immediately east of the stadium, and that both the height and the horizontal extent of the deck are likely to change.

“We look forward to reviewing the amendments as they are prepared, via the APA (Asset Protection Agreement), and will write to you again following the further public consultation phase that will take place when these plans are formally submitted to the LPA (local planning authority)”.

Network Rail notes that the redesign, as of the February date of the letter, was at too early a stage for engineers to approve.

As Network Rail makes clear, an “Asset Protection Agreement” would need to be reached between the rail authority and Chelsea before planning permission can be granted. Alternatively, conditions requiring Network Rail’s consent could be inserted into a planning agreement. It warns that as the stadium offers no “operational benefit” for railway users, the taxpayer should not be liable for any increased maintenance obligations or liabilities arising from the project.

Simply put, until Chelsea can come up with a design on the eastern side of the project that satisfies Network Rail in terms of maintenance, safety and cost, the project cannot proceed. The need for a further public consultation will mean delays.

Right to light and other issues

While the railway poses a specific and major headache, a project of this scale inevitably raises a host of more run-of-the-mill planning issues.

In its planning statement, the club identifies issues such as traffic, “right to light”, noise, air quality and so forth, and presents its arguments of how it feels the scheme complies with the many codes and standards in place to control development in London.

For example, Chelsea argue that the construction of a direct access to a rebuilt Fulham Broadway station will reduce congestion on Fulham Road on match days. It may well, but it should be noted that the proposed eastern decking creates a whole new egress onto Fulham Road just a 100 yards or so down the road. These are factors the planners will weigh in their deliberations.

One issue of concern will be “right to light” — the principle that new developments should not tower over other buildings and block out their sunlight. For 60,000 capacity stadiums in residential areas, this is tricky.

In its planning statement, Chelsea note that “moderate (significant) adverse effects as a result of a loss of daylight are limited to only one property.”

Looking at the plans, my best guess is that this is one of the properties immediately north of the site, in the Brompton Park development. As you can see from the comparison below, the new north stand will be much taller, and closer to the houses the other side of the District Line. I am sure the planners would want to scrutinize this assessment closely — the wording strikes me as rather careful.

NS Long Section Comp

From my reading of the other maps and drawings, the properties to the south have long been overshadowed by Chelsea Village, and the new stadium won’t be any closer or taller on this side.

On the western side are the Sir Oswald Stoll Mansions, which houses disabled and vulnerable veterans. From my reading of the plans, the West Stand won’t be significantly taller or closer than it already is. However, three years of demolition and reconstruction work, not to mention increased traffic from 19,000 additional supporters, may not be welcomed by residents and managers of this community.

The good news for Chelsea is that there don’t appear to be significant heritage issues. Spurs, by contrast, had to seek consent to demolish three listed buildings, which delayed the project and created risk in securing all of the required approvals.

There is a one conservation issue to overcome. Running parallel to the Southern Mainline is a “cutting”, a sliver of green — so precious in London — called the Billings and Brompton Cutting Conservation Area. The planned decking on the eastern side will cover this.

Chelsea’s planning statement identifies the line of argument that the club may take. It cites a previously consented scheme (since renewed) to construct a railway station for Chelsea Village where the cutting stands. The club will be hoping that no-one has identified any new bat colonies or rare newts in the intervening years.

Blank slate, blank cheque

Having read through Chelsea’s planning statement, nowhere does it mention how much the scheme will cost, or how the club intends to pay for it.

A vague figure of £500 million has been put about, but quite how this was arrived at is not clear. The club has provided no details of how it will secure the funding. The assumption is that Roman Abramovich will ultimately fill in any gaps in the financing, but even for someone worth many billions of pounds, we are talking potentially large amounts of money.

As I have previously mentioned, the Spurs scheme will cost between £675 million and £750 million in total. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has put the cost of the stadium itself at about £500 million.

For Spurs, the main cost beyond the construction itself was securing the necessary land. For Chelsea, depending on the deal struck with Chelsea Pitch Owners, the biggest cost may come from needing to rebuild Chelsea VIllage.

The two hotels on site will be demolished and not rebuilt — the planning statement notes that “it is assumed a proportion of hotel employees will be redeployed elsewhere in the proposed development” but makes no promises, potentially undermining the arguments that the redevelopment will boost the local economy through creating jobs.

But you can’t simply demolish housing. Chelsea Village has 38 apartments with total floor space of 4,005 square metres, and Chelsea must find an alternative site and rebuild it. This will be both difficult and enormously expensive in Hammersmith and Fulham.

As for the build itself, construction over railways sounds expensive and difficult, but this isn’t my area of expertise. I’d welcome any suggestions.

For Spurs, clear plans on financing the stadium were required to secure compulsory purchase orders, from my understanding of the court documents in the Archway case. The club needed to demonstrate that it had viable plans for completing its planned scheme, and wasn’t merely using the stadium proposals as a pretext to acquire the land.

Chelsea may need to demonstrate a similar viability to reach a deal with Chelsea Pitch Owners, who may be concerned that such a grandiose scheme is a merely a ruse to secure the freehold.

One other area of additional cost will be compensation to Network Rail for building over the Southern Mainline, if maintenance and safety concerns can be assuaged (likewise TFL for construction over the District Line).

A Network Rail spokesman told me that each development that requires construction over a railway is treated on merit. But, if Chelsea are given the go-ahead, Network Rail will surely require significant compensation both to cover any foreseen future costs, and also to extract a sufficient “pound of flesh” to discourage other well-heeled individuals or expanding businesses from seeing a precedent in Chelsea’s plans to build over its land.

Safety concerns

As previously mentioned, the Southern Mainline is a major freight route as well as a route for passenger services. Having used West Brompton station frequently, I can attest to how often these massive freight trains rumble through.

There is one particular type of freight that travels along the line which may give the planners pause before giving Chelsea permission to build a stadium over the top of it — nuclear waste.

Trains operated by Direct Rail Services carry nuclear waste on the Southern Mainline, from the defueling work at the Dungeness B nuclear power station in Kent, through west London to Willesden Junction, and then onwards to wherever the hell it goes.

In 2006, Greenpeace published a schedule of these “nuclear trains” — if the same schedule remains in place, the trains rumble through West Brompton at 7.15pm on Monday, Wednesday or Thursday evenings. You don’t have to be Frederick Forsyth to envisage the potential — however microscopic — for Europa League nights Chez Roman to suddenly become a lot more interesting.

Trying to establish whether these trains still run, and whether there is any serious risk here, is pretty hard — after all, the schedule is supposed to be a secret.

I checked in with David Polden, an anti-nuclear campaigner who follows nuclear train issues closely, and he confirmed that the trains do indeed still run, and will continue to do so until Dungeness B is shut down (initial target date 2008, latest target date 2028).

The risk from these trains is threefold: fire, radiation leaks and terrorism.

According to Polden, the design of the decking above the railway — with an opening at one side, rather than a standard tunnel — reduces the risk of an intense fire that would burn above the 800 degrees C that the nuclear “flasks” carrying the spent fuel rods are tested to withstand (an oil fire in a standard tunnel can burn at 2000 degrees C). The risk from radiation is insignificant from passing trains — this is only a problem when nuclear trains, which leak continuously, spend time in sidings.

However, concerns over terrorism have been considered in relation to sporting events in London. Trains carrying spent fuel from the Sizewell A nuclear station in Suffolk, which normally pass through the Olympic park, were stopped a month before the 2012 games, and for its duration, per Polden.

“Having nuclear trains running under a Chelsea grandstand would surely also constitute a tempting target for a terrorist wanting a high-publicity, perhaps high-casualty, target,” Polden said.

I contacted Direct Rail Services, which operates Britain’s nuclear trains. They said they had not yet been notified by Network Rail. In this type of situation, plans first have to be approved by Network Rail, and then train operators get the chance to raise concerns. Network Rail said it doesn’t anticipate any significant issues with operators. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority — and this is a sentence I never envisaged writing as a football blogger — did not respond to requests to comment.

How real a problem is this? I have tried to contact various experts or organisations without success — funnily enough, when you ask people about this sort of thing, more likely than not they think you are nuts.

(Greenpeace, who published the original research, should have been the exception and have proven particularly frustrating to deal with — they have certainly lived up to their reputation as being more interested in celebrity campaigns than answering legitimate questions on environmental issues.)

Evidently, we are talking a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage in likelihood that anything goes wrong. The same trains have been running under Earls Court Two quite safely since it was constructed. Halting nuclear trains, if done from a security perspective, was just one of a number of elaborate security measures taken during the Olympics. Authorities also put surface-to-air missile on top of tower blocks in anticipation of… well, whatever crazy scenario they had gamed out as an excuse to show off their toys and reassure the public.

But, looking at things from another perspective, does running trains carrying nuclear waste under a 60,000 seater stadium seem like a remotely sensible idea?

If this all feels far-fetched, even running standard passenger trains through a tight space under a crowded stadium poses a risk.

The terrorist attacks targeting the Stade de France last year underscore the issue of stadium security. Any new development that creates a security issue of any kind, no matter how microscopic in likelihood and crazy sounding, will draw scrutiny from authorities in the current environment.

Final thought

The issues I have outlined are just a few of those in play, What Chelsea are attempting is both hugely ambitious, and fraught with risk. Chelsea only need to look at Spurs to see how many obstacles they will need to overcome before they can begin work. If even one link in the chain is weak, that could mean years of delays as legal cases crawl through the courts. There is nothing about building a 60,000 seater stadium in London that is easy — and frankly, it should be hard.

Chelsea originally planned to begin work in the 2017/18 season, but with Spurs close to announcing an agreement with the FA for Wembley and reservations over the ability of the stadium to host two teams at the same time, it would appear likely that Chelsea are already aware that the timetable is slipping.

Per journalist Dan Levene, there are other indications that Chelsea will still be at Stamford Bridge in 2017/18:

The first indications were well-sourced suggestions that corporate hospitality at The Bridge was still being sold on a two and three season basis – suggesting that a move to Wembley, or some other location, may be further off than anticipated. There is also intelligence leaking out that matchday ancillary staff, whose service would almost certainly not be required during any period at Wembley, have been told their jobs will remain safe beyond the end of next season.

I am certain, when Chelsea set out on this plan, they would have done so expecting a detailed back-and-forth with planners and the need to make alterations. Spurs went through the same process in getting approval from the planners in Haringey.

In a club statement in December, Chelsea hinted at exactly this:

“The planning process will last beyond the end of the season; if the application is granted planning permission there will still be a lot of work to do before redevelopment can start, including obtaining various other consents.”

As I said at the top of the story, I have no objections to Chelsea building a bigger stadium — as far as I’m concerned as a Spurs fan, bring it on.

Looking at what is planned, Chelsea appear to be going to quite extraordinary lengths and expense for a significantly smaller capacity increase than Spurs. While Spurs’ capacity will increase by 68 percent, for Chelsea it will increase by 43.5 percent. [Update: I’ve corrected these percentages, maths never my strongest suit…]

Your wonder, if Network Rail is ultimately unwilling to give approval to the plans, whether there are other ways to expand the stadium on the existing site without spilling over above the railway? It may not achieve a 60,000 capacity to match Spurs, Arsenal and West Ham, but Chelsea may be able to get closer.

As Chelsea note though, it isn’t just capacity that necessitates a new stadium, but also inadequate amenities and issues of access and egress that many supporters who travel to the Bridge will have experienced. There may be some alternatives in the new design with a smaller East Stand that doesn’t cover the railway tracks. It may not be quite the monument that Chelsea and Mr Abramovich desire, but it would fulfill the purpose of a new and better stadium.

Whatever happens, Chelsea fans will eagerly await further news of the redevelopment, as will local residents and businesses. In the meantime, as last Monday proved, Stamford Bridge is still a characterful and atmospheric football stadium, at least when Spurs are the opposition.

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Update: 10/05/16 10:00am.

In this piece I quoted journalist Dan Levene, who has covered the Chelsea stadium more closely than anyone . He sent a detailed response to my article — it fills in a number of gaps, and adds valuable perspective. As I said in the piece, there are bound to be things I have missed or misunderstood — the great pleasure of these “deep dives” is the quality of feedback they receive. Below is Dan’s response in full:

This is a very well researched and written article, rightly turning a critical eye to several aspects of Chelsea’s proposed major development.

However, as one who has spent a great deal of time researching and writing about some of the issues you raise, I felt a number of points needed addressing.

Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO)

Chelsea Football Club does not need ownership of the freehold to demolish and rebuild Stamford Bridge. It was the general understanding that its owner did at least want this, hence the battle in 2011 to obtain it. However, the current intelligence is that this desire is cooling: framed, not least, by the knowledge that this may now be an unobtainable goal.

The desire to own the freehold was understood to be linked, in part, to the wish to access external funding streams: ie. a cash for equity swap. In recent weeks, there has been speculation that a major extension of the lease to, say, 999 years may provide the permanence in residence the club would need to attract a venture capital partner.

Network Rail

This article relies heavily upon the ‘major operational liability’ phrase used by Network Rail in its planning submission. Having previously worked in the area of Network Rail’s economic and safety regulation for some years, I have a reasonable understanding of this particular area of the project.

I can say with certainty that, following the Gerrards Cross tunnel collapse in 2005 (where a Tesco superstore was being built over the railway), Network Rail has been pushed to consider pretty much all such proposed development as a ‘major operational liability’. In part, this is because of a drive to re-evaluate it’s risk assessment procedures, biut it is also used as a bargaining tool at the planning stage of developments.

Network Rail is required to extract the maximum potential value from usable land, as a funding stream, at a time when the government is attempting to drive down its direct cost to the taxpayer. Thus, while the terms of any such deal to build over the railway will be a matter of commercial posturing, there will be an expectation there there will be a will to go ahead.

One issue that this article fails to address, and which has presented itself as a huge red flag (at least to me) from day one, is that the plans seem to require construction to take place over a live, working railway. I would be surprised if, with hindsight of the Gerrards Cross case, Network Rail’s risk management procedures would allow that to happen. If they do not, then that will significantly impact on the build times.

Nuclear trains

While I share the author’s concerns about the freighting of nuclear waste around the country by railway, there is a little context needed here.

This is a practice that has gone on for decades. It is impossible to say that any risk stands at precisely zero, but the extent to which waste in these trains is insulated, and the incredibly high safety bar employed these days in the nuclear industry, mean that the risks here are as close to zero as is practicable.

These trains pass in close proximity to large numbers of people practically every day. Stand on the platform at Willesden Junction from 7.30pm to 8.30pm on a weekday evening and you are almost guaranteed to see one pass by. (I am not raising any security risk by revealing this – timetables are well publicised online). While I have strong personal reservations about the use of nuclear power, and the environmental risks attached to the disposal of its unwanted produce, being aware of the risks I had absolutely no concerns standing by as one of these quarter-mile long trains passed within a yard of my nose last Thursday evening.

While nuclear freight movements were, indeed, halted for the period of the Olympics, they have been permitted to run without incident directly underneath concerts and other major visitor attraction events at Earls Court for many years.

Rebuilding Chelsea Village

While the plans include an undertaking to provide alternative residential accommodation, to the same standard and value, elsewhere within the borough for existing Stamford Bridge residents, they say nothing about ‘building’ these. While I have no particular intelligence in this area, it may be worth noting that the Earls Court Masterplan includes a proposal for 7,500 new homes of a similar style, and to a parallel (or higher) standard, at the other end of Brompton Cemetery. There have been plenty of recent column inches devoted to the saturation of the luxury apartment market caused by this, and the Battersea Power Station development, and the difficulty developers are now having in shifting these units.

I make these points on an entirely personal basis, and don’t seek to represent anyone else in doing so. It is right to scrutinise Chelsea’s plans here, and in my submission there are a number of areas in which they don’t entirely stand up to the most severe testing. However, particularly as I am quoted in your piece, I thought it important to address a number of misapprehensions the piece appears to promote.

 

Good problems: Five questions facing Spurs this summer

nabil

Nabil Bentaleb is a problem — but a good one.

A full-blooded draw at Stamford Bridge ended Tottenham’s slim title hopes, but the point ensured that Spurs will finish in the top three for the first time in the Premier League era.

Various mathematical possibilities remain, but at the very least Spurs have secured qualification for the Champions League qualifying round. A win on Sunday against Southampton and we will wrap up second place given our unassailable goal difference.

It has been an extraordinary season, and once the disappointment of being pipped to the post by Leicester fades, I’m sure we will look back on the campaign as one of the finest in the history of the club.

While us fans drink it in, and mull over what might have been, there is no time for Premier League clubs to rest.

The combination of the new TV deal and new eras at some of the richest clubs threaten an arms race the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Premier League era. Spurs and Leicester have usurped the elite, and they will be gunning for both clubs. At Spurs, we are used to it, but you sense Leicester are going to be in for an almighty shock next time around.

Champions League was the hope for Spurs in the 2016/17 season, but not the expectation. The potential to now compete for higher calibre players adds both potential, and pressure, to the business ahead. Meanwhile, Champions League football may necessitate new contracts, wage bumps or bonuses to ensure the players and their representatives are happy and focused for the campaign ahead.

As far as problems go, these are brilliant ones to have.

Put yourself in Daniel Levy’s shoes. What would you rather be doing this summer — fending off calls from Ed Woodward and Florentino Perez, or topping up a few contracts and shopping for a couple of new stars?

The wage issue is just one of a number of “good problems” facing Tottenham’s key decision makers. With such a young team, the scope for natural progression is evident. The strong team identity — the philosophy, if you will — provides a framework for strengthening that certain other teams lack.

This summer offers an opportunity to make a number of smart moves that can push us to the next level. In most cases, the choice will between something good, and something potentially even better. We are in a strong, and happy, place right now — that perspective is important in the months ahead.

I am going to sketch out a number of these “good problems” below. One thing that isn’t a “good problem” is the striker situation — we’ve walked the Harry Kane hamstring high wire once, but there is no way we can risk it again. Our forward options are just a problem, pure and simple.

Do Spurs stick or twist with Nacer Chadli?

Of the “Bale money” signings, if there is one who continues to defy judgement, it is Nacer Chadli. What is he? Is he a productive player who contributes when given the chance — seven goals and five assists this season in limited minutes? Or is he a player with tremendous physical and technical gifts who has never quite found the intensity to reach his potential?

After showing little promise in his first season at White Hart Lane, Chadli was widely accepted as having a fine campaign in 2014/15. He played just under 3,000 minutes overall — the amount a first-choice player would play — and contributed 13 goals and five assists in total, one every 163 minutes.

This season, he started the first five games — in which Spurs secured five points out of a possible 15 — and played 90 minutes in each (against Everton he was subbed off just before the end). But since then Chadli hasn’t played the full 90 minutes in a league game.

In all competitions, Chadli has played just 1,650 minutes — although an ankle injury in the autumn meant he was unavailable for two months. When he has played, he has often appeared off the pace and even listless. And yet, he has been extremely productive — with seven goals and five assists in total, one every 137 minutes.

Chadli is a walking, talking “good problem”. On the one hand, he is a squad player who has proven that he can produce goals and chances when called upon. On the other hand, he has done nothing in the past six months to put pressure on Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela for a place in Pochettino’s strongest XI.

With his scoring record and the fact that, at 26, he is in his prime, Chadli is sure to have suitors. Spurs paid £7 million for him from FC Twente — given Andros Townsend, a far less productive player, went for £12 million, Spurs should comfortably command something in the £15-20 million range for him. This is money that Spurs could re-invest in, say, a young talent with a far higher ceiling.

On the other hand though, Spurs need productive squad players. The Europa League campaign highlighted the shortage of quality options in the squad, but Spurs did not need to prioritize the competition. There is no such room for easing off in the Champions League, and certainly not if the club is trying to sell out Wembley. A player like Chadli — who seemingly is happy to be part of a squad and playing limited minutes, yet contributing when he does — may be far more useful for Spurs next season.

It is a “good problem” if ever there was one.

How to add a new dimension to the central midfield?

Against Bournemouth and Liverpool, Spurs fans watched every Eric Dier tackle with trepidation knowing that he was one yellow card away from a two-game ban.

Dier’s transformation from makeshift to mainstay has been extraordinary, and is a testament to both Pochettino’s coaching and Dier’s intelligence and technical ability.

His adaption to the role is illustrated by the yellow card issue. In his first seven games as a Premier League central midfielder, he was booked five times, ruling him out of the home match against Liverpool. He has been booked five times In the 28 games since.

Dier has played 35 out of 36 games in the league this season, racking up 3,088 minutes. Along with Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, he has been the rock this miserly Spurs team has been built on.

In Dortmund, a Spurs midfield anchored by (and I still can’t believe Pochettino tried this) Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll was brutally and predictably taken apart. It showed that we sorely need at least one other strong midfield option in case of injury, suspension or need for rotation.

This isn’t a straightforward task though. The midfield trio of Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli offer a wonderful balance, and whoever comes in is likely to see limited minutes as a starter. In particular, both Dier and Alli have proven themselves durable in their early careers. More likely, the minutes will be in place of Dembele, who is never at his best playing back-to-back games.

While someone like Victor Wanyama is frequently linked, and would appear to offer value entering the final year of his contract at Southampton, Spurs would still be spending a lot in transfer fees and wages on a player who may see strictly limited action as a Dier replacement, or someone brought on alongside him to stiffen up the midfield and preserve a lead in certain games.

Likewise, Spurs may not want to sign a midfielder who primarily plays “forward” as this player may not offer quality cover for Dier when needed. Spurs already have Ryan Mason in the squad offering cover in that sort of box-to-box role.

You may be thinking, just buy two. But we have been down the road of expensive squad players, and it wasn’t pretty. Pochettino spent most of his first 12 months clearing out the likes of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Benji Stambouli.

Pochettino doesn’t want depth for depth’s sake, judging by his statements on wanting a smaller squad than he inherited. He wants first-team quality options, and if there are minutes going spare, he would rather give them to youngsters. The days of the “Mourinho mantra” of two experienced players in every position may be over — Spurs have tried it, and not only did it fail but it was expensive. Spurs will be looking at highly-targeted versatility, rather than a Redknappian “we need to get a few more bodies in”.

Spurs ideally would be looking for someone who can play in the deep role, but also provide some of the attacking thrust of Dembele (there won’t be anyone exactly like Dembele, he is a one of a kind). This isn’t an easy piece of recruitment by any means.

But if I was Paul Mitchell, this is exactly the sort of recruitment puzzle I’d get out of bed for. There will be quality players out there who can do both. It’s just a case of finding them.

Why is this a good problem? We already have a midfield that works, and there are all sorts of interesting ways Spurs can approach the task of making it even better without breaking the bank.

What do Spurs do with Nabil Bentaleb?

Of course, it may be that Spurs already have the central midfielder they need to cover Dier and Dembele in the squad. Step forward…Nabil Bentaleb.

In his first 18 months at Spurs, Bentaleb showed serious potential. While far from the finished article, he showed tenacity and looked like he may in time develop the tactical nous to be a quality defensive midfielder in the league. With that beautiful left foot and athleticism, he also offers something going forward.

However, something has gone seriously awry in the past 12 months. Do we even know what? Public demands for a new contract? Concerns over his representation? A falling out over an injury? None of them, in isolation, seem anything more than run-of-the-mill issues and far from enough to discard a young talent. Along with facts, what has also been noticeable in its absence is any significant leaking from Bentaleb’s camp about his unhappiness and desire to move on.

It is all highly curious. It makes me wonder, perhaps, if an olive branch, or promise of a blank slate, has been quietly offered. Maybe, it has all been some jedi-style mind training from Pochettino, a deliberate crushing of Bentaleb’s soul in order to harden him for the dreary defensive work that lies ahead as a deep-lying midfielder.

Honestly, I have no idea, like everyone else. But either way, Spurs are winning. They’ve either got a quality midfield prospect hungry to get his career back on track, or they have a midfield prospect with huge potential who will fetch millions in the transfer market. That’s a “good problem” alright.

Where should Spurs look to find an understudy for Eriksen?

If Eric Dier has been irreplaceable at the base of the Spurs midfield this season, so has Christian Eriksen at the pointy end. After a mid-season dip, Eriksen has hit top form in recent months.

Eriksen has played 33 out of 36 league games this season, notching 2,762 minutes. He has also played seven Europa League games. Last season, Eriksen played in all 38 Premier League games.

Spurs are a physical and intense team capable of blowing the doors off an opposition defence. But when more subtlety is required, Eriksen is the man to pick the lock.

He is comfortably the most creative player, averaging 3.7 key passes per 90 minutes, according to WhoScored. The next closest is Erik Lamela with 2.7 per 90. Chadli in limited minutes has 2.3 per 90.

We don’t really know what would happen to Spurs if Eriksen was out for an extended time, or needed to be rested in a big match. This season, the three games he missed came during Spurs’ slow start to the season — against Leicester (a), Everton (h) and Sunderland (a). But the team was in the early stages of its evolution then, and there were myriad reasons for the underperformance.

As previously mentioned, the Champions League won’t offer the same chance of rotation as the Europa League. Eriksen, surely, will not be able to play every Premier League and European game season after season. We will need another creative midfield option. The question: Do Spurs look to the academy, or do they use Champions League qualification to attract a world-class talent?

The three most likely contenders to fill Eriksen’s shoes as creator-in-chief in the current squad are all homegrown — Tom Carroll, Josh Onomah and Alex Pritchard. Onomah would appear to have the most “upside”, but has yet to provide any real end product. Pritchard was surely the understudy-designate before walking under a ladder and enduring a year from hell that last saw him lumping it about in the West Brom U21 squad.

A driving principle of the Pochettino philosophy has been about giving homegrown talent the same chance as expensive imports. But let’s not be naive: with Champions League football on offer and money to spend, Spurs could have some serious fun shopping for an attacking midfielder.

Go and Google “best young attacking midfielders in Europe” — you’ll land on a bunch of clickbaity galleries full of future superstars. Now, because of what’s been achieved, Spurs may be able to buy some of them — we’d be crazy to rule it out.

Do we need to talk about Kevin?

One of the many benefits of a strong season like Spurs have had is that it makes retaining key players that much easier. Of course, if Real or Barca coming knocking, that’s one thing, but the entitled talk coming from Old Trafford sounds frankly delusional.

http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/manchester-united/360/blog/post/2853621/man-united-face-critical-summer-as-supporters-grow-impatient

If there is one player that I am concerned about keeping hold of, it is Kevin Wimmer. I should probably explain why.

When Jan Vertonghen went down against Crystal Palace, Wimmer didn’t so much as blink upon stepping in as his replacement. In the 10 Premier League games Wimmer played, Spurs conceded seven goals (0.70 goals per game). With Vertonghen at the back, we conceded 18 in 24 (0.75 goals per game).

Is Wimmer better than Vertonghen? I don’t even begin to know how to judge it — defensive stats such as tackles and interceptions seem pretty meaningless, especially in context of a high press.

Vertonghen’s ability to carry the ball and his distribution may give him an edge, but in pure defensive terms, Wimmer perhaps is better in dealing with aerial balls and physical strikers.

Paul Mitchell obviously had Wimmer up his sleeve from the moment he arrived at Spurs, black box in tow. While the club was cautious in doing business early on, presumably waiting for as much data as possible to be gathered before making decisions, Spurs were always moving for Wimmer.

So why am I concerned about keeping Wimmer? It is a combination of the fact that he has proven his quality, the fact that he is unlikely to unseat Vertonghen as first choice, and the fact that there is a shortage of ball-playing, left-sided centre backs in the Premier League.

If you are wondering why Spurs are where we are, Wimmer is a pretty good illustration. He is our back-up left CB, yet would be first choice in that position at Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The way Spurs split the CBs is oh-so trendy, and works a treat, and every Premier League side is going to be trying to do it next season if they aren’t already doing so. Wimmer has proven he can play out that way, while keeping things tight coming the other way. This makes him an extremely valuable commodity in the Premier League in 2016/17.

Why is this a good problem? Because if you are worried about losing a player, it is way better that it is your back-up centre back than, say, your only striker. And this whole potential scenario arises from the fact that Wimmer has been such a successful signing,

I hope Spurs keep hold of him, and use him more. The last thing we want to be doing is messing around with a settled and solid defence. But if that is not possible, we will at least get a massive wodge of cash — far more than the £4 million we spent.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles. This article was first published on Spurs Stat Man.