Mauricio Pochettino had a few things to say a couple of weeks back about other people’s opinions about his club. While his comments in this case were mostly directed towards Antonio Conte, who had suggested that it would not be a ‘tragedy’ if Tottenham failed to win the Premier League next season, one got the sense that he was addressing the vast majority out there who think that the lack of incoming activity at Spurs means that they’ve already fallen behind all the big teams.
One would think that we are talking about a team that has spent a lot of money in previous seasons. But the numbers share a story. Since the 2012-13 season, Tottenham have a net spend of £1.8 million per season. That is a staggering number when you consider that Manchester City have spent £90.5m per season with Manchester United not too far behind at £74.5m. Even Arsenal, the flag bearer for austerity in years gone past spent £42.1 a season. Liverpool spent £28.7m and Chelsea, £16.2m.
It is a testament to how well the club is run that they have improved their placing at the top end of the league for four seasons running now, while challenging for the title in the last two.
Some of the frugality could be attributed to the fact that their new stadium will cost £800m. But they sure are poster boys for those out there who believe that spending in football has reached ridiculous levels, with Neymar’s recent £198m move to PSG, the latest in a series of transfers that have boggled the mind.
Tottenham are about to start a new season without having bought a single player, yet. That is bound to change given that Daniel Levy does like to leave it late in the window before getting players in, but I expect the net spend to be what it has been for some time now, next to zero.
If they do well this season, a lot of clubs will look very silly indeed. I wondered what Jose Mourinho was smoking when he declared a few weeks back that Spurs have had a great window because they have managed to retain their best players. If it was an attempt at psychological warfare, I really do not know what he was trying to do there. But his and Conte’s comments do hint at a possible discomfort out there that Spurs could show up the top English clubs.
So, when Pochettino requested that others leave his team alone and focussed on themselves, he might have allowed himself a smile because he surely has his opponents worried.
Imagine how it would reflect on all the big spenders if Tottenham’s progression in the league over the last four years culminated in a league triumph this year? They are a long shot for the title, and the task will only be harder given that they are playing their home games at Wembley this season, where they only won one in five last year, but it would be a glorious achievement. Unlike Leicester’s title win, which was definitely a flash in the pan, it would lay down a case for how English football clubs could be run in a sustainable manner and still be successful.
Top English clubs, along with PSG, Barcelona and Real Madrid, have been in a bubble for the last few years and seem convinced that the good times and insane money will continue to roll in. There have been enough examples out there in the world economy over the past decade that suggest this will not be the case.
Maybe it needs a club like Tottenham to lead the way with it’s £100,000 a week salary cap and an ethos that revolves around the team rather than the stars. A decade or so back, Arsene Wenger created Arsenal teams in this image, teams which neutrals could get behind and be most others’ second favourite team.
Roman Abramovich changed English football then by being the first person to pump millions into a football club. He seemed to realise earlier than everyone else where football was headed. The fact that he has cut down on the spending in recent years suggests that he probably sees the boom years coming to an end. The bubble will burst soon, it is just a question of when.
Mauricio Pochettino could be the manager to show the way. This is what he had to say today on the eve of the Premier League curtain raiser:
“We are so competitive and ambitious. It’s a big challenge for us to make Tottenham a winning team and build a strong mentality to challenge the likes of United and City, who are spending a lot to create a winning team.
“Our philosophy and the way we work is so exciting. We try to win in different ways to other clubs. You cannot have doubts when others have doubts or are nervous. We are calm and relaxed.
“We will assess at the end of the season if we were right or not.”
As a Liverpool fan, I wish that the wait for a title ends this season, but if it doesn’t, I would love for Pochettino to be proven right. After a pre season filled with stories about incredulous valuations, striking players, greedy agents, whimsical fans and callous owners, that would be a story I could get behind. Football needs that story.