Right now it’s being rumoured that Real Madrid has made an offer for Gareth Bale that tops £75 million. I’m sure we will find out in the near future if there is any truth to that rumour, but if it does prove to be true, it would be a massive boost to the North London squad.
I wrote about Gareth Bale about a week ago, and while there seemed to be some confusion surrounding the article, my basic premise was that Spurs would be wise to sell the Welsh superstar should they get a sizeable offer, and £75 million is most definitely sizeable.
On a side note, the confusion with the article was that some took it to be a comparison of Eden Hazard’s and Gareth Bale’s skills as players. It was not meant to be that. It was merely an attempt to assess Bale’s market value by comparing him with a few players, Eden Hazard just happened to be one of them.
At any rate, however, the last article I wrote was primarily about the “on the pitch” reasons as to why Tottenham should sell Bale, but this article will discuss the “off the pitch” reasons.
First of all, it has been said that Tottenham is the 11th richest club in the world, but that’s not entirely accurate. They’re the 11th most valuable club, but in terms of revenue, they’re actually the 13th richest club in the world. Of course, when considering there are thousands of soccer clubs in the world, being thirteenth on the list is quite an accomplishment, but it’s not a spot that is known for producing much silverware. To illustrate that point, let’s look at the teams that have had the 13th highest revenue in the world during the past seven seasons.
League Position: 5th, English Premier League
UEFA Tournament: Eliminated in quarterfinals of Europa
League Position: 1st, Seria A
UEFA Tournament: None
League Position: 8th, Bundesliga
UEFA Tournament: None
2009-2010: Olympique Lyon
League Position: 2nd, Ligue 1
UEFA Tournament: Eliminated in semifinals of Champions League
2008-2009: Schalke 04
League Position: 8th, Bundesliga
UEFA Tournament: None
2007-2008: Olympique Lyon
League Position: 1st, Ligue 1
UEFA Tournament: Eliminated in quarterfinals of Champions League
2006-2007: Newcastle United
League Position: 13th, English Premier League
UEFA Tournament: Eliminated in round of 16 of Europa
Here are the key facts: Two teams have won their domestic leagues, but those teams were Juventus and Olympique Lyon, and Seria A and Ligue 1, respectively. According to UEFA, those leagues are the 4th and 6th best football leagues, and some ways below the English, Spanish, and German leagues. In fact, the two German teams that were on the list both finished 8th in the Bundesliga, and of the two English teams on the list, the best result was Tottenham’s 5th place finish during the 2012-2013 campaign. The other English squad was Newcastle, which produced a 13th place finish during the 2006-2007 season. So unless your club plays in Ligue 1 – and your club is Olympique Lyon – they will probably not be experiencing any Champions League glory if they are in the financial state of Tottenham Hotspur.
So what can be done?
Sure, a wealthy Sheikh or Russian billionaire could buy Tottenham and pour money into the club, but until that happens, there’s only one solution: be financially efficient.
In terms of revenue, Tottenham is 13th best in the world, but 6th best in their own league. The club had an estimated £144.7 million of revenue during the 2012-2013 season, but Manchester United, Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, and even Liverpool all had larger revenues.
Manchester United: £429 million
Arsenal: £314 million
Manchester City: £309 million
Liverpool: £253 million
Chelsea: £218 million
Tottenham: £193 million
Since the 2001-2002 season, Tottenham’s yearly wage expenditures have averaged 6th highest in the league, but their average place on the table has been 7.4. That’s a difference of -1.4—not exactly a model of efficiency.
The first thing Tottenham – and every other club, for that matter – can do to maximise efficiency is stop focusing on buying players and start focusing on the idea of buying points. Points, after all, are what gets a club into the Champions League, not players.
But how many points does a Premier League team need in order to get into the Champions League? And how do we know how many goals a team needs to score in order to achieve those points? Well, taking numbers from the 2002-2003 season all the way until the 2012-2013 season, this is what the stat line would need to look like for a club to be all but guaranteed to end the year in a spot that qualifies them for the Champions League.
Goals For: 71
Goals Against: 37
Goal Difference: 34
If a team scores 71 goals and only gives up 37, there is a good chance that they will acquire enough points to earn an automatic spot in the Champions League. In fact, it’s estimated that a club with similar numbers should earn a minimum of 73 points, which would be enough for at least fourth place finish every year since the Premier League was formed, and a third place finish in over 80% of the seasons.
Oddly enough, that’s almost exactly what Arsenal did last year, scoring 72 goals while conceding just 37 and earning exactly 73 points. Compare that to Tottenham’s final tally of 66 goals scored and 46 goals conceded, which earned them 72 points, causing them to miss out on a chance at playing in the Champions League by a single point.
To be clear, there is nothing magical about the numbers 71 and 37. Many years, a club can get into the Champions League with fewer goals for and more goals against. In fact, during the 2004-2005 season, Everton scored just 45 goals and gave up 46 for a goal difference of -1, but instances like that are rare. There are many paths to the Champions League, but the path that Arsenal took during the 2012-2013 season will end up in the Champions League almost all of the time, but the path that Everton took during the 2004-2005 season will, more often that not, take a team to a mid-table destination.
So what’s the solution for Tottenham? That’s the big question, and anyone who can answer it accurately should probably have a job in football somewhere.
The fact is, it’s hard to say exactly what the solution is, but the first step is selling Gareth Bale.
As it has been shown during this article, Tottenham is not in the top five in English football when it comes to revenue, so they need to make the most of what they have, and right now they have a player who, while valued very high, is actually slightly overvalued. That player is also a hot commodity in the transfer market. Olympique Lyon, a club that resembles Tottenham from a financial point of view, has lived and died by the “by low, sell high” philosophy. Yes, Gareth Bale could have an even better season this year than he did last year, but there is no guarantee that will happen, and Tottenham does not have the financial luxury to take that chance.
Another thing Chris Anderson and David Sally show in their new book, The Numbers Game, is that the tenth and eleventh best players on the pitch are more important than the first and second best players. They have shown that teams at the Premier League level are able to take advantage of clubs that have weak players on the field, and the two men have come to a very decisive conclusion that having, for example, eleven good players on the pitch will net a club more points than having two great players, nine good players, and two average players on the pitch will.
With that in mind, if Tottenham were to sell Gareth Bale, the first thing they should do with the money they receive is invest some of it in their backfield. Allowing 46 goals is too much. They need to lower that number by about ten, and when looking for a defender, the key stats to look for are how often a player was dribbled around and how many defensive errors a player made. Tackling is not the most important defensive stat, because players who position themselves well don’t need to tackle as often, which, in turn, makes them less susceptible to defensive errors.
With the leftover money, they can find players to fill other voids on the team. Perhaps finding a relatively cheap, good-passing winger like Nathaniel Dyer or Jonas Gutierrez would also be money well spent. And perhaps finding a couple young strikers to replace the ageing Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe would also be money well spent, but buying strikers is a tricky thing because goals are so unpredictable. Most of the time, they’re the sum of a lot of moving parts, not just the result of one man’s efforts. No matter how talented a goal scorer may be, he’s as dangerous as a toy gun if his teammates cannot feed him the ball in proper spots.
Take Robin Van Persie, for instance. He seems to score at ease while playing for clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United (two skilled teams with very high passing percentages), but very few people (if any) would argue that he would score 25-30 goals playing for Hull City. Why? Because like I said earlier, goals are based on the sum of a lot of moving parts, not just the efforts one player. That’s why the book, Soccernomics, says that players like David Silva and Yaya Toure, though they score fewer goals than Van Persie, have more actual value than the Dutch striker because of their ability to create goals.
In the 2005 Champions League Final between AC Milan and Liverpool in Istanbul, there were roughly 2,200 events that were recorded during the game. This includes passes, turnovers, shots, dribbles, etc. Of the 2,200 events recorded, six were goals. That means roughly 0.0027% of all events resulted in a goal. The only thing that’s rare about this particular game is the fact that there were so many goals scored. In the Premier League, there are roughly 2.67 total goals per game. The six total goals that night in Istanbul were more than double that number, meaning on a normal night, it’s not unreasonable to assume that less than 0.0015% of all events will result in a goal.
But that’s not even the most interesting number regarding goals. In their book, Anderson and Sally tell us that roughly 44% of goals are luck. Whether it’s a ball that deflects off a defender, a goalkeeper misplaying a ball, or a goal like the one that came during a 2012 friendly match between Stoke City and Sporting KC where a clearance deflected off of Kyle Miller’s head and sailed over Stoke’s goalkeeper, Asmir Begovic, resulting in a goal for Sporting KC, almost half of all goals scored have nothing to do with skill or tactics. They’re simply lucky.
If we apply the 44% number to Gareth Bale, it means that approximately ten of his twenty-one goals can be attributed to luck and probably would have been scored by just about any midfielder/winger in the Premier League. Essentially what that means is that the combination of Tottenham’s tactics and Bale’s skill accounted for eleven goals that otherwise may not have been there—or in other words, roughly one goal every 3.5 games. There are many, many people who will argue that vehemently, but that’s not a conclusion based on opinions, that’s a conclusion based on numbers and data. In fact, it’s based on thousands of matches worth of numbers and data, so the sample size is large enough to be very reliable.
So essentially, Tottenham is trying replace eleven goals. If Tottenham had the exact same roster as they did last year sans Gareth Bale, there is a good chance the club would still score around 55 goals (obviously they won’t have the exact same roster, but you get the point).
Besides, if Bale is sold, they will replace him, and because goals are so unpredictable, after improving their porous defence, Spurs should focus on players who make goals more about skill than luck. Players like Juan Mata and Eden Hazard. Players like Yaya Toure and David Silva. Players who can create, as OPTA calls it “clear cut chances” for their teammates and make goals more about skill than luck because of their passing and vision. If Spurs are able to find players who can bring better passing, better defence, and added depth to their club, selling Gareth Bale could be just what Tottenham needs to become a true threat in the Champions League for a few years to come.