Tottenham are in crisis, if only they realised it

A VERY TEPID Champions League exit, coming shortly after a FA Cup defeat at the hands of Championship side Sheffield United, a big money signing hitting-out at his lack of game time and a manager who hints that he’s leaving at the end of the season. The morning after losing to AC Milan 1-0 on aggregate, Tottenham have a few issues to deal with. If they win a trophy next season, the barren period would have been 16 years long.

Spurs remain one of football’s great underachievers; 16 major trophies, just two league titles and the last FA Cup won more 33 years ago. They’re won three European prizes, but the last of those was almost 40 years ago. In the Premier League era, Spurs have lifted just two, and they were both the Football League Cup. The last time Tottenham’s fans experienced such a dry period was between 1921 and 1951 and if you factor in the lost war years, it was a 23-season wait.

There is talk of Antonio Conte leaving, either via the chairman’s black cab or his own choice and Mauricio Pochettino returning to the club. Since the popular Argentinian left in 2019-20, some fans have longed for his return as if it was a utopian era. Pochettino had a decent and exciting team that helped England build Gareth Southgate’s nearly men, but he did not win a solitary bauble. His teams were attractive and competed but the Champions League final of 2019 represented the peak and since then, Spurs and Pochettino have looked a little lost. But is it wise to go back?

Second spells are rarely as interesting or as successful. José Mourinho, Malcolm Allison, Hellenio Herrera, Terry Venables, Howard Kendall, Kenny Dalglish and Carlo Ancelotti have all returned to clubs where they enjoyed considerable success in their first stint. It is very seldom the same experience, for a number of reasons.

Antonio Conte was always going to be a short-term hiring, because that’s the way he works. Like Mourinho, there’s a short cycle that ends when he decides the job no longer fits his requirements – at least that’s what it looks like from the observation platform. We live in a football world where players and coaches decide their own future and announce they are leaving, even if they are in contract. Conte is out of contract in the summer, so Tottenham are unlikely to offer him a new deal when his track record suggests he won’t be hanging around for much longer. It is almost inevitable that Conte and Tottenham will be parting company very soon. He seems to be sending signals to potential employers and he has, after all, had a rough time recently.

Where does this leave Spurs? Even without a lengthy contemporary honours list, the job is still one of the top assignments in European football. They have a spectacular stadium that is packed with 60,000 fans, they have stability, they still have some good players and they also have something of a blank canvas to offer – any form of trophy will be seen as success. 

Spurs need Champions League football to consolidate their position and to drive revenue generation, so the remaining weeks of the season are going to be vital. Conte and Mourinho were never going to work at Tottenham even if they possessed two of the strongest managerial brands in world football. If there is a football entity that still hangs on to the myth of a “club style”, it is Spurs. But they should have known how managers like Conte operate, his risk-averse approach is well known and it is what has made him successful. He was never going to change that. The same applies to Mourinho, and Nuno Espirito Santo, the other coaches since Pochettino left the club.

However painful it may be, it may also be the time to acknowledge that the Kane-Son years are coming to an end. Kane elected to stay at the club but two years on, he’s still without a medal and he’s approaching 30. He has netted 20 goals this season, but how much longer can he keep the current rather limited team afloat? Son, who is slightly older than Kane, is not the player he was. Most importantly, can they keep Kane, who the fans continually refer to as “one of our own”, as the club examines why they have failed yet again?

Spurs income grows, but another loss in 2021-22

TOTTENHAM Hotspur generated an impressive £ 444 million in revenues for 2021-22, a 22.7% increase on the covid-impacted season that was 2020-21. Despite this return to growth, for the third successive campaign, Spurs made a sizeable pre-tax loss, £ 61.3 million, admittedly better than the previous year but still a sign that their marvellous stadium is still bedding in.

Spurs not only have to pay finance costs that helped build their home ground, but their depreciation expenses total £ 72 million, far higher than any other club in the Premier League. But is clear the club has the potential to continue to grow income, especially as naming rights have yet to be included. Apparently negotiations are in progress for a deal that could raise in excess of £ 200 million. In addition, Spurs agreed a capital increase of up to £150 million from majority shareholder, ENIC Sports via the issue of convertible A ordinary shares and accompanying warrants. 

For the first time, Spurs saw their matchday income hit £ 100 million, a dramatic rise on 2020-21 which saw games played to empty stadiums due to the pandemic. Spurs averaged 56,500 at their home games, the fourth highest in the Premier League.

The club has a very broad remit when it comes to stadium use and hosts American football, boxing and rugby, as well as rock concerts at the arena. Another positive was record commercial revenues of £ 183.5 million, up from £ 151 million, thanks to increased sponsorship and merchandise sales. Broadcasting earnings were down by more than £ 50 million to £ 154 million due to a lack of UEFA Champions League football. 

Spurs participated in the Europa Conference League but failed to get out of the group that included, Rennes, Vitesse and Mura. This meant they missed out on more cash, although the Europa pays only 22% of the rewards a club can generate from the Champions League. Moreover, the attendances at Spurs’ home games were way below league games, suggesting a lack of interest in the Conference League

Finishing fourth in the Premier League, however, meant Spurs qualified for the premier UEFA competition for 2022-23. Once again, Spurs changed their manager, sacking Nuno Espirito Santo in November 2021, just a few months after he was hired. Antonio Conte, formerly of Inter Milan, Chelsea and Juventus, not to mention the Italian national team, replaced him.

Spurs’ wage bill was among the top six in the Premier League and it went up by 2% to £ 209.2 million in 2021-22, which amounted to a wage-to-income ratio of 47.1%, an improvement on 2020-21’s 56.6%. Spurs spent an all-time high of £ 160 million on players, including the summer 2022 signing of Richarlison for £ 60 million from Everton, which was included in the 2021-22 financials. 

In the three years between 2019-20 and 2021-22, Spurs were the sixth biggest spender in the Premier, with an outlay of £ 406 million but their income from transfers in that period, £ 67 million, was fairly modest. Interestingly, one of the player shifted-out of Tottenham was Delli Alli, once the bright hope for English football but released on a free to Everton.

While Spurs’ net debt has reduced to £ 626 million, the football debt, which is a UEFA calculation based on cash, borrowings and net transfer fees owed to other parties, was £ 952 million. Only Chelsea, with their £ 1.5 billion owed to then-owner Roman Abramovich, had a higher figure in 2021-22.

Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, in his announcement to fans, said the club was looking to implement stricter control of its cost base while increasing commercial and sponsorship revenues. He added that consistent European football was key to the club’s ability to remain competitive. He also warned that Brexit’s affect on supply chains and the worrying rise in energy prices, would be a challenge going forward.