Category Archives: Opinion

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.

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.

Super Jan takes it to the next level

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utter bollocks, of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Spurs afford to finish 5th?

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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:

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(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.

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Spurs need to rediscover transfer mojo

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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.

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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

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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.

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