Sunday 22 September 2019

Comment - Tottenham’s lack of spending likely to undermine Pochettino’s ambition despite current brilliance

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: REUTERS
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: REUTERS

James Lawton

Who wouldn't say that Spurs, looking almost lordly in the Bernabeu this last week, have a huge statement to make at Wembley against Liverpool on Sunday afternoon?

Who wouldn't sense that the Glory Game, the title of a best-selling book of the Seventies based on one of their seasons, is theirs to play again?

The answer is brutal and unavoidable. No-one who has been paying attention would begin to make such an assumption.

Until the money men who run the club under the financially acute eye of ultra-businessman chairman Daniel Levy see some sign in the football sky, some call to look beyond the bottom line of profit and loss, the new dawn seems likely to be the old reality.

It is the unshakeable suspicion that Spurs and Liverpool, who are underwritten by their American ownership only marginally less frugally than are Spurs by the Levy regime, are making mirages rather than the hardest statements of ambition.

Maybe Spurs have found their feet at the more competitive end of the European game, and perhaps come Sunday will show this is also true at their temporary home of a national stadium. There is certainly no doubt the work of their coach Mauricio Pochettino continues to be deeply impressive, sufficiently so, many believe, to have firmly installed him on the short-lists of the mega clubs.

Tottenham's Harry Kane applauds to fans at the end of their Champions League clash at the Santiago Bernabeu. AP Photo
Tottenham's Harry Kane applauds to fans at the end of their Champions League clash at the Santiago Bernabeu. AP Photo

Perhaps Liverpool will produce some more of the attacking panache which is coach Jurgen Klopp's most endearing pre-occupation and which overwhelmed thunderstruck opponents in Slovenia when Spurs were coming so close to beating Real Madrid.


Unfortunately, neither team are likely to blow away the belief that the best they can hope for is to come in behind the well-heeled juggernauts of Manchester City and Manchester United.

Ironically enough, the same is true of Chelsea, despite the brilliance of their coach Antonio Conte and the vast resources of the owner Roman Abramovich.

In the season when the plutocrats of Paris Saint-Germain smashed into little pieces the transfer record with their signing of Neymar, it has never been harder to detach the equation of big money and the biggest success.

For the moment at least, it is only City and United who seem prepared to pay the price demanded of the glory game.

So the question is inevitable. Is Spurs-Liverpool really some exciting look into the football future? Or a tilt, in Spurs' case particularly, at third place?

It is hard not to believe so when you weigh the depth of their strength with that of City or United. Harry Kane might well be in the final stages of formalising a legend. Dele Alli is filled with thrilling potential, if a sometimes erratic nature. Ireland are rightly apprehensive about Christian Eriksen's creative potential in the World Cup play-off. But when you look beyond this formidable triumvirate, what do you see? It is a team not equipped to deal at the highest level with the loss of scarcely a handful of key players.

A policy statement of Levy, under whose chairmanship of 16 years and an assortment of gifted coaches Spurs have won one honour, the ultimately insignificant League Cup, takes us to the heart of the issue.

He declares: "I think of myself as the custodian of the football club. The club has been around since 1882 and when I leave it will be somebody else's. I think we have a duty to manage the club appropriately. I don't think it is sustainable for any club to spend more than it earns. You can have periods when you do it but over the long term you can't.

"We've managed the club, we think, in a very appropriate way. We have invested in facilities for long-term growth. So we've got one of the world's best training facilities. Now we are investing in a new ground. The stadium is fundamental because with that we get more fans and more income."

But then what about the glory? The cynical reaction is not too elusive. It is written in the balance sheets.

Pochettino's brilliant work this season, his third place behind City and United and a new assurance in Europe, comes with an astonishing fact. It is that in the Premier League's net spending league Spurs were ahead only of Stoke, Burnley, the perennial profit-makers Arsenal, and Swansea.


While City led the spending league with a net outlay of £138.1m, with United second at £136.2, and even Liverpool, despite the disappointment of the fans, vaulted far above their modest average of £23m over the seven years of Fenway Sports Group ownership, with an outlay of £54m, Spurs stayed resolutely in the black.

No doubt Levy's often sphinx expression was not darkened when he saw the net result of the summer's transfer work - it showed a minus of £1.26 million.

If Pochettino was aggrieved, he made it less obvious than his rival Conte. He continues to work impressively with products of the youth system, one of whom, Harry Winks, added hugely to his value with his first call-up by England.

At 45 the Argentinian has made himself a superb reputation as both a coach and a diplomatic employee. He has a team which at full strength has now shown that they can operate threateningly among the best. But if he has proved himself a master of a game which has club profit at its core, he may decide sooner or later there is another one to play.

It's mainly about glory and perhaps Tottenham Hotspur, for all the restored prominence, is not the ideal place to find it.

Irish Independent

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