Tag Archives: 2015/2016 season

Building a brighter future, on and off the pitch: Analysis of THFC’s accounts for the 2016 financial year

By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

(Update 21/04: Per ESPNFC, the £10m figure identified in this piece as a potential upfront NFL contribution to the stadium project has been confirmed. The mysterious £45m in accruals and deferred income remains in question. Answers on a postcard!)

Tottenham Hotspur’s newly published accounts for the 2016 financial year show a club in transition, still hamstrung by the constraints of White Hart Lane but moving clearly towards the altogether grander future that beckons.

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has described the club, in its current state, as essentially two businesses — a football club, and a stadium development. This appears to be a useful mechanism for digesting the swathes of information contained in this annual insight into Tottenham’s finances.

In this analysis, I’ll focus on the football first, and then talk about the stadium. I’ll also talk about the NFL partnership — and ask whether the financial terms have finally been revealed.

For those new to this blog, I wrote a similar analysis last year. You can read my recent piece on stadium costs here, and my analysis of club spending through the construction phase here.

The club’s statement with the key figures is here, and you can find the full accounts in the Investor Relations section of the club website. Bear in mind, the accounts cover the 2015/16 season only — they end on June 30, 2016 and anything that has happened since then will be included in next year’s edition.

ON THE PITCH

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Cost controls

Spurs achieved something rare in 2015/16, particularly in the inflationary environment of the Premier League: the club lowered football costs and improved on-field performance.

However, if Spurs were hoping for any credit for finishing third in the Premier League on a budget dwarfed by the five wealthier clubs, this was dashed by Leicester’s remarkable title win and the limp finish.

What Spurs achieved in 2015/16 was highly impressive. While Leicester have fallen back to earth and mounted a title defence even limper than Chelsea’s in the previous season, Spurs have kicked on another gear since. There is a sustainability to what Mauricio Pochettino, Daniel Levy and others in the Spurs brainstrust have built, and that’s why the mood among Spurs fans is so positive. We see it, even if others don’t.

Once again, these accounts show Daniel Levy’s tight grip on the club’s finances. Net profit increased from £9.4m to £33.0m.

Spurs managed to reduce wages slightly, from £100.8m to £100.04m. Revenue, meanwhile, increased from £196.4m to £209.8m, an increase of 6.8%. As a result, wage to turnover ratio dropped from 51.4% to 47.4%. This continues the sharp downward trend — in FY 2014 it stood at 55.6%.

How did Spurs achieve this? A look at transfer activity and new contracts in the period shows how:

PLAYERS OUT: Paulinho, Holtby, Capoue, Kaboul, Stambouli, Chirches, Soldado, Lennon, Adebayor

PLAYERS IN: Wimmer, Trippier, N’Jie, Alderweireld, Son

NEW CONTRACTS: Dembele, Onomah (x2), Winks (x2), Alli, Dier, CCV, McGee, Pritchard, Bentaleb

Spurs managed to get rid of a lot of high earners — including a lot of flotsam from the failed Bale money splurge — while of the new signings, only Alderweireld and Son commanded “big” wages.

Meanwhile, Dembele was the only senior player to sign a new deal in the period — the rest were part of the “contract escalator” Spurs have in place for young players to increase their earnings as their role grows. Both Alli and Dier, for example, have signed new contracts in the current financial year, and will soon join the very top earners.

Crucially, with the old Premier League deal in its final season, Spurs were able to hold off on pay rises for all other senior players. This prevented “double dipping” — players seeking new contracts, then demanding another new one the next year citing soaring revenues.

Here are the players who have signed new contracts in FY 2017 so far: Lloris, Kane, Dier, Eriksen, Rose, Walker, Alli, Vertonghen, Winks, CCV, Wimmer, Carroll and Vorm.

That’s a lot of new deals — probably in the region of £15-20m of additional salary, by my estimates. But with Premier League TV income jumping by around £40m next season, it’s the perfect time to do it.

Looking at the ins and outs, you may be wondering why wages didn’t decrease further. Without transparency on player contracts, it’s hard to know — there may well have been some Champions League-related bonuses that kicked in.

Meanwhile, transfer spending ticked down. The “net spend” picture is confusing from accounts: the accounts reported a £27.1m profit from the “disposal of intangible assets”, but this isn’t a true picture of player trading.

I prefer to look at amortisation, the measure of the cost of new signings spread over the length of their contracts and reported on annual basis. A full explanation is in the notes of this story, but in the simplest way: If Spurs sign a player for £10m on a five-year contract, that equals £2m in annual amortisation cost.

For Spurs, amortisation dropped from from £38.6m to £31.8m, thanks to a large number of expensive failures leaving the club and mostly cheap replacements coming in.

If you combine wages and amortisation, you get a good measure of “real football spend” — how much clubs are actually investing in their playing squads. For Spurs, this decreased from £139.4m to £131.8m.

Here’s how Spurs compare with selected other clubs:

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As you can see, not only is the gap between Spurs and the wealthier five clubs growing, the gap between Spurs and the clubs below is narrowing. Spurs, simply put, are defying gravity — and no club better demonstrates the value of homegrown talent.

Revenue roadblocks

Revenue was a mixed picture, and further underscored what by now barely needs stating — Spurs need a bigger stadium and new sponsorship deals.

Matchday revenue was essentially flat, down from £41.2m to £40.8m, while commercial revenue dipped from £59.9m to £58.6m. If there is one area that will disappoint, it is the latter.

Spurs are stuck in the tail-end of the Under Armour kit deal (expiring at the end of the 2016/17 season) and are midway through the AIA deal, which ends in 2018/19. With each year, these deals grow less competitive. But success on the pitch failed to boost merchandise sales (which declined slightly from £12.3m to £12.0m). Lack of Cup success also hit commercial and matchday income.

As far as I can tell, Spurs did not sign any major new sponsorship deals in FY 2016. The partnership with Kumho Tyres started in FY 2017, and certainly, just comparing the “Partners” section of the club website compared with similar sections for other clubs, and you can see that Spurs are far less active.

Does it matter, given how tacky this stuff gets? Ultimately, if Subway want to offer £2.5m a year to be official sandwich partner, that’s the easiest money a football club will ever make. There’s significant room for growth in this area.

The bulk of the revenue growth came thanks to the increase in Europa League prize money. Previously an irritation, the Europa League is far more valuable now. Prize money increased from £4.7m to £15.5m due to the largesse of BT Sport. That’s a lot of money for not very many viewers, but Spurs aren’t complaining.

Premier League revenue also increased thanks to improved on-field performance. 21 games were selected for UK broadcast, compared with 18 in the previous season — under the old TV deal, each extra selection above the minimum 10 was worth around £750,000, while performance-based prize money jumped by around £2.5m for finishing 3rd compared with 5th.

In a previous piece, I noted a development whereby revenue and spending, previously moving in concert, were starting to diverge.

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As you can see, this divergence was amplified in FY 2016. I like this chart as I think it tells a story, of Spurs shifting from the “wheeler dealer” mentality to a more sustainable approach as the club enters the stadium build phase.

In the coming three years, this trend is only going to increase. Next year, Premier League revenue should increase to around £140m, while the brief Champions League campaign should bring in around £35m. In the following year, pending the official announcement, Spurs will have much higher gate receipts due to playing home games at Wembley. The financial year after that, we’ll be into the new stadium.

These are exciting times for Spurs: it feels like things are falling into place. We’ve got the right manager, the best core of players in years, and a boardroom focused — almost to the point of obsession — with delivering a world-class stadium. It’s going to be fascinating to see how we manage to screw this up.

OFF THE PITCH

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Stadium developments

Arguably the most important disclosure in the annual report concerned the stadium: the borrowing has officially started.

The first £200m portion of the bank finance Spurs have sought is in place, £100m of which was drawn as of June 2016. Interestingly, this facility was entered into on December 10 — six days before Spurs secured planning permission for the new stadium from Haringey council.

This is the “bridge” portion of the £350m loan Spurs will seek to cover a chunk of the construction costs. There has been public posturing over the finance of the project amid negotiations on public sector contributions and infrastructure delivery, but the annual report shows that financing is moving forward broadly as the club said it would in the planning process.

This £200m facility cost £855,000 in arrangement fees, but we don’t yet know the annual finance cost. The first £100m is repayable in December 2017 — or to put it another way, in December this year it will be refinanced into a bigger and longer-term facility. It may be that Spurs are able to borrow more than the planned £350m, given the increasing revenue and rising construction costs.

Overall, spending on the project has increased from £59m to £115.3m, per the club.

Meanwhile, two other unusual items, a long way down the accounts, caught my eye.

The first was a payment of exactly £10m, received from “a company, which is not a related party, as a contribution towards future construction expenses related to the Northumberland Development Project.”

Who is this money from? Public sector contributions have been a matter of contention, and do not extend to the stadium itself — certainly no agreement was reached before June 2016. If it were Tavistock Group — Uncle Joe — injecting money, it would be listed as a related party contribution.

The second, found in the non-current liabilities section, was a disclosure of £45m, again an exact amount, in “accruals and deferred income”. In 2015, the club recorded £0 in the same category, likewise in 2013 and 2014.

Screenshot 2017-04-02 at 8.22.51 AM

Deferred income is income received for services that will take place beyond the period covered in the balance sheet. Season ticket income and payments received for commercial deals that stretch beyond the reporting period are listed in the current liabilities section.

While it has been reported that Spurs have agreed a deal with Nike as the next kit supplier, this has yet to be officially announced, and certainly wasn’t announced during the previous accounting period.

So what is it?

While no major new sponsorship deals were announced during the period, there was one major new commercial partnership: the 10-year, 20-game NFL deal. If there was a payment, it would be reported in these accounts — with stadium completion date yet to be confirmed, it would be deferred income.

No financial terms were announced, but it seems likely that Spurs would seek money “up front” from the NFL to at the very least cover the additional costs of installing NFL facilities within the stadium. Likewise, expect Spurs to see at least a portion of naming rights income up front to help with cash flow when a deal is agreed, and advance ticket sales income.

A concern has grown among some Spurs fans that the NFL may be “using” Spurs, in the same way the organisation brazenly exploits local taxpayers in the USA. But, in reality, trying to gauge the additional costs incurred by the NFL elements is hard.

Once the project stalled amid the legal dispute with Archway, the stadium design was always going to be tweaked so that Spurs could get as much into the site as possible. To make it a true NFL stadium, additional work had to be carried out to basement areas, plus there was the need to reconfigure the interior to allow for enlarged locker rooms and media facilities. The sliding pitch sums up how tricky it is to put a value on the NFL additions: it is a new and expensive piece of technology that, while useful to Spurs when hosting concerts and other sporting events, feels like an extravagance too far if there were no NFL contribution.

So can we now put a price on this partnership? A one-off £10m payment, plus a 10-year, £45m hosting arrangement that has been paid up front. In total, a £55m ($69m) contribution to the £800m or so total cost.

It certainly sounds reasonable, and realistic. For the NFL, it gives them the stadium they desire in London for future growth plans. For Spurs it is money that can be used to turn the stadium into the world-class venue the club has always hankered to build.

I can’t confirm this — any journalists looking for a story could do worse than run this up the flagpole — but it certainly seems possible. Certainly, there have been suggestions that the NFL is putting money into the stadium — including recently by MMQB journalist Albert Breer.

I welcome any other suggestions on where this £10m construction cost and £45m in deferred income may have come from. But my hunch says NFL.

Other business

Away from the stadium, Spurs are continuing to invest in the training centre with construction of a new player accommodation facility. The £16m loan facility for the training centre was expanded to £25m, at a cost of £265,000.

Spurs being Spurs, there is a commercial element to this. In addition to providing accommodation for the first team and youth teams, and players visiting for medicals ahead of signing, the facility will also be used by other teams. An agreement is in place with England to use it before games at Wembley — all those times England train at Hotspur Way isn’t an ad hoc arrangement — while it is also available to European sides ahead of midweek matches against other London sides. Both Barcelona and AC Milan even provided letters of support in the planning process.

The planning agreement makes clear this isn’t a hotel, but no doubt visiting teams and England will pay handsomely for the privilege. Speculation that NFL teams may use the facility is wide of the mark — at 45-rooms, it is simply too small.

There are a couple of other lines of note.

The first is exceptional items of £9.6m in “commercial and employment contract costs”. In the previous year, £6.5m was reported in “redundancy costs and onerous employment contracts”.

My assumption was that at least a part of last year’s exceptional items referred to Emmanuel Adebayor, who at some stage stopped being a footballer. More likely any payoff was included in this set of accounts. But as for commercial costs, it is hard to understand what that may be. £9.6m out of £209.8m total revenue is not an inconsiderable sum, and I’d welcome any suggestions. If there is an inference from the new description, I’m missing it.

Second is £500,000 paid by Spurs to Melix Financial Services, another Tavistock Group company, for “commercial advice on global sponsorship opportunities”. Melix, like much of Tavistock (the investment umbrella for Joe Lewis of which Spurs is just one part), is Bahamas registered — but beyond that, there is no public profile. If you Google the name, you’ll get a few links to a late 2000s Romanian property scandal, and that’s about it.

There may be a perfectly reasonable explanation, but it beats me. Answers on a postcard – preferably with a nice picture of the Bahamas on it.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat. Comments welcome, either below or to spursreport at gmx.co.uk.

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

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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.

Curtain raiser: The case for Spurs in 2016/17

By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

Tottenham v Arsenal 2015

A new season means a blank slate, and a chance to forget about what happened last time around. For the five wealthiest clubs in the Premier League, there is plenty to forget.

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool experienced varying degrees of misery in 2015/16. Three of them missed out on Champions League football, and two on European football altogether. Four of the five clubs have changed managers in the past 12 months, while a large section of the fifth’s fan base wishes they had too.

Leicester’s title was so unexpected, and so out of keeping with the status quo in the Premier League since Manchester City struck oil, that it can be shrugged off. The big boys will return to their position at the top of the table, while Leicester will slip back down to their rightful place in the pyramid with a pat on the head. “Doing a Leicester” is something for lesser clubs to dream of, but now dominance will be reasserted.

If last season was “Jamie Vardy: The Movie”, the 2016/17 campaign is shaping up to be “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Inconveniently, however, it wasn’t just Leicester who gatecrashed the party.

Mauricio Pochettino’s vibrant Spurs side defied expectations to emerge as Leicester’s closest challengers, keeping up the pressure until the 36th game of the campaign, long after everyone else had given up and expected Spurs — of “Spursy”, “Lads It’s Tottenham” fame — to give up too.

Judging by the early raft of previews and general tone of the conversation, this awkward turn of events is just another thing to be forgotten. You won’t see Spurs in a “Who Will Qualify for the Champions League” prediction by any self-respecting journalist or pundit. The bookmakers and punters agree, listing Spurs as fifth or sixth favourites. The UK broadcasters have little belief that Spurs will be involved in any early top-of-the-table clashes, having selected just two of Tottenham’s opening six games for live coverage.

The narrative ahead of the 2016/17 Premier League season goes as follows:

  • New managers and blank cheques at Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea mean a return to the top.
  • Arsenal’s Champions League place is guaranteed as long as Arsene Wenger remains in charge.
  • Liverpool, reinvigorated under Jurgen Klopp and not afraid to spend, are the most likely challengers if anyone falters.

As for Spurs, the failure to win in the final four games of last season, plus unconvincing performances by Harry Kane and Dele Alli at the European Championships, are unarguable precursors to a year-long drop in form that will return Spurs to their signature, revenue-linked sixth position. Any success for Spurs in the previous season was in direct correlation to the lack of success by bigger clubs. Leicester winning the league was a fluke and will never happen again, ergo Spurs finishing third. Enjoy the Champions League nights at Wembley, Spurs fans, because it’s back to the Europa League in 2017/18 and beyond.

I mean, why do we even bother?

Here’s the thing though: rival teams never look stronger than they do before you’ve actually seen them play. Pep Guardiola’s tactical wizardry, Jose Mourinho’s psychological magic sponge and Antonio Conte’s manic energy are at their most impressive when they exist solely in your imagination. These dreams fuel football, and justify the billions ploughed into the game, not just by oligarchs but also fans.

The problem, once the season starts, is that reality intrudes on these dreams. Injuries, luck, form, inspired opponents, sulking strikers, fallings out, defensive errors and greedy agents can all conspire to make Pep’s tactics look naive, Conte’s energy wasted or Mourinho’s mind games misdirection rather than magic.

Don’t forget that Spurs are good

As James Yorke, a Spurs fan and therefore not one to succumb to a bout of the 2015/16 forgetsies, wrote in his excellent curtain raiser on Statsbomb, there is a six-into-four dynamic this season that means something has to give. But reading and watching the early previews, a curious logic appears to be emerging: the teams that most “need” to finish in the top four are identified as the teams that are most likely to do so. Klopp and Pochettino are less likely to lose their jobs if they fail to secure a top four finish, therefore Liverpool and Spurs are less likely to secure one.

I can understand how this conclusion is reached. But if we learned one lesson from last season, just one, it’s that you don’t get what you need, want or deserve in the Premier League. You just get what you get.

Watching the Manchester clubs spend hundreds of millions on flashy new players, and Roman Abramovich underwrite yet another mammoth Chelsea rebuilding, is intimidating to other teams and fans. And it is supposed to be that way. We’re still David standing there with our slingshot, but Goliath is back on his feet and he’s even bigger.

However Spurs fans (and Liverpool fans after watching their club repeatedly “do a Spurs”) know better than anyone that spending isn’t anything. While it makes you look strong, normally the need to spend is born out of a weakness. You can look at the history of transfers and see that 50 percent work out, 50 percent don’t. Smarter clubs do slightly better, stupid clubs do slightly worse. Not every weakness that dragged the Premier League elite below expectations last season is going to be fixed, and even fewer are going to be fixed immediately.

No club has needed to spend less than Spurs this summer. Sure, we had to buy a second striker and increase the midfield options, but the same starting XI that finished third last season is in place and ready to go. There is no need to adapt to new tactics, understand a new philosophy, or learn how to play together. Spurs walk out at Goodison Park on August 13th knowing exactly what they are meant to be doing.

Last season, Spurs conceded the joint fewest goals along with Manchester United, and five of those 35 goals came in the shitshow at Newcastle. We had the best goal difference (+34) and second best expected goals difference (+29.3, behind Arsenal’s +34.4, per Michael Caley). A bunch of other metrics looked good, if that is your thing. Mauricio Pochettino’s side equalled the club’s highest Premier League points haul, and in six of the ten prior seasons, 70 points would have secured a top four place. Spurs didn’t ride a hot streak, a single superstar or a freak set of results. Spurs were just plain, old-fashioned good, and had the youngest starting XI in the league to boot.

The “Spurs are good” genie is out of the bottle, and it would take an extreme set of circumstances to blow Spurs off course. Do you think Spurs are going to forget how to press? Are Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen going to forget how to play together? Are Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele going to wake up one morning as the ineffective players they were two years ago? Is Christian Eriksen going to stop making smart passes, and Harry Kane stop finishing them off? As I have stated repeatedly in the past six months, the success Pochettino has created at Spurs has been built on extremely solid foundations. There is a plan, and it is working.

Instead of taking the dismissal of Spurs’ chances as a slight, or as a precursor to a return to the Europa League, we should embrace it.

Spurs are dipping back below the radar, ready to surprise the league by once again not being the Spurs everyone expects us to be. There is a chance to quietly build momentum while the talking heads fawn over Pep and Conte, and the press covers every waking move by Zlatan and Mourinho, the Premier League’s Kanye and Kim. Less pressure means more space for young players like Dele Alli and Eric Dier to grow, for emerging talents like Josh Onomah to find their feet, for new signings like Victor Wanyama and Vincent Janssen to bed in.

Fueling the fire

What seemed so egregious last season was the relish that greeted every Spurs mistake in the run-in from fanbases who’ve forgotten what it is like to see local boys wearing the shirt, or whose teams had never seriously challenged Leicester for the title. This was only compounded when the same Spurs players formed the core of the England team that flopped at the Euros.

Because we have to explain everything, and connect everything, these two storylines merged into one. Spurs were mentally and physically exhausted, the subtext of which was weakness.

But Spurs didn’t “lose” the title to Leicester; we were only ahead of Leicester for 13 minutes last season and couldn’t chase them down. England didn’t flop because the Spurs players were shattered; England flopped because Roy Hodgson and Gary Neville, in a gross act of footballing negligence, sent the players into battle devoid of tactics and a game plan.

If others want to interpret this confluence of negativity as a precursor to doom, so be it. But do you think, for one second, that Pochettino will let the players dwell on what happened at the end of last season and over the summer, and indulge a hangover? Do you think, for one second, that the anger at falling short last season and the outbreak of schadenfreude will do anything other than drive this team on?

Make no mistake, Spurs are aiming for the title this season.

“We want to win it, and we will go for it,” Alderweireld said towards the end of last season. “I think we now have a different mindset from the one we had at the beginning of this season. Then we were thinking the top four would be brilliant, now we are thinking more than that, we want to go one better.”

Over the past 12 months, Spurs fans have been slower than the players in believing what can be achieved, a caution born out of bitter experience. We are still looking at possible scenarios and bargaining with ourselves as to what is possible, trying to find the balance between hope and realism, mentally hedging against disappointment by lowering expectations.

A sliding scale of acceptability emerges: If not second, then third; if not third, then fourth; if not fourth, then at least win a cup; if no cup win, at least reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League; if we don’t finish above Arsenal, let’s at least finish above Liverpool or Chelsea or West Ham or someone.

But for Spurs, it is no longer about trying to define success in this way: this is the old way of thinking. For Pochettino, the only target is to win the title, and his whole ethos is about continually improving his team until that happens. Finishing in the top four accelerates the building process because Champions League football helps recruitment, increases the budget, and aids player retention. But it isn’t the goal in itself for Pochettino, no matter what the bean counters say. There’s a world of difference between something that is good enough, and something that you really want.

What does progress look like?

Measuring progress is difficult, because it can be counterintuitive. It is possible to improve as a team but still finish lower down the league. We only have control over our opponents’ results twice a season.

So how will Pochettino measure progress, and how should we?

There will be statistical measures that we may or may not see, assessing the quality of things like the press, attacking build-up, set-pieces and fitness, as well as the increase in mental strength that Pochettino considers so crucial yet is so hard to define.

But more visibly, Pochettino will be looking to fix the areas where Spurs fell short.

That means more single-goal wins, whether they be late winners, rearguard actions to protect an early lead, or simply greater control when we’re not playing well. That means fewer dropped points at White Hart Lane, particular against teams such as West Brom who come and sit deep. That means better performances in Europe, because our Europa League displays have been consistently mediocre and we need to raise our game in the Champions League.

Crucially, that also means better results against the other “big” clubs. Spurs improved results in these matches last season, taking 15 points from 30 compared with just seven from 30 in 2014/15, but there is still room for improvement. We’ve not beaten Liverpool yet under Pochettino, and we still need to overcome our Stamford Bridge hoodoo.

These are all yardsticks to measure Tottenham’s progress against. We may solve all the problems, or we may not. The extent to which Spurs manage to do this will determine the strength of the title challenge. But the problems are clear, and they are fixable, and Pochettino has consistently shown the intelligence and ambition required for the task at hand.

If I have one concern, it is a lack of an alternative or supplementary midfield creator to Christian Eriksen. But there is nearly a month left in the transfer window, and plenty of money in the kitty after the relatively light investment since Pochettino took charge. Every other club has a weakness that is just as glaring — in central defensive for Manchester City and Chelsea, the right flank for Manchester United, in most defensive positions for Liverpool and up front for Arsenal. We’re just as likely to find our missing link, if not more.

We’ll know if Spurs are making progress because suddenly our games will be on TV, the players will be in the papers, Mourinho will start his mind games and Chelsea will begin baiting us. Articles describing Spurs as the “surprise package” will be written, glossing over the fact that Spurs being good again really shouldn’t have been that much of a shock if you’d only paid attention.

I’m not going to predict that Spurs are going to win the league — as anyone who follows me on Twitter or has read this blog for a while will attest, my predictions are beyond hopeless.

But make no mistake, Spurs are aiming for the title. Just a shame you had to read it here first.

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

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

By Charles Richards/@spurs_report

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Sky Sports, via Google Images

As a Spurs fan, you can pick your nadir.

Maybe it was Lasagne-gate, or the night when Chelsea snatched our hard-earned Champions League spot in 2012. Perhaps it was the sight of Arsenal celebrating the league title on the pitch at White Hart Lane, Sol Campbell among them. For some the pain predates the Premier League era, while for others each new misstep supersedes the last and it is the final-day faceplant against Newcastle in May that stings more than anything.

For me, rock bottom came on March 8, 2014:

Chelsea 4 Tottenham 0.

I had some things going on in my life at that time, and more than ever before or since, I needed my team. I needed that temporary uplift, that two hours of escape, that feeling of togetherness that a good Spurs performance brings. Instead, I witnessed one of the most abysmal displays in recent memory.

The BBC summed up the shambles in its match report:

“Spurs fell behind to Eto’o’s 56th-minute strike, which came after Jan Vertonghen’s slip and aimless pass, before more mistakes – from Sandro and Kyle Walker – led to Chelsea’s third and fourth goals at the death. Chelsea’s second came from Hazard’s penalty after Younes Kaboul fouled Eto’o, a challenge that also saw the French defender sent off.”

That Tim Sherwood, parachuted into his first managerial role mid-campaign, was out of his depth tactically was already clear. But as he appeared before the TV cameras and lambasted the players, it was becoming evident that he wasn’t psychologically suited to the task either. It wasn’t what he said — the performance was gutless, the squad did have players who didn’t care — but rather the way that he said it. As he lost control, he lashed out; his attitude appeared to be, “If I’m going down, I’m taking you down with me.” There was a real risk that his interim appointment could cause lasting damage, and the few positive legacies from the lean preceding years, such as Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen, would seek a departure as the club stumbled blindly into the next false dawn.

Spurs as a club wasn’t just fractured, it was broken. Daniel Levy’s schizophrenic switching between “continental” and “English” strategies had gone into overdrive, bordering on parody, with the transition from the “Emperor’s New Clothes” vacuity of Andre Villas-Boas and Franco Baldini to the cartoonish footballing provincialism of Sherwood.

When Levy, rebuffed by Louis van Gaal, turned to Mauricio Pochettino in May of 2014, this was an appointment that simply had to work. The club’s “best of the rest” status, that ambition of Champions League football that could be sold to potential recruits even if it wasn’t quite achieved, was threatened as Spurs drifted back towards the mid-table pack. The stadium project was stalled, while the new training ground was an expensive new facility that no-one appeared to know how to make the most out of, like an iPad only used for playing Angry Birds.

I don’t think, in hindsight, we can overestimate the scale of the job that faced Pochettino when he first joined. Aged 42 and with little more than five years of managerial experience, he became the 10th Spurs manager in 12 years on the strength of a hugely impressive, if low-pressure, spell at Southampton.

Two years on, Spurs are back in the Champions League, playing vibrant football, and have a young and united squad with a strong homegrown core. The success appears sustainable, and I can’t recall ever feeling that the future was so bright. Only the most attention-seeking of contrarians will argue that Pochettino hasn’t succeeded in every respect.

Which begs the question, how on earth has Pochettino prospered where so many of his predecessors have failed?

Heading into the Argentine’s third season in charge of Tottenham, now is the perfect time to look back at what Pochettino has achieved, and the work that still needs to be done.

 

The Kaboul Cabal and a dressing room revolt

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For the first 11 league games of Pochettino’s tenure, it had all the hallmarks of another trademark Tottenham false dawn.

Eric Dier’s late winner against West Ham and a thrashing of QPR raised expectations, only for a crushing defeat by Liverpool to send Spurs back down to earth. A point at the Emirates was fine, another inept thrashing at the Etihad a sign that nothing had really changed.

The real problems occurred once the Europa League campaign kicked in, and those early Sunday kick-offs at White Hart Lane, fans and players equally unenthusiastic, returned. First was a narrow defeat to West Brom, which happens, then a farcical defeat to Newcastle in which Alan Pardew’s side scored seven seconds into the second half, which really shouldn’t. When Stoke went 2-0 up within 33 minutes on November 9, with Spurs devoid of ideas and any clue how to defend, for the first time the atmosphere turned mutinous.

There’s a story, which I heard from THST Co-Chair Martin Cloake on The Tottenham Way podcast, about the Spurs dressing room after the Stoke match. Returning down the tunnel, the boos ringing out after a 2-1 home defeat, it was business as usual for the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor. At this point, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason stood up and took control, informing the dressing room that this wasn’t acceptable. There was a rebellion, and Pochettino needed to decide who to back.

This match would prove to be a watershed, above all in Pochettino’s understanding of his squad’s willingness and ability to carry out his instructions. Adebayor, who didn’t care, was cast aside, as were the likes of Kaboul and Etienne Capoue, after being deemed inadequate technically and tactically. The “Kaboul Cabal” was born — even if the term was harsh on Kaboul himself, a committed player for whom injury rather than attitude had been the (primary) downfall.

Others would find themselves pushed to the sidelines. Aaron Lennon, the club’s longest serving player, was a walking, talking (and rarely playing) version of the “needs a new challenge” cliche. By February he’d be at Everton on loan. Paulinho continued to appear, occasionally and never effectively, while Roberto Soldado’s crisis of confidence deepened. New signings like Federico Fazio and Benji Stambouli were evidently sub-standard. In their place, the young guns led by Kane, starting to embark on his rise to national prominence, would be given their chance.

In hindsight, Pochettino’s biggest achievement at Spurs may have been surviving his first season. He inherited an unmotivated, fractious and poorly assembled squad, but one that was expensive enough to raise expectations. Ditching the “Kaboul Cabal” was the right move, as was turning to the likes of Kane, Mason and Nabil Bentaleb. But there was also an element of luck that these players were able to step up. Was it good management, or just good fortune?

This “lucky vs good” question would be an issue through the 2014/15 season. All those late Eriksen or Kane winners that kept the campaign afloat — was that the mark of enhanced fitness stemming from superior training methods, or just the rub of the green? The Pochettino pressing game wasn’t just poorly executed, it was positively dangerous, with Spurs shipping 53 goals. Southampton conceded just 33, yet we finished fifth while they finished 7th.

If the dismal Stoke defeat was one milepost, another would come on New Year’s Day against Chelsea. For the first time, Spurs fans witnessed the sort of performance that we’d allowed ourselves to dream about in the most optimistic moments when Pochettino was appointed. A young Spurs side descending on Chelsea’s league leaders like a pack of wolves, ripping them apart and scoring five.

For many fans, this was seen as a turning point, the moment when the Pochettino project found its feet and the club kicked into the next gear. But perception is a funny thing, especially when it comes to gauging success. Even though we all felt that performances were finally improving, and revelled in the thought that a brighter future was starting to take shape, actually results didn’t really improve much. In the 19 games before we played Chelsea, we averaged 1.63 points per game, in the 18 games after we averaged 1.66. The reality was Spurs were playing a bit better, had one or two excellent performances (notably against Arsenal), but were still a flawed unit with huge holes in the squad (and in the defence).

Ultimately, Pochettino did enough in his first season. Spurs got enough points, there was enough hope about the future, enough signs that his methods were working, enough understanding that a lot of the failures could be laid at Baldini or Levy’s doors. But going into 2015/16 there were precious few hints of what was going to come.

“I hear people say stuff about Tottenham and I don’t like it”

Poch_Dier

After a familiar slow start to Pochettino’s second campaign in charge, and a frustrating summer where key areas of the squad (central midfield and striker) were not strengthened, it soon became clear that something was happening at Spurs.

It wasn’t like the previous season, where, rightly or not, the 5-3 win over Chelsea could be seen as a visible turning point. Instead, after there was a steady drip of events, information, quotes and social media buzz that pointed to a more positive dynamic emerging.

After losing narrowly at Old Trafford, Spurs were unbeaten for the next fourteen games. The defence was miserly, and for the first time in years we had a proper central defensive partnership in Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. In front of them, Eric Dier was starting to demonstrate that he was much more than a centre-back slotted into midfield due to a shortage of options. Dele Alli was proving that the impish nutmeg of Luka Modric in pre-season really was the precursor to greater success that we’d hoped for. Even Erik Lamela, so lost in his first two years and nearly shipped out on loan to Marseille, was starting to get it. Harry Kane, after a slow start, rediscovered his shooting boots.

Above all, the penny had appeared to drop about the type of play Pochettino wanted. The pressing was notably better, the way the centre backs split and the fullbacks zoomed forward was smoother than a Swiss watch, while Dele Alli’s ability to get beyond defences unlocked space for Eriksen and Kane. The passing became crisper, the ball and players fizzing around menacingly.

After his first season, Pochettino diagnosed two primary problems with the squad he inherited. First, there were the players who weren’t up to it, for a variety of reasons; second, the squad was simply too big. It was counterintuitive, given how widely accepted has become the Mourinho doctrine of two quality players in each position, and how Spurs have struggled with Europa League demands in the past. But Pochettino wanted a more united and cohesive squad, and placed faith in the quality of his fitness work and injury prevention record to withstand the rigours of the schedule.

“Character” is a tainted word in football, thanks to the Proper Football Men’s overuse of the word to describe a myriad of situations and problems. But anyone who has followed Spurs in the past two years will agree that a greater emphasis has been placed on identifying the “right” sort of player. Call it character, mentality, psychology, attitude or personality, the dressing room at Spurs hasn’t come together by accident. Pochettino and has staff have created an atmosphere of hard work and common purpose, and on the recruitment side, more attention has been paid to finding players who buy into this.

There were softer touches too. The club invested in improved social media over the summer of 2015, bringing in The Times journalist Henry Winter to advise players on how to communicate. Unlike other clubs, the players were always on message, but nonetheless it felt natural and not contrived PR fluff. The Dier-Alli bromance blossomed, photos of the squad eating together were shared, a mid-season trip to Barcelona was a roaring success, and created an impression of harmony. Even Pochettino and his staff got in on the act, larking about on a jog around Baku before the match against FC Qarabag, brightening what could have been a long and boring trip. The players genuinely seem to get along, and be happy at Spurs.

In previous years, the leaks out of Hotspur Way were negative, the internal politics spilling out into the open and undermining the attempts at unity from whichever manager happened to be in charge at the time. Gone were the stories about strikers falling out with managers over beanie hats and and transfer blame games, now it was all positive — little vignettes such as the players all joining in board games, shooting competitions after training, the tough fitness work seen as a badge of honour, not a cause for complaint.

This shift in mentality, the new toughness and determination emanating from the camp, was summed up by Eric Dier after Spurs thumped Man City at White Hart Lane:

“I don’t think we get the credit we deserve. We are an extremely young squad. I hear people saying stuff about Tottenham and I don’t like it. I don’t think the other boys like it either.”

I hate it, but the term “Spursy” was coined for a reason — too many sloppy goals, weak performances, decades of prioritizing style over substance. “Spursy” became a catch-all term to explain how it felt for success — however you cared to define it — always being just out of reach. We were Charlie Brown, trying to kick the football, and maybe, just maybe, things were starting to change.

Gary Neville, before embarking on an annus horribilis that would see his reputation in tatters, declared Pochettino his favourite manager in the league. “There is not one negative word I could use,” Neville said of the Argentine’s work. “There is nothing I dislike.”

A lot has gone right at Spurs in the last two years. Recruitment has improved with the arrival of Paul Mitchell and Rob MacKenzie, the return of Ian Broomfield and (unofficially) David Pleat, and much-needed investment in the scouting network. Assistant manager Jesus Perez is a sports scientist, and the standard of physical training (and injury prevention) has improved remarkably. A pathway for youngsters fostered by academy guru John McDermott has been established.

Perhaps most important is the relationship between Pochettino and Levy. In his rare media or public outings such as the Q&A with fans last year, the chairman has appeared unusually relaxed. He even undertook the “Ice Bucket Challenge” — remember that? — although the two players who soaked him didn’t last long. Pochettino revealed he’d watched one of the Leicester games at his house with Levy in last season’s title run-in.

It seems, more than anything, like Levy has finally “found his guy” — a manager who offers middle ground between the continental and the English styles. Levy is able to focus on non-football things — things that arguably he is far better at — such as the stadium project and other property ventures, as well as the money side. There is a balance of responsibilities and a structure that has previously been lacking at the club. Pochettino’s title change from head coach to manager reflects the extent to which he rules the roost at Hotspur Way, and the trust he has earned from a chairman with a reputation for micro-management.

It isn’t all handshakes and hugs at Hotspur Way either. Pochettino has shown he can be tough, and will treat expensive imports and homegrown talent equally firmly if the situation requires. When Andros Townsend threw a tantrum during a warm-down after the match against Aston Villa, Pochettino’s response was swift and firm: “When you behave in the wrong way, you have to pay.” Townsend was suspended, and left the club a few months later.

According to Toby Alderweireld, the key change under Pochettino was the team spirit: there were “no longer any heroes” in the Spurs team.

“When one makes a mistake, the other one picks it up. We have a togetherness. We want to achieve something this season and I think you can see that on the pitch. There is confidence and self belief — not arrogance — that we can beat everybody. We know that if we don’t put the effort in, we are a normal team.

“He [Pochettino] only puts in guys who work very hard. A lot of guys have left the club. If you do not follow the path, you don’t belong in Tottenham.”

Pochettino doesn’t seek credit, and when he signed his new contract, he made sure his team of coaches were signed up too. But, undoubtedly, when looking at the progress made by Spurs in the past 24 months, the Argentine is the common denominator.

“When your face isn’t smiling, your feet aren’t smiling”

Poch_kane

Pochettino doesn’t court publicity and he keeps his opinions to himself. There are no mind games, no taking of the bait, and rarely any insight into how he goes about his business.

On a personal level, two years on, we know practically nothing about him. We know Pochettino works incredibly hard — arriving at Hotspur Way very early and leaving very late. We know his son Maurizio is in the youth set-up. We know nothing about Mrs Pochettino — beyond the fact she thought he’d put on some weight last season forcing him to spend time on the treadmill over lunch. We know he insists on organic meat. We know Marcelo Bielsa is the dominant influence, from the day El Loco signed Pochettino up on the strength of his legs.

The contrast with Jose Mourinho, whose PR blitz for the Manchester United job would have made Kim Kardashian blush, couldn’t be starker.

The lack of soundbites and storylines from Hotspur Way frustrates journalists covering the team, and there have been communication problems with fans. Comments appearing to de-emphasize the importance of finishing above Arsenal last season, while reasonable, did not come out quite as intended and added to the frustration of slipping down to third.

We have rarely seen Pochettino flustered. About the only time last season was after comments about him wanting to manage his former club PSG in the future, again reasonable, emerged and took on a life of their own. His subsequent announcement that he had agreed a new deal with Spurs seemed impromptu. The sense above all is that he sees media duties as an obligation, not an opportunity. Because of his still-limited English, it is the one part of his fiefdom where he doesn’t have the degree of control that he would like.

But despite this, we all know what the Pochettino mantra is. Performance in training is crucial, fitness is paramount, the process of improving mentally is continual. Homegrown talent must be given the same opportunities as expensive imports, players are treated like adults and expected to behave as such. The sum of the parts must never be greater than the whole.

Over the busy Christmas period in 2014 and with three days before the next match, Pochettino was asked by a TV reporter if his plan was to “rest, rest and rest.” He replied, quick as a flash and with a smile, “No. Train, train, train.” Not every footballer will like this approach, and those thinking of joining Spurs will know exactly what is in store. It’s like the Spartans leaving out their newborn boys — it filters out the weak.

Rare insight into the way Pochettino works was given by John McDermott in a talk in California that was transcribed and posted on Reddit.

McDermott revealed that he spent several hours a day working with Pochettino. He considered Pochettino by far the best manager he had worked with, and described him as the “best strategist in terms of how he got the club working.”

“Pochettino is a leader of people, a very warm, Latin, touchy feely man, he has got something about him, an X factor. If you took Pochettino from Tottenham right now, they would not be half as successful. Pochettino will often say something doesn’t ‘feel’ right, he uses his intuition. For example, (he said to) Bentaleb, ‘When your face is not smiling, your feet are not smiling’. It is an intuition allied with statistics.”

For McDermott, who has spent years trying to work with Spurs managers, some of whom have shown no interest in the young talent he is developing, he now has a very different problem keeping him awake at night.

“How do I make sure our academy keeps up with Pochettino? He has taken it to another level.”

“We are ready to compete against any team”

poch3_etihad

I have always thought captaincy is a good indication of the health of a squad. When a squad seems united, potential captains, vice-captains and future captains abound. When a squad seems short on “character” — perhaps Man United in recent years — there appear few, if any, choices.

If Pochettino could have one mulligan from his time at Spurs, it would be appointing Kaboul as captain and Adebayor as vice-captain. In hindsight, it was a horrible decision, but it was also an indicator of the extent to which the lunatics had taken over the asylum. The artful way that Pochettino buried the likes of Kaboul and Adebayor for the rest of the campaign was testament to his man management skills and the way a previously leaky club was starting to tighten up.

Now, you could happily see any of Alderweireld, Danny Rose and Dier joining Lloris, Vertonghen and Kane among the Spurs leadership group.

No-one speaks in more positive tones of Pochettino than Lloris. The France and Spurs captain revealed to the Guardian not only how close he had coming to leaving the club, but also how immediate Pochettino’s impact was.

“I had some concern and I question a bit myself two years ago, after AVB and Tim Sherwood were in charge. I think the first meeting with Mauricio Pochettino was very clear for me, for my future. I think I trust him since the first second I meet him, and because I understand what he wants, fully agree about his football view. I can say we have the same football view and he’s brought a lot to the team and the players.”

“The credit is for the gaffer. I think he changed all, inside the training ground, inside the squad, it’s about his mentality, his personality. We can feel we improved a lot. We have a real identity now and, from outside, it’s very clear. We try to play good football but don’t forget that we need to be aggressive, especially in the Premier League.”

“If you’re not aggressive, it’s difficult to be competitive and so if you have a good philosophy of football, you add aggression, hunger, because of course we are young but we can feel the team is very hungry. It means a lot for me. It’s about competitive mentality. Now we can feel we are competitive, and ready to compete against any team.”

“We show this season a lot of character. Of course, it will be interesting what will happen next season but I think in the way we work, we are improving every month so it’s not about this season. It’s also about the next season and the project of the gaffer.”

Mentality. Hunger. Aggression. Project. These are the new buzzwords at Hotspur Way.

For decades, I feel we’ve misunderstood what Bill Nicholson was trying to tell us when he said “It’s no use just winning, we’ve got to win well.” For Nicholson, the winning part was assumed. In the Premier League era, Spurs have been so fixated on winning well that we’ve forgotten to win.

It turns out, winning matches and competing for the title is far more entertaining than playing pretty football and finishing 10th. We can add the flourishes in years to come, but first of all we must win.

I still believe the most exhilarating football that I have seen from a Spurs team in the Premier League era was for a short spell under Harry Redknapp. Gareth Bale was metamorphosing in front of our eyes from unlucky left back to world-class winger, leaving Aaron Lennon free on the other flank. With Luka Modric pulling the strings, the ball always seemed to find the right man.

Redknapp secured two top-four finishes, which sometimes gets forgotten, but his was a flame that burned brightly and then faded. Redknapp — you could imagine Levy cringing in embarrassment whenever the car window got wound down on transfer deadline day — carried so much baggage he needed a roof rack. Redknapp turned Spurs around, and history will judge him as a successful Spurs manager once his tiresome self-promotion fades, but it was never clear that he was able to put in the foundations for longer-term success.

At its best, the defining characteristic of Pochettino’s football has been the intensity, rather than the swagger.

There have been spells, usually in the biggest matches, when we’ve torn the opposition to shreds. Against Manchester United last season, once Spurs had the breakthrough, we savaged them. Likewise in the second half against Arsenal in 2014/15 when Harry Kane scored twice.

But to me, the peak Pochettino performance — not in result but in the manner it represented what the Argentine has been able to change in his two years in charge — came against Manchester City at the Etihad in February.

Manchester City, embarrassed by a thrashing at home to Leicester the previous weekend, were desperate to bounce back. An inconsistent team even before Manuel Pellegrini’s regime began to run out of steam, they were fired up against Spurs. For 80 minutes, Spurs absorbed City’s blows and got a few in of their own. Aguero buzzed around like a hornet and Yaya Toure strode forward like he used to in his prime, none of the old-man shuffling that was seen so often last campaign.

In the 81st minute, score 1-1, four Spurs players surrounded Toure like muggers in a dark alley, stealing first the ball, then the three points. Pochettino celebrated like we’d not seen before, because he must have known that this was not only a huge moment in the title race, but also a vindication of his methods. All that hard work on fitness and mentality, the drilling of the press so tired players could still execute it effectively late in a top-of-the-table clash, had come to fruition.

It was the clearest indication that the plan was working, even if Spurs would eventually come up just short.

“Going down like Tony Montana”

poch_stamfordbridge

Ultimately, while the match at the Etihad would be a high-water mark, the match that will be remembered last season is the Battle of the Bridge. It showed how far Spurs had come, but also the room for further growth.

Fans of other clubs say Spurs bottled it, ignoring with standard footballing myopia that Spurs were still in the title race with three games to go, unlike everyone else. Some Spurs fans were critical of the performance, considering the aggression unattractive and indicative of a team that had lost its head.

Comparing Spurs’ disappointment to Manchester City’s limp defeat against Real Madrid, the (brilliant) Rob Smyth wrote one of those pieces which seemed to capture my every thought at the time:

“Spurs and Manchester City both missed out on major prizes this week; one went down like Tony Montana, the other closed the door quietly behind them. As a neutral or a fan, what would you rather watch? … Spurs stood up to Chelsea in a way that would never have happened in the past, and that burst of aggression is intrinsically linked to other qualities that make this the best Spurs side in decades. It is almost impossible for a team to excel in the Premier League without those qualities. In their darkest hour, Spurs looked like winners.

“If that happened every week it would be an issue, but these were unique circumstances. Spurs gave a human response to crushing disappointment; as such, they deserved a bit more sympathy and a lot more empathy. They had been battling for the title all season, and saw it disappear, at a time when they were being goaded by 40,000 fans, not to mention a number of Chelsea players. What were they supposed to do, smile sweetly and take a selfie?”

I’ll view every game at Stamford Bridge through the prism of the misery of March 8, 2014. Watching Spurs go down all guns blazing made me feel proud. I can live with disappointment, I can’t live with surrender.

What the Battle of the Bridge showed, however, was that fighting and togetherness wasn’t enough. I don’t buy the argument that inexperience was the problem that night, given it was more experienced players like Mousa Dembele and Kyle Walker who lost their discipline first. When HMS Dier went into Destroyer mode, the game was already gone.

The 2-2 draw, more than the two defeats of an emotionally exhausted team that followed, highlighted what Spurs lacked, and offer the blueprint for what needs to happen next.

Spurs need better squad options when players are injured, rested or suspended. We need reliable impact players off the bench, both defensive and in attack. We need to get better at controlling games we are leading, and seeing out the close ones. When teams like Chelsea, who have world class players and who hate our guts, throw everything at us, we need to be able to withstand it better. We didn’t lose that night, even though it seemed that we did — but we needed to win.

In his first season, Pochettino got by with a makeshift central midfield of Bentaleb and Mason, who’d made a combined 24 senior appearances for Spurs before he took over. In his second season, Dele Alli and Eric Dier, combined Premier League midfield appearances zero, became first choice for club and country. Dembele, seemingly destined to see out his career at somewhere like Sunderland, finally found a way to fulfil the potential he’d flashed for the past ten years.

Can you imagine what Spurs will be capable of as the quality of the squad improves, with a squad that is a year older and a year wiser, and motivated by the anger of how the season ended? There are still a thousand things that can go wrong, not least given the unprecedented arms racing taking place among the big-money Premier League rivals while Spurs are forced to cut the cloth more conservatively while the stadium is financed. But optimism is no cause for embarrassment.

I wrote last season that Pochettino has an opportunity to build a dynasty at Spurs, and what encourages me more than anything is that he knows it too.

“When you compare Tottenham with big sides people can see our approach is for the long term. We have the youngest squad in the Premier League yet here we are fighting for the title. The project is fantastic, because we are ahead of the programme – we are only going to get better. This is true because for a lot of players this is their first season in the Premier League and next season they will be better because they will have more experience. In football you always need time to develop to your full quality.”

“It is impossible to set limits. It is also important to improve our squad because this is always our idea to improve. Our idea is to keep the main group for the next few years and to try and build and add players that can help us.”

I love the line about it being impossible to set limits. It’s going to be tough for Spurs to take that next step and win a title, but we will never have a better platform. Let season three begin of the Pochettino era begin.

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

How many people actually watch Spurs on TV? Audience analysis of the 2015/16 season

Through the course of this campaign, I have been tracking the audience figures for Spurs matches.

This was an exercise born out of curiosity: I wanted to know how many people were actually tuning in to watch Premier League matches involving Spurs.

The tables contain the full data (explanatory notes are below) for the 2015/16 Premier League season, and also for the 2014/15 campaign. Green denotes matches with an audience over 1 million, red are matches below the threshold for the precise figure to be reported.

201516audience

201415audience

A few key numbers:

  • Spurs were shown 21 times on UK TV in 2015/16, compared with 18 in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches in 2015/16 was 1.13 million, up from 1.04 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on Sky Sports was 1.23 million in 2015/16, up from 1.05 million in 2014/15.
  • The average audience for Spurs matches on BT Sport was 717,000 in 2015/16, down from 1.02 million in 2014/15. The figure for the home match against Chelsea in November on BT was not available.
  • The highest audience for a Spurs match in 2015/16 was 1.79 million against Arsenal (a). In 2014/15, the highest audience was 1.44 million against Manchester United (a). Not our best match, that one…

A few other thoughts:

*The audience varies greatly depending both on the opposition and the timing, as you would expect. The most watched match is normally the prime Sunday 4pm slot. Manchester United and Liverpool attract far more viewers than other teams — after 20 years of Mauricio Pochettino-inspired domination, Spurs will no doubt have a similar pull.

*The sample size is of course far too small to draw any big conclusions in terms of whether the Spurs audience has “increased” or not. But one thing I would note is that Spurs beat the 2014/15 maximum of 1.44 million on four occasions in 2015/16 — Arsenal (a), Man City (a), Man Utd (h) and Chelsea (a).

*Spurs were shown in the Sunday 4pm slot six times in 2015/16, averaging 1.57 million. In 2014/15, Spurs were shown seven times in the prime spot, averaging 1.07 million. Did the fact that Spurs were challenging for the title, rather than drifting around in Europa League contention, make a difference to neutral fans? Certainly, this average of 1.57 million is impressive and must encourage Sky to increase the number of Spurs games next campaign.

*Spurs were shown 21 times on UK television, up from 18 in 2014/15. Under the old TV deal, every extra match that was shown (above the minimum 10) earned an additional £747,176 in TV money (these facility fees account for 25 percent of the total TV pot). This campaign, Arsenal were shown more than any other team, in total 27 times. So simply for being chosen for broadcast, they earned £4.48 million more than Spurs in TV money. The Europa League hurts here, as it means Spurs can only be selected for the slots on Sunday or Monday after European matches, reducing the chances Spurs can secure additional facility fees.

*There were a couple of audiences that appeared disappointing. For BT to draw just 880,000 for a North London derby in March with title implications, and heralded as one of the biggest ever, seemed poor. Likewise attracting just 660,000 for the home match against Liverpool — Jurgen Klopp’s first in charge. The same channel’s failure to crack 590,000 for Spurs v Man City (this one was so low I don’t have the real number) was also below what may have been expected. Sky’s decision to show Spurs three times in a row on Monday night down the stretch didn’t really work for them any more than it did for Spurs. While the Battle of the Bridge was widely viewed, the matches against Stoke and West Brom did not capture the imagination. I hope Sky reconsiders such an unconventional choice should Spurs be competing for the title again in 2016/17 — it can’t have helped.

*The data doesn’t include pubs. However, this may change soon, if developments in the US are a guide.

*As those who follow me on Twitter are aware, I am a big critic of the TV rights system. I believe it short-changes UK fans of Premier League teams, and gives us a far inferior product to what is available everywhere else around the globe. The final day summed up the farce: The match at Old Trafford was abandoned, and instead of offering British viewers the chance to watch, say, Chelsea v Leicester or Newcastle v Spurs, which were being broadcast around the world, Sky Sports showed Swansea v Man City on two channels. I wrote about this issue extensively here — my feelings on the subject have not changed.

My comrade in audience figure monitoring, @Spurs_US, has shared his data for US viewers.

As you can see, the numbers are impressive and are part of a widely reported upward trend. As an unashamed Yankophile, I am delighted to see the English game making such huge strides. I will respond in kind by, erm, watching even more NFL in seasons to come.

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

* I use the seven-day data published by BARB, the body which monitors audience figures. The public data only encompasses the top 30 programmes per week, from ALL channels aside from the five main terrestrial ones, which are counted individually. This means certain matches (mostly European ones) don’t rate. If anyone has access to full BARB data, please get in touch. I use the threshold audience for the week in the averages, but it may be much lower.

This data averages the audience through the length of the programme, rather than the peak. It doesn’t include pubs, but it does include legal streaming. You can find out how it is gathered here. It isn’t perfect but it is the best data that is freely available for people like me without a corporate subscription. It enables consistent comparisons.

The Weekly Max: As well as Spurs, I list the most-watched match in that week among all teams, for purposes of comparison.

How Spurs can take it to the next level: A blueprint for the summer of 2016

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If Mauricio Pochettino’s first year as Spurs manager was about knocking down a house that had become rotten, in the second year the Argentine had to relay the foundations. A leaky defence was fixed, a team culture was established, and an exciting and effective style of play emerged.

The late collapse into third place behind Arsenal was hugely disappointing and added a sour note to what was in many ways a spectacular season. We challenged for the title, something we haven’t done in the Premier League era, and secured our highest finishing position since the 1989/90 campaign. What was it that BIll Nicholson said about aiming high?

If the stumble to the finishing line showed how much of the Pochettino project remains unfinished, the season as a whole showed just how strong the foundations are that he has laid.

With only one out-and-out striker and a dearth of central midfield options, it was a miracle that Spurs managed to secure Champions League football while also coping with the gruelling Europa League schedule. It is a testament to Pochettino’s managerial ability, his fitness regime, the spirit of the team he has assembled, and improving recruitment.

The goal for Pochettino has always been to have a world-class team in place for when the new stadium opens for the 2018/19 campaign. Spurs are ahead of schedule.

The next two summers are about taking the club to “the next level”. The goal will be to identify talent, either within the academy or elsewhere, that can enable the club to challenge for titles at home and in Europe in the years to come.

Pochettino has warned that getting stronger is about more than just buying players. But being able to offer Champions League football this summer presents a huge opportunity to attract the sort of elite talent that may not previously have been interested, if Spurs so wish.

There is a need to balance the present and the future. Clearly, better first-team rotation and bench options are needed for Pochettino. But also, Spurs will continue to identify young talents and turn them into stars — Harry Kane and Dele Alli are the latest in a long line of players to hit superstar status while wearing lilywhite. It is something the club does better than any other, and the academy contains a number of extremely promising prospects.

As always, Spurs will look to find value in the transfer market. The club veered off this path under Franco Baldini, and paid a heavy price. Ultimately, it is just where the club is more comfortable, and the stadium will limit how much can be spent anyway. So, Spurs will identify players at distressed clubs, those on expiring contracts, or those they feel have the potential to hit the top level with time and training.

I would expect Spurs to look to sell to other Premier League clubs — the new TV deal means that there is more money than can possibly be spent in a sensible way. Also worth watching is the pound versus the euro — it is performing a faceplant that Spurs would be proud of amid the Brexit uncertainty.

I am going to sketch out a possible summer blueprint, in terms of contracts, sales and purchases.

It is all deeply hypothetical. Player availability is far from certain at this early stage, and only Pochettino knows who he wants to move on and who he wants to keep. This isn’t a prediction — I’m not an ITK peddler and have no insight beyond what is widely available.

What I want to do is illustrate the type of deals that may be possible, the type of players that may fit, and how far Spurs may be able to stretch the budget. It is tremendous fun trying to game it out, and please feel free to join in below the comment line. Disagreement is guaranteed.

Contracts

First order of business will be contract negotiations. The surge in Premier League TV money and Champions League lucre will mean every agent will be demanding significant wage bumps for their clients. For Spurs, it will be about balancing squad harmony and ensuring the total wage bill remains in line with what is required through stadium construction.

Both Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen have been engaged in lengthy discussions, but contracts remain unsigned as of the date of this article. These are key players that Spurs will want to keep over the next four to five years (I imagine, now 29, Jan gets a four-year deal, while Eriksen wants five).

For other players, the demand for a pay rise gives the club a chance to add years to contracts (and remove unhelpful exit clauses if any exist). This may be the case for Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose.

Meanwhile, the club must continue to increase wages of young stars. Priority number one will be Harry Kane. Having started 66 consecutive league games, and secured the Premier League Golden Boot, he will become one of the club’s top earners. New deals will no doubt be needed for Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

If this all sounds a bit much, it is just the reality of the game. With a huge TV deal kicking in, player salaries will soar in line with it. Spurs have done an excellent job controlling the wage bill since the Bale money splurge, but with revenue about to soar, now is the appropriate time to increase it.

Players out

Pochettino looked appropriately livid after the dismal defeat at Newcastle. It is fair to say it will have crystallized one or two thoughts about which players will be leaving Hotspur Way this summer. Here is a list of players who I think are on the way out, with a guess of a potential destination and guide price.

Nacer Chadli, Sunderland, £15m

I’ve written about the conundrum that Chadli poses — a productive player who rarely pushes for a place. The fact that Pochettino called for Josh Onomah over Chadli against Newcastle spoke volumes, as did the fact that Chadli barely factored in previous matches in the final stretch. There have long been whispers that Chadli lacks the intensity that Poch demands. My guess, having lost his place in the Belgian squad, Chadli will be seeking a new start regardless — this could be a mutual parting of ways. Chadli’s departure opens the door for Onomah, while more striking options (see below) will mean more chances for Son Heung-min from his preferred wide role. With his goal-scoring ability and the fact that he is just entering his prime, Spurs should get a good fee for Chadli. I think he’d be a great fit for a Sunderland side needing goals from midfield.

Ryan Mason, Bournemouth, £7.5m

Mason has been hugely important to Spurs in the Pochettino era, as much for what he has symbolised as what he has been capable of from a technical perspective. He has been a walking, talking lesson in perseverance to academy youngsters, and testament to the Pochettino ethos that workrate and character (I know that term freaks some people out as it isn’t quantifiable) are valued as highly as pure footballing talent. Mason has learned to play a different role under Pochettino, and the midfield partnership with Nabil Bentaleb was just about sufficient to keep the project on track in its first year. The “one of our own” spirit has reconnected fans to club after years of disconnect and mercenaries, and Mason, with his evident love of the club and pride in appearing in the shirt, was a key part of this. However, in 2015/16 he suffered from injury — gained while scoring a pivotal goal against Sunderland — and never rediscovered the form he had shown previously. Appearances in the Europa League knockout rounds and in place of the suspended Dembele showed his limits. As a player in a rebuilding Premier League team, he is fine; in the Champions League and a title challenger? Not quite. A rumoured move to Bournemouth may suit all parties, and his England cap last year should help Spurs achieve a premium for his services. I’d be more than happy if he stayed another year, and of all the players on this list, I think he is the least likely to leave.

Tom Carroll, Stoke, £4m

Another late bloomer, Tom Carroll was finally given his chance to make his mark at Spurs after years on loan. Did he take it? In my view, no. While he has a beautiful left foot, his passing can be too “safe”, and he lacks the physicality and defensive instinct to play a deeper role. He still has the opportunity to develop, but will be 24 when next season starts. You imagine a Premier League club looking to add a little bit of “culture” to its midfield mix will be interested. With Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay suffering long-term injuries at the end of the season, and Charlie Adam fat, old and never that good, Stoke could have an interest.

Michel Vorm, Crystal Palace, £3.5m

The world of the back-up goalkeeper is a strange one. When he signed, unless he believed Hugo Lloris was set for an exit, Michel Vorm must have known his game time would be very limited. I don’t begrudge him looking for a big contract to secure his financial future, but there must come a time, with the ongoing expectation that you won’t see meaningful action, when you lose your edge mentally and physically. You wonder, if a two-year spell as a back-up is “about right”. If he still considers himself a Premier League keeper, and not some Richard Wright-style hanger on, now may be the time for Vorm to move on. In his limited appearances, Vorm has looked predictably rusty. Clubs that may be interested in his services? Middlesbrough, whoever goes up through the playoffs (Hull or Sheffield Wednesday), and Crystal Palace. My guess: Vorm heads to Palace as an upgrade on Wayne Hennessey and Alex McCarthy, both of whom are distinctly Championship calibre.

Federico Fazio, China, £5m

I’d almost forgotten about him. If no Spanish clubs are interested, poor old Fazio will be seeking pastures new as he looks ill-suited to the English game. Look for Spurs to cash in on China’s boom, or failing that Russia or the Middle East. Fazio to Spurs was a terrible move for all parties. He is richer financially, but in every other way poorer for the experience.

DeAndre Yedlin, West Brom, £7.5m

Yedlin confounded doubters and established himself as the first-choice right back in Sunderland’s latest great escape. He won the contest against Billy Jones, and Sunderland (botched move for Emmanuel Eboue aside) felt other areas of the squad needed strengthening more in January. Having watched a number of Sunderland matches, it is clear Yedlin made huge progress defensively under the guidance of Big Sam. However, he still looks well short of what is required at Spurs to knock out Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, in particular offensively. Adding to Yedlin’s logjam at Spurs is Kyle Walker-Peters, one of the brightest talents coming through the academy. Having proven his Premier League mettle at Sunderland, and still just 22, this may be the optimum time to cash in. Spurs paid just £2.5m for Yedlin — they should secure a handsome profit with a host of Premier League clubs potentially looking to strengthen at right back. I reckon Spurs would look to triple their money. Swansea, Sunderland, a de-Pulised West Brom, Bournemouth and Watford may all be interested.

Total incoming: £42.5m

 

Players In

Spurs have two clear “needs” this summer — in central midfield and up front. Longer term, there may be a desire to find better options on the right flank, with both Kyle Walker and Erik Lamela showing limitations. But there is only so much to spend this summer, so that can wait. Budget-wise, even with Champions League money coming in, I wouldn’t expect net spend to be any more than £30m with a stadium to build and Daniel Levy in charge. I’d say, with money recouped from sales, we are looking at a pot of about £72.5m. Given the amount of money that will be sprayed around this summer, this amount, shockingly, may be at the lower end in the Premier League. Finding value will be key, and I reckon it is possible. How far could this money go?

Mateo Kovacic, 22, Real Madrid, £25m

Spurs sorely need to add a midfielder who can offer a new dimension in terms of playmaking, as none of Dier, Dembele or Alli are particularly “creative” passers. Too much reliance on Christian Eriksen can make Spurs predictable, and easy to play against. Another playmaker, operating from deep, would appear to fit the bill. Furthermore, as Dembele struggles to play twice in a week, another first-choice calibre central midfielder is absolutely essential regardless. I’ve had a crush on Mateo Kovacic since reading this article, and having failed to establish himself since joining Real Madrid, he may be available. This piece explains why he may not make the grade at the Bernabeu. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, especially when that trash is 22 and stuck behind Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Rather than heading meekly back to Italy on loan, Spurs can offer Kovacic Champions League football and the chance to join an emerging footballing force. I’m sure Luka and Gareth would put in a good word. Meanwhile, I bet Daniel Levy would relish the opportunity to negotiate with Real Madrid again. Spurs could make a signature signing, without breaking the bank. There are of course other options here — various suggestion I’ve seen in recent Twitter conversations include Tielemans, Pjanic and Kampl.

Victor Wanyama, 24, Southampton, £17m

Failure to hold leads in pivotal matches against physical opposition like West Brom and Chelsea highlighted the need for Spurs to add another defensive midfield option, in particular one with some height and physicality. It would also enable Spurs to move Eric Dier back into defence if Toby Alderweireld was unavailable, so would kill two birds with one stone. Wanyama is entering the final year of his contract, and has previously spoken of his desire to join Spurs. Relations between Spurs and Southampton are far from great, though, honestly, it is a long list of clubs who hate dealing with Spurs. Southampton are an extremely sensible club who, if Wanyama is set on leaving, may see the benefit of accepting a fair price that they can reinvest in someone who wants to be there. This is a deal that can surely be done, if Spurs don’t behave like absolute idiots by lowballing Southampton.

Michy Batshuayi, 22, Marseille, £25m

West Ham are trying their hardest to inflate the price of Batshuayi with public bids beyond what Spurs may feel is required to secure him from a financially-troubled Marseille. But Spurs can offer Champions League football, so it may be immaterial — Batshuayi is one of many players West Ham are publicly talking up. The Belgian fits a clear need for Spurs — someone able both to cover for Kane as an out-and-out striker, but also with the versatility to play with him. At the age of 22, he is in that “sweet spot” for Spurs — experienced enough for there to be meaningful data for Paul Mitchell and Co to analyse, young enough to still have room to improve.

Moussa Dembele, 19, Fulham, £5m

I expect Spurs to add two strikers this summer. Son Heung-min proved limited when covering up front, and Clinton N’Jie was a non-factor due to injury. Dembele agreed a move to Spurs in January, only for it to collapse as a dismal Fulham team couldn’t risk letting him go with relegation to League One a possibility. Could Spurs resuscitate this move, and strike a compensation deal with Fulham to avoid the uncertainty of a tribunal? It sounds like a cheap way to add a talented young striker with a promising Championship goalscoring record (15 goals in 43 appearances in his first full season). It may be that Dembele is lured away elsewhere, in which case, I’d not entirely rule out Spurs taking one final spin at Saido Berahino roulette. Timo Werner, who we have also been linked with in the past, ticks the “value” box in a number of ways after Stuttgart’s relegation. Spurs may have a talent in the academy in Kaziah Sterling, who has been mentioned in dispatches, but a three-pronged strike force is surely required immediately for the Champions League and another title tilt.

Brad Guzan, 31, Aston Villa, £500K

I wrote about how the time may have come for Vorm to move on. This represents a chance for Spurs to make a couple of million quid by essentially shuffling back-up keepers, and pocketing the difference. The key will be identifying an experienced keeper of Premier League quality who is available for free, or a cut-price amount. Do any exist? Here is one suggestion: Brad Guzan. Like everyone connected to Aston Villa, he had a horrible season in 2015/16, but in the two years previously he was quite competent, in my view. He is entering the final year of his contract, and Villa will be looking to slash their wage bill after being relegated. Spurs may be able to pick him up for free, or very cheap. Guzan gets to sign another lucrative Premier League contract, and he can follow in the footsteps of Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel as a bald, American goalkeeper for Spurs — a fine tradition. My little Vorm-for-Guzan swap may seem a bit random — but it is an illustration of how Spurs could boost the transfer kitty without getting much weaker. With a stadium to finance, we need to find smart ways to increase our spending power. I’m sure there are other keepers out there who may be better than Guzan, I’d welcome suggestions.

Total outgoing: £72.5m

 

Loans

If you haven’t already seen it, Chris Miller’s crowd-sourced loan round-up was an excellent piece of blogging and offered some hints to future loan moves.

I wrote a few months back about how loan numbers were down this year — we shall see in due course of this was a change in approach, or just an outlier.

A couple of thoughts on possible loan moves.

Josh Onomah will stay and benefit from Chadli’s departure, while new arrivals in midfield surely mean Harry Winks heads out on a season-long arrangement to the Championship.

I have always thought loans were particularly useful for young defenders. Even the best defensive talents make a bunch of mistakes, and it is far better for Spurs that they make them elsewhere. I’d like to see both Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers head to League One and find their sea legs. It would surely benefit their development more than the occasional minutes they’d pick up in the Capital One Cup.

There is a lot of chatter about Dominic Ball, who impressed for Rangers and played a very similar role to Dier. I’d be cautious about pencilling him in, given the dire state of the Scottish second tier. Surely the Championship is a logical next step.

One final thought: I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs sent Clinton N’Jie to another Premier League team. He had his debut season ruined by injury, and we barely saw him in meaningful action (386 minutes in total). When he did play, he looked raw. My concern for Clinton is that he is going to need a lot more playing time to fulfill the potential identified by the scouting team than Spurs will be able to offer him without the Europa League, which was useful in this regard. Therefore, a loan would be a logical next step. It doesn’t mean Spurs would be writing him off, it is about doing what is in the best interest of the club as it seeks to maximise the return on its investment in a young player.

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

Good problems: Five questions facing Spurs this summer

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Nabil Bentaleb is a problem — but a good one.

A full-blooded draw at Stamford Bridge ended Tottenham’s slim title hopes, but the point ensured that Spurs will finish in the top three for the first time in the Premier League era.

Various mathematical possibilities remain, but at the very least Spurs have secured qualification for the Champions League qualifying round. A win on Sunday against Southampton and we will wrap up second place given our unassailable goal difference.

It has been an extraordinary season, and once the disappointment of being pipped to the post by Leicester fades, I’m sure we will look back on the campaign as one of the finest in the history of the club.

While us fans drink it in, and mull over what might have been, there is no time for Premier League clubs to rest.

The combination of the new TV deal and new eras at some of the richest clubs threaten an arms race the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Premier League era. Spurs and Leicester have usurped the elite, and they will be gunning for both clubs. At Spurs, we are used to it, but you sense Leicester are going to be in for an almighty shock next time around.

Champions League was the hope for Spurs in the 2016/17 season, but not the expectation. The potential to now compete for higher calibre players adds both potential, and pressure, to the business ahead. Meanwhile, Champions League football may necessitate new contracts, wage bumps or bonuses to ensure the players and their representatives are happy and focused for the campaign ahead.

As far as problems go, these are brilliant ones to have.

Put yourself in Daniel Levy’s shoes. What would you rather be doing this summer — fending off calls from Ed Woodward and Florentino Perez, or topping up a few contracts and shopping for a couple of new stars?

The wage issue is just one of a number of “good problems” facing Tottenham’s key decision makers. With such a young team, the scope for natural progression is evident. The strong team identity — the philosophy, if you will — provides a framework for strengthening that certain other teams lack.

This summer offers an opportunity to make a number of smart moves that can push us to the next level. In most cases, the choice will between something good, and something potentially even better. We are in a strong, and happy, place right now — that perspective is important in the months ahead.

I am going to sketch out a number of these “good problems” below. One thing that isn’t a “good problem” is the striker situation — we’ve walked the Harry Kane hamstring high wire once, but there is no way we can risk it again. Our forward options are just a problem, pure and simple.

Do Spurs stick or twist with Nacer Chadli?

Of the “Bale money” signings, if there is one who continues to defy judgement, it is Nacer Chadli. What is he? Is he a productive player who contributes when given the chance — seven goals and five assists this season in limited minutes? Or is he a player with tremendous physical and technical gifts who has never quite found the intensity to reach his potential?

After showing little promise in his first season at White Hart Lane, Chadli was widely accepted as having a fine campaign in 2014/15. He played just under 3,000 minutes overall — the amount a first-choice player would play — and contributed 13 goals and five assists in total, one every 163 minutes.

This season, he started the first five games — in which Spurs secured five points out of a possible 15 — and played 90 minutes in each (against Everton he was subbed off just before the end). But since then Chadli hasn’t played the full 90 minutes in a league game.

In all competitions, Chadli has played just 1,650 minutes — although an ankle injury in the autumn meant he was unavailable for two months. When he has played, he has often appeared off the pace and even listless. And yet, he has been extremely productive — with seven goals and five assists in total, one every 137 minutes.

Chadli is a walking, talking “good problem”. On the one hand, he is a squad player who has proven that he can produce goals and chances when called upon. On the other hand, he has done nothing in the past six months to put pressure on Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela for a place in Pochettino’s strongest XI.

With his scoring record and the fact that, at 26, he is in his prime, Chadli is sure to have suitors. Spurs paid £7 million for him from FC Twente — given Andros Townsend, a far less productive player, went for £12 million, Spurs should comfortably command something in the £15-20 million range for him. This is money that Spurs could re-invest in, say, a young talent with a far higher ceiling.

On the other hand though, Spurs need productive squad players. The Europa League campaign highlighted the shortage of quality options in the squad, but Spurs did not need to prioritize the competition. There is no such room for easing off in the Champions League, and certainly not if the club is trying to sell out Wembley. A player like Chadli — who seemingly is happy to be part of a squad and playing limited minutes, yet contributing when he does — may be far more useful for Spurs next season.

It is a “good problem” if ever there was one.

How to add a new dimension to the central midfield?

Against Bournemouth and Liverpool, Spurs fans watched every Eric Dier tackle with trepidation knowing that he was one yellow card away from a two-game ban.

Dier’s transformation from makeshift to mainstay has been extraordinary, and is a testament to both Pochettino’s coaching and Dier’s intelligence and technical ability.

His adaption to the role is illustrated by the yellow card issue. In his first seven games as a Premier League central midfielder, he was booked five times, ruling him out of the home match against Liverpool. He has been booked five times In the 28 games since.

Dier has played 35 out of 36 games in the league this season, racking up 3,088 minutes. Along with Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, he has been the rock this miserly Spurs team has been built on.

In Dortmund, a Spurs midfield anchored by (and I still can’t believe Pochettino tried this) Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll was brutally and predictably taken apart. It showed that we sorely need at least one other strong midfield option in case of injury, suspension or need for rotation.

This isn’t a straightforward task though. The midfield trio of Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli offer a wonderful balance, and whoever comes in is likely to see limited minutes as a starter. In particular, both Dier and Alli have proven themselves durable in their early careers. More likely, the minutes will be in place of Dembele, who is never at his best playing back-to-back games.

While someone like Victor Wanyama is frequently linked, and would appear to offer value entering the final year of his contract at Southampton, Spurs would still be spending a lot in transfer fees and wages on a player who may see strictly limited action as a Dier replacement, or someone brought on alongside him to stiffen up the midfield and preserve a lead in certain games.

Likewise, Spurs may not want to sign a midfielder who primarily plays “forward” as this player may not offer quality cover for Dier when needed. Spurs already have Ryan Mason in the squad offering cover in that sort of box-to-box role.

You may be thinking, just buy two. But we have been down the road of expensive squad players, and it wasn’t pretty. Pochettino spent most of his first 12 months clearing out the likes of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Benji Stambouli.

Pochettino doesn’t want depth for depth’s sake, judging by his statements on wanting a smaller squad than he inherited. He wants first-team quality options, and if there are minutes going spare, he would rather give them to youngsters. The days of the “Mourinho mantra” of two experienced players in every position may be over — Spurs have tried it, and not only did it fail but it was expensive. Spurs will be looking at highly-targeted versatility, rather than a Redknappian “we need to get a few more bodies in”.

Spurs ideally would be looking for someone who can play in the deep role, but also provide some of the attacking thrust of Dembele (there won’t be anyone exactly like Dembele, he is a one of a kind). This isn’t an easy piece of recruitment by any means.

But if I was Paul Mitchell, this is exactly the sort of recruitment puzzle I’d get out of bed for. There will be quality players out there who can do both. It’s just a case of finding them.

Why is this a good problem? We already have a midfield that works, and there are all sorts of interesting ways Spurs can approach the task of making it even better without breaking the bank.

What do Spurs do with Nabil Bentaleb?

Of course, it may be that Spurs already have the central midfielder they need to cover Dier and Dembele in the squad. Step forward…Nabil Bentaleb.

In his first 18 months at Spurs, Bentaleb showed serious potential. While far from the finished article, he showed tenacity and looked like he may in time develop the tactical nous to be a quality defensive midfielder in the league. With that beautiful left foot and athleticism, he also offers something going forward.

However, something has gone seriously awry in the past 12 months. Do we even know what? Public demands for a new contract? Concerns over his representation? A falling out over an injury? None of them, in isolation, seem anything more than run-of-the-mill issues and far from enough to discard a young talent. Along with facts, what has also been noticeable in its absence is any significant leaking from Bentaleb’s camp about his unhappiness and desire to move on.

It is all highly curious. It makes me wonder, perhaps, if an olive branch, or promise of a blank slate, has been quietly offered. Maybe, it has all been some jedi-style mind training from Pochettino, a deliberate crushing of Bentaleb’s soul in order to harden him for the dreary defensive work that lies ahead as a deep-lying midfielder.

Honestly, I have no idea, like everyone else. But either way, Spurs are winning. They’ve either got a quality midfield prospect hungry to get his career back on track, or they have a midfield prospect with huge potential who will fetch millions in the transfer market. That’s a “good problem” alright.

Where should Spurs look to find an understudy for Eriksen?

If Eric Dier has been irreplaceable at the base of the Spurs midfield this season, so has Christian Eriksen at the pointy end. After a mid-season dip, Eriksen has hit top form in recent months.

Eriksen has played 33 out of 36 league games this season, notching 2,762 minutes. He has also played seven Europa League games. Last season, Eriksen played in all 38 Premier League games.

Spurs are a physical and intense team capable of blowing the doors off an opposition defence. But when more subtlety is required, Eriksen is the man to pick the lock.

He is comfortably the most creative player, averaging 3.7 key passes per 90 minutes, according to WhoScored. The next closest is Erik Lamela with 2.7 per 90. Chadli in limited minutes has 2.3 per 90.

We don’t really know what would happen to Spurs if Eriksen was out for an extended time, or needed to be rested in a big match. This season, the three games he missed came during Spurs’ slow start to the season — against Leicester (a), Everton (h) and Sunderland (a). But the team was in the early stages of its evolution then, and there were myriad reasons for the underperformance.

As previously mentioned, the Champions League won’t offer the same chance of rotation as the Europa League. Eriksen, surely, will not be able to play every Premier League and European game season after season. We will need another creative midfield option. The question: Do Spurs look to the academy, or do they use Champions League qualification to attract a world-class talent?

The three most likely contenders to fill Eriksen’s shoes as creator-in-chief in the current squad are all homegrown — Tom Carroll, Josh Onomah and Alex Pritchard. Onomah would appear to have the most “upside”, but has yet to provide any real end product. Pritchard was surely the understudy-designate before walking under a ladder and enduring a year from hell that last saw him lumping it about in the West Brom U21 squad.

A driving principle of the Pochettino philosophy has been about giving homegrown talent the same chance as expensive imports. But let’s not be naive: with Champions League football on offer and money to spend, Spurs could have some serious fun shopping for an attacking midfielder.

Go and Google “best young attacking midfielders in Europe” — you’ll land on a bunch of clickbaity galleries full of future superstars. Now, because of what’s been achieved, Spurs may be able to buy some of them — we’d be crazy to rule it out.

Do we need to talk about Kevin?

One of the many benefits of a strong season like Spurs have had is that it makes retaining key players that much easier. Of course, if Real or Barca coming knocking, that’s one thing, but the entitled talk coming from Old Trafford sounds frankly delusional.

http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/manchester-united/360/blog/post/2853621/man-united-face-critical-summer-as-supporters-grow-impatient

If there is one player that I am concerned about keeping hold of, it is Kevin Wimmer. I should probably explain why.

When Jan Vertonghen went down against Crystal Palace, Wimmer didn’t so much as blink upon stepping in as his replacement. In the 10 Premier League games Wimmer played, Spurs conceded seven goals (0.70 goals per game). With Vertonghen at the back, we conceded 18 in 24 (0.75 goals per game).

Is Wimmer better than Vertonghen? I don’t even begin to know how to judge it — defensive stats such as tackles and interceptions seem pretty meaningless, especially in context of a high press.

Vertonghen’s ability to carry the ball and his distribution may give him an edge, but in pure defensive terms, Wimmer perhaps is better in dealing with aerial balls and physical strikers.

Paul Mitchell obviously had Wimmer up his sleeve from the moment he arrived at Spurs, black box in tow. While the club was cautious in doing business early on, presumably waiting for as much data as possible to be gathered before making decisions, Spurs were always moving for Wimmer.

So why am I concerned about keeping Wimmer? It is a combination of the fact that he has proven his quality, the fact that he is unlikely to unseat Vertonghen as first choice, and the fact that there is a shortage of ball-playing, left-sided centre backs in the Premier League.

If you are wondering why Spurs are where we are, Wimmer is a pretty good illustration. He is our back-up left CB, yet would be first choice in that position at Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The way Spurs split the CBs is oh-so trendy, and works a treat, and every Premier League side is going to be trying to do it next season if they aren’t already doing so. Wimmer has proven he can play out that way, while keeping things tight coming the other way. This makes him an extremely valuable commodity in the Premier League in 2016/17.

Why is this a good problem? Because if you are worried about losing a player, it is way better that it is your back-up centre back than, say, your only striker. And this whole potential scenario arises from the fact that Wimmer has been such a successful signing,

I hope Spurs keep hold of him, and use him more. The last thing we want to be doing is messing around with a settled and solid defence. But if that is not possible, we will at least get a massive wodge of cash — far more than the £4 million we spent.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles. This article was first published on Spurs Stat Man.