Monthly Archives: August 2017

Away results, not Wembley, will shape Tottenham’s season

Poch frustrated

By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

If Spurs win all 18 remaining Premier League games at Wembley, Mauricio Pochettino’s team will improve on last season’s home record. Any other scenario — even one single draw — will mean that Tottenham’s home record will be worse.

The curse of Wembley, it appears, is unavoidable.

Last Sunday against Chelsea had the feeling of a one-off — a Cup tie or a big European second-leg encounter. All that pre-game cranking up of the crowd, those flags, that sodding drummer, the feeling of abject finality when Marcus Alonso’s late shot inexplicably found its way past Hugo Lloris, ending Tottenham’s season (or at least that’s what it felt like for a minute or two).

My theory on the supposed “Wembley curse” is that there’s no escaping the narrative, win, lose or draw. It’ll be a bit like Brexit — if things go well, it will be despite Wembley; if things go badly, it’ll be because of Wembley.

The reality, of course, is that the success of Tottenham’s season will be shaped by a far more complicated mix of factors, some internal, others external. But Wembley is such an obviously different factor that the narrative is irresistibly juicy. We’re just going to have to stomach it through the transitional period — and hopefully it’s just a year, unlike the three or four years Chelsea are facing at Wembley while Roman’s monument to himself is built — until the new stadium opens.

This Sunday at Wembley will be about “the real season starts now” — it’s Burnley at home, as bog-standard a Premier League home game as they come; no flags, no Jamie Redknapp lurking weirdly in a gantry for Sky Sports. The only reason this isn’t at 3pm on Saturday, and last on Match of the Day, is because there’s some rugby league on.

Pochettino should know exactly what he’ll get from Burnley — a dogged away performance, a team looking for a point. It’s normality, and if Burnley manage to come away with anything, then Pochettino has more serious problems than the choice of venue.

Spurs were never going to repeat a home record of 17 wins and two draws: Spurs were sensationally good at White Hart Lane last season.

It wasn’t a fluke — Spurs earned those points, and the only “fortunate” result that really springs to mind was the point after being largely outplayed, as always, by Liverpool. (It was a year ago, so of course memories vary). But the law of averages would suggest we’ll come down to earth a bit, even if we play equally well.

Pochettino has achieved a lot in his three years at Spurs — a transformation of club culture, instillation of a clear playing philosophy and tactical advancements each season. The result has been season-by-season improvement.

However, in one area, he has not yet been able to move the needle — Tottenham’s away record.

Here are the home and away points records for the past five seasons, since the start of the AVB era.

Home: 53, 36, 33, 36, 38
Away: 33, 34, 31, 33, 34

Those away records are remarkably similar, no? All within the margin of a single victory over the course of a 19-game campaign.

This is hardly a revelation, and no doubt Pochettino is aware of the failure to improve away results. However, he might argue that away performances have improved, even if the points accumulated haven’t.

Here are the total number of draws, home and away, in the past two seasons:

Home: 2, 6, 3, 3, 5
Away: 6, 7, 4, 3, 4

Spurs have arguably become a more stubborn away outfit — although it appears to be a double edged sword, with both victories and defeats being turned instead into draws. That would certainly fit with how it “feels” to watch Spurs away from home — they do seem to play better, it’s just that the results haven’t gotten better.

The key for Pochettino this term will be finding two or three more away wins. How does he do it? Time will tell. Certainly, improved squad options can’t hurt — I can’t recall a more frustrating away performance than at Sunderland last season, when a tired-looking Spurs team couldn’t find a way past a dreadful home side. In that game, Pochettino turned to the bench and saw Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen, rather than players he could trust to send on and change the game. It’s felt for a couple of seasons now that Spurs miss a quality attacking option — ideally one with real pace or ball-carrying ability — off the bench, beyond Son Heung-min.

But transfers are just one solution — i’d be curious to read any home vs away tactical analysis, to see if there are obvious tweaks that Spurs could make with existing players. A consistent theme from Pochettino has been the scope for improving the mentality of squad — it sounds fluffy, but it’s about the expectation that Spurs will win, no matter the adversity. Pochettino succeeded in transforming the mentality in home matches last season, and so now the question will be if he can transform it when Spurs travel. His work is far from done — there is still the issue of consistently poor European performances to address in due course. The good news is, Poch seems well up for it.

For Pochettino and Spurs this season, the goal is simple: increase the number of away points by more than the decline in number of home points. Or at least, reduce the impact of a likely drop in home points with an increase in away points.

Does that make sense?

OK — now I see it: it’s way easier to write about Wembley being cursed.

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

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It’s time for Spurs to shatter the wage structure

By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

For the past three seasons, Spurs have been engaged in a high-wire act, trying to bridge the chasm between the Premier League’s financial elite and also-rans, on a far smaller budget while investing £800m in a shiny new stadium.

Thanks to the brilliant work of Mauricio Pochettino, the discovery of a superstar striker from within the academy and the assembly of a strong and cohesive core of players, Spurs have managed to defy gravity. But now, with the new stadium rising from the ground and the end within touching distance, Spurs have started to sway.

Much has already been written about Danny Rose’s uncomfortable (you can pick your own adjective) comments about the club’s strategy and ambition, and I don’t want rehash these arguments. I’d recommend this excellent piece by Daniel Storey on the context of the comments, and this piece by Alan Fisher captured a lot of my torn emotions about the summer Spurs have had.

Instead, I want to look at what Spurs can do to respond on one of the key issues raised by Rose: the club’s wage structure.

(I’ve recently looked at transfer spending, as well as stadium spending — for new readers, there’s plenty in the archives to get stuck into on the stadium and finances.)

For the past three years, the Spurs wage bill has been more or less flat, hovering around £100m. It is the sixth highest in the league, per the last set of financials. Arsenal have the fifth highest wage bill, and at £195m it is almost double Tottenham’s.

The wage structure at Spurs is widely reported as being a series of tiers. Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane are on top, earning around £100,000 per week. Then there is a tight band of senior players on a tier below, earning between £60,000 and £80,000 — the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen — followed by younger players such as Dele and Eric Dier, who are regularly rolled onto new deals until they reach the second tier.

It has been a structure that has worked — the team has performed on the field, and seems to genuinely get along off it. It appears that Pochettino has wanted to maintain this balance for the sake of squad unity, rather than risk bringing in expensive players on higher levels that may disturb the status quo. Up until now, Levy and Pochettino have done a good job of persuading current players to sign new deals and buy into this structure, even if at a discount to what they could earn elsewhere.

The approach was always going to run its course eventually. The question now is: has that moment arrived?

Daniel Levy is a stubborn man, and his reaction to Rose’s interview may well be entrenchment. After all, Rose only recently renewed his contract — no-one forced him to sign it, and contracts should be honoured. Pochettino appears to genuinely be on the same wavelength as Levy on wages and spending, and in his pre-match press conference on Friday, made exactly this point.

As principled a stance as this is, it’s also a losing one — players invariably end up getting what they want.

If the frustration was limited to Rose, perhaps he could be quickly shifted up to Manchester United, the money banked, and a new left back sought. But, as widely reported, it seems that Rose’s views on uncompetitive wages are shared by many within the Spurs squad.

Here’s a simple chart of revenue vs wages. The figures are from club accounts, until financial year 2016. For 2017, I’ve estimated revenue conservatively, based on known changes to PL and UEFA money; wages is harder, but I’ve attempted to gauge the shift in total wage spend based on the comings and goings and contract renewals in past 12 months as reported in the media. The figure that came out was about £115m — it’s very rough, but I want to at least illustrate it.

Rev v Wages to 2017

As you can see, wages are starting to diverge a long way from revenue. It’s really quite a big gap now — too big, from the perspective of the players.

WHAT CAN SPURS DO?

A few ideas have been floated in terms of how Spurs can address the frustration within the camp, and see off any potential mutiny. A unilateral wage bump, a lifting of the ceiling, or an expanded bonus pot for on-field performance. But these seem reactive, like trying to stick something that is broken back together, knowing it’ll never quite be the same.

It may simply be time to accept that the status quo has changed, abandon the wage structure altogether, and deal with player contracts on a case-by-case basis.

It’s risky, but if players are complaining in public about being underpaid and about a lack of squad strength, they are less likely to be disappointed to see new signings or current teammates suddenly earning a lot more than them. Instead of the goal of the wage structure being unity, it becomes about ambition — players see teammates’ earnings jump, and accept it in the knowledge that the club is trying everything to win (and that their turn will come).

Levy isn’t stupid — he knows that he’s had the benefit of a relatively low wage bill for several years, enabling him to shovel money into the stadium project. There was always going to come a time when this ended. For several years now, we’ve been talking about Spurs being a “young” team, and they’ve been paid like it. Relatively, Spurs may still be quite young, but actually, this is a group of players in their prime. Of the core 15 or 16, only Winks and Dele are under 23. Kane is 24, Eriksen 25, Trippier 26 — these aren’t kids.

The wage structure has increasingly become a limitation. Players who could have strengthened the team — Sadio Mane for example — have gone elsewhere, forcing Spurs to settle for poorer alternatives.

How would this new approach work in practice? Next up on the contract list is surely Alderweireld — he’s one of the best CBs in the league, so pay him like it, even if it is more than Lloris and Kane. Toby isn’t stupid — he knows what he is worth, and simply isn’t going to accept that what should be the biggest deal of his career is far below market rate. After Toby, it is probably Eric Dier’s turn — again, pay him close to what he is worth, or at least match the highest earners. Spurs need to be realistic — to lose one of the best back five in the league last season is unfortunate, to lose three or four would be careless.

(BTW, I utterly disagree with the “he’s earning more in week than most people earn in a year so he should shut up” complaint — elite sportspeople have enormously valuable skills and very short careers that can end in an instant. They are also humans — people want to earn what they are worth.)

Spurs can never top what these players could earn at Man City — clubs fueled by petrodollars will always be able to outbid those run rationally. But Spurs can offer a competitive wage, in a team that can contend for the title, a manager they respect, London and the best new stadium in Europe from next summer. It’s not a bad pitch.

CAN SPURS AFFORD THIS?

“Hang on”, you’re probably thinking, “how on earth are Spurs going to pay for this?”

I was going to go into a big spiel here with numbers and projections, but ultimately, there is no accurate information for individual player wages, and it’s hard to see where stadium funding begins and ends in terms of football-related revenue vs debt.

But at a higher-level, in the last accounts, wage-to-turnover ratio was 47.4%. Under my projection of the next accounts, the ratio drops to 41.3% — that’s incredibly low. Manchester United are the only other club below 50 percent. Arsenal stand at 55%, while Liverpool are at 69%. With a stadium to finance, it’s not realistic to expect Spurs to stand spending in an unrestrained way — but it is realistic to expect Spurs to spend in a competitive way.

If Spurs were to maintain the current 47.4% ratio into the next financial year, that would mean a wage bill of about £133m — that’s £33m more than is currently spent. Spurs could offer nine players £70,000 per week wage increases, and still the wage-to-turnover ratio would drop in the next accounts. (Of course it’s more complex than that with bonuses and so forth, but you get the point).

Spurs have issued a raft of new deals in the past financial year, including many senior players, but it would appear there is still significant room for more, if the club chooses. And revenue is going to climb further in the next two years — for example, Spurs will have the new Nike and AIA deals showing in the FY 2018 accounts. There’s also the chance to sell huge numbers of tickets at Wembley — all those outrageous £3.50 booking fees will start adding up — and then hopefully we’ll be in the new stadium.

With concerns over growth of TV rights income, fears of stadium cost overruns and no naming rights sponsor, plus an inflated transfer market where value is hard to gauge, let alone find, there are a lot of factors weighing on the club’s decision making. The hope is that Levy doesn’t get seduced by the complexity — Spurs have a team that is good enough to win trophies, and appealing enough to help sell those swanky premium seats at the new stadium. More depth is needed, but the core was cheap to assemble — if the price of success is that it is a bit more expensive to keep together than planned, then so be it. It’s a pretty good problem, in the grand scheme of things. It certainly feels there’s significant scope to increase wages before getting into the territory of the club spending money that doesn’t exist. Hell may need to freeze over first, but it may be that Levy and Joe Lewis reach a point where they accept it’s time to push the envelope a bit on football spending to take that final step.

Is Levy prepared to swallow some pride, and some cost, to keep this squad together? Pochettino’s masterful handling of Friday’s press conference — his “disappointed dad” tone was pitch perfect — showed both firmness, and a little flex. The fact the agency and club were able to get together on a statement to de-escalate the situation beforehand helped, and suggested plenty of work is going on behind the scenes. Pragmatism may yet rule the day — contrast that to the situation with Liverpool and the timing of Coutinho’s transfer request, designed to make Jurgen Klopp look a fool.

Danny Rose, in his hopelessly unprofessional (and scorchingly honest) way, may have done Spurs a favour. It’s time to recognise that the environment has changed, shift strategy quickly, and take a sledgehammer to that wage structure.

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

Analysis: Is the stadium stopping Spurs from spending?

nasdaq730aAfter ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq Stock Exchange in New York, Daniel Levy was in a punchy mood during a Q&A with investors as part of Tottenham’s pre-season tour to the USA.

In a near hour-long session, the Spurs chairman lashed out at overspending by rival Premier League clubs, and defiantly backed his prudent approach to managing the club’s finances. However, for fans still awaiting the first new signing of the summer, his comments on the club’s transfer policy caused eyebrows to be raised.

Denying that the new £800m stadium was stopping Spurs from bringing in fresh blood, Levy stated: “It’s not impacting us on transfers at the moment as we’re not yet in a place where we’ve found the player we definitely want but can’t afford.”

For a club that finished seven points behind Premier League winners Chelsea, crashed out in the Champions League group stage and failed for a ninth season in a row to win any silverware, it seemed dreadfully complacent.

There was a huge amount to admire in what Levy said about his vision for the club: backing local talent, earning success and not buying it, investing in infrastructure with the long-term future of the club in mind. However, the comment on transfers seemed an odd one as soon as it was uttered, and certainly makes the chairman a hostage to fortune.

Mauricio Pochettino’s subsequent Baldrick-esque reassurance to fans — “We have a plan!” — did little to ease the concern that Spurs are missing an opportunity to strengthen. A brutal dismantling by Manchester City in Nashville only heightened fears.

I wanted to look in a little more depth at Tottenham’s approach to transfers, and in particular try to gauge what impact the stadium is having on the club’s transfer spending.

For those interested in learning more about the club’s finances, I have written in detail about stadium funding through the construction phase, naming rights, rising construction costs and club accounts. Dig in, and do join me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

The three-phase transfer approach

If you look at the past two summers, Spurs have followed a similar three-phase strategy in their approach to transfers.

In phase one, “essential business” is done. In 2015, Kevin Wimmer, Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld came in early. In 2016, it was Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen.

In phase two, there is a long selling period, as Spurs try to maximise returns on those leaving the club (for example Ryan Mason, Nacer Chadli and Kyle Walker).

In phase three, there is a final purchasing period as the club goes bargain hunting and filling squad holes in the final weeks of the window (Son Heung-min, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, Moussa Sissoko and so on).

This summer, Spurs have skipped straight to phase two. This early spending wasn’t just about filling glaring needs — but also spoke to the club’s approach to the market. Tottenham’s strength has never been in outspending rivals, out-scouting or out-analysing — it has been about having quality market intelligence. Knowing, say, that Trippier had a £3.5m release clause, or that Wanyama wasn’t re-signing his contract and wanted to reunite with Poch. This year, for whatever reason, that sort of bargain was never available. You suspect Spurs hoped Everton would opt to dump Ross Barkley quickly rather than see his situation fester with his contract winding down, but Everton have chosen for various reasons to cling on. There are also no immediate positional needs — a right back will be needed, but Trippier is first-choice for the time being so Spurs can afford to shop around.

Is this an ideal strategy? Of course not, given the number of potentially useful players who get snapped up before Spurs come into the second purchasing phase, and the poor returns on those bought late in the window.

Is this a logical strategy for a club that is also trying to finance a stadium? It would seem so.

Ring-fenced vs sell-to-buy

Levy has previously spoken about the transfer budget being “ring-fenced” — essentially, a portion of club funds are set aside for transfer activity with the aim of ensuring Spurs have a competitive team when the new stadium opens. However, how much exactly is ring-fenced is another question entirely.

Trying to think on a practical level, Spurs must be facing huge cash management challenges at the moment, ensuring the stadium continues to advance at the required rate. Even with the £25m credit facility agreed as part of the stadium funding package, Spurs can’t afford to take any chances: there’s virtually no room for manoeuvre on the timeframe. Think back to the story where Spurs purchased cranes for the site as they weren’t able to wait for rental cranes to become available.

There’s a lot of talk about net spend over the course of the season, as the numbers are remarkable. Since the Abu Dhabi takeover in August 2008, Manchester City have a net spend of £970m, while in the same period, Spurs have made a net transfer profit of £60m.

But I want to drill down a bit further to see to see the cash management in action: is there a “ring-fenced” amount Spurs can spend, or actually are Spurs in a situation where we must sell to buy, in order to avoid going into the red and ensure maximum available funds for stadium construction.

The chart below shows all transfers since the start of the 2014/15 season, in chronological order. For deadline day, I’ve gone by time the deal was announced on the club website — deadline day in September 2014 was a busy one. The line shows the cumulative balance — so exactly how much is in the transfer kitty, using June 2014 as the starting point. The values are what’s on Wikipedia — it’s not perfect, but it’s just what was closest to hand.

Spurs transfers June 14 to August 17

A few things to point out:

1. Spurs have only dipped into the red three times, and barely. The first was on deadline day in Sept 2014, so this was for a matter of hours and it is a technicality. The second was after signing Vincent Janssen last summer. Can you recall the haggling over that deal, dragging on for weeks? Spurs simply didn’t want to spend the extra four or five million AZ were demanding — this deal pushed Spurs £4.4m into the red, until Alex Pritchard was sold to Norwich. The final dip was for Moussa Sissoko — however, this was widely reported to be an installment-based deal, so you can see why this so appealed to Levy. A £30m player, available for £6m initially — perfect for a club managing cash flow, just a shame he is crap.

2. Think back to Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and last summer’s barbershop ITK. It was rumoured he was on his way to London in mid-July, but his transfer wasn’t announced until the end of August. All sorts of reasons were floated — Marseille were being taken over, Clinton N’Jie may have been stalling on a return to France — but was Tottenham’s cash flow also an issue? Having dipped into the red to complete the Janssen deal, it took Spurs until late August to offload Pritchard, Yedlin, Chadli and Mason, while Nkoudou languished in a hotel.

3. You can see the bursts of activity — a few players are sold, a couple come in, a few more leave, and it continues. Up until Man City took a liking to Kyle Walker, the amount in the kitty never got about £36.4m. Now, Spurs have, by this very rough measure, £74.4m.

So, there’s plenty in the kitty if Pochettino wants to spend. You hope, “ringfenced” means this accumulated transfer wealth is separate from the stadium funding and is entirely for squad strengthening (on transfer fees or wages), rather than getting rolled into construction.

Ongoing risk factors

image (12)

Spurs have now secured the main bank finance for the stadium — a £350m loan package, with £25m credit facility and a £50m contingency fund provided by Tavistock Group, the ultimate owners of the club. Coupled with the £240m already poured into the project and funds from advanced hospitality sales, Spurs are in a good place.

However, there are two main risk factors remaining with the stadium. First, a naming rights partner has not yet been found. This leaves a hole — perhaps as high as £300m, although that amount always seemed optimistic — in the project finances. Second, while construction is ongoing, there is the risk of cost overruns. It was reported that during the demolition of the South Stand, an issue with gas pipes delayed work briefly — these little things can add up. It certainly looks like Spurs are going full bore at the moment, judging by the webcams, but if the timetable starts slipping, more money may have to be put in than was originally planned.

In this context, it is understandable that Spurs remain cautious on transfer activity for the foreseeable future. The hope is that, once naming rights are secured and the stadium is completed, Spurs can start to move more aggressively. That may not be January, but perhaps by next summer, the constraints will ease and Spurs can focus more on securing targets they want, when they want them.

Wages to turnover

Of course, transfer fees are just one part of the picture — another issue is wages. There is concern among some Spurs fans about the club being uncompetitive in wages, risking the departures of key players and limiting arrivals. Personally, I’m not quite as concerned. Of course, Manchester City will be able to offer more than Spurs can offer — but Spurs could double the wages of everyone at the club, and that would still be the case.

Here is a look at how wage growth has moved versus revenue from financial year 2005 to 2016, the last published. As you can see, wage growth has stalled, while revenue has continued to slowly climb.

Revenue vs Wages 05 to 16

Next season, revenue is going to go through the roof — simply adding in known amounts for Premier League and Champions League revenue distribution, Spurs revenue should jump to nearly £280m. And it will climb again in the next year with both new Nike and AIA deals kicking in.

In short, Spurs have plenty of money to increase the wage bill — if the club wants to. The wage bill is artificially low at the moment — in FY 2016, a lot of high earners came off the books, such as Paulinho, Soldado and so on. In the past year, there have been more than a dozen contract renewals, so the wage bill should jump somewhat. It currently stands at £100m — if Spurs were to maintain the same 47.4% wage to turnover ratio, that would mean a wage bill of £133m or thereabouts. What isn’t known is the amount of bonuses that are paid out — there may be Champions League kickers and the like. The next accounts may give us more insight.

Spurs being strict on wages isn’t just about Daniel Levy and the stadium — it’s also about Pochettino maintaining the harmonious environment in the squad. It’s frustrating during the transfer window, but so long as Spurs continue to move firmly on offering key players new deals to ensure the core of the team is in place once the new stadium opens, then most fans will be happy enough.

There are lots of other factors that have an impact on how Spurs act in the transfer market — relationships with certain agents, a weak scouting department and failure to embrace analytics, the broader context of the Premier League’s financial situation, the focus on youth, a starting XI that is hard to improve, the personalities of Pochettino and Levy, and so on.

The stadium is undoubtedly a huge constraint, but it’s not an excuse. The key to the success of the stadium will be ensuring it is full — and the best way to ensure that is by having a successful, appealing team. I’m pretty sure Levy and Co know this. There is money in the kitty, and room on the wage bill — now it’s just a case of finding those players who will realistically join and will be able to push us over the line.

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