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.

A review of 2016 on The Spurs Report — numbers, analysis, top posts and thanks

kyle-walker-danny-rose-960x450

As 2016 draws to a close, I wanted to do a quick post summing up the year on The Spurs Report. It’s been quite a year, with new people stumbling upon this curious little corner of the Spurs blogosphere every day.

In total, there have been nearly 200,000 views (197,447 at the time of writing) in the year to date — this compares with less than 20,000 in 2015. That’s significant growth, particularly as I haven’t posted anything new since taking a break in November.

While that’s a drop in the ocean in comparison to the traffic of bigger football blogs, and the clickbait merchants who harvest other people’s content and manufacture audiences in a fraud against advertisers and fans alike, to me this seems like an awful lot of people coming to read my occasional ramblings on Spurs.

The main referrer was Twitter, with 42,098 views, followed by Facebook (28,921), Reddit (17,257) and NewsNow (14,520). I don’t use Facebook, but really should start considering it — my pieces have only been shared a handful of times, but each one brought a large volume of new Spurs fans to my blog. Thank you to those who have shared on Facebook. As you can see from the Top 10 articles below, the biggest driver has been pieces on the stadium — there’s a hunger for information on this project.

This time a year ago, I had around 300 Twitter followers — it’s now over 3,400. Again, it’s nothing compared to the bigger beasts, but growing a readership is hard without influential friends or the backing of a news organisation or other type of network. This blog and my Twitter account now have a healthy following among Spurs fans — I hugely appreciate the help I’ve received in the past year from some of the prominent members of the Spurs community (Alan Fisher, Dan Kilpatrick and Martin Cloake amongst others) in sharing my work.

It makes a profound difference, and I try to follow the same good example when new bloggers ask me for help in turn. I’m not followed by many of the elite football Twitterati, and my blogs don’t get shared around or linked to by bigger sites — this is a resolutely niche Spurs blog. But so long as Spurs fans keep on discovering this blog and joining in the conversation, I’ll keep writing it.

Thank you all for your continued readership, comments, insight and feedback. The blogosphere and Twitter can be a rough place, but 99% of the time I find the conversations I have with other Spurs fans positive, informative and enjoyable. I just love talking (OK, sometimes ranting) about Spurs.

I’ve been working on another writing project in recent months — something utterly un-Spurs related — as well as trying to balance new work commitments. But I plan to resume blogging in 2017: the itch to get back to it is proving almost unendurable.

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and happy new year.

Charles

 

The 10 most viewed pieces of 2016 were as follows:

1) Spurs stadium update: New information on capacity, design and other details, plus analysis of timeline and finances (21,759)

A summer news wrap with exclusive information on the stadium design and construction.

2) Big but not ‘big, big’: The football media struggles to come to terms with Tottenham’s narrative-busting success (18,363)

A rant about the football media, in which I said rude things about Jamie Redknapp.

3) The Pochettino Revolution: How Tottenham were transformed from also-rans to title contenders (14,980)

A feature on Mauricio Pochettino and his work at Spurs. A labour of love, and the feedback to this one made it 100% worth the time spent on it. Have a read if you haven’t yet.

4) The £300 million funding question and the dangers of “doing an Arsenal” — New Spurs Stadium Deep Dive (Part 1) (13,757)

My first major stadium piece, examining the financial side of Tottenham’s stadium plans.

5) Deep Dive: Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge redevelopment — Trying to keep the train on the tracks (9,927)

A look at Chelsea’s stadium plans, and the huge headaches our rivals face in securing planning consent.

6) Tottenham’s most expensive signing, relative to revenue (8,428)

A look at the relative cost of signing players in the wake of the Paul Pogba deal. A bit of fun, this one was picked up quite widely on non-Spurs Twitter.

7) New stadium update: ‘More or less’ on time and budget, 500 White Hart Lane, the NFL gamble explained, and more (7,115)

The most recent stadium news piece. I’m hoping to do another one in January or February as there have been one or two new lines since this was published.

8) The balancing act: Can Spurs find a way to remain competitive through the stadium construction phase? (6,684)

An assessment of THFC’s finances and what impact the stadium spend will have. Somewhat technical, but some good numbers in there.

9) Naming rights and wrongs: Tottenham begin the search for stadium sponsorship deals (6,254)

A look at the stadium sponsor market, and a warning for fans not to expect too much.

10) Spurs take a gamble on the NFL — New Stadium Deep Dive (Part 2) (5,886)

A long piece (in hindsight, too long…) on the relationship between Spurs and the NFL. We’ve had more insight into it since this was published.

As you can see from this list, the stadium dominates. But encouragingly, many of these pieces are longer ones that took a lot of time and effort — there’s an appetite for detail.

Thanks for reading, please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs-related chat.

Winter break: Links and recent articles

soccer-gbr_t_2

I’m taking a break from this blog in order to focus on some other writing.

There’s no timetable on when I’ll resume: I find it hard to resist writing about Spurs, but resist I must for the time being.

While I’m gone, here are links to some of my recent pieces. There’s plenty of good stuff on a variety of topics. Dig in.

If you’ve not read it yet, I’d strongly recommend my long read on Mauricio Pochettino and his work at Spurs. It’s well worth 10 minutes of your time.

I’ll still be talking nonsense on Twitter regularly, so do join me over there if you don’t already do so.

Deep Dives

The balancing act: Can Spurs find a way to remain competitive through the stadium construction phase?

The Pochettino Revolution: How Tottenham were transformed from also-rans to title contenders

General Spurs stuff

Half-full, or half-empty? Nine games gone and Tottenham’s performance is however you want to see it

Is Mauricio Pochettino’s reputation for ‘giving the kids a chance’ deserved? A Q&A with @thfcacademy

The power of incentives and why Spurs are finally in a position to achieve success

Godspeed, Ryan Mason — One of our own

Curtain raiser: The case for Spurs in 2016/17

Media stuff

Big but not ‘big, big’: The football media struggles to come to terms with Tottenham’s narrative-busting success

What is behind the great Premier League switch-off?

How many people actually watch Spurs on TV? Audience analysis of the 2015/16 season
The Premier League Goes Global — And Leaves UK Fans Behind (The Cauldron)

Stadium stuff

New stadium update: ‘More or less’ on time and budget, 500 White Hart Lane, the NFL gamble explained, and more

Naming rights and wrongs: Tottenham begin the search for stadium sponsorship deals
Spurs stadium update: New information on capacity, design and other details, plus analysis of timeline and finances

As Spurs stadium rises, NFL moves closer to announcing London team

Spurs stadium update: New information on capacity, design and other details, plus analysis of timeline and finances

Money Stuff

Tottenham’s most expensive signing, relative to revenue

Fun with numbers: How the new stadium will enable Spurs to join the Premier League’s £1 billion club

Waiting for the revolution to happen: Analysis of THFC’s financial results for the 2014/15 season

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

Half-full, or half-empty? Nine games gone and Tottenham’s performance is however you want to see it

There’s a glass half-full, glass half-empty feel to the start of the season for Spurs.

It’s been good, but it could have been better. It’s not been brilliant, but it could have been worse.

We’re fifth, but we’re only a point off the top; we’re unbeaten, but we’ve drawn four out of nine. The four teams above us have all conceded at least five more goals, but they’ve also scored at least six more.

After the Bournemouth draw there were some rumblings of dissatisfaction among the fanbase for the first time this season, and then, as surely as night follows day, came the “backlash-against-the-backlash”.

It gets pretty tedious, in particular given how open to interpretation the quality of the current performance is.

I think it’s fair to have some concerns about the way Spurs have started, but also to be pleased with certain aspects.

I’ve had a few conflicting thoughts bubbling away since Saturday, but can’t quite decide where I fall on the glass half-empty, glass half-full side of the debate, particularly now the initial frustration of Saturday has faded.

So what are you — half-empty, or half-full? Or just kinda half, like me?

Half-full: We’re a point off the top with nearly a quarter of the season gone. We have the best defence, again, and we gave Pep’s City an absolute kicking in our biggest game of the season so far.

Half-empty: We should be top, but have drawn two winnable games and haven’t capitalised on City’s poor run. We should have beaten both Boro and Sunderland by more than a solitary goal.

Half-full: We’ve coped without Mousa Dembele for large stretches, far better than we did last season. In two games without another linchpin, Toby Alderweireld, we’ve not conceded a goal.

Half-empty: We’re missing Harry Kane badly, despite the best efforts by Son Heung-min. Vincent Janssen looks like he has the potential to grow into a solid Premier League striker, but he’s not there yet, in particular in terms of poise in front of goal.

Half-full: It’s going to be so hard to beat Spurs. The defensive shape and intensity of the press is outstanding, and is a testament to Mauricio Pochettino’s coaching and motivational skills. With a bit of luck of the draw in third and fourth rounds, the FA Cup could be on in a big way for Spurs.

Half-empty: While Pochettino’s side are hard to beat, I’m not sure it’s particularly hard to avoid defeat against Spurs. Both West Brom and Bournemouth put in a huge physical effort, but mentally or tactically it hardly looked exhausting. This is worrying as, for most teams, a point against Spurs is OK.

Half-full: Victor Wanyama looks like one of signings of the season at £12.5 million. What an outrageous bargain in the summer’s inflationary market. Georges-Kevin N’Koudou has shown flashes in very limited minutes in a way Clinton never really did.

Half-empty: Moussa Sissoko has started poorly, and he doesn’t have the luxury of time like a young signing. He looks awfully expensive at £30m, and a poor fit tactically. Surely better players were available for the price?

Half-full: A deeper and more balanced squad has enabled Pochettino to show more tactical flexibility, such as the 4-3-3 formation and playing Christian Eriksen in a deeper role that has me thinking “Modric” and being very happy indeed.

Half-empty: City was the only really good 90-minute performance. Too many “bad halves” have undermined the season, and shown Poch struggling to adapt to opposition switches. He still seems too slow to react at times.

Half-full: Son has added the goal threat from the inside-left that Poch has craved, like Rodriguez at Southampton. This is a whole new dynamic, and will be even more valuable when Kane returns.

Half-empty: We’re still struggling to create good chances, and lack a secondary creative passer after Eriksen. Erik Lamela hasn’t started the season in great form, although his appetite for work is outstanding. There’s a fine line between purposeful asymmetry & unbalanced predictability. The right-flank is an issue.

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

 

Is Mauricio Pochettino’s reputation for ‘giving the kids a chance’ deserved? A Q&A with @thfcacademy

josh-onomah

I was watching The Premier League Show on the BBC the other week and tweeting my praises about Mauricio Pochettino’s work at Spurs, when something unusual happened: dissent.

Understandably, this intervention caused a bit of a stir, but @thfcacademy stuck to his guns in the lively debate that followed on my timeline.

Sensing he may have one or two things to get off his chest, I got in touch with Ben, the man behind the @thfcacademy account, to ask if he wished to expand on his point in more detail. In 140 characters it is hard to make a counter-intuitive argument, but the more I thought about what Ben had said, the more I started to see his point of view.

So, I sent Ben a bunch of questions on the youth situation at Spurs, and he sent me back a bunch of answers. The full Q&A is below — dig in. It’s fascinating and covers a whole bunch of issues including playing time, loans, coaching and more. And yes, there’s a Marcus Edwards question in there too.

(For those who don’t know @thfcacademy, it’s a great account and consistently provides interesting news and perspective on youth issues. Give it a follow. And if you’re new to this blog, give me a follow too.)

A lot has been made of Tottenham’s reputation as a club that promotes talent. But this season and last, Harry Kane has been the only “homegrown” regular starter (and perhaps Danny Rose, depending on where you draw the line). Is Tottenham’s reputation justified?

I don’t think so. The fact that our talisman and two or three fringe squad members are academy products has created a distorted perception that our squad is full of them.

You created a bit of a stir on Twitter recently by suggesting that Mauricio Pochettino’s track record of bringing academy kids through at Southampton and Spurs may not be nearly as strong as many believe. What exactly did you mean by that?

He is a fantastic coach, there’s no doubt about that. His record at improving players, particularly British ones, is unrivalled. He gets a lot of praise for developing homegrown talent, and rightly so. But I think people struggle to differentiate/articulate between improving a first-team player and bringing through academy players. His record at the latter is underwhelming.

At Southampton, Shaw, Lallana & Ward-Prowse were already members of the first-team squad (by that I mean training with the seniors full-time *and* making semi-regular Premier League starts), they were considered genuine options, not time-wasting substitutes.

Kane, Bentaleb and Rose made their Premier League breakthroughs prior to Pochettino’s arrival. Did he improve them? Yes. Did they ‘break through’ under him? No.

Ryan Mason and Calum Chambers (both now at lesser clubs) are the two who have made the jump from their respective development squads to the first team under him. Two players in four years isn’t something to shout about.

Are there any specific players at Spurs, or Southampton, that you feel could have made the jump under Poch? Or is the broader issue that ultimately even these two clubs aren’t producing enough quality players?

Onomah and Winks would’ve been useful last season. Winks is a better player than Mason, as was evident in pre-season. I think there were moments throughout last season where Onomah’s crisp passing and dribbling would’ve helped the team too.

Whether accurate or not, is there a benefit in Pochettino’s reputation as a guy who “gives the kids a chance”, for example in attracting young talent to the club and incentivising those academy kids already on the books?

There is a definite belief throughout the academy that if you work hard and meet targets you will eventually be given a chance in the first-team, so yeah, that perception adds an extra bit of drive for academy boys.

It’s still quite early in the season, but are Harry Winks, Josh Onomah and Cameron Carter-Vickers playing enough football?

To put it simply, no. It’s great that they have the opportunity to learn from all the experience and knowledge at Spurs but there comes a point when they need to put it into practice or risk stalling as players.

Of all the signings this summer, the one that surprised me the most was Moussa Sissoko. The minutes he finds may well be at the expense of Onomah and Winks, which doesn’t sound ideal. Is there a risk that these two in particular get stuck, as so many kids at other clubs seem to be, in the vicious cycle of being too inexperienced to start, but not being able to gain that experience?

I think Sissoko gives the team a different option so I can understand the signing. But yeah, if you look at who is currently ahead of Onomah in the pecking order: Dele, Eriksen, Lamela, Sissoko, N’Koudou & Son, they’re all relatively young so it’s difficult to see when Onomah will get an opportunity.

It looks like the club have cleared the pathway for Winks, with only Dembele, Dier & Wanyama (possibly Dele & Eriksen too?) ahead of him in central midfield.

With Spurs challenging for the title and playing in the Champions League, every game seems huge at the moment. Is it just inevitable that the price of success is less youth development, or should Spurs be thinking long-term and continuing to prioritize it?

The academy players at Spurs are held in such high-regard I think it would be foolish not to prioritise bringing them through. I doubt Spurs will consistently be able to attract players who match the potential of the likes of Tashan Oakley-Boothe, Marcus Edwards and Oliver Skipp.

There appears to have been a change in policy on youth loans, with well-regarded youngsters being kept at Spurs rather than developing elsewhere. Listen to the likes of Kane and Mason, and they talk so positively about the loan experience in terms of their personal development. Are the current youngsters missing out?

I think every player should be treated differently. I don’t agree with the current philosophy of keeping all the A class talents in-house or Harry Redknapp’s philosophy of sending every single one of them anywhere and everywhere.

Every player is different. For example, there would be no point in sending Edwards to Wimbledon, but Kyle Walker-Peters would benefit hugely from a loan to MK Dons.

Karl Robinson at MK Dons sets his teams up in a similar style to Pochettino, I think it would be well worth the risk for KWP, or anyone else, possibly picking up some “bad habits” (Poch’s words not mine) under him with the learning experience of six months or a season in men’s football. He is too comfortable at U23 level, the remaining step in his development is to learn when it’s okay to dribble out of defence and when to play safe.

On the subject of Walker-Peters, while Carter-Vickers is now very much part of the first-team CB group and may now be ahead of Kevin Wimmer, KWP doesn’t seem to have made that step up yet to challenge Kieran Trippier. What’s your view on KWP?

He’s a fantastic prospect. He improved so much over the course of last season, developing into a more conventional full-back. Around January/February it was clear the U21 league was too easy for him, loans to Roda and Chesterfield were close but never finalised.

Since then it appears the lack of challenging football for him has hurt his game; he’s started this campaign in poor form and as a result has stopped training with the first-team on a regular basis.

I find, whenever Spurs U23s are playing, there are a lot of negative comments on Twitter about the job being done by Ugo Ehiogu. How fair is the criticism, or are fans guilty of applying first-team standards of scrutiny to a reserve-team coach?

The main objective of any youth coach is to improve and push the most talented players in the group, results aren’t important. But when you get to U23 level (in theory the penultimate step before senior football) part of that learning process has to be about winning and playing your part in a functional, organised team.

Last season his team was unbalanced and directionless. He played a number of players out of position, which can be valuable to individual development but should be done in the earlier stages of their careers.

This season the squad is so poor it would be unfair to blame him for results and performances. If you look at the teams he’s put out, I struggle to think of anything I would do differently. There are several players in that group who barely coped with U18 football.

Spurs lost U18 coach Kieran McKenna to Manchester United this summer. Is it hard to replace a guy like that, or do Spurs have a depth of youth coaching talent?

It’s not a big loss. McKenna was liked and respected by players and parents but there are plenty of coaches (internally and externally) who are capable of replacing him.

As fans, we desperately want to believe that all young talents will become regular starters and stars, but actually it is very rare. If you were a betting man, which of Winks, Onomah and CCV do you think is mostly likely to still be at Spurs and a regular starter age 25?

I’d guess Onomah and Winks will be regulars, Carter-Vickers will fall just short of that level.

And finally, the inevitable Marcus Edwards question. He’s clearly on the fast-track — is it realistic to expect that we may see him in the Premier League this season? And, jokes about Messi aside, how good can he be if he keeps his head screwed on?

I don’t think he has the stamina required to play for a Pochettino team yet, it’d be unrealistic to expect much from him over the next 12 months. He’s so talented, only his mentality or injuries will prevent him from becoming a star.

Thanks to Ben for answering my questions. You can follow him on Twitter here. For more Spurs chat, please give me a follow too.

What is behind the great Premier League switch-off?

4861296

Last Sunday, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I didn’t watch any football.

I wasn’t busy, it wasn’t an international break, and there wasn’t another major sporting event that I wanted to watch between 2pm and 6pm. Instead, I looked at the two Premier League games that were being shown by Sky Sports — Middlesbrough vs Watford, followed by Southampton vs Burnley — and thought: “Nah, I’ll pass.”

The uninspiring choice of Sunday games came at an awkward moment for Sky, following a report by the Daily Mail’s Charlie Sale that viewing figures were down 19 percent year-on-year. The broadcaster will have pinned hopes on Monday’s game between Liverpool and Manchester United, the clubs with the two biggest fanbases, to quell talk that the Premier League bubble is starting to burst.

So, how real is the dip in Premier League audiences? And what are the factors that could be behind Sky’s audience dropping so dramatically?

First, it should be noted that the season is still young, and normally viewing figures increase as the evenings draw in, particularly in the Sunday 4pm and Saturday 5.30pm slots. But, as someone who tracks audience figures for Spurs matches out of personal interest, there are signs that the numbers tuning in are indeed low.

The most-watched Premier League game so far this season (excluding Liverpool v Man Utd, which isn’t publicly available yet), by BARB’s “average audience” measurement, was the Manchester derby on September 10. This drew 1.18 million in the lunchtime Saturday kick off. The equivalent game last season, a Sunday 2pm kick-off, drew 1.98 million. The reverse fixture in March, in the Sunday 4pm slot, drew 1.82 million.

After the Manchester derby, by my count, the second most-watched match was Spurs vs Manchester City on October 2, which averaged 1.06 million viewers in the Sunday 2pm slot. This just pipped Chelsea vs Liverpool, a Friday night offering that averaged 1.04m.

While 1.06m is more than respectable for Spurs v Man City, it is below the average for televised Spurs matches last season, which was 1.13 million. When Spurs travelled to Manchester City in February last season, that drew 1.78m in the prime Sunday 4pm slot.

One area in particular where Sky is apparently hurting is the Sunday 4pm slot, normally the prime selection of the week. The last four matches — Swansea v Chelsea, Spurs v Sunderland, West Ham v Bournemouth and Burnley v Arsenal — all failed to crack the 1 million mark. In the equivalent fixture block last season, these matches averaged over 1 million.

(BARB’s average audience measure isn’t perfect, and the broadcasters prefer to refer to the “peak” audience figure. However, the average audience is the only one that is made public, and it serves a purpose of enabling comparisons. More explanation in my previous piece on the subject.)

So, what could be behind it?

There have been some interesting explanations raised, from the tedious football being played by some of the Premier League’s lesser lights, to piracy, cost of subscriptions and crap coverage.

These explanations are all, no doubt, true to an extent.

I watched Burnley v Watford a few weeks ago, or rather started watching it and switched off and watched a couple of old episodes of Elementary for the third time instead. The standard was abysmal, but not entertainingly so, and anything was better than watching that.

Piracy continues to advance in terms of quality and accessibility, through streaming services like Kodi and other new technology. I subscribe to both Sky Sports and BT Sport, but last Saturday at 3pm I was forced to find a stream to watch Spurs. I have zero sympathy with the Premier League (and yes, there are a number of parties that would need to agree to a change) on this score. In 2016, there is simply no justification for viewers in the UK not getting the same choice as fans everywhere else in the world. It borders on cruelty and has created a market for piracy.

When the pirated offering is better — or at least, more comprehensive — than the paid offering, it’s going to mean less people pay. How you measure this, however, I don’t know — Sky’s revenues continue to climb, but subscriber growth is growing, per the last quarterly report.

Cost is undoubtedly a factor too, especially given broader economic trends that have seen a divergence in incomes both geographically and generationally. Football on TV is incredibly expensive now. A full subscription to BT and Sky will cost over £1,000 for a household, and this doesn’t even get you 2/3 of the matches. It doesn’t feel like great value now.

I’d add here, an argument gets made that we are experiencing “overkill” due to too much football on UK TV — personally I think it is the opposite, with too many fan bases getting too small a selection of games, meaning limited incentive to subscribe. Leicester, for example, were only shown eight times in total in the season before their miraculous title-winning campaign — hardly a huge incentive to subscribe to both Sky and BT. This season, with many more Premier League games and Champions League football, it is much better value for a Leicester City fan, and you can be sure that Leicester’s audiences have crept up somewhat as a result.

Rising prices, and advances in illegal streaming, may have led to a reduction among rated audiences. But it’s impossible to know how many, and it’s not like streaming sites have only sprung up this season. Also, while it seems like many, many people must be doing this if you judge by Twitter, it’s useful to remember that Twitter is a small sample and generally a terrible reflection of reality.

As for punditry, I’m not sure how much of a difference that makes. While Jamie Redknapp and Thierry Henry are dreadful, Sky still boast three of the best of the business in Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Graeme Souness. Sky’s coverage certainly hasn’t gotten worse compared to last year. But either way, it is fairly inconsequential — most fans tune in for the game, not the talking.

However, there are also some other explanations for Sky’s poor ratings that are worth a mention.

First, swapping their Saturday slot with BT was always going to be bad for Sky’s audience figures.

The Saturday 12.30pm kick-off routinely draws a low audience, as people have, well, life to be getting on with at that time of a weekend, whereas by 5.30pm you are far more likely to be ready to put your feet up and watch a game. The Saturday 12.30pm kick-off, however, is excellent for fans in Asia, so the Premier League will still want its big guns in that slot even if it doesn’t suit Sky.

Second, the Premier League is missing some “big” clubs this season, and this is harming ratings.

When Aston Villa played Newcastle last month, an average of more than 500,000 tuned in — that is the first time that I’ve seen a Championship match on BARB’s Top 30 weekly ranking.

The 2016/17 Premier League must feature the smallest number of “big” clubs of any edition to date.

That’s not to say the likes of Bournemouth, Swansea and Watford don’t deserve to be there, while Leeds, Villa and Newcastle should automatically be in the top flight in some Charlie Stillitano-inspired ratings stitch-up. But when you have big fanbases out of the top flight and not engaged with the Premier League, this may have an impact on TV ratings.

There are a couple of ways to quantify this idea.

Of the Top 30 club stadiums in England, just 13 are hosting Premier League football this season. Huge stadiums like Villa Park, St James’ Park, Elland Road and Hillsborough host Championship football. Stadium size is a historic measure of how big clubs once were, rather than still are, but it’s still a decent gauge. I watched Sheffield Wednesday’s Championship playoff semi-final last May at sold-out, 39,000-capacity Hillsborough. The atmosphere was extraordinary, and it sure as hell felt “big” as a TV viewer.

Further to this, there are demographic factors that may be having an impact on Sky’s ratings. While Greater London (9.8m) and Manchester (2.5m) are well represented, the West Midlands (2.4m) has only one club — and arguably its smallest in West Brom — in the top flight, while West Yorkshire (1.8 million) has none. Tyneside (774,000/7th largest in England, and that it excludes Sunderland), Nottingham (730,000/8th), Sheffield (685,000/9th) and Bristol (617,000/10th) are all major urban areas without a Premier League club.

To make a comparison, this would be like a US major league such as the NFL not having teams in Miami, Houston, Washington, Atlanta and Boston. Ratings would surely suffer.

It doesn’t mean no-one is watching Premier League football in these urban areas, but given the local nature of the majority of football support in England, this may have an impact on how many are tuning in. With all due respect to Burnley (149,000/54th) and Swansea (300,000/27th), they can’t drive the audience numbers in the same way.

(Obviously, football in Yorkshire has been struggling for a long while with Leeds and the Sheffield clubs a long way from the Premier League, but the loss of Newcastle and Aston Villa is sure to have an impact this season.)

More subjectively, how we view teams changes very slowly. I still see Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday as “big” clubs in a way that Swansea or Watford will never be, or at least not be for a long time.

To me, Newcastle, Villa, Leeds, Wednesday, Forest and Wolves still rank ahead of Watford, Burnley, Stoke, Swansea, Hull, West Brom, Middlesbrough and Bournemouth, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. There are too many games that just lack that “big match” aura — and when an early-season encounter between lower-ranked teams like Burnley vs Watford is so abysmal, it hardly encourages you to watch them again.

The final theory, that I’m still collating data for but want to throw out there, is that Manchester United’s audiences aren’t quite what they have been in previous years. Doing my weekly checks last season, the United average audience outside the derbies against City and Liverpool was often somewhat on the low side. Understandable, really, given the dross that was played by Louis van Gaal’s team.

Liverpool still carry massive audiences as a legacy of their two decades of success, and United will continue to be a draw even as a similar dynastic decline sets in. I’m sure, in 20 years, articles will be written about whether Tottenham’s dominance is starting to wain and if broadcasters should start diversifying away to other rising teams.

But seriously, with all six of United’s opening slate of games selected for coverage (by Sky and BT), there is an argument to be made that broadcasters need to be a little more imaginative. Quite how Spurs v Leicester, the two title challengers last season, has escaped live broadcast on October 29 is truly baffling.

The Premier League’s decline comes at the same time as a sharp drop in NFL viewership, bringing the issue to greater relevance. However, trying to connect the two would be yet more conjecture, although US audiences for the Premier League are also down. Here’s a good read on the NFL issue. It should also be noted that this is only Sky’s ratings, we don’t know what is going on at BT Sport. BT Sport’s ratings for live football are routinely so low they fail to crack BARB’s weekly top 30 of non-terrestrial channels, so even though Sky’s ratings are down, at least they aren’t so low they can’t be tracked in this way.

In conclusion, in all likelihood a combination of factors are in play here. More commonly discussed factors such as cost and piracy, combined with poorly chosen matches, the absence of a number of big teams and the loss of the Saturday evening timeslot have combined to harm Sky’s ratings.

Has the bubble burst? It’s way too early to say, but I’ll be keeping an eye out, for sure.

It’s also been a very dry, warm September and October, so you never know, it may just be down to that, no matter how silly it sounds.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more chat about Spurs and other things.