Tottenham’s collapse – possibly an era drawing to a close

THE SCHADENFREUDE was flowing thick and fast on the night Tottenham shipped seven goals at their gleaming new stadium. Spurs have never been beaten so heavily on any of their own patches, but was there more to it than just a team of smart finishers exposing the gaps in the home defence?

Nobody could have anticipated such an alarming defeat, it was Spurs’ equivalent of the 7-1 home defeat by Brazil in the 2014 World Cup. Certainly, the shellshock must have lasted all the way back to Liverpool Street from White Hart Lane station, or maybe beyond.

Naturally, given Tottenham’s staccato start to the season, and the growing feeling that Madrid, 2019 represented the end of something rather than the “next step” for this Spurs side, people are peering deeply into the gloom and asking if this really is the down slope for Mauricio Pochettinio’s project.

Spurs need reinforcements, but they can’t get them until January 2020. By that time, the grimace on Daniel Levy’s face may be even more tortured than it was during the Bayern game. Spurs need alternatives. Perhaps some players are too comfortable, maybe some need fresh motivation. Undoubtedly certain individuals need to be moved on.

Given that half a dozen of their players were seeking transfers in the summer, it is possibly time for Spurs to cash-in on one or two before their market values drop. Pochettino has said there are too many “selfish agendas” being pursued by some of his players, so what does he do – get rid of the bad apples or hope that the squad turns itself around?

Is it about money? Spurs’ wage bill is, according to media reports, the sixth highest in the Premier League. Harry Kane’s weekly wage is alleged to be £ 200,000 per week, while Dele Alli is on half as much. The 2018-19 average annual salary at Spurs in 2018-19 was more than £ 3.5 million, £ 1.5 million lower than Chelsea’s squad and £ 3 million less than the amount earned by a Manchester City player. Clearly, there are temptations for Spurs’ young players who want to maximise their income.

When a dressing room is in turmoil, if that is the case, it rarely sorts itself out unless there is movement of personnel, either players or the manager. At some clubs – Chelsea is a good example – the players seem to rule and therefore, it is easier to dispose of a manager than a group of players. A mass clear-out is very hard to achieve, largely because of contract terms, the disruptive effect and the media fall-out. Often, a board will take the simple route and issue a statement that their man “lost the dressing room”.

Not that Pochettino is about to be sacked, far from it, but there is a school of thought that wonders if he believes he is immune from being taken to task. Certainly, Pochettino has created something special at the club, but he has, in recent months, developed something of a siege mentality.

Spurs cannot use the usual excuses when a team gets torn apart by a superior force. Spurs must not offer any suggestion they were naïve, inexperienced, tired or lacking confidence, although the latter may well be true – especially after their mauling. Four members of the starting line-up were over 30 and another four were over 25. This is no longer a team with its best days ahead of it. Quite simply, Bayern were on an altogether higher level from Spurs and their finishing was sublime, but they were also helped by the defensive inadequacies of Pochettino’s team.

Is the sought-after manager distracted? Real Madrid have, supposedly, made Pochettino a priority target and after the Spanish side’s stuttering Champions League performance, current coach Zinedine Zidane is looking very vulnerable.

Former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov told Spanish media that Pochettino may be unsettled because of the rumours about Real. Furthermore, the man himself has said the Bernabéu job is attractive and maybe one day he will move on. He may feel he has achieved as much as he can in North London with this current batch of players. He has been with Tottenham since 2014, which is a very long tenure by Premier League standards. The gorilla in the room, however, is Tottenham’s lack of silverware, which has eluded the club since 2008, and despite the kidology and top four compensation, this really does matter.

Spurs have been in the top six for a decade, no mean feat. The club has moved from the fringes into a small band of contenders while also leaping forward on a commercial basis. Their new stadium is marvellous and offers a great future, but maybe there are some comparisons with Arsenal when they moved into the Emirates, a club adjusting to new surroundings while making sure that financially, they remained prudent and stable. Undoubtedly, that will include maintaining a presence in the UEFA Champions League, but that should not be the extent of their ambition, otherwise there really will be parallels with late-Wenger Arsenal. Lessons can be learned from their fiercest rivals.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: PA

 

Like it or not, football has to be more aligned to finance

SINCE THE launch of both the FA Premier League and UEFA Champions League, the football industry has undergone significant change, characterised by unprecedented revenue growth, bloated competitions, globalisation and expanded franchises. Football has become a business that attracts new owners and new sponsors as the world’s most popular sport becomes a compelling proposition for investors and finance providers. The top level clubs have never been richer than they are at present.

And from a spectator perspective, football has never been more popular. In the English Premier League, attendances are at their highest level since the late-1940s. Major clubs have waiting lists for season tickets and stadium utilisation is close to 100%. While this is a headline story, it should also be remembered that the modern game has also created a class structure that is even more divided than it was in the past, hence for every Manchester City, there is a Bury or Bolton story waiting to break the hearts of loyal fans.

While developed football markets continue to attract more spectators and business partners, other countries, such as China, India and the United States, are experiencing growing interest, both domestically and internationally.

Europe’s top clubs are now capable of generating huge levels of income compared to the past. The business community, realising the opportunity to align itself to high-profile clubs with a strong media presence and growing social media audience, has changed its perception of football and sees it as a sector offering multiple benefits. Banks and other financial institutions also acknowledge the stable revenue streams and the positive trajectory of the major industry players.

This environment has attracted a wide range of investors, many of whom are taking over clubs outside their home countries. Hence, new wealthy owners have emerged from Asia, the United States, the Middle East and Russia. The global game has benefactors with diverse business interests, another key reason why financial institutions now find football an attractive asset class. This has effectively moved clubs that once represented the neighbourhood into stateless teams of multi-national hired hands. Tottenham, for example, is no longer a North London club, but a corporation with a team that happens to be domiciled in that part of the UK capital. The same can be applied to many clubs.

At the same time, the sport’s governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA among others, are increasing regulation, trying to bring greater credibility to football. A good example of this is UEFA’s Financial Fair Play, which has not only improved clubs’ financial discipline, but has proved to be the catalyst for greater profitability in European football.

 

Financial requirements have changed in the past 10 years. Income has certainly increased substantially, but so too have players’ wages and transfer fees, which are at an all-time high. Stadium development is also prevalent across the game, with new football grounds being designed and built and existing facilities being expanded and improved.

 

Bigger, more versatile grounds can generate higher matchday and commercial revenues, but one of the main drivers of football’s startling growth story has been rising broadcasting fees, notably in Europe’s top five leagues – England, Germany, Spain, Italy and France.

 

Ultimately, for most clubs, the biggest outlay of cash is connected to player transfers and wages, and with the figures growing almost annually, football is starting to embrace capital market instruments and corporate finance expertise in order to further professionalise the industry. As revenue streams have increased and diversified, alternative sources of financing have also started to be introduced to the football market.

The need for sophisticated financing creates opportunities for the financial industry, particularly in providing structured solutions. For the banking sector, its reawakened interest in football is firm recognition the sport has matured into a global industry with a high degree of creditworthiness among its major players.

In the past, banks have lent relatively small amounts on an ad-hoc basis, but the changing football landscape demands clubs have more certainty about the availability of funding. At the same time, banks – especially since the global financial crisis of a decade ago – have to ensure their reputation is kept intact, so football clubs must be clear they can meet the requirements of finance providers.

As football finance becomes more complex and innovative and clubs explore ways to benefit from the value of their assets – players, stadium, intangible value of their brands and intellectual property – the prospect of securitising the value of the playing squad becomes a possibility. Football has a history of using securitisation to generate cash, but mostly these programmes have anticipated income and often produced disappointing results. Squad valuation, for example, could be one way to leverage the value of a club’s key assets.

Like it or not – and many purists and fans from football’s traditional client base despise it – the game has become big business. But it’s all relative –  the esteemed historian and academic David Goldblatt noted in his book, The Game of our Lives, that most clubs only generate the turnover of a local supermarket chain. However, the game can no longer be run on a cap-in-hand approach that asks benefactors to stump-up cash. At the top level, financial management and clarity and strict controls around money, ownership and reporting, have to be front and centre. Sometimes, this may reveal information that supporters, for one, won’t like to hear, but if it’s a big, global business that keeps evolving, it has to managed like any other major sector.

@GameofthePeople

Photo: PA