Monthly Archives: May 2017

Q&A: Your questions answered on the new Spurs stadium and the state of the club’s finances

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Charles Richards / @spurs_report

I have written extensively about the new Spurs stadium and finance issues on this blog for the past two years. I get a steady stream of questions from Spurs fans keen to know more about the stadium, and the club’s financial health. In particular, the jump in construction costs to £800m has caused a considerable amount of concern.

Borrowing the idea from more imaginative bloggers, I asked my Twitter followers to send in their questions — and boy did you. I had more than 40 questions, *most* of which were serious. I’ve grouped the questions into subjects, and tried to answer as many as I can.

NAMING RIGHTS

@KarnaRohit
Any chance we can still have it called White Hart Lane ? How much are the naming rights going for ?
@hertfordlilly
How far off are we from finalising naming rights? This year’s performance must mean we are in a stronger bargaining position?

There is zero chance the new stadium will be called White Hart Lane — well, unless you have £300m burning a hole in your back pocket and want to buy the rights for the next 10 to 15 years. Daniel Levy has made clear, from the outset of this project, that Spurs will look to sell naming rights, and nothing will make him deviate from this plan. It is an integral part of the project funding.

In terms of naming rights, we’re now into the window of when the club may announce it. Levy has previously stated that a deal is typically agreed after the midway point in construction: sponsors want to know the stadium is going to be delivered on time and as specified. In terms of an “optimum” time — you think once demolition of old White Hart Lane is complete, this would be the time to do it. That should be around September — but it is just conjecture. The announcement that Spurs were renewing the AIA partnership until the end of 2022 suggested there won’t be a joint shirt-stadium sponsorship arrangement such as Arsenal have with Emirates. It seems unlikely Spurs would agree to a short extension with AIA if a naming rights deal weren’t signed and sealed.

Whenever I tweet the words “naming rights”, a bunch of people say “it’s going to be Nike”. I’m pretty confident it won’t be — it’s a building, not a superstar striker. I wrote about naming rights a while back, and urged caution on what Spurs could expect — the talked-about £30m per year seems extremely optimistic. I hope I’m proved wrong — Spurs have picked a good time to go up a level in league performance, and the NFL tie-in may appeal to some companies.

WEMBLEY

@njs10
Are we going to make more money next season at Wembley vs last season at WHL and how does that compare to season after at new stadium?
@jakemrich3
How will Wembley affect revenue? If we get nothing from food but how much of ticket sales do we get and will it counter the rent?

It is extremely hard to forecast what impact playing at Wembley will have on Tottenham’s bottom line. First, we don’t know how many tickets/hospitality packages Spurs will sell — maybe we’ll sell out every game, but I strongly doubt it — and second, we don’t know how much Spurs are paying. I’ve seen figures of around £20m per year bandied around. But do Wembley take a slice of ticketing income? And how are concession sales split? We just don’t know.

(Update: Spurs will NOT receive proceeds for concession sales. See comment below, with link to THST minutes)

However, we do know one thing: when full, Wembley is a cash cow, there’s a reason two Champions League finals and countless other major sporting events have been hosted there. If Spurs can come close to selling it out each week, and make a good stab at the corporate hospitality market, then, even with the rental fee subtracted, Spurs should easily exceed the modest £40m or so matchday revenue from White Hart Lane.

On the subject, here’s a fun fact: Daniel Levy once tried to buy Wembley. Talk about things coming full circle.

WAGES

@WindyCOYS
Do you have a feel for (or better, actual info) whether our players are *actually* underpaid compared to similar players at wealthier clubs? And, if so, how long will we need at new WHL before we can expect to see increase in wage spending (i.e. how long did it take other clubs)?
@m13tul
Revenue 2 wages we have always been 40% to 48%. If we try and up that figure to 55% will it make enough of a impact and what is he downside

Spurs had a wage bill of £100m in 2016, and revenue stood at £209m. The average wage bill of the other top six was £211m. Quite simply, Spurs have been playing in a different league to the other five teams, and it only underlines what a remarkable job Mauricio Pochettino has done.

However, things change quickly.

In the coming years, Tottenham’s revenue is going to soar: the next accounts will show Champions League revenue and the new PL deal (income from the latter alone will jump from £95m to £148m). From next season, we’ll have the additional income from Wembley, as well as another season of Champions League football. After that we should be into our new stadium and all the additional revenue that comes with that. There will also be the uptick from the next kit deal.

By my (very rough) projection, Tottenham’s revenue should jump to around £275 million next season, and the only way afterwards is up. Of course, Spurs will have stadium financing costs to absorb, but there is significant scope to increase the wage bill as required.

Spurs aren’t standing still. In the current accounting period, 13 Spurs players have signed new contracts, while Champions League participation likely will have triggered significant bonuses.

Are Spurs players underpaid? Sure they are — every single one could dramatically increase their earnings if they moved to another top six club. Ultimately, Chelsea and Man City are billionaire playthings and will always be able to offer more than a rationally run club such as Spurs. But Spurs, with every window that goes by, will be in a better position to compete. While we’re offering Champions League football, a chance to compete for trophies and be part of a close-knit and ambitious squad, plus the best manager in the league, we’ve got points in our favour too.

I don’t think the relatively low wages is just a case of Daniel Levy driving a hard bargain, Pochettino also appears to have made a virtue out of keeping a relatively fair balance of incomes among the squad. This will remain true through the years ahead — you’ll see the likes of Dele, Eric Dier and Harry Kane regularly sign new contracts, each time bumping them higher and higher, creating new ceilings. If Kyle Walker moves to Manchester this summer, it will be spun as “Spurs can’t afford to keep Walker”; but actually the situation is far more complex. Walker allowed his head to be turned, in the heat of a title race — for Pochettino, this may be an unforgivable breach of the team ethic by a player who is ultimately relatively easily replaced.

As for wage-to-turnover ratio, actually for Spurs it has rarely been in the 40 to 48 percent bracket. Generally, in the last decade, it has been between 50 to 60 percent. It topped out at 65 percent in 2013 — spending more on wages is no guarantee of success.

Spurs are hoping to bring it to about 45 percent through the stadium construction phase — but ultimately, keeping this special squad together has far greater financial benefits than whatever savings could be made achieving that ratio.

You can read my analysis of the 2016 accounts here, and I explored the issue of balancing stadium and on-pitch success here.

OWNERSHIP

@stevecco
THFC in unprecedented position for title challenge. Balancing the books is laudable but why is the owner so reluctant to dip into own pocket

I’m guessing, the photos that spread about “Uncle” Joe Lewis’s new yacht didn’t go down too well?

As Spurs majority owner, Lewis has been consistent through his tenure: he doesn’t speak, and he doesn’t put significant money into the club. Spurs has always been an investment — ENIC stands for English National Investment Company. It’s been a hugely successful one. When ENIC first bought a 27% share in 2001, the deal valued Spurs at around £81m. The value now is comfortably above £1 billion.

Lewis’s worth is estimated at around $5.7bn, per Forbes, but, there has never been any indication that it is for spending. Nothing is going to change at this point. Personally, I’m fine with the current ownership — Lewis isn’t extracting money from the club in dividends, or borrowing against its assets personally, while Daniel Levy is an experienced and competent chairman who cares about the club. Success earned is far more satisfying than success bought — whether it’s dodgy Chinese tycoons, unpleasant Qataris or spivs pretending to be billionaires, be careful what you wish for.

DEBT

@FrankMersland
How huge is the clubs debt stipulated to be when the stadium is built? And how much to be paid in annual mortgage/interest?
@jilllewis33
Seen suggestion Arse made big thing of making funding streams public while we’ve been more secretive. Any cause for concern/funding gaps?
@Phon1k
We will be the most indebted football club in the world when the stadium opens, cant uncle joe lewis just pay it all off?

The simple — and scary — answer: we don’t yet know how big the debt will be, or how much it will cost each year. Spurs have agreed a £350m funding package with three banks, and this will be the main element of the finance. But, with costs set to top £800m, more money is going to need to be found. Naming rights and future ticket sales are the main two elements to add to the funding mix — but it’s not clear how much Spurs will actually be able to bring in and if another debt facility may be required. By my (very rudimentary) assessment, Arsenal’s finance cost peaked at £47m, and hovered around £40m for four years before being refinanced to a lower annual payment. Arsenal pay around £20m per year on their Emirates “mortgage”. Spurs will likely pay more as we are borrowing more, but it’s impossible to say how much it will be until the details are known. We’ll get our first look in the next accounts. In terms of length, think the mortgage on your house — this will be a long-term arrangement.

The transparency question is an interesting one. There’s a balance to be struck between keeping fans informed and protecting commercial information; Spurs will reliably err on the side of the latter. It’s just part of Levy’s personality, and isn’t going to change. The club has said it will announce the funding package, and I would expect it to explain the financing costs when the annual report is published. But we’re not going to get a running commentary, as the saying goes.

Will Spurs be the most indebted football club in the world? It depends how you measure it. Here’s a handy guide.

Manchester United’s net debt, at last recording, was £409.3m — Spurs may or may not end up topping this (I suspect Spurs will, not least as the club has already invested heavily in the training centre). United have that debt for the privilege of being owned by the Glazer family, while Spurs are going to have the best new stadium in the world. Technically, there’s a clear leader in the debt stakes — on paper at least, Chelsea owe Roman Abramovich £1.053bn.

And no, Uncle Joe isn’t paying off Tottenham’s debt.

NFL

@brits_endzone
Is the plan for the new stadium to be the home of the NFL London franchise (if it happens). If so do you think that’s good for spurs overall

Spurs have made clear they are building a home not just for themselves, but also for the NFL if the American league decides it wishes to put a franchise into London. The NFL has put a small amount of money in — around £10m up front plus a 20-game agreement that will be worth tens of millions — and has been actively engaged through the design and construction phase.

A year ago, I wrote that it appeared that the NFL was close to pushing the button on a London franchise, but there has been little in way of developments since then. There are major logistical hurdles: training, travel, tax, and those are just the things that begin with “T”. There’s another scenario, in which rather than having a franchise, the NFL plays a full eight-game schedule in London (or a full eight-game schedule overseas, including London, Mexico City and wherever else they take games). It works well with a 32-team league — each team plays overseas every other year, and loses a home game every four years. It gives London fans the chance to see regular NFL football, but without the risk of having to endure a terrible team such as the Jaguars on a permanent basis.

What does this mean for Spurs? The NFL deal is a winner as it guarantees that at least two of the 16 non-Spurs major event slots are used. Each one will probably be worth between £2m and £3m for Spurs, so the more they can get booked out, the better. The NFL connection may offer some marginal uplift in terms of naming rights, and modestly boost Tottenham’s profile in the USA. But if Cameron Carter-Vickers kicks on and represents Team USA regularly, that would probably be a far greater boost. If the NFL does decide it wants a franchise in London, then Spurs can help in other ways — for example in helping build a training facility, accommodating players, and so forth. Hotspur Way is becoming home-from-home for NFL players visiting the UK — they all head up there for marketing work, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has visited.

TRANSFERS

@ZevRoberts
How much money realistically do we have to spend in the coming transfer windows?

Whatever Spurs spend, it will be dwarfed by what the other members of the top six spend, and possibly a few of those below. But there is money to spend if needed — Spurs found £30m on deadline day last summer for Moussa Sissoko, for example. I’d expect Spurs to have around £30m to £40m net over the next couple of summers, plus whatever profits can be rolled in from player trading. This summer, there is £18m of Nabil Bentaleb money to spend, and likely a decent profit on Kevin Wimmer if he moves on. Plus there could well be Kyle Walker money to spend. On the one hand, we’re not going to spend as much as Manchester United or Manchester City; but on the other hand, we have far less work to do. There’s nothing that should stop Spurs competing for talented youngsters such as Ryan Sessegnon, or spending big to fill the troubled right-sided midfield position.

REVENUE

@mepfish
Current match day revenue is £40m vs Arse £100m. Post stadium build will we eliminate this differential?
@craig4589
Aside from incr revenue from ticket sales, what are the significant commercial opps the new stad brings? What extra revenue could we expect?
@lewkc1
How, specifically (like by revenue stream, can Spurs close the gap with other 5 and how does stadium help that?

The aim of the stadium isn’t to eliminate the gap in matchday revenue with Arsenal, it is to put Arsenal behind us. It’s not a design statement like Roman’s coliseum, if Chelsea’s new stadium is ever built: everything Spurs have done is about maximising revenue. Even without the NFL connection and facilities, it feels very American — designed to make you spend time there and open your wallet, whether you are in the South Stand, or in a Sky Box. Things have moved on a lot in the decade since the Emirates was built.

So aside from beers and burgers, how else can Spurs make money? There are 16 non-Spurs major events allowed each year, two of which are blocked out by the NFL. Spurs will want to fill as many of these as possible, earning between £2m to £3m a time. They may get some help from AEG to fill these slots. In addition, the club is marketing the stadium as a year-round destination, aiming to attract visitors to the Tottenham experience, restaurants and stadium tours; there will also, no doubt, be conferences hosted within the stadium. This will feel more tangible once the hotel and luxury housing is developed on the southern portion of the site — bless it, but Tottenham High Road is hardly Regents Street.

The area Spurs continue to lag most seriously is in commercial revenue. While Manchester United are a money-making machine, and Manchester City pump revenues to evade FFP, Spurs continue to fall further and further behind. The new Nike deal sums up the situation: a £30m annual fee brings parity with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool, but, seemingly out of nowhere, Chelsea tore up its Adidas deal and signed up with Nike for £60m per year. Spurs don’t seem aggressive or well-connected in this particular market, which is why I’m cautious on naming rights. For now, all Spurs can do is keep on winning and hope this brings new deals.

ACCESS

@basdaly How many Wheelchair Accessible Seats will there be in the New stadium ? Thanks

Per the planning documents, there will be 259 wheelchair spaces in the new stadium. In old White Hart Lane, there were just 51.

I’ve not yet seen confirmation of final number of wheelchair spaces as the seating configuration has been tweaked in the past two years. But, there’s no excuse for a brand new stadium in accessibility. If you look at the stadium cameras now, you can make out some of the areas for disabled fans — right in the centre, not tucked away in the corners.

The full section of the planning statement is here:

Screenshot 2017-05-22 at 9.48.24 PM

READINESS

@pasavito
What happens if new stadium isn’t ready in Aug 2018? Could we play in a stadium that is maybe 4/5′s complete? Would we be allowed to?

The stadium, quite simply, has to be ready. The aim is to be ready for July 2018 — that will enable test events to take place before the season starts, or, heaven forbid, something like Europa League qualification. If it slips into August, there are contingencies — Spurs could open the season with a block of away fixtures, similar to what Liverpool did last summer as their new stand was delayed. Essentially, this gives Spurs until mid September due to the international break. After that, if the stadium still isn’t ready, it would be a second year at Wembley. Daniel Levy has confirmed that there is a contingency arrangement in place for that scenario. Unfortunately, Premier League rules prevent a team from having two home stadiums in a season, so there’s no chance of switching after Christmas, say.

It won’t be possible to play in a partially finished stadium — Spurs will be building the sliding pitch underneath the south stand, so it simply won’t work. Perhaps there is some leeway in terms of internal fit-out, but it promises to be an enormously difficult and stressful 15 months.

In terms of markers, Levy has said that the roof should start to go on in late January/early February 2018. If this happens, things are looking good. Spurs are pretty much working around the clock — here’s hoping they don’t discover any rare newts under old White Hart Lane.

That’s all I have time for — thanks to everyone who sent questions in. If you are looking for answers to specific queries, try the iSpurs section of the club website, or the stadium minisite — there’s a lot of information online. Some I couldn’t answer! If it’s really gnawing away at you, hit me up on Twitter or in the comments — it’s always nice to talk Spurs in the long summer month between post-season and pre-season tours.

How do Spurs get better?

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By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

The Premier League is a show that never ends, and with the 2016/17 campaign done and dusted, attention moves immediately to 2017/18.

While players enjoy a well-earned summer holiday (after the dreaded post-season tour), planning for the next campaign will intensify: the transfer market waits for no-one.

For Spurs, after a magnificent season in which only the sustained excellence of Chelsea denied the club some much-wanted silverware, the question that will be asked by the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy is a simple one: “How do we get better”?

Unlike the Manchester clubs, Spurs have few gaping holes to fill in the transfer market; unlike Chelsea and Liverpool, there is less need for an extensive deepening of the squad to cope with enhanced demands of European football.

But does that mean Spurs can stand still? Absolutely not. The club only needs to look at Arsenal to see the dangers that complacency can bring.

Speaking before the White Hart Lane finale, Pochettino made clear that he wasn’t going to let the summer drift by: “We are so ambitious and always want to improve. We are building step by step for our future. We are preparing for the next season in all the areas we need to improve, and we believe we can improve and be stronger.”

By way of perspective, Spurs got a LOT better from 2015/16 to 2016/17.

  • Spurs gained 16 extra points — increasing from 70 to 86
  • Spurs cut down the number of draws from 13 to 8
  • Spurs scored 17 more goals, increasing the total from 69 to 86
  • Spurs increased goal difference by +26, from +34 to +60
  • Spurs were unbeaten at home, and won all home matches against top six rivals bar Liverpool

This is impressive for a variety of reasons. For starters, Spurs were improving from an already strong base — a 3rd place finish, not an artificially low mid-table position. Also, Spurs didn’t have the same luck with injuries as in Pochettino’s first two campaigns. Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen all missed more than a month worth of games; while Harry Winks, Danny Rose and Erik Lamela missed substantially more.

By nature of how good Spurs were in 2016/17, improvements in 2017/18 are likely to be more incremental in nature: we’re highly unlikely to improve by 16 points again. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear areas for improvement:

  • Spurs won just 9 away games, joint lowest among the top six
  • Spurs won just two points in away games against other top six sides
  • Spurs won only 10 points out of a possible 21 in October and November, during the Champions League group stages
  • Spurs failed to advance from their Champions League group, and embarrassed themselves in the Europa League

There was also the issue of the lack of silverware — it is nine seasons and counting since the last trophy, which is far too long.

But winning silverware is harder to plan for: Spurs reached the FA Cup semi-final, played well, and somehow conceded four to an utterly ruthless Chelsea. This is now seven FA Cup semi-final defeats in a row — which is a record, and a freakish level of futility. The aim must be to continue to build a squad for which reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup is an expectation, rather than a hope. The hope comes later — namely hoping that Nemanja Matic doesn’t wonderblast it into the top corner from 30 yards, and that whatever other agonies we have endured over the years don’t repeat themselves.

The areas the Tottenham hierarchy will identify as having scope for improvement will be away performance, especially in “big” games, and better balancing of domestic and European schedules.

In particular, you suspect improved away form is essential: going unbeaten at home is unusual and unlikely to be repeated. It’s going to be tedious, next season, when every home setback gets put down to Spurs not adjusting to Wembley: Spurs won 53 out of 57 points at home in 2016/17, a level accumulation that we wouldn’t repeat if we were still at White Hart Lane. It’s as freakish as the run of FA Cup semi-final defeats.

The goal will be to pick up more additional points in away games than we drop in home games.

All sounds simple, no? But here’s the hard part: how exactly are Spurs going to do this?

Here are some ideas.

Sort out the mess on the right flank

Let’s be frank: the right wing position (or whatever the correct term is for the roaming/backtracking/creative equivalent in Pochball) was a garbage fire in 2016/17. Moussa Sissoko started just eight Premier League games, and totalled 901 minutes, contributing zero goals and three assists. Erik Lamela appeared in nine league games, scoring once and assisting once, before missing the rest of the season with a hip injury. GK Nkoudou played 47 minutes of league action in total, and his sole contribution was to not look quite as appalling as Clinton N’Jie.

After the 6-1 demolition of Leicester, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher offered a well-measured diagnosis of Tottenham’s needs — or rather need — this summer, identifying the difference a quality and pacey wideman, such as Sadio Mane, could make. The signing of Sissoko, and gambles on N’Jie and Nkoudou, suggest Pochettino agrees. These three all failed in their first campaigns to show they are the answer, and all may be sold rather than be given more time to prove their worth. They’ve been so bad it’s not clear they’ve earned another shot, unlike, say, Vincent Janssen, who has at least hinted at some modest footballing ability. It is unclear if OM have already activated their option to make N’Jie’s loan move permanent.

However, there are questions of whether this need for pace and ball-carrying ability is really required. Simply put, if Spurs signed a player such as Wilfried Zaha (who is likely staying with Palace anyway, but he’s just an example), would he be used? In big away games, sure, it would be nice to have a player like this — but you rather suspect, when push comes to shove, this player is likely to be benched in favour of an additional midfielder such as Harry Winks as Pochettino seeks to assert control. There is also the question of Son Heung-min — he may not be a ball-carrier like Zaha, but he’s fast, direct and scores loads.

You rather suspect, the decision on what to do in this position will be made at the same time as the decision on what to do with Lamela. If Lamela moves on, this opens the door for a more creative type of player; if Lamela stays and returns to fitness, expect Spurs to look for pace and dribbling ability.  Either way, Spurs are pretty much upgrading from nothing in this position — the only way is up.

Deepen the philosophy

After the Leicester game, Pochettino spoke about his philosophy and how, after three years, it was now deeply ingrained. The 2016/17 campaign saw significant development with the addition of a back three as a tactical alternative to the back four used in his first two seasons. However, this new tactical approach came after the mediocre early October form that saw consecutive draws against West Brom, Bournemouth and Leicester.

As James Yorke noted in his round-up of the season, Spurs continued to play the same basic Pochball as the previous season: dominating the ball, conceding few and taking a ton of shots. There are questions, though, about whether Spurs ran “hot”.

This year they shaved a couple of shots per game off their defensive end, got the breaks at both ends and happily rode the positive variance all the way up to second place. That’s maybe frustrating, and Pochettino knows it, judging by his reluctant acceptance of praise that has come his way.

It certainly sounds like there is some scope for improvement here, in terms of creating better shots, not just taking even more of them: a bit more nuance in the passing and movement, so that every match isn’t just a case of trying to batter the opposition into submission. Some of the football in 2016/17 was sensational — the first half at home against West Brom was perhaps the purest example of Pochball, utterly breathtaking. The goal will be to find that level of performance more often. It won’t happen every game, but it doesn’t need to: it just needs to happen a little more often.

The other thing Spurs should do, in addition to fine-tuning the tactical approach, is to deepen the culture.

Pochettino has assembled a tremendous team in terms of talent, but there is a togetherness to the camp, and a connection between players and fans, that can’t be matched. It’s hard to put a number on the value of homegrown players, but we can all feel that it exists.

With top six rivals all likely to spend between £100m and £200m this summer, Spurs may feel the pressure to also “show their ambition” in the transfer market — whatever the hell the pundits mean by that. Are the current Spurs players really going to walk away if Spurs don’t sign people to replace them? Whatever it means, Spurs should resist and keep the pathways to the first team open, as both Levy and Pochettino have stressed they will continue to to.

The emergence of Harry Winks was the latest example of this process working. After biding his time and learning to play the Pochettino way, Winks’ opportunity finally came this season — and he seized it with both hands. He proved a calm midfield presence, trusted to provide control in key games. Before injury struck, Winks was moving into England senior contention and appears set to be a mainstay in the Spurs midfield for years to come. He is a boyhood Spurs fan who is now living his dream: you simply can’t buy that. It helps Spurs achieve a unity of purpose that all the money in the world can’t match.

So who is the next cab off the rank? Many fans will say Marcus Edwards, or hope that Josh Onomah kicks on after appearing to stall somewhat, but most likely it is Cameron Carter-Vickers. Spurs shouldn’t bother replacing Kevin Wimmer: between Ben Davies and CCV, his minutes are more than covered plus absences for Alderweireld too. If CCV does emerge, this could also have the knock-on effect of allowing Eric Dier to play more games in midfield, or just fewer games overall given the huge workload he shoulders.

While Spurs are integrating young players who’ve had a year or more learning the system in training, other top clubs will continue to introduce three or four major new signings each season and hope they work out. Spurs don’t need to do that: if we can add one homegrown player to the mix each year, that’s the sort of incremental, organic improvement to an already-strong squad that will lead to titles. We’re already good! We just need to keep getting even better.

Throw off the shackles in Europe

Pochettino has done very little wrong in his time at Spurs, but the one area he has consistently struggled to find improvement is in European competition. In three years, there has hardly been a single European performance of note, and crashing out to Gent — or was it Genk? — in February summed up the malaise.

There’s something off about the performances in Europe. Spurs look tense, constrained, unnatural — the press is mechanical, there is a lack of movement, we barely create good chances and look shaky at the back. Spurs look like a team that fears failure, rather than sees Europe as an opportunity to shine.

Instead of amping up the pressure to perform better, you wonder if Pochettino may be better reducing it: more rotation, more attacking line-ups, and unashamedly offensive tactics. Just go for it — dare I say it, like ‘Arry did in that excellent European campaign — and get the opposition out of the players’ heads.

There was something about the performance against Leicester — Spurs revelled in the freedom of playing without pressure, and the movement was a joy. Can Pochettino and his team capture that spirit? It may have consequences for the league, too. Less inhibition in Europe may make that gruelling October/November period less of an ordeal, and maybe turn one or two draws into wins. Remember, it’s just incremental improvement we need.

Avoiding key injuries and better scheduling that ends the draining clustering of London derbies would also help, but that’s beyond Spurs’ control.

Improve the options off the bench

There were a number of occasions this season — Sunderland and Manchester United away jump out — when Pochettino looked to his bench for help in vain.

Quite simply, Spurs got virtually nothing in direct production from substitutes all season long. Spurs substitutes scored four times, and created six assists in total. Of those, three of the goals were by Son, who also assisted twice.

Some caveats: Spurs have had a long injury list, meaning the bench was often weaker than it should have been. Think back to the Autumn when Kane, Dembele and Alderweireld all missed time — take Costa, Kante and David Luiz out of the Chelsea team, and you can bet they would have dropped a few points as well. Furthermore, given the strong performances, particularly at home, Spurs didn’t “need” to go to the bench all that often. Spurs subs played an average of 42.5 minutes, well below the average of 51.6 minutes in the Premier League. The two teams with the lowest average number of substitute minutes? Chelsea (34.7) and Liverpool (37.6) — not being in Europe helps.

But, there were still moments, without doubt, when a stronger bench may have helped Spurs. Again, we’re looking for incremental improvement. In 2017, when you are a Spurs fan and you’re still thinking “I wish Jermain Defoe was on the bench and not playing for Sunderland”, it’s fair to suggest we lacked a bit of punch.

Transfer blueprint

I was going to write a separate piece on transfer strategy, but time is limited. It’s all a crapshoot anyway — who knows what will happen over the next two months. Here’s what I would do, if I was in charge and was being (almost) sensible about who is leaving and potentially coming in:

OUT

Kyle Walker (£40m), Kevin Wimmer (£15m), Moussa Sissoko (£20m), GK Nkoudou (£5m); plus loanees Clinton N’Jie (£5m), Nabil Bentaleb (£18m) and Fede Fazio (£2.5m)
Total: £105.5m

IN

Ryan Sessegnon (£15m), Dani Alves (£0), Gylfi Sigurdsson (£28m), Christian Pulisic (£40m)
Total: £83m

By the time you factor in the £20m we’ll lose on Sissoko, Nkoudou and N’Jie, that’s about breaking even: Net spend is for wimps.

Good thing I’m not in charge, huh?

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

Sky Sports and the problem with Spurs

redknapp henry spurs

Ten minutes after the final whistle on Sunday — with Spurs sealing 2nd place for the first time in the Premier League era and completing an unbeaten home campaign, four dozen footballing legends ready to lead a grand farewell to one of the English football’s most famous old stages, and thousands of fans invading the pitch behind them — the conversation in the Sky Sports studio turned, inevitably, to the summer transfer window and whether Spurs would be able to keep stars such as Dele Alli.

Did it not cross the mind of the Sky host, Dave Jones, that this may not be the most relevant debate to be having, right now? Did it not cross his mind that, just maybe, tens of thousands of Spurs fans not fortunate enough to be at White Hart Lane on this historic occasion may be tuning in to soak in the atmosphere, celebrate a superb season, and bid goodbye to an old friend? Sure, it is perfectly reasonable to discuss the future of this Spurs team, the year away at Wembley, and the context of the success, achieved on a vastly smaller budget than the other occupants of the Premier League’s top six. But could it not wait, at least, for one sodding hour?

Even the best of TV hosts, which Dave Jones certainly isn’t, would struggle to wring a coherent thought on Spurs — or really anything — from Thierry Henry, while Jamie Redknapp is a malign and charmless presence, who cannot make it through two sentences without undermining Spurs.

“But can they keep hold of their players? But what if a big, big club comes calling? They should be smashing down the chairman’s door demanding a pay rise!”

Only Graeme Souness, a former Spurs apprentice who has fallen hard for Dele Alli and the strong, tough team Mauricio Pochettino has crafted, offered any semblance of a Spurs perspective on this huge day, But throw Souey a bloodied conversational rag — Spurs in the transfer market — and he’ll dive in two footed. Fortunately, the diggers were waiting to move in and Mauricio Pochettino was standing by in the tunnel, so this segment of the debate eventually came to a conclusion.

Sky’s coverage of Spurs has, to put it mildly, started to grate.

It wasn’t all that good to begin with, and hit a particular low in the run-in last season, with Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea and formerly of Arsenal being granted an undeserved platform to goad his upcoming opponents during one of Tottenham’s string of Monday night matches. But against West Ham, when both lead commentator Martin Tyler and presenter Rachel Riley (who is she?) took it upon themselves to suggest Spurs were bottlers as a nine-match winning streak came to an end during a fourth London derby in three weeks, what little patience was left evaporated.

The problem Sky have, or more accurately the problem we have with Sky, is that their roster of pundits and commentators isn’t built for Spurs being good.

For one season of fluke competence, Spurs being good was fine: a Leicester-lite surprise, who didn’t warrant further attention. But with Spurs showing all the signs of a sustained period of competence, Sky’s lack of a Spurs “voice” has become overwhelmingly apparent. Sending Thierry Henry, of all people, to the White Hart Lane finale was preposterous.

Spurs were selected for live TV coverage 18 times in 2014/15 and 21 times in 2015/16. This season, the final number will be 25. Of these, Sky will show 19 — so exactly half of Tottenham’s total games are being broadcast by Sky. Unless performances drop off significantly at Wembley, a similar number of Spurs games will be shown by Sky next season, in particularly given the lack of the Jose vs Pep narrative that drove a lot of live match selections in the first quarter of this season.

As the number of appearances has increased, the role of Spurs has changed. Spurs, up until now, were shown home and away against Sky’s chosen elite — a handy yardstick and almost certainly an entertaining game. Throw in a couple of London derbies, a goal-fest or two against Everton, something embarrassing against Newcastle and a whipping of Aston Villa, and that was Spurs on TV: repeat for 25 years. It didn’t require any thought, and certainly didn’t require any special treatment.

But now, Sky are aware that the situation is changing and they aren’t equipped to deal with it. Sky have some fine pundits such as Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, while Frank Lampard is as smart and articulate an ex footballer as there is. But there simply isn’t a Spurs voice in the building — someone capable of offering a counter-opinion when the conversation gets tedious, someone who understands the spirit of the club, and can explain to viewers the transformation that Pochettino is leading.

Excruciatingly, the solution has been to play up the Spurs credentials of Jamie Redknapp. Ahead of the North London derby, Martin Tyler grandly welcomed “former Spurs captain Jamie Redknapp” to the coverage. Once I’d finished vomiting, I had to look it up. Redknapp was indeed selected as captain in 2003/04 by Glenn Hoddle, but played only 17 games that season — and made just 49 appearances for the club in total. That’s five more than Edgar Davids made, but Redknapp wasn’t invited to the legends parade while the Pitbull was: at least Jamie could get a lift home with his dad.

Redknapp, as Tyler himself said on commentary earlier in the season, is a Liverpool fan — and there is nothing wrong with that after making more than 200 appearances for the Anfield club. Just don’t pretend to be something you aren’t: give me honest admissions of bias over false claims of balance, any day of the week.

Does any of this matter? Most of the time, not at all. At half-time, most viewers do the washing up or take the dog out; at full-time, most of us finish watching at the final whistle and do something else. But just occasionally, like on Sunday, as a fan you want to savour every moment, drink in the atmosphere as though you were there. And this is when you realise just how abysmal Sky’s coverage of Spurs is.

It seems that Sky — and many other media outlets — are stuck on repeat. After every victory, the question is whether Spurs can keep hold of our star players; after every dropped point, the question is whether Spurs lack mental fortitude. We won nine goddam games in a row, and Martin Tyler — the most experienced commentator and the voice of the Premier League — was accusing us of throwing away the title.

Is it any wonder Spurs fans feel we’re not getting the credit we deserve? Spurs are playing magnificent football, setting club records and keeping title races alive long after all the other “big” clubs have given up; we’ve got a vibrant young squad that is providing more players for the England team than anyone else; we’re doing it on a tight budget, using homegrown players, while building a world-class stadium with virtually no support from the public purse. Spurs should be a model, lauded for doing things “the right way”; instead, after every fucking game, we’re treated to Jamie Redknapp diminishing our achievements and trying to break us up.

I’m no Sky basher, as those who follow me on Twitter know. I think Sky’s sporting coverage is world class, and its football coverage is far better than BT Sport’s dumbed down approach. It’s just unlucky, really, that Sky are so shit when it comes to covering Spurs.

I know Sky don’t care. Liverpool and Man United are all that matters, in terms of the subscription model. We all regret the decision to give Thierry Henry such a prominent role, Sky Sports management included — only four years and £16m left on his contract, lads.

But, as they plan for the new season, I desperately hope Sky at least consider adding one Spurs voice to their line-up. If Crouchy or Robbo hang up their boots this summer, they’d be a welcome addition, or perhaps Matt Le Tissier, Saints legend and boyhood Spurs fan, could be given be a more prominent role.

To be honest, though, empty chairs and a couple more betting adverts would provide more insight into Spurs than Henry and Redknapp Jnr.

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