When Tottenham Hotspur is discussed, the Champions League final in 2019, Harry Kane’s goals and the phenomenal stadium are the most obvious things that come up.
The club has earned the reputation of going to the very end of a title race but failing to make that final push. The club’s last silverware came in 2007-2008 when Spanish manager Juande Ramos led it to the League Cup title with a 2-1 victory over Chelsea in the final.
It has lost two League Cup semifinals and one final in the last four years, the FA Cup semifinal this year and missed out on the most prestigious European crown, the UCL, in 2019.
On paper, the team has England’s highest goal scorer, Kane, the highest-scoring Asian in the Premier League, Son Heung-Min and FIFA World Cup winners Hugo Lloris (2018) and Cristian Romero (2022).
In its latest Premier League game, it lost to newly promoted Bournemouth, giving up a two-goal cushion and a temporary spot in the top four.
After starting the year with a loss to Aston Villa, Spurs were eliminated from the FA Cup by Championship side Sheffield United, and then drew with relegation-threatened Everton and Southampton in Premier League, and were knocked out of the Champions League by AC Milan.
The club parted ways with Antonio Conte after the Italian complained about the commitment of the players and interim head coach Cristian Stellini has also failed to inspire confidence among the fans.
Pochhetino and his young Bravehearts
The appointment of Mauricio Pochhetino from Espanyol in 2014 brought newfound optimism among the club faithful as the Argentine manager, during his five-year stay, oversaw the transformation of Kane into one of the most lethal No. 9s in the world and the development of other youngsters like Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Ben Davies and Nabil Bentaleb.
This was a continuation of the club’s philosophy of creating superstars, rather than buying them.
The sale of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Dimitar Berbatov generated a net profit of about £110 million and the club got busy producing more stars – one that saw the likes of Kane, Alli and Bentaleb grow.
However, a loss to Liverpool in the Champions League final and a disappointing start in the next season saw Pochhetino leave the club.
Mourinho, Conte and a change in approach
Multiple title-winning manager Jose Mourinho was brought in by club chairman Daniel Levy in an apparent bid to end its long trophy drought.
He, however, also left without the elusive silverware after one and half years at the helm. Conte, another serial winner, too failed to deliver and both managers were left disillusioned by the club management’s inability to spend money to strengthen the squad.
Mourinho had spent £145.3m in his first season at Manchester United and Conte had broken the bank, spending a club record of £172m in his first season at Chelsea to win silverware.
The managers – unlike Pochhettino – had a rather fractious relationship with the players who had prospered under the Argentine.
Tanguy Ndombele, for example, who was scouted sincerely by Poch, was clearly told that he would be given limited game time while Alli, a prodigy at Spurs and an in-form midfielder under Gareth Southgate, struggled for consistency and was ultimately loaned out.
Under Conte, too, the reliance on younger players and academy graduates kept diminishing, with the Italian trusting loaned-in players like Dejan Kulusevski and Arnaut Danjuma more.
Juan Foyth, Harry Winks and Ndombele all had limited game time with Foyth leaving on a full transfer and the other two out on loan.
The Levy philosophy
Daniel Levy, the chairman of the club since 2001, has always shown reluctance in spending big in the transfer market and has relied on harnessing the potential of the club’s academy and smart buys.
Gareth Bale remains the most profitable transfer for the club, with the Welsh winger arriving from Southampton for £10 million and joining Real Madrid for £85.3 million.
Modric joined Spurs for £16.5 million and left for the Los Blancos for £35 million, a profit of about 112 percent.
Berbatov, on the other hand, helped the club gain £19.85 million over his sale – another hugely profitable sale, having joined the club for £10.9 million from Bayer Leverkusen.
From the three players alone, the club gained a net profit of about £110 million, a testimony of good football business by Levy and his team. This, in turn, became fodder to expand the business of Levy.
The stadium debt trap and Covid-19
The construction of a new stadium at a cost of £1.2 billion further dented Spurs’ chances of being competitive in an upward-spiralling transfer market. The Covid-19 pandemic, months after the opening of the stadium, hit the club’s finances, forcing it to secure more loans from banks.
According to Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance 2022, Tottenham Hotspur continues to be the leading borrower from banks in relation to the stadium at £854 million, including net cash of £706 million.
The lack of silverware and the debt burden forced Spurs to allow the departure of Christian Eriksen, the midfield architect under Pochettino, in 2020 to Inter Milan. Kane, too, has been linked with a move to Manchester City.
Secondly, it becomes difficult for a club – irrespective of how grand a stadium it has – to attract big-money signings if it has no trophies to show for in the last decade.
Their recent signings – Richarlison, Tanguy Ndombele – have failed to recreate the magic that the likes of Bale, and Modric had produced.
The backline – comprising Kieran Trippier, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose – saw cracks after Pochettino’s departure too.
Trippier left for Atletico Madrid, Vertonghen and Toby were in their thirties and Rose had a flare-up with Mourinho.
And the defenders that arrived failed to recreate the magic of that back-four. And that impression hit rock bottom when Davidson Sanchez, during the recent loss to Bournemouth, was booed by Spurs fans.
The shape, too, of Tottenham, got distorted, with Mourinho playing a back four to Conte moving to a three-man defence. With Conte gone, the defence, along with the midfield in the low block remains nebulous.
The club, with 53 points, just three above Unai Emery’s Aston Villa, is under threat of missing out on European Football for the first time in two years.
Tottenham plays Newcastle United next, a side that is eyeing Champions Leaguer football after 20 years and sits just above it with a game in hand.
Tottenham, on the other hand, needs to find a permanent manager and a managing director after Fabio Paratici resigned after he lost his appeal against a 30-month ban from football.
A new stadium, fantastic services and tight negotiation skills are all good traits, but for a football club, the thing that matters above everything are results and trophies. Tottenham Hotspur and Levy, of all, will have to remember that.
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