Monthly Archives: March 2017

Super Jan takes it to the next level

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When Spurs threatened to come apart at the seams in the dismal 2013/14 campaign, few players’ reputations suffered as much among fans as Jan Vertonghen’s.

Hugo Lloris was a picture of quiet misery, emerging every now and then to pick the ball out of the back of the net before disappearing back behind his sad puppy eyes to daydreams of life in Paris, Madrid, or wherever he could be sure Tim Sherwood wouldn’t be managing next.

But stuck in central defence in a team with no shape or cohesion, and sometimes shunted out to left back due to the shortcomings in the squad that had been assembled out of the wreckage of the Gareth Bale transfer, Vertonghen was more exposed.

Vertonghen’s form, excellent in his first campaign after joining from Ajax, declined. In the 4-0 rout at Stamford Bridge — the fifth time Spurs had conceded three or more goals in a game that season — an atrocious error from Vertonghen was the spark that lit the collapse.

Vertonghen is no stoic, and as the season unravelled, the Belgian was unable to contain his unhappiness: the legend of “Grumpy Jan” was born.

There is a prickliness to the Belgian, and an impression grew that he was someone who saw himself as a man apart. Vertonghen has the misfortune of being an intelligent man in an environment where intelligence — and it truly is a fucking mystery why English football is so shit — is treated with suspicion.

Despite a tradition of ball-playing centrebacks, and more patience with the odd defensive slip than most fanbases, a view developed among the Spurs faithful that Jan may not quite be the fighter that Spurs needed at the back. Too quick to moan, too many aerial challenges lost, too easily brushed aside; beautiful with the ball, but not quite to be trusted. He was a quality player stooping to the level of those around him, rather than a leader who would singlehandledly pick the others up.

Utter bollocks, of course.

It turns out, the problem with Vertonghen wasn’t so much him as it was all the other defenders he was forced to play with, as well as the midfielders in front of him, and the squad-wide absence of discipline, unity and tactics.

In hindsight, it’s hardly surprising that Vertonghen’s form should improve when he went from playing alongside Younes Kaboul and Federico Fazio, and behind Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, to playing alongside Toby Alderweireld in a defence protected by Eric Dier and then Victor Wanyama.

Unfortunately for Jan, his connection with the past robbed him of much of the credit he was due in Tottenham’s excellent 2015/16 campaign. There wasn’t a mention of Vertonghen in any season reviews, despite him being a core part of the league’s joint-stingiest (and comfortably most improved) defence.

For Spurs fans, Vertonghen’s performances weren’t a surprise, rather a reaffirmation of a longstanding belief — that Vertonghen, when in form, is a superb footballer and one of the best defenders in the Premier League. This was the level expected of Vertonghen when he joined from Ajax, which he initially delivered before being caught up in the ebbs and flows to come.

The surprise with Vertonghen came this season. Already looking like a defender in his prime, at the age of 29 and with a new contract in hand, Vertonghen has found another level to go up.

This improvement coincided with Mauricio Pochettino’s switch to three at a back — and in Vertonghen there is one of the purest fits of player to system you will ever see. Vertonghen fits the left-sided centreback role like leather trousers on a WAG — it’s like he was born into it. The role accentuates all of his skills — his ability to carry and play the ball, his ability to read the play — while minimising his aerial and physical short-comings. Already one of the best defenders in the Premier League, this season Jan has stepped up to being one of the best in Europe — try to name a better left-sided defender than Vertonghen, right now. It’s very hard to think of any.

From Grumpy Jan, we now have Happy Jan — a player in the perfect tactical situation, with best mate Mousa Dembele on hand for marathon games of Monopoly between matches.

Does this mean any credit is coming Vertonghen’s way? Unlikely. Praise for Tottenham’s sustained defensive excellence must be divided up among the whole unit — defenders, midfielders and manager — and understandably much of the credit will go to the jaw-droppingly good Alderweireld. When the clickbaitists write their Top Tens and the ex-pros have their Teams of the Week ghost-written, Vertonghen’s name won’t be seen. When the transfer rumours are made up to fill click quotas when international games are on, it’ll be Toby, or Kyle, or Hugo who are linked with “big-money moves” elsewhere.

But at this point, that’s just the way it is for Jan.

Much more important than what the pundits and the elite Twitterati think, Spurs fans understand the step that Vertonghen has taken this season. The reception for Jan is one of the warmest in the stadium before matches, and everyone watching knows how utterly integral he is. The crowd lifts when he is on the ball, and the team clicks.

And that’s all I wanted to say: Jan, we noticed how good you’ve been. And we love it. If you think the noise for Vincent Janssen’s open-play goal was loud, just you wait til you score. The roof will come off — so best do it this season otherwise it’ll be really bloody expensive when we’re at Wembley or New White Hart Lane.

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

Examining the rising costs of Tottenham’s £800m stadium

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“Brexit to blame as Spurs stadium costs double”, screamed the headlines this week, as it emerged the cost of the club’s new home has increased to an estimated £800m.

The eye-watering figure sparked concern among fans over the impact of the project on the club’s long-term financial future. In this piece, I will look at the £800m figure and the reasons why costs have increased so sharply.

Revised cost estimates

First the background: the new £800m estimate was revealed by chairman Daniel Levy in board-to-board minutes published by the THST, always one of the best sources of information on the project:

DL stated that the funds would come from different sources and that the cost of the stadium was now estimated circa £800m

In an email response to a question from a fan about why the stadium cost had seemingly doubled from the initial £400m estimate, chief executive Donna-Maria Cullen expanded further.

It is worth remembering that the original cost quoted for the stadium was some 7 years ago. This new ‘estimated’ figure relates predominantly to the stadium with some elements of substructure for the other builds particularly the Tottenham Experience. Brexit has added a straight 20% on costs for foreign goods due to the exchange rate, overtime working and increased construction costs similarly. Revised basement works also added to the cost. We are constantly managing costs and will continue to do so throughout the process along with funding plans to ensure the viability of the scheme.

Credit must go to Cullen for communicating directly with fans and attempting to ease concerns over the stadium’s viability.

As Cullen notes, this stadium project has been a long time in coming. A new stadium was first mooted in 2007, and planning permission for the old, 56,000 capacity design was gained in September 2010. The project then drifted for five years amid CPO litigation and interest in the Olympic Stadium site, before enhanced plans were approved in December 2015.

Understandably, the project cost has increased sharply over this period — it has become a bigger, and higher specification, stadium.

The first public estimate for the current version of the stadium came in December 2015. At a fan forum, Levy estimated the cost at £500m. This was in line with the financial Viability Report, which put the estimated bill for the whole scheme — this includes the housing and hotel component — at between £675m and £750m.

This £500m figure is a reasonable baseline — so if and when stadium costs hit £1bn, then we can talk about it doubling.

Explaining the jump

That said, £500m to £800m remains one heck of a jump — £300m is an awful lot of money: it is ten Moussa Sissokos, or 20 times the amount West Ham contributed to the Olympic Stadium rebuild.

In her email, Cullen outlined four key factors beyond the cost increase: the weakening of the pound due to Brexit, overtime working, increased construction costs and revised basement works.

Overtime costs are easily explained — go on the live webcams, and you’ll see workers on site for 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The timeline is phenomenally tight, with Spurs needing to complete work to a sufficient degree to ensure only one season is played at a reduced capacity WHL, and only one season at Wembley. Very soon, the club is going to have to make the decision on whether to knock down White Hart Lane — understandably, both club and contractors Mace will be want to be as far ahead at possible before crossing this point of no return.

On construction costs, the story of the club purchasing cranes is a good example of how costs can rise when the clock is ticking. The club couldn’t afford to wait for leased cranes, so instead bought new ones and will seek to recoup some money after work is finished.

Revised basement works appear to refer to changes to the design that were approved in 2015, prior to full planning permission being granted. The revised plans include more car parking and storage space, seemingly with the NFL groundshare in mind.

The final issue is the weakening of the pound, forcing up the price of imported equipment and goods.

A look at the five-year £/euro exchange rate highlights the problem Spurs have had. In early 2015, just as Spurs were at the peak stage of modelling stadium finances and cost planning, the pound strengthened considerably. For about a year, it hung there, and pretty much as the stadium was approved in December, it started to fall.

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Cullen blamed Brexit — and without doubt, Brexit gave the pound a kicking. But the pound was already falling well beforehand — and if you look at the 10-year trend, we’re kind of back where we were for much of 2009 to 2013. The timing is unfortunate — Spursy? — but the club is far from alone in being caught unawares by Brexit.

In terms of magnitude of impact and the 20 percent cost increase on imported goods, it’s hard to gauge without knowing more about where materials for the scheme are coming from. We could be talking millions, or tens of millions. But either way, currency fluctuations have impacted the budget: on the plus side, the weak pound should help exports of crap squad players to the eurozone and China this summer.

Nice things cost money

Does this add up to £300m? In all probability, no. There’s one other factor that — inevitability — has led to an increase in the final costs of the stadium: the fit-out.

When the £500m project figure was first estimated, there was inevitably going to be a lot of uncertainty about internal fittings — how much do tunnel clubs, cheese rooms, sky lounges and state-of-the-art beer bumps actually cost? There is bound to be guesswork for these bespoke elements — it’s not like Levy is heading down to Ikea armed with a pre-budgeted shopping list and club credit card.

Through the build phase, Spurs have been tweaking plans for the internals of the stadium. In responses to questions I posed in the summer, it was clear that issues like in-stadium technology were very much a work in progress. It was reported that Levy was travelling around London skyscrapers inspecting lift fittings to ensure the right specification for the stadium.

This story about the Minnesota Vikings and their spectacular new stadium illustrates how costs can shift. It was decided, during construction, that another 400 in-stadium screens were required (and money was duly extracted from taxpayers), while expensive-sounding network infrastructure had to be developed to cater for increasing demands for stadium wifi. Meanwhile, stadium builders are continuously learning — during the build of the US Bank Stadium, it became clear that the new 49ers home, the Levi’s Stadium, was not sufficiently catering to fan demands for instant replay — so the Vikings increased the number and quality of in-house cameras. You can imagine Spurs doing something similar — the introduction of video-refereeing will mean fans will need to see more to understand the game. These changes are part of the future proofing of the stadium design, but potentially cost a lot of money.

Shifting financial situation

While costs have been rising, so too have club revenues.

In the 2015 financial year, club revenues stood at £196m. Figures for for FY 2016 will be released soon — they should show revenues climbing to around £210-215m, per my estimates. But from here, the increase will be sharp — FY 2017 will see the new Premier League TV deal accounted for, and should send revenues close to £275m. In the following year, revenues could potentially increase further if Spurs are able to play in front of a sold-out Wembley week-in, week-out. You get the picture.

The amount Spurs can borrow is tied to income. Initially, it was reported Spurs would borrow £350m from banks — in reality, there may be the potential now to borrow more.

In an email lambasting lack of action by local authorities that *mysteriously* found its way onto the front page of the Evening Standard, Levy mentioned the financing had not yet been finalized — in all reality, at least some portion must be in place given the scale of construction so far. It was reported that of the initial funding package, the first £200m would be loaned up front — it may be that this “bridge” part is in place, but Spurs are looking to tap more than £150m in the second phase. This is speculation, but rising costs and income, combined with recent public comments, suggests this may be a potential scenario.

In addition to Spurs earning more, as the project has progressed, the club will have gained greater clarity on feasibility of generating additional revenue. While two of the 16 non-Spurs major events are locked out by the NFL, no doubt conversations are underway in terms of other events, given the stadium is due to open in just 18 months. I have previously speculated that AEG may be involved in organising these events — a Twitter exchange with the head of AEG’s new rugby division did little to deter me from this view.

With greater clarity on how the stadium is going to be used, Spurs may be more confident in pushing the boat out on internal fit-out — more expensive sound systems, better resolution screens, or whatever it is.

In terms of other financing sources, nothing is yet confirmed on naming rights, while advanced premium ticket sales have begun — the club reported about 50 percent of premium packages are now sold. Pinches of salt no doubt required. There is some indication that Joe Lewis recently put a certain amount of money into the club — £20m or so — but this can’t be confirmed. I’m personally dying to know if the NFL is putting money in up front. But either way, with more than £100m spent on property/site prep/design and legal costs, at least £350m coming from banks, and naming rights/advance sales to roll in, Spurs are well on the way to £800m regardless.

Final thought

Given the context of the £800m figure — revealed while relations with authorities over the White Hart Lane station development are strained and amid ongoing dialogue on affordable housing — some caution is advised.

But taking the £800m figure at face value, it doesn’t appear an unrealistic amount for Spurs to spend. The club will have a lot of debt, but increasing revenues to service it. If you look at costs of recent stadiums in the US, £800m is still quite modest — the Vikings stadium cost $1.2bn, while the new Falcons stadium in Atlanta will cost around $1.6bn.

The next few weeks promises to be the most stressful of the entire project.

Brent Council’s decision on Wembley, due March 23, has a multi-million pound impact on Spurs — being able to play in front of 90,000 rather than 51,000 next season will make a huge difference to the club’s bottom line.

Meanwhile, the club has to make the agonizing decision on whether to knock down White Hart Lane. Any delays after this happens — for example during the demolition and excavation of the old ground — could leave Spurs homeless and at the mercy of the FA, who have another tenant — with a lot more money — lined up to take Wembley once we’ve moved out.

Just because costs are increasingly sharply, doesn’t mean they are spiraling out of control. It’s a high-wire act — but if Spurs can pull it off, the rewards are huge.

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