Tag Archives: Daniel Levy

How do Spurs get better?

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By Charles Richards / @spurs_report

The Premier League is a show that never ends, and with the 2016/17 campaign done and dusted, attention moves immediately to 2017/18.

While players enjoy a well-earned summer holiday (after the dreaded post-season tour), planning for the next campaign will intensify: the transfer market waits for no-one.

For Spurs, after a magnificent season in which only the sustained excellence of Chelsea denied the club some much-wanted silverware, the question that will be asked by the likes of Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy is a simple one: “How do we get better”?

Unlike the Manchester clubs, Spurs have few gaping holes to fill in the transfer market; unlike Chelsea and Liverpool, there is less need for an extensive deepening of the squad to cope with enhanced demands of European football.

But does that mean Spurs can stand still? Absolutely not. The club only needs to look at Arsenal to see the dangers that complacency can bring.

Speaking before the White Hart Lane finale, Pochettino made clear that he wasn’t going to let the summer drift by: “We are so ambitious and always want to improve. We are building step by step for our future. We are preparing for the next season in all the areas we need to improve, and we believe we can improve and be stronger.”

By way of perspective, Spurs got a LOT better from 2015/16 to 2016/17.

  • Spurs gained 16 extra points — increasing from 70 to 86
  • Spurs cut down the number of draws from 13 to 8
  • Spurs scored 17 more goals, increasing the total from 69 to 86
  • Spurs increased goal difference by +26, from +34 to +60
  • Spurs were unbeaten at home, and won all home matches against top six rivals bar Liverpool

This is impressive for a variety of reasons. For starters, Spurs were improving from an already strong base — a 3rd place finish, not an artificially low mid-table position. Also, Spurs didn’t have the same luck with injuries as in Pochettino’s first two campaigns. Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen all missed more than a month worth of games; while Harry Winks, Danny Rose and Erik Lamela missed substantially more.

By nature of how good Spurs were in 2016/17, improvements in 2017/18 are likely to be more incremental in nature: we’re highly unlikely to improve by 16 points again. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t clear areas for improvement:

  • Spurs won just 9 away games, joint lowest among the top six
  • Spurs won just two points in away games against other top six sides
  • Spurs won only 10 points out of a possible 21 in October and November, during the Champions League group stages
  • Spurs failed to advance from their Champions League group, and embarrassed themselves in the Europa League

There was also the issue of the lack of silverware — it is nine seasons and counting since the last trophy, which is far too long.

But winning silverware is harder to plan for: Spurs reached the FA Cup semi-final, played well, and somehow conceded four to an utterly ruthless Chelsea. This is now seven FA Cup semi-final defeats in a row — which is a record, and a freakish level of futility. The aim must be to continue to build a squad for which reaching the latter stages of the FA Cup is an expectation, rather than a hope. The hope comes later — namely hoping that Nemanja Matic doesn’t wonderblast it into the top corner from 30 yards, and that whatever other agonies we have endured over the years don’t repeat themselves.

The areas the Tottenham hierarchy will identify as having scope for improvement will be away performance, especially in “big” games, and better balancing of domestic and European schedules.

In particular, you suspect improved away form is essential: going unbeaten at home is unusual and unlikely to be repeated. It’s going to be tedious, next season, when every home setback gets put down to Spurs not adjusting to Wembley: Spurs won 53 out of 57 points at home in 2016/17, a level accumulation that we wouldn’t repeat if we were still at White Hart Lane. It’s as freakish as the run of FA Cup semi-final defeats.

The goal will be to pick up more additional points in away games than we drop in home games.

All sounds simple, no? But here’s the hard part: how exactly are Spurs going to do this?

Here are some ideas.

Sort out the mess on the right flank

Let’s be frank: the right wing position (or whatever the correct term is for the roaming/backtracking/creative equivalent in Pochball) was a garbage fire in 2016/17. Moussa Sissoko started just eight Premier League games, and totalled 901 minutes, contributing zero goals and three assists. Erik Lamela appeared in nine league games, scoring once and assisting once, before missing the rest of the season with a hip injury. GK Nkoudou played 47 minutes of league action in total, and his sole contribution was to not look quite as appalling as Clinton N’Jie.

After the 6-1 demolition of Leicester, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher offered a well-measured diagnosis of Tottenham’s needs — or rather need — this summer, identifying the difference a quality and pacey wideman, such as Sadio Mane, could make. The signing of Sissoko, and gambles on N’Jie and Nkoudou, suggest Pochettino agrees. These three all failed in their first campaigns to show they are the answer, and all may be sold rather than be given more time to prove their worth. They’ve been so bad it’s not clear they’ve earned another shot, unlike, say, Vincent Janssen, who has at least hinted at some modest footballing ability. It is unclear if OM have already activated their option to make N’Jie’s loan move permanent.

However, there are questions of whether this need for pace and ball-carrying ability is really required. Simply put, if Spurs signed a player such as Wilfried Zaha (who is likely staying with Palace anyway, but he’s just an example), would he be used? In big away games, sure, it would be nice to have a player like this — but you rather suspect, when push comes to shove, this player is likely to be benched in favour of an additional midfielder such as Harry Winks as Pochettino seeks to assert control. There is also the question of Son Heung-min — he may not be a ball-carrier like Zaha, but he’s fast, direct and scores loads.

You rather suspect, the decision on what to do in this position will be made at the same time as the decision on what to do with Lamela. If Lamela moves on, this opens the door for a more creative type of player; if Lamela stays and returns to fitness, expect Spurs to look for pace and dribbling ability.  Either way, Spurs are pretty much upgrading from nothing in this position — the only way is up.

Deepen the philosophy

After the Leicester game, Pochettino spoke about his philosophy and how, after three years, it was now deeply ingrained. The 2016/17 campaign saw significant development with the addition of a back three as a tactical alternative to the back four used in his first two seasons. However, this new tactical approach came after the mediocre early October form that saw consecutive draws against West Brom, Bournemouth and Leicester.

As James Yorke noted in his round-up of the season, Spurs continued to play the same basic Pochball as the previous season: dominating the ball, conceding few and taking a ton of shots. There are questions, though, about whether Spurs ran “hot”.

This year they shaved a couple of shots per game off their defensive end, got the breaks at both ends and happily rode the positive variance all the way up to second place. That’s maybe frustrating, and Pochettino knows it, judging by his reluctant acceptance of praise that has come his way.

It certainly sounds like there is some scope for improvement here, in terms of creating better shots, not just taking even more of them: a bit more nuance in the passing and movement, so that every match isn’t just a case of trying to batter the opposition into submission. Some of the football in 2016/17 was sensational — the first half at home against West Brom was perhaps the purest example of Pochball, utterly breathtaking. The goal will be to find that level of performance more often. It won’t happen every game, but it doesn’t need to: it just needs to happen a little more often.

The other thing Spurs should do, in addition to fine-tuning the tactical approach, is to deepen the culture.

Pochettino has assembled a tremendous team in terms of talent, but there is a togetherness to the camp, and a connection between players and fans, that can’t be matched. It’s hard to put a number on the value of homegrown players, but we can all feel that it exists.

With top six rivals all likely to spend between £100m and £200m this summer, Spurs may feel the pressure to also “show their ambition” in the transfer market — whatever the hell the pundits mean by that. Are the current Spurs players really going to walk away if Spurs don’t sign people to replace them? Whatever it means, Spurs should resist and keep the pathways to the first team open, as both Levy and Pochettino have stressed they will continue to to.

The emergence of Harry Winks was the latest example of this process working. After biding his time and learning to play the Pochettino way, Winks’ opportunity finally came this season — and he seized it with both hands. He proved a calm midfield presence, trusted to provide control in key games. Before injury struck, Winks was moving into England senior contention and appears set to be a mainstay in the Spurs midfield for years to come. He is a boyhood Spurs fan who is now living his dream: you simply can’t buy that. It helps Spurs achieve a unity of purpose that all the money in the world can’t match.

So who is the next cab off the rank? Many fans will say Marcus Edwards, or hope that Josh Onomah kicks on after appearing to stall somewhat, but most likely it is Cameron Carter-Vickers. Spurs shouldn’t bother replacing Kevin Wimmer: between Ben Davies and CCV, his minutes are more than covered plus absences for Alderweireld too. If CCV does emerge, this could also have the knock-on effect of allowing Eric Dier to play more games in midfield, or just fewer games overall given the huge workload he shoulders.

While Spurs are integrating young players who’ve had a year or more learning the system in training, other top clubs will continue to introduce three or four major new signings each season and hope they work out. Spurs don’t need to do that: if we can add one homegrown player to the mix each year, that’s the sort of incremental, organic improvement to an already-strong squad that will lead to titles. We’re already good! We just need to keep getting even better.

Throw off the shackles in Europe

Pochettino has done very little wrong in his time at Spurs, but the one area he has consistently struggled to find improvement is in European competition. In three years, there has hardly been a single European performance of note, and crashing out to Gent — or was it Genk? — in February summed up the malaise.

There’s something off about the performances in Europe. Spurs look tense, constrained, unnatural — the press is mechanical, there is a lack of movement, we barely create good chances and look shaky at the back. Spurs look like a team that fears failure, rather than sees Europe as an opportunity to shine.

Instead of amping up the pressure to perform better, you wonder if Pochettino may be better reducing it: more rotation, more attacking line-ups, and unashamedly offensive tactics. Just go for it — dare I say it, like ‘Arry did in that excellent European campaign — and get the opposition out of the players’ heads.

There was something about the performance against Leicester — Spurs revelled in the freedom of playing without pressure, and the movement was a joy. Can Pochettino and his team capture that spirit? It may have consequences for the league, too. Less inhibition in Europe may make that gruelling October/November period less of an ordeal, and maybe turn one or two draws into wins. Remember, it’s just incremental improvement we need.

Avoiding key injuries and better scheduling that ends the draining clustering of London derbies would also help, but that’s beyond Spurs’ control.

Improve the options off the bench

There were a number of occasions this season — Sunderland and Manchester United away jump out — when Pochettino looked to his bench for help in vain.

Quite simply, Spurs got virtually nothing in direct production from substitutes all season long. Spurs substitutes scored four times, and created six assists in total. Of those, three of the goals were by Son, who also assisted twice.

Some caveats: Spurs have had a long injury list, meaning the bench was often weaker than it should have been. Think back to the Autumn when Kane, Dembele and Alderweireld all missed time — take Costa, Kante and David Luiz out of the Chelsea team, and you can bet they would have dropped a few points as well. Furthermore, given the strong performances, particularly at home, Spurs didn’t “need” to go to the bench all that often. Spurs subs played an average of 42.5 minutes, well below the average of 51.6 minutes in the Premier League. The two teams with the lowest average number of substitute minutes? Chelsea (34.7) and Liverpool (37.6) — not being in Europe helps.

But, there were still moments, without doubt, when a stronger bench may have helped Spurs. Again, we’re looking for incremental improvement. In 2017, when you are a Spurs fan and you’re still thinking “I wish Jermain Defoe was on the bench and not playing for Sunderland”, it’s fair to suggest we lacked a bit of punch.

Transfer blueprint

I was going to write a separate piece on transfer strategy, but time is limited. It’s all a crapshoot anyway — who knows what will happen over the next two months. Here’s what I would do, if I was in charge and was being (almost) sensible about who is leaving and potentially coming in:

OUT

Kyle Walker (£40m), Kevin Wimmer (£15m), Moussa Sissoko (£20m), GK Nkoudou (£5m); plus loanees Clinton N’Jie (£5m), Nabil Bentaleb (£18m) and Fede Fazio (£2.5m)
Total: £105.5m

IN

Ryan Sessegnon (£15m), Dani Alves (£0), Gylfi Sigurdsson (£28m), Christian Pulisic (£40m)
Total: £83m

By the time you factor in the £20m we’ll lose on Sissoko, Nkoudou and N’Jie, that’s about breaking even: Net spend is for wimps.

Good thing I’m not in charge, huh?

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

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.

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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.

Examining the rising costs of Tottenham’s £800m stadium

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“Brexit to blame as Spurs stadium costs double”, screamed the headlines this week, as it emerged the cost of the club’s new home has increased to an estimated £800m.

The eye-watering figure sparked concern among fans over the impact of the project on the club’s long-term financial future. In this piece, I will look at the £800m figure and the reasons why costs have increased so sharply.

Revised cost estimates

First the background: the new £800m estimate was revealed by chairman Daniel Levy in board-to-board minutes published by the THST, always one of the best sources of information on the project:

DL stated that the funds would come from different sources and that the cost of the stadium was now estimated circa £800m

In an email response to a question from a fan about why the stadium cost had seemingly doubled from the initial £400m estimate, chief executive Donna-Maria Cullen expanded further.

It is worth remembering that the original cost quoted for the stadium was some 7 years ago. This new ‘estimated’ figure relates predominantly to the stadium with some elements of substructure for the other builds particularly the Tottenham Experience. Brexit has added a straight 20% on costs for foreign goods due to the exchange rate, overtime working and increased construction costs similarly. Revised basement works also added to the cost. We are constantly managing costs and will continue to do so throughout the process along with funding plans to ensure the viability of the scheme.

Credit must go to Cullen for communicating directly with fans and attempting to ease concerns over the stadium’s viability.

As Cullen notes, this stadium project has been a long time in coming. A new stadium was first mooted in 2007, and planning permission for the old, 56,000 capacity design was gained in September 2010. The project then drifted for five years amid CPO litigation and interest in the Olympic Stadium site, before enhanced plans were approved in December 2015.

Understandably, the project cost has increased sharply over this period — it has become a bigger, and higher specification, stadium.

The first public estimate for the current version of the stadium came in December 2015. At a fan forum, Levy estimated the cost at £500m. This was in line with the financial Viability Report, which put the estimated bill for the whole scheme — this includes the housing and hotel component — at between £675m and £750m.

This £500m figure is a reasonable baseline — so if and when stadium costs hit £1bn, then we can talk about it doubling.

Explaining the jump

That said, £500m to £800m remains one heck of a jump — £300m is an awful lot of money: it is ten Moussa Sissokos, or 20 times the amount West Ham contributed to the Olympic Stadium rebuild.

In her email, Cullen outlined four key factors beyond the cost increase: the weakening of the pound due to Brexit, overtime working, increased construction costs and revised basement works.

Overtime costs are easily explained — go on the live webcams, and you’ll see workers on site for 18 hours a day, seven days a week. The timeline is phenomenally tight, with Spurs needing to complete work to a sufficient degree to ensure only one season is played at a reduced capacity WHL, and only one season at Wembley. Very soon, the club is going to have to make the decision on whether to knock down White Hart Lane — understandably, both club and contractors Mace will be want to be as far ahead at possible before crossing this point of no return.

On construction costs, the story of the club purchasing cranes is a good example of how costs can rise when the clock is ticking. The club couldn’t afford to wait for leased cranes, so instead bought new ones and will seek to recoup some money after work is finished.

Revised basement works appear to refer to changes to the design that were approved in 2015, prior to full planning permission being granted. The revised plans include more car parking and storage space, seemingly with the NFL groundshare in mind.

The final issue is the weakening of the pound, forcing up the price of imported equipment and goods.

A look at the five-year £/euro exchange rate highlights the problem Spurs have had. In early 2015, just as Spurs were at the peak stage of modelling stadium finances and cost planning, the pound strengthened considerably. For about a year, it hung there, and pretty much as the stadium was approved in December, it started to fall.

Screenshot 2017-03-07 at 6.53.42 PM

Cullen blamed Brexit — and without doubt, Brexit gave the pound a kicking. But the pound was already falling well beforehand — and if you look at the 10-year trend, we’re kind of back where we were for much of 2009 to 2013. The timing is unfortunate — Spursy? — but the club is far from alone in being caught unawares by Brexit.

In terms of magnitude of impact and the 20 percent cost increase on imported goods, it’s hard to gauge without knowing more about where materials for the scheme are coming from. We could be talking millions, or tens of millions. But either way, currency fluctuations have impacted the budget: on the plus side, the weak pound should help exports of crap squad players to the eurozone and China this summer.

Nice things cost money

Does this add up to £300m? In all probability, no. There’s one other factor that — inevitability — has led to an increase in the final costs of the stadium: the fit-out.

When the £500m project figure was first estimated, there was inevitably going to be a lot of uncertainty about internal fittings — how much do tunnel clubs, cheese rooms, sky lounges and state-of-the-art beer bumps actually cost? There is bound to be guesswork for these bespoke elements — it’s not like Levy is heading down to Ikea armed with a pre-budgeted shopping list and club credit card.

Through the build phase, Spurs have been tweaking plans for the internals of the stadium. In responses to questions I posed in the summer, it was clear that issues like in-stadium technology were very much a work in progress. It was reported that Levy was travelling around London skyscrapers inspecting lift fittings to ensure the right specification for the stadium.

This story about the Minnesota Vikings and their spectacular new stadium illustrates how costs can shift. It was decided, during construction, that another 400 in-stadium screens were required (and money was duly extracted from taxpayers), while expensive-sounding network infrastructure had to be developed to cater for increasing demands for stadium wifi. Meanwhile, stadium builders are continuously learning — during the build of the US Bank Stadium, it became clear that the new 49ers home, the Levi’s Stadium, was not sufficiently catering to fan demands for instant replay — so the Vikings increased the number and quality of in-house cameras. You can imagine Spurs doing something similar — the introduction of video-refereeing will mean fans will need to see more to understand the game. These changes are part of the future proofing of the stadium design, but potentially cost a lot of money.

Shifting financial situation

While costs have been rising, so too have club revenues.

In the 2015 financial year, club revenues stood at £196m. Figures for for FY 2016 will be released soon — they should show revenues climbing to around £210-215m, per my estimates. But from here, the increase will be sharp — FY 2017 will see the new Premier League TV deal accounted for, and should send revenues close to £275m. In the following year, revenues could potentially increase further if Spurs are able to play in front of a sold-out Wembley week-in, week-out. You get the picture.

The amount Spurs can borrow is tied to income. Initially, it was reported Spurs would borrow £350m from banks — in reality, there may be the potential now to borrow more.

In an email lambasting lack of action by local authorities that *mysteriously* found its way onto the front page of the Evening Standard, Levy mentioned the financing had not yet been finalized — in all reality, at least some portion must be in place given the scale of construction so far. It was reported that of the initial funding package, the first £200m would be loaned up front — it may be that this “bridge” part is in place, but Spurs are looking to tap more than £150m in the second phase. This is speculation, but rising costs and income, combined with recent public comments, suggests this may be a potential scenario.

In addition to Spurs earning more, as the project has progressed, the club will have gained greater clarity on feasibility of generating additional revenue. While two of the 16 non-Spurs major events are locked out by the NFL, no doubt conversations are underway in terms of other events, given the stadium is due to open in just 18 months. I have previously speculated that AEG may be involved in organising these events — a Twitter exchange with the head of AEG’s new rugby division did little to deter me from this view.

With greater clarity on how the stadium is going to be used, Spurs may be more confident in pushing the boat out on internal fit-out — more expensive sound systems, better resolution screens, or whatever it is.

In terms of other financing sources, nothing is yet confirmed on naming rights, while advanced premium ticket sales have begun — the club reported about 50 percent of premium packages are now sold. Pinches of salt no doubt required. There is some indication that Joe Lewis recently put a certain amount of money into the club — £20m or so — but this can’t be confirmed. I’m personally dying to know if the NFL is putting money in up front. But either way, with more than £100m spent on property/site prep/design and legal costs, at least £350m coming from banks, and naming rights/advance sales to roll in, Spurs are well on the way to £800m regardless.

Final thought

Given the context of the £800m figure — revealed while relations with authorities over the White Hart Lane station development are strained and amid ongoing dialogue on affordable housing — some caution is advised.

But taking the £800m figure at face value, it doesn’t appear an unrealistic amount for Spurs to spend. The club will have a lot of debt, but increasing revenues to service it. If you look at costs of recent stadiums in the US, £800m is still quite modest — the Vikings stadium cost $1.2bn, while the new Falcons stadium in Atlanta will cost around $1.6bn.

The next few weeks promises to be the most stressful of the entire project.

Brent Council’s decision on Wembley, due March 23, has a multi-million pound impact on Spurs — being able to play in front of 90,000 rather than 51,000 next season will make a huge difference to the club’s bottom line.

Meanwhile, the club has to make the agonizing decision on whether to knock down White Hart Lane. Any delays after this happens — for example during the demolition and excavation of the old ground — could leave Spurs homeless and at the mercy of the FA, who have another tenant — with a lot more money — lined up to take Wembley once we’ve moved out.

Just because costs are increasingly sharply, doesn’t mean they are spiraling out of control. It’s a high-wire act — but if Spurs can pull it off, the rewards are huge.

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

 

Spurs need to rediscover transfer mojo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new generation of Spurs fans craves FA Cup glory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desperation is a powerful motivating force.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Over the interminable international break, I’ve been thinking a lot about two things — Spurs and politics.

In politics, I’ve been following the US election avidly and trying to understand why, despite everything we are learning each day, tens of millions of perfectly sane and patriotic Americans will vote for Donald Trump on November 8th.

For Spurs, I’ve been thinking about the success the club is currently experiencing, and trying to understand if there is some deeper explanation than merely an outbreak of managerial competence and a couple of decent signings.

In these two divergent trains of thought, strangely, I’ve found myself coming back to a similar place: the importance of incentives, both good and bad, in shaping outcomes and behaviour.

To a neutral observer (at least as neutral as anyone can be given the impact the US president has on the whole world), Trump’s rise has been baffling. Trump appears to be a sociopathic, predatory conman whose hiding-in-plain-sight brazenness and questionable sexual history has more than a shade of the Jimmy Saville about it. His evident emotional, intellectual and political shortcomings threaten a dangerously volatile presidency, and this could have all manner of devastating consequences given the power of the office (like, you know, commanding the US armed forces).

However, if you’ve spent the past eight years and more watching Fox News and listening to US talk radio, it will have seeped into your subconscious that America is changing for the worse, you are the main loser from that change, and that the current political establishment, embodied by one Hillary Clinton, is creating that change. I’m generalising of course, but you can see the incentive is now there to vote Trump: If you believe the current system is the problem, you have the incentive to vote for the one guy who appears to be from outside it and is talking very loudly about destroying it.

The rest — the ability to ignore facts about Trump and believe lies told by Trump — is an unparalleled epidemic of cognitive dissonance, and will be studied by psychologists and political scientists for generations to come should, as the polls suggest, Clinton limp pathetically to victory.

If that’s an example of a “bad” incentive — although philosophically speaking an incentive is just an incentive, immune to such subjective labelling — then Spurs currently are an example of the “good”.

Arguably the most famous example of incentives in football is the other lot. For years, Arsene Wenger has been told to deliver a Top 4 finish and Champions League football, and been strongly incentivized to do so through ongoing employment on increasingly lucrative terms. Arsenal fans no doubt wonder, if Wenger had been incentivized to win a title — through either the offer of more money or the threat of the sack — he may have done more to seriously challenge for the title in the past dozen or so seasons.

Chelsea are another example of how incentives can have a fundamental impact on a football club. Despite investing millions and being a dominant force in youth football, Chelsea have failed to see an academy graduate (barring the expensive Matic outlier) given an extended run in the first team since John Terry. The problem has been that a succession of managers have been so concerned about satisfying Roman Abramovich’s thirst for trophies that none has been able to risk the inevitable ups and downs that come with blooding young players.

In North London (yeah, take that, any Arsenal fans who read this), Spurs have been having some incentive problems of their own through the ENIC era. Specifically, the “buy-low, sell-high” business model that powered Spurs up from the middle of the Premier League pack to the “best of the rest” may have inadvertently created the incentives that prevented the club from taking the next step.

Think of that giddy time when Gareth Bale was beginning his metamorphosis, or Luka Modric was making Harry Redknapp’s team hum in central midfield, or Dimitar Berbatov was oozing class up front. There was always that fear we had as fans: “If he keeps playing this well, we’ll never be able to keep him.”

And this wasn’t mere pessimistic terrace talk — this was simply a statement of fact, given the financial model of the club at the time. This model created perverse incentives — success in player development and coaching could mean instability and the loss of key players, and what could be a step forward in fact turned into a step back. Little wonder, then, the club churned through a succession of managers.

The debacle that was the post-Bale reboot brought into full view the flaws of this strategy. The vision for how the club was supposed to be run hasn’t changed on a strategic level since Daniel Levy decided to move on from Harry Redknapp: an ambitious young manager committed to playing dynamic football and running the club in a modern, professional way.

Andre Villas-Boas, for all his personal shortcomings, was hamstrung by conflicting incentives and objectives: he had to sell his star player, yet somehow mould a collection of cheap replacements into a winning team without a sustained dip in performance. There were many reasons that AVB failed, but the incentives were never right.

I’m pretty sure that AVB was supposed to become what Mauricio Pochettino is now, but for Pochettino the incentives now are perfect.

He is charged with building a team that is greater than the sum of the parts, without the need to sell key players but accepting as a consequence that there are limited funds to acquire new ones. Instead of trying to compete with the moneybags clubs in the transfer market, Spurs are forced to do things in a different way, and are benefitting from doing so through squad unity and a vibrancy other clubs lack. Pochettino and the club have every incentive to develop young homegrown talent, especially since Harry Kane has shown how worthwhile it can be. Crucially, with no need to sell, there is no upper limit now on what can be achieved — when Pochettino talks about building the “project” and competing for titles, he means it, because that is the aim.

No doubt the club’s ability to resist cashing in on star players will be tested in years to come. But curiously, the new stadium, while hindering the ability to spend, creates a further incentive not to sell.

Spurs will be borrowing a lot of money to build the stadium, but the success of the investment ultimately rests on selling the 25,000 extra tickets each match and filling the lush new hospitality areas. This will be much easier with a successful and appealing team — as the ability of the club to sell out Wembley against three deeply uninspiring Champions League opponents this season attests. Spurs, therefore, have every incentive to keep Kane, Dele Alli and so on, no matter how easy Manchester United fans seem to think it will be to eventually tempt them away.

There are many reasons why I’m excited about Spurs at the moment, and there are many explanations about why the club is now moving forward even at a time it is increasingly financially disadvantaged compared to cash-rich rivals. This isn’t to take away credit from the remarkable job that Pochettino is doing, and the contrast with AVB is stark. Pochettino has immense sway at Hotspur Way now — a strong manager has the power to shape incentives.

A lot of things have to go right for a football club to succeed, but if the incentives aren’t right, change is just going round and round in a circle.

Think of the current team, if the old problem of selling star players reared its head again. Instead of building a single, ongoing project, Pochettino would be facing the challenge of replacing departing talent with cheaper, younger alternatives. You can’t defy footballing gravity forever, and Pochettino wouldn’t have the incentive to risk this damage to his reputation. Eventually he’d would walk away, reputation enhanced, like he did at Southampton (or, if he left it too late, leave sacked and heading back down the managerial pyramid, like most of his predecessors at Spurs).

There are many ways to describe the state of affairs at Spurs currently, but when we talk about stars aligning, virtuous circles, everyone pushing in the same direction or whatever expression it is (i’ve used a fair few…), key to it all is that the incentives are right.

Long may it continue.

And now, having written all that, I’m off to put a fiver on Trump to beat Clinton and West Brom to beat Spurs on Saturday.

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

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

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Given the recent flurry of news and public comments, it is high time for another update on where things stand with the Spurs stadium project.

In recent weeks, the installation of dozens of giant “rakers” have started to finally give the structure that unique stadium shape, while along the High Road the stadium is starting to rise up high above the hoardings.

In this post, I’ll talk timelines, the NFL, training centres, housing and various other things. My last stadium update, from June, is here.

Timeline and costs

The regular board-to-board meetings between the club and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust have proven useful in gaining insight into the state of the project.

Per the minutes of the last meeting, released on Friday, Daniel Levy confirmed that the project is “more or less” on time and budget.

Crews are working seven days a week, with the aim of being ready to move out in the summer and ensure that only one year away at Wembley is needed.

Cost-wise, “the financial model is in good shape”, Levy said, but he noted the impact of the weakened pound and 7-day work schedule. “All possible resources” were being put into construction to ensure deadlines were met, Levy said, a hint the project is currently at the higher end of its budget.

What does “all possible resources” mean, in practice, beyond extending the hours worked on site to the permitted maximum?

Earlier this month, industry website Building.co.uk published a story stating that Spurs had purchased the five cranes that are being used on the site, as they were unable to hire any when required. Obviously the increased cost of purchasing cranes, rather than waiting for rented cranes to come available, was something the club was prepared to bear in order to ensure deadlines were met.

Given the fact that crews are on site seven days a week, and are even working during matchdays when there are 32,000 fans in the vicinity, it is safe to assume the pace of work is at the absolute maximum, and there is little to no leeway for delay.

Less positive are “considerable” delays to the rebuilding of White Hart Lane station, as well as Haringey’s High Road West regeneration plan. I’m not immediately clear what impact this will have on the club and matchgoing fans when the new stadium opens. Presumably insufficient public transport capacity may require some alternative arrangements on matchdays to ensure safety, but I am speculating. I’d welcome any insight on this.

The NFL explained

Earlier this month, ESPN published the rarest of things: a Daniel Levy interview.

It was fascinating as finally, among other things, Levy’s rationale for building a stadium with NFL facilities was revealed.

Previously, I’ve had fun trying to divine what the rationale may be, but now we know — there is no clear commitment from the NFL, just a considered gamble from Spurs that ultimately, when the NFL is ready for a London franchise, the league will select New White Hart Lane as its home.

“If it ever got to a stage where the NFL decided it wanted to have a permanent team in London, this stadium could literally be, whatever the team was, it would be their stadium as opposed to an NFL team feeling they’re renting Tottenham’s stadium.

“We would welcome very much close cooperation with the NFL and a dedicated team. Obviously a decision is entirely theirs whether they do bring a team to the UK, and where it would be located is something that would be talked about. But yes, we would be very much welcome to that scenario.

“Clearly we wouldn’t both be putting all this into this stadium if there wasn’t the prospect of one day a team eventually coming to London. But there are certainly no guarantees that A) a team comes to London, and B) they have to use our stadium. I think we’re all putting the effort in in the hopes that they will do it.”

Of course, there may be more to the 10-year, two-game agreement that can be currently disclosed, but these comments are the clearest indication of the state of affairs so far.

As far as I have seen, there have been no new comments from senior NFL figures since my last piece on the subject of a permanent London franchise. New London mayor Sadiq Khan expressed support for the idea after a trip to the US, where his meetings included one with Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, widely seen as the most likely franchise to relocate.

However, Spurs are finding other ways to make themselves useful to the NFL.

In subsequent excerpts of the interview, Levy essentially pitched the club’s services in providing training facilities for the NFL should a team be relocated.

“The NFL, a number of times when they’ve come to the UK, has used our training facility and, when a foreign organisation goes to another territory, I think being in partnership with a local operator brings enormous benefits.

“We’re going into this, hopefully the intention is our relationship will expand over time and we’re working very closely together. But I think in terms of training facilities and things like that, we have discussed that with the NFL, but again that’s something for the NFL to decide upon.”

The training facility of a London NFL team will be one of the knottiest issues for the NFL. It’s not like in most US cities where facilities can be thrown up very quickly — in London, it takes years to acquire land and gain consent. Spurs have a huge training facility, and there may be ways of reconfiguring what is there for NFL use, or even expanding slightly such has been done with the new player accommodation. See this thread for more details:

Spurs have a chance to make themselves very useful to the NFL here, and are smart to exploit this angle. It should be noted, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell visited the facility last autumn so will know just how impressive it is.

One final thought: this was a great interview, and Daniel Levy should do more.

I’m not saying he should take to tweeting like an idiot or start Kardashianizing himself like Jose Mourinho, but rather in a targeted way, get out there a little bit.

Raising the profile of the club now may have benefits in the search for stadium sponsors. So go and have “Lunch with the FT”, talk to AdWeek, get Gary Lineker around for some multi-channel PR schmoozefest as he does so effectively with his Goal Hanger productions.

The football media narrative is stuck on Jose, Jose and more Jose, with an occasional bout of Klopp-itis or Pep-worship. Mauricio Pochettino, when he’s not going rogue and comparing academy prospects to Lionel Messi, is circumspect in his dealings with the media and his English is still limited in terms of expressing himself fully.

There’s a great story to tell about Spurs at the moment, and it’s not really being told, in my opinion.

The club is producing more homegrown talent than anyone and is the major contributor of English players to the national team. It is building a world-class stadium without any assistance from the taxpayer. In general terms, the club is punching wildly above its weight in on-field performance, as the recent Manchester United financial statement highlighted.

If ever there was a time to talk about Spurs, it’s now.

Pictures — then and now

Construction is advancing rapidly, but what is it going to look like come the final farewell to old White Hart Lane in May next year?

I first saw this picture posted by @HotspurSam, and it is well worth showing again. It’s just an impression, but you can see how progress will need to be seriously rapid over the next seven to eight months. The picture in the top-right corner is the most eye-grabbing — that’s what we should see in May.

stadiumprogression

As I’ve said previously, it is going to look absolutely bizarre.

On the subject of progress, here are a couple of photos. The first is from June 2015, and the second is the latest aerial shot from the club (with blue lines and tint, but you get the picture).

stadiumjune15stadiumsept23

Pretty cool, huh?

The other White Hart Lane development

On September 12, Spurs received approval for its 500 White Hart Lane development, subject to a Section 106 agreement.

The industrial site was bought for the relocation of Archway Sheet Metal, but they did not take up the offer and ultimately moved elsewhere. The club then marketed the site to other occupants, unsuccessfully, before deciding to turn it into housing. It is a major project, with 144 residential units and (some) retail space.

The vote by the Haringey planning sub-committee was a close one — a motion to reject the proposal was lost by five votes to six, and then the project was approved by six votes to four with one abstention. There was noisy opposition to the project, per video of the event.

This is an interesting project in so much as Spurs are doing it at all. After Archway opted against taking the site, the easiest thing to do would have been to sell it on (no doubt at a nice profit given ever-rising land values in London). But, clearly, Spurs have a taste for property development and opted for the more ambitious option.

What Spurs do with 500 White Hart Lane — develop it themselves, or sell on a consented scheme to another developer — may offer hints for what will happen to the final stage of the stadium project.

Once the stadium itself is completed in (hopefully) the summer of 2018, attention will turn to the “Southern Development Land”. This in itself is a huge development, including a 180-room hotel, 585 housing units and other facilities.

While the stadium itself will cost around £500 million, this final phase will take the bill for the project to the £675m-£750 million figure. It is a huge challenge, and the general assumption is that Spurs will ultimately sell this off as a consented scheme and allow someone else to take the risk on it. It may not be that easy, though, as the scheme has a low “internal rate of return” — a measure of the appeal of a potential development to investors.

Either way, it’s one to keep an eye on — the focus at the club now will be firmly on getting the stadium done on time.

Until a decision is made, I am going to keep using the £675m-£750 million figure for the project. Ultimately, the hotel and housing has to be built, and currently the obligation to do so lies with the club.

And finally

I’ve written a couple of pieces recently related to the stadium — this one on naming rights, and this one on the challenge of balancing spending between the stadium and the team.

Do have a read if you’ve not already done so — they are detailed pieces, and should be of interest to those following this project.

Meanwhile, over at Chelsea, the club is now in a second period of public consultation due to changes to its plan to redevelop Stamford Bridge.

There’s a Twitter thread here with various links.

I wrote in May that this second consultation would be required — so I’m pleased that what I reported proved to be accurate.

However, from my initial reading of Chelsea’s changes, I’m not entirely clear how the concerns raised by Network Rail about safety and access to the railway that will run under the West Stand have been assuaged.

Any journalists or bloggers interested in a story could do far worse than give Network Rail a call — this stadium simply won’t be built until they sign off, and they were far from happy with the initial plans. My blogging time is limited now so I can’t follow this project as closely as I have done previously.

Thanks for reading, please follow me on Twitter for more stadium chat. Comments welcome, in particular on issues concerning delays to public infrastructure and the plans for the Southern Development Land.