Author Archives: thespursreport

Super Jan takes it to the next level

article-0-1857F5FD00000578-818_634x456

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

V9A6038

“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.

Screenshot 2017-03-07 at 6.53.42 PM

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.

 

Can Spurs afford to finish 5th?

wembley_monaco730

With 13 games to go in the 2016/17 Premier League season, just four points separate second place and sixth.

Only Chelsea have managed to pull away from this almighty scrap: eight points clear and with no European distractions, John Terry can surely start dusting off his full kit and boots in preparation for the trophy celebration.

Two of Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool and the Manchester clubs are going to miss out on Champions League football next season — who it will be, however, is anyone’s guess.

An air of manufactured perma-crisis has haunted the top of the table, with one manager continually forced to be “the one under pressure”. Jurgen Klopp felt the heat in January, but in February the spotlight appears to have shifted to North London and Arsene Wenger.

After a dip of form since the hammering of West Brom on January 14, and the ongoing inability of his Spurs team to perform well in Europe even against modest opposition, Mauricio Pochettino has also experienced a frustrating month. But averaging two points a game over 25 matches and into the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, this hasn’t been a campaign where the bad moments have lasted long.

Thanks to the excellent work of Pochettino, Spurs are defying Premier League gravity in terms of the resources they can bring to bear. But in a long, attritional campaign where no team is showing signs of relenting, this may be a season where depth is more important than ever. When Man City lose Gabriel Jesus, they have Sergio Aguero and Kelechi Iheanacho able to come in; when Spurs lose Harry Kane, it’s either an out-of-position Son Heung-min or Vincent Janssen, who has yet to score for the club from open play.

Combining a club’s wage bill and annualized transfer costs (amortisation, FY 2015) gives an idea of the “real football spend” at the top six clubs, and how hard it is for Spurs to compete:

Man Utd — £302.3m
Chelsea — £285m
Man City — £264m
Arsenal — £244.1m
Liverpool — £227m
Tottenham — £139.4m

Spurs, quite simply, are in a different league to the other five in terms of the amount invested in football. While disappointing, it therefore shouldn’t be a surprise if Spurs were one of the the two teams that eventually slipped down into the Europa League spots. This isn’t trying to create an excuse for failure, but rather establishing context: when Pochettino talks about the limitations he faces, it’s all true.

Leicester have shown money doesn’t always equal success, but most of the time it does. Per analysis by Michael Caley, 80 percent of top four places from 2000/01 to 2014/15 were secured by teams with the top four wage bills at the time.

With a £750m stadium project to finance, can Spurs afford to miss out on UEFA’s Champions League millions at this crucial juncture in the club’s history?

With Premier League TV income soaring to unimaginable levels and Europa League income increasing, Champions League football is no longer quite the silver bullet that it once was.

Last season, Spurs earned £95.2m from the Premier League TV deal, while the club’s share of UEFA’s revenue distribution — the governing body’s mechanism for dishing out TV money — was £17.7m. In 2014, Spurs took in £88.8m of PL money, and just £5.5m in UEFA revenue — that’s a jump of £12.2m year-on-year under the BT Sport deal.

This season, Spurs should bring in around £140m from the new Premier League TV deal, while UEFA revenues will be approximately £36m. The exact numbers will be known at the end of the season — the UEFA number is based on what Manchester United earned last season, after crashing out of the Champions League in the group stage, and then making an early exit from the Europa League knockout stages. Spurs are on course for a similar performance — but the 3rd place Premier League finish in the prior season may mean a little more.

As a percentage of club revenue, here’s how UEFA revenue distribution income has varied in recent seasons:

spurs-uefa-rev

(Note: Currency conversion throughout this piece is at current rates)

As you can see, Champions League remains a huge financial incentive. However, while in previous season the Europa League has been an irritation with marginal financial benefit, under the current deal, participation is much more lucrative.

By way of contrast, when Spurs were forced out of the 2012/13 Champions League by Chelsea, this was a crushing blow. Spurs took in just £4.6m in UEFA revenue in the following season, while Chelsea scooped £26m for finishing 3rd in their group (and another £9m for going on and winning the Europa League).

Of course, UEFA revenue distribution is just one part of the picture. Matchday income is much higher for Champions League than Europa League — Spurs sold out Wembley for the three home Champions League ties, while Europa League matches are less of a crowd draw — plus there is the potential commercial uplift that comes with appearing in the more prestigious of the European competitions.

As regards the new stadium, this project is not contingent on Champions League football — in fact, the aim of the new stadium is to enable Spurs to put out a sufficiently strong team to qualify for the competition on a regular basis.

In the Viability Report for the project, “better than estimated on-field performance” is listed among potential factors that may increase return on investment in the scheme — alongside reduced construction costs, player costs dipping below 45 percent of revenues and the club securing an NFL franchise (eyes passim).

Spurs have been prudently run for years, and budgets are based on the expectation of Europa League football, not the hope of Champions League football. This refusal to gamble frustrates some segments of the fanbase, and pleases others — but as long as Daniel Levy is controlling the purse strings, this approach won’t change. There’s no gamble being made about Spurs being able to overachieve on the pitch through the stadium construction phase — two seasons of CL football in a row would be a tremendous bonus.

But this doesn’t mean there isn’t a price to be paid were Spurs to miss out on Champions League football next season.

For fans, it will mean missing out on Europe’s elite competition yet again. This year’s campaign never caught alight, starting with an extremely boring draw that meant no “big” team coming to Wembley in the group stages. Gareth Bale’s heroics against Inter Milan were six and a half years ago — even the most patient of fans need fresh inspiration to feed the soul.

For the players, the Europa League represents a step back. Pochettino has nurtured a hungry group with a solid core of Champions League calibre players. With so many key players signing new deals and a palpable sense of excitement at the club as the new stadium takes shape, there’s little danger of losing players this summer. But footballers who make the top level are by nature ambitious, and Champions League is the benchmark.

However, for both fans and players, there are other ways to square this circle — the FA Cup would give fans a moment to savour, and demonstrate to the players that it’s possible to win trophies at Spurs. Judging by the performance at Fulham, the team is focused on the competition, and lifting the trophy in May would represent an important yardstick for this group.

That’s not to say the FA Cup is a panacea — for the team, there’s still a development cost to missing out on the Champions League. In three years under Pochettino, Spurs have been consistently poor in Europe. It’s hard to put a finger on why: Squad limitations? Focus on the Premier League? Tactical issues? The only way Spurs are going to get better is by playing quality European opposition on a regular basis, and figuring it out. It took Manchester City several seasons to find their way in the Champions League after the club struck oil, but they reached the semifinals last season and it’s not impossible to see them going a step further this time.

Then there’s the cost of one of the other teams sneaking into the Champions League at Spurs’ expense. At every other club, a far greater sense of crisis will be felt if they miss out — another season of failure at, say, Manchester United, has the potential to have repercussions that could open doors to Spurs in years to come. Maybe that’s getting a bit tangential, but to put it another way, it sure is enjoyable making Jose Mourinho squirm.

Hopefully, this is all moot: Tottenham’s run since the West Brom win is simply just a dip in form, an inevitability in a long old slog of a campaign, and the team starts purring like the fine-tuned machine we’ve resembled at times this season. The performance at Craven Cottage suggests as much.

However, if Spurs do end up missing out on Champions League football next season, it’ll be disappointing, but not disastrous.

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

Spurs need to rediscover transfer mojo

moussa-sissoko-spurs

In January 2016, Spurs were linked with three promising youngsters: Moussa Dembele of Fulham, Ademola Lookman of Charlton, and James Maddison of Coventry City.

The assumption at the time was that at least one would be signed before the transfer window closed. It seemed a trademark Spurs transfer approach: identify talented English youngsters at lower division clubs and bring them to White Hart Lane where they can develop and, hopefully, rise in value.

Dembele even reportedly travelled to Hotspur Way for a medical before the deal collapsed. Fulham, battling relegation from the Championship, demanded the player, whose contract was due to expire over the summer, remain at Craven Cottage on loan.

In the end, the transfer window closed, without Spurs making a signing.

The fate of the three players linked in January shows the opportunity cost that Spurs have paid for their prevarication, and underscores the problems Spurs have in the recruitment department at the moment.

Dembele has blossomed into a star at Celtic, banging in 20 goals in 38 appearances. He looked at home on the Champions League stage, and doesn’t appear likely to stay at Celtic for long. A £40m move to Chelsea was mooted in January, albeit with a strong clickbait element. In hindsight — and it was complicated with Spurs being asked to pay for a player on an expiring deal to return on loan – that £5 million not spent must haunt the club.

Lookman, meanwhile, joined Everton this January for £11m. He scored on his debut, and has impressed sufficiently to earn a start against Bournemouth on Saturday. It’s very early days, but he looks lively, pacey and technically good — similar to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain before he moved to Arsenal and his career started to drift. Time will tell, but the early signs are promising.

Maddison, a creative midfielder with a hint of Ross Barkley about him, isn’t fairing so well. Norwich City scooped him up for £2m on deadline day — to the outrage of Coventry City fans who considered him a far more valuable asset — but allowed him to stay at Coventry. This season, he was loaned out to Aberdeen, where he played 14 times in the SPL, scoring twice and assisting seven times, and now finds himself back at Norwich, where he hasn’t made the matchday squad for a Championship match. He’s only 20, and there’s still time, but it doesn’t feel the trajectory of a star.

This January, the transfer window came and went without Spurs making any serious moves for anyone. A 1% percent chance of a deal turned into a 0.01% chance of a deal, but even that seemed to be overstating it. In fact, the only significant stories to emerge were about the dysfunction in the club’s recruitment department — Paul Mitchell, the head of recruitment, resigned, while Ian Broomfield, the international scout, left the club after his contract was not renewed.

Mitchell remains at the club, working out an 18-month notice period. This is an utterly ludicrous situation given the total lack of incentive for Mitchell to do his job properly. If Spurs were so keen to keep him from the clutches of rival clubs, then the club should have insisted on an 18-month period of gardening leave.

Mitchell has largely escaped criticism from the fans, painted as yet another victim of Daniel Levy’s control-freak approach. The exact breaking point isn’t known, but is normally pinpointed as the failure to sign Michy Batshuayi.

But this is far too kind on Mitchell. Before joining Spurs, Mitchell surely did his due diligence: He must have known that a) Spurs have a limited budget compared to top six rivals, especially with the stadium to finance, b) Even without these constraints, as a club run on rational lines, Spurs can’t win bidding wars with plaything clubs like Chelsea, and c) Levy is a hands on chairman who drives a hard bargain and is unafraid of falling out with people.

At the moment, it appears Spurs are going backwards in the transfer market, with Pochettino and Levy calling the shots in the absence of specialist recruitment staff. James Yorke summed it up in an article on Statsbomb:

If there are concerns about the direction the club is moving in, the structure of any transfer committee appears uneasy. Paul Mitchell continues to work his leave and the late summer transfers of Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and Moussa Sissoko looked like headscratchers at the time (with little or no statistical basis to either of them), and the lack of impact made by both players implies that Tottenham may need to apply greater care to their recruitment in future. Talk of Wilfried Zaha is hopefully wide of the mark as his apparently improved contributions for a struggling Crystal Palace carry a huge red flag based on little change in his shooting or creative numbers year on year, implying he’s running on little more than a warm streak of form.

You can see how a mistake like Moussa Sissoko happens given the void created by the departures of key recruitment staff. Pochettino says he wants a powerful, ball-carrying player to add a threat from wide positions, and Sissoko ticks that box. Levy looks at his spreadsheet, and sees room in the budget for a £30m player, paid for in £6m annual instalments. So boom, in Sissoko comes on deadline day. At no point does someone who has actually spent months assessing him say, “Hold on, this guy can’t pass, shoot or control the ball, he’s not up to the technical standard required for this Spurs team”

It’s simple logic, but while Pochettino is in a position to state what his squad is lacking, he isn’t in a position to scout players. There simply isn’t enough time in the day for him to do this and manage the team. Likewise Levy: his in-tray includes building and funding a stadium, contract negotiations, commercial deals, property development and representing Spurs at a Premier League level (think negotiations over TV money, etc). And anyway, neither of them are professional scouts or analysts.

Spurs have already paid the price for the missteps this summer. In October and November, with Champions League in full flow and the squad suffering injuries, a bad run of form allowed Chelsea to bolt clear in the league and saw Spurs crash down into the Europa League. Sissoko was signed as a box-ready product, yet was publicly called out by Pochettino and considered unselectable during this run. Vincent Janssen failed to score from open play while covering from Kane, while GK Nkoudou has barely featured beyond the odd cameo. In particular, he has struggled in his rare starts.

Pochettino has exhausted his old boys brigade with the signing of VIctor Wanyama, so new ideas are sorely needed. Instead of waiting until the summer, Spurs need to move fast to fill the recruitment void. There have been reports of various sporting directors being approached — former Roma honcho Walter Sabatini and Bayern’s Michael Reschke — if this is true, this should happen now or Spurs will miss a valuable half season of scouting time.

However, despite the money wasted on Sissoko and the whole N’Jie-Nkoudou boondoggle (personally, I’m giving Janssen a bit more time before dismissing him as a flop as there is a good technical player there), it’s the deals not done that will haunt Spurs more.

Dembele would have been the latest in a long line of successful acquisitions from lower divisions: Dele, Bale, Walker, Dawson, and so forth. No club does it better — identifying talent from English clubs and developing the hell out of them. For every Walker, say, there is a Kyle Naughton — but the beauty of signing young players is you normally get some return on them, and the value of the ones that make the grade far outweigh the money spent on the ones who don’t. Sure, there are serious talents emerging from the academy, but not in every position.

It’s time for Spurs to get back to what they do best in the transfer market. The beauty of football is, the next big thing is never far away.

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

Tom Carroll, the last of the loan rangers

n730l

With Tom Carroll’s departure to Swansea, an era of sorts comes to an end for Spurs.

Carroll was the last of a generation of homegrown youngsters whose development was largely outsourced to clubs in lower divisions. Now, only one remains at the club — in fairness, he’s not a bad player to have sticking around.

The “loan rangers” may ultimately have failed to make the grade at Spurs, but the ability to secure multimillion pound fees for homegrown talent is a testament to the club’s ability to produce footballers of value.

There is life after White Hart Lane, and it is a source of pride that few clubs — perhaps only Manchester United — can match Spurs in sheer numbers of graduates finding gainful employment in the professional game.

Since the 2011/12 season, Spurs have sold seven former academy stars for seven-figure sums:

Tom Carroll — £4.5m
Alex Pritchard — £8m
Ryan Mason — £13m
Andros Townsend — £12m
Jake Livermore — £8m
Steven Caulker — £8m
Jamie O’Hara — £5m

The combined total? £58.5m. That’s a remarkable return on the annual investment made in the academy (I don’t know the figure and would welcome any information). By way of comparison, Hotspur Way cost around £30m to build.

This ability to secure sizeable fees for youngsters has helped Spurs defy gravity while revenues have soared at other clubs, not that Spurs have necessarily spent the money well.

All them spent prolonged periods of their early careers on loan — these seven players had a combined 38 loan spells. For better or worse, these journeys through lower divisions helped shape who they became.

The Championship in particular is a tough proving ground, and strong performances by youngsters in that division will see their values soar. Does it necessarily make them better players? That’s another debate — and Mauricio Pochettino’s policy of keeping prime youngsters in house suggests he feels that it is not.

At the moment, Spurs have just one youngster on loan to a Championship side — Will Miller at Burton Albion. Luke McGee is (from what I’ve read at least) impressing at Peterborough in League One, while Ryan Loft has joined Stevenage in League Two. The other loans are the flotsam — Fede Fazio (who’s actually doing very well at Roma), Nabil Bentaleb (he’s also doing well at Schalke), and Clinton N’Jie.

The excellent @thfcacademy reported recently that Kyle Walker-Peters, the young right-back, will be brought into the first-team squad — and he made the bench for the FA Cup tie vs Aston Villa. A loan to League One has long been rumoured with clubs interested, but for the moment he’s not going anywhere. Both Cameron Carter-VIckers and Josh Onomah have played precious little football this season, but there are no indications that Pochettino is considering sending them out for the second half of the season to find regular playing time.

As Harry Winks has shown with his excellent displays this season, Pochettino’s approach can bear fruit. The point of the academy is to produce Spurs players, not act as an ATM. But for the club’s beancounters, the loan system has proven highly lucrative, and may be missed.

Of course, Spurs have shown that there are other ways to skin the cat. Wandering European youngsters such as Iago Falque and Nabil Bentaleb found homes in the Spurs academy, and departed for huge fees — Spurs netted a reported £5m million for Falque, and Schalke will pay a reported £17m for Bentaleb once he hits the required number of games (he’s played 21 so far, so he’s well on his way).

But for the likes of Carroll, Mason (a player I was immensely fond of) and Townsend, it was never about money so much as about playing for Spurs. They had their chances — aside from Pritchard — but couldn’t quite seize them. Sometimes you need to pinch yourself to believe Harry Kane is real — he’s a once in a generation blessing for Spurs, the type of “one of our own” hero that every set of supporters craves. The departure of so many other contemporaries highlights what a glorious exception to the rule he is.

For Carroll, Swansea is a chance to jump-start a career that has shown flashes but must have become deeply frustrating. Swansea seems a good fit — a club, likely to be playing Championship football next season, needing ball players to reconnect with a footballing philosophy lost amid the grotesque riches of the Premier League. There’s talent there, but evident shortcomings. £4.5m plus add-ons is about right.

But if he feels discouraged, he only needs to look at the opposition and the odds are there is a Spurs youngster in there, defying the “reject” label and making the most of their career. Dean Marney is still playing in the Premier League, so are Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels; Kevin Stewart has come remarkably close to proving Spurs wrong at Liverpool; the likes of Jordan Archer, Grant Ward and Massimo Luongo are all playing regularly in the Championship or League One.

Good luck at Swansea, Tommy C.

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

Spurs, Chelsea and two very different stadiums

Chelsea moved closer to joining London’s “60,000” club on Wednesday night after Hammersmith and Fulham councillors approved plans for their extraordinary new stadium.

While the meeting for Tottenham’s new stadium in December 2015 stretched on until 12.29am and culminated in a fingernail-biter of a vote, Chelsea’s stadium breezed through this critical planning hurdle with a unanimous vote of approval at a distinctly civilized 10.22pm. Decisions over new conservatory extensions have taken longer.

Ultimately, the Herzog de Meuron design swept all before it and meant approval was an inevitability. It was simply too spectacular a piece of architecture to be rejected, no matter the deep inconvenience about to be inflicted on local residents during four years of construction, the land grab over public infrastructure, and the loss of housing and hotel rooms.

Chelsea have work to do before construction can begin: Mayoral and other consents are required, agreement is needed with Chelsea Pitch Owners, the fan group that owns the Stamford Bridge freehold, and deals must be reached to buy out any remaining apartment owners in Chelsea Village. Fortunately money isn’t a problem for Chelsea, as that will be an expensive business.

Chelsea acknowledged that the timeframe had “slipped” in the planning documents, and they won’t be ready to leave Stamford Bridge for Wembley until the end of the 2017/18 season. Provided work is completed on time at New White Hart Lane, this means Spurs and Chelsea should avoid the world’s most uncomfortable houseshare.

The two stadiums will inevitably draw comparisons, but these are two very different projects, and each speaks volumes about the club and its situation.

For Spurs, the new stadium has always been about levelling the playing field. Constrained by the size of White Hart Lane, Spurs have slipped further and further behind wealthier clubs in financial strength. Spurs have clung onto the coattails of the big spenders with admirable tenacity and some Mauricio Pochettino magic, but it’s been a gruelling business and you can only defy gravity for so long.

This need to maximise the opportunity a new stadium presents has shaped the project, from the moment the early designs were released with the words “Naming Rights” emblazoned on the roof in giant letters.

The newly released stadium promotion video demonstrated this: it’s a home for Spurs, but also for the NFL and for concerts. The club ensured it can hold up to 16 non-THFC major events per year — it is likely that AEG, operators of the O2 and would-be partners in the failed Olympic site plan, may be involved to ensure every one of those 16 events slots is used. Concerts, rugby (European champions Saracens are based just down the road in tiny Allianz Park), boxing, T20 cricket and UFC — you name it, the stadium will host it and Spurs will take their cut.

Daniel Levy knows that Spurs have to make this stadium count — this is the silver bullet, and it can’t be wasted. No effort is being spared on the interior details, and the fan experience should be unrivalled in European stadia. The design is modern, but not flashy and certainly not “signature” — the real investment is being made inside, not on the exterior. Above all, it is about money — Spurs have been fighting with one hand behind their back for years, and now it’s time to punch back.

For Chelsea, Stamford Bridge isn’t so much a commercial project as a personal one: The stadium is both a monument to Roman Abramovich, and his personal legacy to Chelsea.

If his first decade as owner was about buying Chelsea’s way into the elite — the club technically “owes” him more than £1 billion — the second is about cementing it. The project makes less commercial sense than Spurs with a smaller capacity increase and more recent development of Stamford Bridge, although Chelsea had precious few options for further growth without abandoning west London altogether.

The sheer audacity of the design, with its lattice roof and columns drawing inspiration from Westminster Abbey, takes the breath away. It’s not just a stadium, it’s a symbol — of Abramovich’s extraordinary wealth, of Chelsea’s ambitions, of the sheer magnitude of football now. These aren’t stadiums any more, they are cathedrals.

Perhaps it’s just the name Roman, but rather than visions of London — Westminster Abbey, Battersea Power Station, the Tate Modern — to me the design harks back further, the huge exterior arches and vaunting brick walls bringing to mind the original sporting stadium, the Coliseum. It’s Roman the Emperor, on a Triumph through London, erecting a vast monument to his own glory; all that’s missing is the white horse and vanquished rival Premier League kings in chains.

It won’t be for everyone: there are hints of Albert Speer and Welthauptstadt Germania in its epic scale and Teutonic coldness, and questions will linger about whether Abramovich has really earned the right to redefine London’s skyline in this way.

While Chelsea will surely take on significant financing, the suggestion is that Abramovich will personally fund the bulk of it; it’s unlikely Chelsea will have to engage in something as grubby as naming rights sponsorship. The stadium will host football only. Say this about Abramovich: like him or not, his commitment to Chelsea has been unwavering. He’s the ultimate oligarch, still there week-in week-out nearly 15 years later, still bankrolling his favourite toy.

The law of London football means Spurs fans and Chelsea fans will find ways to undermine, mock and goad each other. The new stadia will be no exception. New White Hart Lane is shaped like an egg, New Stamford Bridge like some sort of novelty vegetable shredder; you get the drift. I hope the ill-feeling continues at boardroom level and on the pitch — it’s surely the best rivalry in the Premier League at the moment, by a distance.

The same one upmanship that made Spurs trump Arsenal in capacity will be in play — stadium development is linear, and Chelsea will learn ruthlessly from Spurs to make sure their’s is “better”. But ultimately, the more you compare these projects, the greater the contrast becomes.

Here’s one thing we can agree on: Spurs and Chelsea are both going to have world-class stadiums within a few years, and thousands more fans are going to be able to see their team live. So a bit like West Ham — except without the need for binoculars, taxpayer subsidies and riot gear.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles and general Spurs chat. See more of my stadium pieces by searching in the stadium category in the right-hand navigation, or in the Deep Dives link above.

A new generation of Spurs fans craves FA Cup glory

wa5686077

The trademark magic was in short supply in the FA Cup third round. Weakened teams, poorly chosen televised games, sparse crowds and an unexciting set of match-ups meant for an uninspired weekend of football.

Spurs summed it up with a laboured victory over a defensive Aston Villa side that came for a 0-0, and for 70 minutes looked like they might get one.

But sometimes the most glorious things spring from the humblest of beginnings, and as Spurs finally found their swagger, it was possible to let one’s thoughts drift ahead to Wembley in May, half-covered in Lillywhite, the trophy there for the taking if only the players believe. Maybe, just maybe, this is going to be our year.

Let’s be clear: Spurs are massively, extraordinarily, almost indescribably overdue an FA Cup win.

Our reputation as a “Cup team”, still trotted out dutifully by the BBC commentator as the teams emerged from the tunnel at White Hart Lane, is as hollow as the new structure emerging behind the Paxton Road stand.

Spurs have won the FA Cup just four times since 1966, and it has been 26 years since Spurs last reached the FA Cup final, when we beat Nottingham Forest 2-1. The only longer drought in the club’s history, since the first FA Cup win in 1901, came between 1921 and 1961. The League Cup has been somewhat more successful, with five finals in the intervening period; two victorious, three not.

Since Spurs were last in the FA Cup final, Chelsea have won it six times and Arsenal seven. Hell, Portsmouth and Wigan have both won it. Our eight wins are a distant memory. No Spurs fan under the age of 30 will have any memory of what it feels like to be an FA Cup winner.

Early football memories are snapshots, fleeting moments preserved for eternity while the rest has been washed away. My first Spurs memory was Gary Lineker scoring a winner in the league against Norwich. My second was Gazza, 15 minutes into the Cup final, injured after that tackle. My third was dancing around overexcitedly when Des Walker powered a header past his own keeper. No wonder I’m hooked.

One thing I can’t remember is Gary Mabbutt actually lifting the trophy. My guess is, I was already out in the garden with my brother, playing another game of three-and-in: him as Lineker, and Gazza, and Paul Stewart; me, the squitty little brother, forced to be Forest, but perfectly happy to be Psycho, or Walker, or Nigel Clough.

The FA Cup was such a fundamental part of me becoming a Spurs fan, and for younger Spurs fans to be deprived of what it feels like to win is cruel. It’s a chasm in the footballing experience every Spurs fan should have. It has to be corrected, as an urgent priority of the club.

So why this year? After all, we’ve had plenty of chances before, and found 25 different ways to blow it.

One difference now is that, for the first time, there isn’t a single draw that we fear. That feeling of watching the draw and thinking “please don’t let it be them” — that’s gone, or as is near as possible. Sure, Chelsea and Liverpool away still present psychological barriers to Spurs, but these are barriers this team has to overcome eventually. Now is the time.

If there’s fear, it’s on the other side — no-one wants to be drawn against Spurs at home these days. Just ask Antonio Conte or Pep Guardiola. And possibly Gareth Ainsworth.

Another reason is that, more than any other team, Spurs NEED to win something this season.

The lack of silverware is a cause of embarrassment. Mauricio Pochettino has never won a trophy as a manager, and few of the Spurs players need private trophy rooms in their North London mansions. ENIC’s ownership has been blighted by the trophy drought: just one, in 16 years — constant fuel for the agitators, and the agitated. There’s no trophy for finishing in the top six, and the only prize for finishing in the top four is financial.

What reassures me about this squad, as well as their talent, is their hunger: they get it.

“If in five years’ time we hadn’t won a trophy with this squad, everyone would be disappointed,” said Eric Dier, the future arriving as he donned the captain’s armband on Sunday. “Football is about winning trophies. Look at the players we have now and the basis we have to win things. We have to keep working hard and improving but the whole squad is desperate to win things.”

Desperation is a powerful motivating force.

The Champions League flop means even more reason to focus on the FA Cup. The Europa League is a consolation prize, an afterthought, a plate competition to fill the TV void on Thursday nights. It’s a long, gruelling contest, and extremely hard to win, yet it teases clubs into playing stronger than advised teams as it has the illusion of winnability. Spurs are veterans, and have never remotely threatened — nothing we did in the Champions League suggested we’ve gotten any better at finding midweek performances against technically proficient European opponents with vastly smaller budgets.

In my view, Pochettino should de-prioritize the Europa League, unashamedly. Kids, reserves, unwanteds — a strategic choice to cede ground in Europe, in search for gains on the home front. Poch will say the right things — “we try to win in every competition” — but sometimes hard decisions have to made.

The league this season is shaping to be a brutal slog, with six fairly even teams fighting desperately for four places. It’s no season to be messing around with Thursday trips to Eastern Europe. But the FA Cup is a weekend competition, so long as you win.

As Liverpool showed with their severely weakened team against Plymouth, the tightness of the title race may take attention away from the FA Cup. A little more rotation, a slip here, a slip there; it’s one of those seasons where it might open up, and it pays to be the last man standing. Already the bulk of Premier League’s middle class has slunk out, meaning less chance of that dangerous type of team that has nothing to play for except Cup glory.

The omens are good. Ball 26 in the fourth round draw, 26 years after our last victory, 26 for Ledley, one of our greatest modern players who should have won far more. Wycombe at home — yup, we should win that one.

I’m dreaming of FA Cup glory this season, more than ever before.

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