Tag Archives: Transfer Window

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.

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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.

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

ACF Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur FC - UEFA Europa League Round of 32

Where are they now? Spurs 2014/15 vintage. Via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday published its accounts covering the 2014/15 campaign, and there are a number of points of interest for fans.

In the previous set of accounts, the club recorded a stonking £80 million pre-tax profit, in large part due to the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. This year’s financial statement marks a return to normalcy — Spurs is a fundamentally profitable football club, as the pre-tax profit of £12 million shows.

While healthy, the accounts reflect the transitional season the club had on the pitch in the 2014/15 campaign. It was yet another new dawn for Spurs, with Mauricio Pochettino taking charge after the debacle of the Tim Sherwood appointment.

For the first half of the season, it appeared like it could be another false dawn — once again, the big names in the squad, including some of those purchased with the Bale money, failed to contribute as much as they should. But then, things started to change — Pochettino turned to youth, Harry Kane emerged, we beat Chelsea 5-3, and the future of the club fundamentally changed.

With the accounts ending in June 2015, the good times are yet to show on the bottom line. Future statements will be boosted by our strong league campaign in 2015/16, Champions League football and whatever else is in store for this Tottenham 2.0 that has emerged.

This accounts speak to how far the club has come since last summer. It seems such a long time ago, doesn’t it? All that angst over the lack of a defensive midfielder, players like Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele seemingly on the way out, a shortage of striking options (OK, so not everything has changed).

Meanwhile, flat match-day revenues and commercial income far behind the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal are a reminder of how far we still have to go. A season-ticket waiting list of 50,000 illustrates just how desperate the club is to get the new stadium built.

Below are a few notes from the accounts. I welcome feedback and any insight you can give me on some of the more technical aspects.

 

Revenue — AIA deal kicks in

Spurs revenue

The club has changed the way it accounts for revenues, making UEFA prize money a separate category and altering what is allocated as commercial income and match-day income. I’m sure there were good reasons for doing this, but it makes comparisons — both with previous years and to other clubs — harder.

Commercial revenue grew from £43.3 million to £59.9 million, in large part due to the start of the shirt sponsorship deal with AIA. This deal is reportedly worth £16 million per year, and runs for five seasons. Merchandising revenue grew from £11 million to £12.3 million.

Match-day revenues were £41.2 million, down slightly from £42.4 million in 2014. Premier League match-day revenues were £22.3 million — in 2014 they were £22.4 million. With season ticket prices frozen and White Hart Lane almost always sold out in the Premier League, this segment will remain flat until Spurs complete the new stadium.

Champions League qualification may allow the club to take in a little more on the gate — but that won’t show up until the accounts after next (so in two years).

The share of the Premier League TV pot was up by £1 million as we finished fifth, as opposed to sixth. Next season, that share should be considerably higher — we will be shown more on UK TV due to our involvement in the title race, which means more in “facility fees”, and our performance-related payment will be higher as we should finish at least third. The new Premier League TV deal kicks in next season, so again this won’t show up until the accounts published in two years time.

In both commercial terms, and match-day terms, Spurs remain an absolute mile behind some competitors. Liverpool, for example, reported commercial income of £116.4 million in their last accounts — approaching double what Spurs achieved. Liverpool’s matchday revenue was also considerably higher, at £59 million, compared to our £41.9 million.

We are punching above our weight, massively.

 

Player trading — a return to pragmatism

There was an “after the Lord Mayor’s Show” feel to the club’s transfer activity after the Gareth Bale sale and Franco Baldini’s trolley dash the previous year.

It many ways, it was a return to the “pragmatic player trading” that Daniel Levy has adopted throughout his tenure in charge of the club. Spurs hunted for value in the market, and sought to extract top rates when selling players.

The hunt for value is hard, and there will be hits and misses: it turned out Federico Fazio was cheaper than Mateo Musacchio for a reason, likewise Benji Stambouli vis-a-vis Morgan Schneiderlin. But there were also huge successes: Dele Alli and Eric Dier cost around £9 million combined, value for the bromance alone.

Outgoing, Spurs managed to bring in good fees for the likes of Jake Livermore, Michael Dawson, Kyle Naughton, Sandro and Zeki Fryers (Palace no doubt regret that one).

There is no detail on the deal that saw Michel Vorm and Ben Davies move to Spurs from Swansea, with Gylfi Sigurdsson and a certain amount of cash going the other way. FC Utrecht have referred Swansea to the Court of Arbitration for Sport over this deal, arguing they were due a sell-on fee.

Profit on player sales (or, disposal of intangible assets, as it is termed) was nominally £21.2 million, compared with £104 million in 2014. This figure isn’t however particularly helpful due to the way clubs account for transfers — I’ll explain this in detail at the bottom for those who are interested.

 

Wages — Keeping close controlSpurs wages

The amount spent on wages was virtually flat in the past year, at £100.8 million compared with £100.4 million in 2014.

With revenues up, this means Spurs spent 51.4 percent of its turnover on wages, down from 55.6 percent. This is the lowest it has been since 2008, when it dipped down to 46.1 percent. This “wages-to-turnover” ratio is an indicator of how efficiently a club (or any business) is run.

I will be interested to see how the wage bill develops in the next accounts. Per the post balance sheet events, a lot of high earners — Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho, Aaron Lennon — will soon come off the books. The replacements have generally been younger, and therefore cheaper.

Wages-to-turnover is also an important number in the context of the financing for the new stadium.

In the Viability Report for the scheme, produced by KPMG, the club appears to set a target for wages-to-turnover of 45 percent. (It actually states “player costs”, which I read to be wages but not transfers). If the club can get below this, the “internal rate of return” — a measure for rate of return for investors — could increase.

How realistic is this? In 2008, Spurs came very close with wages-to-turnover of 46.1 percent — but since then, wages for Premier League footballers have soared. For Arsenal, the only other club to have gone through a similarly large stadium project, one imagines a similar target was in place. In 2007, the first year at the Emirates, their wages-to-turnover was 51 percent. This dipped to 49 percent in 2008, and 46 percent in 2009. But since then it has increased — it hit 64 percent in 2013, the last year of the “old” TV deal.

Next year, I’d expect Spurs’ wage bill to be lower, improving the ratio further. The following year, the next TV deal kicks and we should have Champions League football, so greater revenues offer more scope for wage rises and the addition of big contracts to the books. We may alse be playing in a bigger stadium, although any additional income may be offset by rent for either Wembley or the Olympic Stadium. The year after that, we (hopefully) will be in the new stadium, with far higher matchday revenue.

Nonetheless, a wages-to-turnover ratio of 45 percent is very low — most Premier League clubs are between 55 and 65 percent.

This isn’t to say Spurs will fall into the sea and disappear if the club doesn’t hit the 45 percent target — it’s just one number. But it is something to keep in mind, particularly during transfer windows when the clamour to add to the squad is at its strongest. There will be funds, and room in the budget, to add quality and make sure our rising stars are paid what they deserve. But there will be limits.

 

Stadium and staff — A holding pattern

In the previous financial year, the club spent £19 million on the new stadium scheme, bringing total spending to £59 million. The money was spent on professional fees and “enabling works” — preparing the site for construction.

A lot has happened since June 30th, and one imagines the next accounts will show a considerably higher spend. The club secured planning permission from Haringey Council in December, and is pushing ahead with groundworks while the project crawls through the approvals process.

Daniel Levy recently stated that the club was now functioning as essentially two businesses — the football club, and the stadium project. He also noted that there were now around 70 people working full-time on the stadium side.

The headcount does not fully reflect this. Staff employed has increased from 380 to 399 (this is measured as the average number of employees through the year). Administrative staff have increased by eight, commercial staff by seven, while football staff was up by four. The “stadium” team may have been expanded since June 30, or involves existing staff.

I recently wrote in some detail about headcounts at Premier League clubs — it appeared to offer another useful, if crude, gauge of how efficient some clubs were (or weren’t).

For example, Aston Villa’s headcount rose from 496 to 535 in the past year, and its wage bill rose 21 percent. Spurs kept its headcount below 400, and even though the number of staff did increase by 19, the wage bill remained flat. Spurs is a tight ship, in comparison to a lot of Premier League clubs.

It should be noted, one area where remuneration did increase was in the boardroom. The amount paid to directors rose from £3.60 million to £4.33 million. Daniel Levy (assuredly the highest paid director) saw his pay packet increase from £2.17 million to £2.61 million. In the world of executive pay, the only way is up.

 

One-off costs — higher than expected redundancy pay-outs

One area that has puzzled me is the amount paid out in “redundancy costs and onerous employment contracts”.

In the previous year, in which Andre Villas-Boas and his backroom staff was sacked, the amount paid out was £4.66 million. This year, the amount has risen to to £6.49 million.

“Tactics” Tim Sherwood would have been due a payout when he was replaced six months into an 18 month contract. The club also paid off the remainder of Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s contract. But I can’t see how that adds up to £6.49 million.

In the notes explaining why costs had risen from £154.1 million to £162.4 million, one of the reasons stated was “recognition of onerous contracts”. This is interesting phrasing, due to the fact that it didn’t state redundancy costs.

One wonders if, as well as Assou-Ekotto, some of the other players who were frozen out were treated as “onerous” — perhaps Emmanuel Adebayor? I would have expected Adebayor’s pay-off to be included in the next accounts as he left the club in September 2015, but perhaps the club had already begun the process of writing him off as an asset (as well as a footballer) before the end of June 2015, essentially taking the hit early in a profitable year.

I’d welcome any explanations for this — it may well be that I’m missing something obvious.

Some other notes

  • The club has net debt of £20.3 million. In the prior year, it had net cash of £3.2 million. This figure is going to look quaint in years to come, with borrowing of at least £350 million lined up for the stadium
  • There has been no significant change in ownership of the club. ENIC has marginally increased its stake, from 85.46 percent to 85.55 percent. As far as I am aware, the next largest shareholder remains Lord Ashcroft, who those interested in British politics will know…
  • The section explaining how costs rose from £154.1 million to £162.4 million contained another interesting comment. As well as “recognition of onerous contracts” and “underlying growth of the club as we move towards the new stadium”, it also points to “post-season tour costs”. I for one would be interested to know how much this post-season tour brought in revenue-wise, or whether it is part of the AIA sponsorship deal. It all felt very unnecessary, footballing wise.

Thanks for reading, comments welcome. A note on player trading is below, Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

 

A guide to player trading in Premier League club accounts

When a player is sold, the full amount is booked immediately. But when a player is bought, that expenditure is spread over the length of a contract — this is known as amortisation.

So for example, take Paulinho: he was bought for £17 million and signed a four-year contract. Spurs sold him two years later for around £10 million.

Instead of booking a £17 million cost when they purchased Paulinho, Spurs will write down that £17 million over the length of his contract — so in Paulinho’s case, £4.25 million per year for four years.

In accounting terms, the “value” of Paulinho will decrease by that same amount through the course of his four-year contract. In his first year, his value in the accounts is £12.75 million (so £17 million less one year of amortisation), in his second year, its is £8.5 million. In his third year, it is £4.25 million, and zero in the final year.

When a club calculates profit from a player sale, it deducts the remaining value in accounts from the cash sale amount.

So when Spurs sold Paulinho after two years for £10 million, in cash terms Spurs have lost £7 million on the initial £17 million fee. But in accounting terms, you deduct the remaining value in accounts — in Paulinho’s case, £8.5 million — from the £10 million sale fee, and Spurs have actually made a profit of £1.5 million.

If that makes your head spin, join the club. But making £1.5 million is so much more fun that losing £7 million, so there we have it.

(Thanks to @sumeer1000 for checking my figures. As he points out, you also need to factor in agent fees, so Spurs may actually have capitalised more than £17 million. For more on this, read any of Swiss Ramble’s analysis of Premier League accounts — it is a repeated point of emphasis.)

The next accounts will make for interesting reading — four of the seven Bale money signings were sold, all for cash losses. However, with the magic of amortisation, all bar Roberto Soldado should show (agent fees permitting) an accounting profit. The profit on player sales may be somewhat higher than expected next season, even though, in cash terms, Spurs’ net spend has basically been zero.

Liverpool offer useful guidance for Spurs on and off the pitch

liverpoolasia

Regardless of whether Spurs go on and lift the Premier League title in May, or fall just short, comparisons are inevitably going to be made between the season we are having, the one enjoyed by Liverpool in 2013/14.

While Leicester are a bolt out of the blue, Spurs and Liverpool both vaulted out of the pack and mounted title challenges after years of promising but failing to deliver.

The title challenges carry a similar “vibe” — a sense of team cohesion and a clear tactical philosophy, but also a strong enough core of players to suggest a whiff of sustainability in terms of future success.

Liverpool’s struggles since that superb season, when Messrs Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling routinely shredded opposition defences, offer some useful pointers to the hierarchy at Spurs as the club plans ahead both on and off the pitch.

In his latest piece, football finance blogger Swiss Ramble makes a number of interesting observations about the situation of Liverpool, and the importance of the Champions League, that are relevant to Spurs.

Also, some of the facts and figures in Liverpool’s accounts offer useful reference for us: there is still a huge amount of work to be done at Spurs to ensure our feeling of progress is built upon something more sustainable than the underperformance of others.

 

1 Don’t sell your best players

Liverpool’s transfer strategy since qualifying for the Champions League has been little short of a debacle. The £60 million profit the club reported in its latest accounts sums up the difference, as put by Brendan Rodgers, between a business model and a winning model.

Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling were one of the deadliest attacking trios in Premier League history. Suarez and Sturridge combined for a whopping 55 goals, while Sterling contributed nine goals and seven assists. Yet two years on, both Suarez and Sterling have been sold, while Sturridge has struggled with injuries that are testing the patience of Jurgen Klopp.

Barcelona may have triggered a release clause for Suarez, although reports at the time suggested Liverpool were happy to be rid of him. But selling Sterling, the most talented homegrown player since Steven Gerrard (albeit via QPR) to a Champions League rival in Man City was in many ways insane. In both cases, the club’s decision-making became clouded — whether that be by weird disciplinary problems, or snotty agents.

With Champions League football, Liverpool should have become stronger, but instead they became weaker. Their huge profit this season feels hollow, as they couldn’t sustain the success.

Spurs are going to get big offers this summer for the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Daniel Levy needs to resist any reptilian urge to turn a massive profit, and just say no. I’m pretty confident our chairman has now learned this lesson after the Bale money trauma, but the only way we’re going to shake the tag of being a “selling club” is by not selling our best players over a prolonged period.

 

2 Take the chance to buy Champions League calibre players

This is the list of players Liverpool bought ahead of its Champions League campaign:

Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli, Dejan Lovren and Divock Origi.

The combined cost? £117 million.

For years, Liverpool had been held back in the transfer market by the inability to offer Champions League football — a feeling Spurs know all too well. There is only so much elite talent out there, and all elite players want to play in the Champions League.

Finally, Liverpool had a chance to break this cycle and bring in genuinely world-class players — and they missed it. All eight of those players bought by Liverpool would have been available if Liverpool were only offering Europa League football. Sure, they were rejected by Alexis Sanchez, but there were other possibilities out there.

Spurs need to be smart this summer. Yes, the club is building for the long-term and around a homegrown core. Yes, there is only a finite amount of money to spend on transfer fees and wages while the stadium is being built. Yes, there is a risk of upsetting squad unity by bringing in stars on huge wages. But there is also an opportunity to buy the sort of player we’ve not been able to attract in the past, and that should at least be explored.

So HYPOTHETICALLY (this is the key word), let’s say the club’s analysts feel that Spurs are struggling to create enough “good” chances, and that with Mario Gotze in the number 10 role, as opposed to Christian Eriksen, Spurs would be a much more dangerous proposition.

Gotze’s star may have waned a little since the 2014 World Cup, but he is still a player who will command Champions League football. This summer Spurs may be able to lure a player of that calibre, whereas in previous seasons it wouldn’t have even been worth trying.

I’m NOT saying Spurs should sell Eriksen — I’m just giving an example of the sort of talent we may be able to attract if there is Champions League football at White Hart Lane.

It was in the Sun on Sunday, so there is a 99.9% chance it is wrong, but there was a nugget of this sort of thinking about the speculation that Spurs may move for Jordan Henderson. I’m not sure he is the right player, but if the club is seriously engaged in some sort of “game theory” approach to strengthening ourselves while at the same time weakening potential rivals, I find that quite encouraging. I mean, if Man Utd miss out on Champions League, why not stick in a bid for Morgan Schneiderlin?

 

3 Where we finish matters in terms of Champions League money

Should Spurs falter in the coming games, and Leicester roll remorselessly on, the temptation may be for the players to take their foot off the gas with Champions League football all-but in the bag.

However, I did not realise that the final finishing position makes a big difference in terms of how much Champions League money is awarded. See this graph from the Swiss Ramble:

Liverpoool_champsleagueTV

Champions League money is split in two ways: where you finish in the Premier League, and how you perform in the Champions League itself. Under the previous TV deal, the difference between finishing 1st and 4th was £14 million. This is far greater than the performance-related proportion of Premier League TV money — the gap between payouts for 1st and 4th is £2.5 million.

Under the new Champions League deal, the money on offer is up 40 to 50 percent. If the allocation is the same, the difference between finishing 1st and 4th could be approaching £20 million. That is a significant amount of money.

Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t seem like the sort of manager to allow his team to coast. But should Spurs fall out of contention for the title, there’s still millions at stake for finishing second as opposed to third or fourth.

 

4 One more reason why the Europa League sucks

A common misconception about the Premier League TV deal is that the money is divided equally. This is not true — while it is more even than, say La Liga, there is considerable range. Last season, champions Chelsea brought in £99 million, while relegated QPR brought in £64.9 million. It is a phenomenal amount of money for QPR to receive, sure, but that is a big difference.

While 50 percent is divided equally, the other half is split among “merit payment” (where you finish) and “facility fee” (what you get when you are shown live).

Last season, while Spurs finished ahead of Liverpool, the Reds earned £4 million more from the TV deal. The reason? They were shown more often — seven times more in fact. While 25 Liverpool games were broadcast, just 18 Spurs games were shown — less than half the fixtures.

Part of this is legacy — Liverpool have a bigger fanbase. Also, having competed for the title in the previous season, it was reasonable to expect them to be shown more early on. But Europa League also has an impact — as Spurs were forced to play on Sundays for at least eight fixture rounds, this meant our matches couldn’t be selected for the two Saturday TV timeslots.

While Spurs had 18 games shown live, and our fellow Europa League travellers Everton had 17, Newcastle had 20 games shown live, despite one of the most miserable seasons the club has endured.

When you see Spurs bring in just £6.1 million in TV revenue from the Europa League, and the pain in the balls it is having to play Thursday-Sunday and cope with the huge distances and demands on the squad, you can see why West Ham in particular this season basically told the Europa League to go shove it and focused on the league. It feels like a good call by Slaven Bilic.

 

5 Liverpool are still miles ahead of Spurs commercially

Champions League qualification boosted Liverpool’s bottom line tremendously. Broadcast revenue was up 22 percent, matchday income up 16 percent, and commercial income up 12 percent.

While matchday and TV income is likely to come crashing down to earth in its next accounts (although the endless replays this season may have helped at the turnstyles), the gap between Liverpool and Spurs on the commercial front is more like a chasm.

Liverpool’s commercial (so sponsorships, merchandising, etc) income stood at £116 million: this is almost double the £59 million Spurs brought in per its last accounts (the club is due to report soon).

Liverpool’s shirt sponsorship with Standard Chartered is at least £20-25 million annually, while its kit deal with New Balance is £25 million. Currently Spurs get £16 million from AIA, and £10 million a year from Under Armour. A reported £30 million deal with Nike can’t come soon enough, likewise a naming rights deal.

Meanwhile, we’ll just have to punch above our weight. Liverpool’s wage bill is £144 million, compared to Spurs’ £100 million. Since 2011/12, LIverpool’s net transfer spend is £148 million — Spurs have made a profit of £39 million since then (this season’s accounts should show us breaking even).

For stadium costs, Spurs intend to borrow £350 million from banks, while Liverpool’s owners are providing a £100 million interest-free loan for the expansion of Anfield’s main stand.

Liverpool’s owners get a lot of stick, especially after the ticketing fiasco, but they’ve put their money where their mouth is, and achieved sustained commercial growth. They just need to sort it out on the pitch, but that’s the difficult part.

For Spurs, we’ve gotten it right on the pitch at long last — but we just need to look at Liverpool to show how hard sustaining that success can be.

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

A psychological study of Spurs fans ahead of transfer deadline day

sonleicester

Via Google Images

In the field of psychology there is a phenomenon called “attitude polarization”, in which a disagreement becomes more extreme as different parties consider new evidence on the issue in question.

What happens is that, when new evidence is introduced, it is interpreted in such a way as to reinforce existing biases towards the issue. So instead of narrowing a disagreement, or at least moving the disagreement along, as one may expect new evidence to do, it instead just jacks up the level of disagreement yet further.

If any shrinks out there are looking for a new case study, they may want to look at Spurs fans whenever the issue of signing a striker comes up.

In one corner is the school of thought that Spurs desperately need to sign a striker this January. Failing to do so leaves us exposed if Harry Kane gets injured, and could fatally undermine our chances of a top four place, or even a title run.*

Here is one tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this side of the argument:

In the other corner, is the school of thought that Spurs already have excellent cover for Kane in the form of Son Heung-min, and buying a striker for the sake of it could harm the balance of the squad and waste money that could be used better in another way.

Here is another tweet from my Twitter timeline to illustrate this:

(Harry is my source of Arsenal Fan TV cuts, Caley needs no recommendation from such a minor blog as this one).

I don’t think, short of a serious injury to Kane in the FA Cup or in training, that any new evidence could emerge between now and the end of January that is significant enough to change minds. A man-of-the-match performance by Son against Leicester in the FA Cup, for example, or the inability to break down Leicester in the Premier League clash, were both not enough.

More likely, the small pieces of news that emerge from the camp, plus the drip-drip of gossip and speculation spewed out by the assorted footballing media, will simply serve to reinforce existing views further as February 1 draws near.

This same dynamic was in place in September, and the club hierarchy was so taken aback by the outpouring of frustration that Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino needed to issue a statement to try and explain their views.

A lot has gone right for Spurs since then, and Pochettino in particular has won the admiration and trust of the fanbase. But this success has only served to heighten the demand, from some, to bring in another striker, given the opportunities this weird season is presenting.

Even as the views of us fans have evolved, albeit only further in one particular direction or the other, it is worth remembering that Pochettino’s view hasn’t changed at all. Every time the question is asked, and it is asked a lot, he says that he believes Spurs have sufficient options up front, he won’t buy a striker just for the sake of it, but if the right player was available he would like to add to the squad.

We don’t know Levy’s views — but the fact, as of the publishing date of this article, that the sum total of the club’s incoming business this window has been an 18-year-old midfielder from Ebbsfleet Town, makes his stance pretty clear.

My two cents is that Spurs need to sign another striker. But it’s not because Son isn’t able to cover for Kane, it is that when he plays up top he is too similar. We need a “different” option, especially off the bench. There have been a number of tight games — against Everton at home, West Brom away, Leicester at home for example — where a striker who likes to play in behind a defence, rather than from side-to-side, may have made the difference.

At the right price, I’m all for bringing in someone like Saido Berahino, although this appears increasingly unlikely. A loan, if the right player was available, would make a lot of sense if Spurs don’t want to take the risk of a big outlay on someone they are not completely convinced by. Moussa Dembele from Fulham sounds an interesting prospect, although he would appear very much at the development stage.

But that is just my opinion. Nothing will change my view at this point, just as nothing I say will change your view. It’s going to be a long seven days.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, and I greatly appreciate your help sharing this article.

* Quick update: To make clear, a lot more fans think Spurs should sign another striker than stick with current options. 

Between the lines: Is Newcastle’s Ayoze Perez an answer to Tottenham’s forward puzzle?

perezflick

Ayoze Perez scores against West Brom. BBC via Google Images

Louise Taylor of The Guardian recently profiled Newcastle’s Ayoze Perez, drawing not one but one four intriguing comparisons. Praising the Spanish forward’s three dimensional, “between the lines” game, Perez, Taylor suggested, had shades of Jari Litmanen, David Silva, Peter Beardsley and Matt Jansen about him.

While Silva seemed a stretch, and more a nod to their shared Canary Islands roots than similar playing styles, the mentions of Litmanen, Beardsley and Jansen piqued my interest.

Per Taylor, a very reliable source of news from northeast clubs, Spurs had a bid turned down for Perez in the summer. Subsequent murmurings have linked him with excitement-averse Manchester United, and with renewed interest from Spurs.

Most Spurs fans agree that another striker needs to be purchased in January — we can’t walk the Harry Kane hamstring tightrope forever, especially not with a Top Four place in sight. But it isn’t a straightforward purchase — whoever comes in knows that they have little or no chance of superseding Kane as the club’s main striker, due to Kane’s high degree of awesomeness. Mauricio Pochettino appears to have little interest in expensive squad players who don’t really care if they play or not, and has said that he likes versatile players.

So, whoever comes in needs to be able to play in another position if they want to earn a regular place, and play the lone striker role if Kane needs a breather or gets hurt. Son Heung-min has showed some ability to do this — impressing from both right and left of the attacking midfield three, but also up front against Qarabag when he scored twice. Clinton N’Jie, on the other hand, had a good 15 minutes against a beaten Man City, but has done little else.

I recently took a look at Saido Berahino, arguably a more conventional Number 9, but who has also played from wider positions. But when I read comparisons like Litmanen, Jansen and Beardsley, my first thought was: “Spurs don’t have someone like that.”

So, I’ve spent a little time looking at Perez. I’ve seen him a fair bit, as I always try to watch Newcastle when they are on TV due to a long-held affection for the club. My bias before writing this article has been in his favour — he has always struck me as a classy player who scores important goals.

The goals

I’m not usually into video analysis as I’m the last person to spot stuff, but while refreshing my memory of his goals last season, something really obvious jumped out: defensive errors.

His goal against WBA, at the Hawthorns, a flicked back-heel from a low cross, was a wonderful, instinctive piece of finishing. He also scored a nice goal in the reverse fixture. But the rest? All were heavily helped by defensive errors.

Vs Swansea: Mix-up between goalkeeper and defender. Taps into empty net.

Vs Liverpool: Alberto Moreno mis-kicks clearance straight to Perez. Easy finish from 5 yards.

Vs Tottenham: No pressure on cross. Vertonghen asleep, Rose reacts too late. Simple header from close range.

Vs Arsenal. Zero marking on free kick, allows unchallenged header. Neat finish across keeper, but no defensive pressure

Vs Everton: Four defenders stand around him, fail to challenge ball but obstruct keeper’s view. Ball squirms in from edge of area.

Yes, there is the “but you’ve got to be in a position to capitalize on mistakes” argument, but five out of seven goals stemming from clear errors seems to be on the high side, and raises the awkward question of why there weren’t more “non-error” goals last season.

Basic numbers

I pulled together a few of Perez’s basic stats using WhoScored and Transfermarkt — goals, assists, key passes, shots per 90, that sort of thing.*  I would note, according to Transfermarkt, he played as a central striker in 19 out of his 39 appearances last season. Likewise he has been listed as a centre forward in four out of 14 appearances this term. The rest were either wide or in the “shadow striker” role behind the No. 9

perezbasicstats1

perezbasicstats2

This is rudimentary data, so I don’t want to over-draw conclusions. But a few points:

  • Perez averaged 358 minutes per goal last season and had zero assists. Someone like Danny Ings, playing on a relegated Burnley team, averaged 283 minutes per goal and had 4 assists. No one is expecting Perez to bring Harry Kane (118 min/goal) or Berahino (172 min/goal) levels of fire, given he is playing more than half his games wide or deep. But that should be compensated, surely, by at least the occasional assist? This season, he has two assists (one was a corner).
  • Perez isn’t taking many shots. He was at 2.3 per 90 last season — lower than Berahino (2.6), Ings (2.9) and Kane (3.9). He is at 2.1 shots per 90 this season. Few if any are from inside the penalty box.
  • Perez dribbles a lot. He is going at 6.3 attempted dribbles per 90 minutes this season. By contrast, Kane dribbles at a rate of 3.0 per 90 in the league this term, while Son Heung-min is at 3.2 dribbles per 90 in his limited appearances. This is more than guys who you think dribble “a lot” like Andros Townsend (3.9 per 90 last season) and Erik Lamela (2.8 per 90). His dribbles are successful less than 50 percent of the time, so a lot of potentially wasted possession. Of course, systems (Pochettino has a good one, McClaren doesn’t think they matter) are a big factor in how players use the ball.
  • Despite often playing in what may be considered a more “creative” role than an out-and-out striker, Perez’s key pass stats don’t seem great. Last season he made 1.1 key passes per 90. At Burnley, Ings made 1.0, while Kane was the same as Perez at 1.1 despite predominantly playing as the main striker. This season, Perez is passing the ball more — up from 21.6 to 24.3 passes per 90, but his key passes are only up to 1.2 per 90.

I was slightly underwhelmed by these basic numbers, but I wondered if this seeming lack of production was some sort of symptom of the broader malaise at Newcastle?

(Newcastle were an absolute travesty last year, avoiding relegation by the skin of their teeth, but are hardly any better under McClaren. When a manager says, like that McClaren did after the Leicester defeat, that “the problem was we were second best in all areas”, you can be fairly sure he has no idea what the problem is. But I digress.)

Digging a little deeper

Using Paul Riley’s tools**, I looked first at Perez (both key passes from open play, and on the right expected goals) and the key passes from open play of the two players who you would say form the bulk of Newcastle’s “creativity department”, Moussa Sissoko and Georgino Wiljnaldum.

perezxgkp

keypasses_sisswijn

Once you strip out set pieces (Perez takes the corners), you can see both Sissoko and Wijnaldum are offering more in terms of key passes than Perez.

While (especially) Sissoko appears to be making a lot of key passes, Perez isn’t on the receiving end of many of them.

So, if Perez isn’t creating chances, and isn’t getting on the end of them, what is he doing all game?

I looked at some heat maps from Squawka to see if I could get any hints.

perez_combinedheatmaps

These are the heat maps for Perez, Sissoko and Wijnaldum for Newcastle’s two “best” performances of the season — the 2-2 draw with Chelsea and the 6-2 win against Norwich.

Against Norwich and Chelsea, you can see Wijnaldum mainly playing from the left, and Sissoko rampaging up and down the right. Perez’s involvement against Chelsea was limited compared to the other two, but he got a goal and an assist from a corner and Newcastle mostly defended in the match. Against Norwich, he was much more involved. He appears in interesting spaces, just outside or just inside the box from the left, but he also pops up on the right as well. Is this an indicator of the “between-the-lines” drifting that Taylor was alluding to? At best, it is a glimpse.

I’d love to look at Perez’s movement, and the space he creates both on and off the ball, but I don’t have the skill or the resources. I’m sure Paul Mitchell and his Black Box team do. Is he one of these pre-assist guys, who you know are contributing when you watch them but whose work doesn’t really show up in the basic stats? Maybe, but I can’t prove it.

On a more anecdotal level, his “highlights” from the Crystal Palace debacle perhaps told a story. For the opening goal, Perez fed Daryl Janmaat then made a lovely run drawing a defender and creating space for a cross. He also made one attempted through ball that showed imagination and was almost well-executed. But then, he was seen dawdling instead of tracking when Palace surged forward for the third goal that all but sealed the game. McClaren hooked him off at half-time. Pochettino would love the run to draw the defender, he’d hate the refusal to track back. Which is the real Ayoze Perez, I wonder?

Conclusion

Putting this piece together, I was underwhelmed by the basic stats. If Perez is a 360-degree player, why isn’t he creating more chances? And if he is such a classy finisher, why isn’t he scoring more? But I was also intrigued: a between-the-lines player is bound to defy such conventional analysis.

I always wonder how someone like Beardsley would be seen in the modern age of analytics, unlimited camera angles and blanket media coverage. Did the often bleak football of the 1980s and early 90s in England exaggerate his moments of class, or did it serve to suffocate his talent?

Likewise Perez. Are an inept Newcastle holding him back, or is his flickering talent made to look brighter by the gloom that surrounds him?

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles.

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As previously mentioned, I’m not a number wizard — I’m just someone who loves writing about Spurs and wants to use all available resources to improve the quality of my arguments. I welcome any constructive criticism, and suggestions of how I can do better. In particular, my ability to find and gather data is very limited — any advice on how to improve that is particularly appreciated. 

** These don’t include the Crystal Palace game