Tottenham: Consolation Contenders

Tottenham: Consolation Contenders

Another season, another potential-barren run for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. ‘Trophy-less Contenders’ has become an unceremonious moniker associated with Tottenham Hotspur in recent years. Ironically, Tottenham’s last notable trophy was lifted at the stadium they currently occupy, albeit on a temporary basis. A 2-1 win over rivals Chelsea at the Wembly Stadium in the 2008 League Cup final was the last time Tottenham tasted silverware success. What has gone wrong for the club that has shown such promise in this last decade. Do they lack the mental strength and capacity? 

Perhaps.

A central figure to Tottenham’s slow yet consistent progress has been none other than Daniel Levy. Chairman of the club since 2001. His shrewd business sense and iron rule of the club finances has seen the club’s revenue consistently increase over the years. Conversely, it is his draconian rule on the club’s finance and believe in sustainability that is hindering the club’s progress to the next level.

Image result for daniel levy spurs
Credit: Getty / Daniel Levy, pictured.

In a 2017 interview, Levy underlined his management philosophy for the club as one founded upon sustainable development, mocking big spenders such as Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester City and Roman Abromovich’s Chelsea.

He asserts that ‘I think we have a duty to manage the club appropriately. I don’t think that long term for any club it’s sustainable to spend more than you earn. You can have periods where you do but over the long term you can’t.’ It is this mentality that has seen Tottenham continue to operate on a non-existent transfer budget.

In an era of mega signings, Spurs’ record fee for a player remains at £36 million paid for defender Davinson Sanchez, which is on par with what mid table sides such as Everton and West Ham paid for the likes of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Felipe Anderson respectively.  

The unwillingness to splurge in the market and tight financial control has not only prevented Tottenham from acquiring quality reinforcements but has also resulted in their key performers from consistently leaving the club, be it a financial decision by the chairman to balance their cheque books or the irresistible lure of a European powerhouse. In 2008/09 Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane, two of the league’s top performing strikers, joined Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.

Both Luka Modric and Gareth Bale were scooped up by Real Madrid in 2013 and 2014 following outstanding performances domestically and in the Champions League. Midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, a player whom current manager Mauricio Pochettino waxed lyrical about as a perfect fit for Tottenham, was inexplicably sold to Swansea in 2014. 

Credits: Marca / Modric and Bale both left Spurs and won numerous titles between them.

Astonishingly, Tottenham is the only club in the Premier League that has made a net profit from transfer activity since 2008, signifying their financial frugality and also, the distinct lack of a transfer budget that is required for any prospective champion. Their status as a selling club in the last decade has done them no favors in the pursuit of silverware, with lack of key reinforcements coming in and a steady outflow of their stars, the momentum built towards genuine title challenges in the season before is disrupted, and Tottenham are unable to overcome the final hurdle to lift titles and cups alike. 

Adding to this is Levy’s stingy wage structure, which has disgruntled many of Spurs stars and tempted many to leave the club in search of fatter pay checks. The little wage increases following frequent contract negotiations have done little to satisfy the club’s top performers, especially those that did not progress from their academy. With their contracts reaching the final year, Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld have stalled contract negotiation talks, and the club may very well lose two of their best players on free transfers. For context, only five Tottenham players are earning  £100,000 or more per week, whilst all the other top six sides have at least 13 players who are earning the same sum or more. 

Credits: Premier League / Eriksen has been one of the most consistent performers on this Spurs squad.

For a club begging for silverware of any kind, the club hierarchy is adamant to focus on consistent and pragmatic progress, unwilling to sacrifice their primary league position in pursuit of other silverware. Current manager Mauricio Pochettino embodies this way of thought, as he insisted that only a Champions League or Premier League win would take Spurs to the next level. His assessment was given ironically, right before a second string Tottenham were knocked out of the FA Cup by Crystal Palace earlier this season. 

In his own words, “winning domestic cup competitions only builds your ego. In reality, the most important thing is being consistently in the top four and playing Champions League. That is going to help the club make the next step.” 

Tottenham may have the squad to challenge the biggest titles, but it is undeniable that they currently lack the experience and consistency to win the biggest competitions, and Pochettino’s preference to totally ignore lesser cup competitions only serves to extend their silverware drought. 

Pochettino has indeed heralded a new era with the current Tottenham Hotspur team, bringing them from a Europa League calibre team with the occasional Champions League qualification to consistent Champions League performers and title contenders on the home front. It would be harsh to judge his successes based on trophies alone, but considering the resources he had at his disposal in the four and a half years at the helm, he has done a remarkable job in building a strong core of players and implementing an attacking football philosophy in the squad, all whilst grooming and giving opportunities to academy talents. 

In order to shake the tag of perennial underachievers or trophy-less contenders, both the chairman and the manager have to be on the same page with their thinking. The chairman has to be willing to spend big and take risks, while the manager has to believe that the club is able to challenge on all fronts. Tottenham has grown into a big club with genuine reputation and pedigree amongst Europe’s elite in the past decade with careful management and transfer policies

If they do not take the leap of faith and start making prudent decisions as a genuine club competing for titles, they will never truly be champions – but contenders forever.

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