This summer, Tottenham Hotspur is faced with a turning point. As its new stadium opens, some of its best players have reached an age and a state of global recognition that makes them prime targets for moves to bigger clubs. All of the Spurs’ stars are underpaid compared to their counterparts at the Premier League’s other top six clubs, and they know it.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino knows he’s not going to be able to keep the gang together much longer if he can’t convince chairman Daniel Levy to give out some big raises. Following Tottenham’s victory over Leicester City on Sunday, he dropped a hint about his vision for the future of the club.
“I think that point is very good to talk a little bit now, but we need to talk a lot between us and the club,” Pochettino said. “I think I have very clear ideas of what we need to do. I don’t know if the club will agree with me or not, but we are going to talk next week to create the new project or what I think that we need to do together again to try to improve.”
That “new project” apparently includes a request for an investment of about £150 million into players, according to a story by Matt Law. Pochettino wants Spurs to offer new contracts to his best players immediately, and he wants to be able to move swiftly to sell players he doesn’t want anymore or who won’t agree to new deals.
While Spurs might have firmly earned “big club” status with their results, finishing above at least one of the richer clubs in the Premier League constantly over the last nine seasons, they’ve yet to establish themselves as a financial behemoth. By all accounts, Tottenham is still firmly sixth in wage spend, according to both the last solid numbers we have and more recent estimates. The gap between Spurs and fifth-highest spenders Liverpool is larger than the gap from Spurs down to eighth-highest spenders West Ham.
Tottenham has been cheap in the transfer market as well. While its net spend was up to £30 million this season, it was only £8 million the season before. In the five seasons prior, Spurs had a positive net spend, making more money from player sales than they spent on new players.
Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris are Tottenham’s highest paid players, pulling in around £100k per week. They — and most of their teammates — would make much more than that at one of the Premier League’s five richer clubs. Kyle Walker nearly doubled his salary when he moved to Manchester City, and based on what the two Manchester clubs pay their top attackers, Kane could triple his wage with a move.
This is not news to the Tottenham players themselves. Last summer, Danny Rose gave an interview where he finally let the cat out of the bag, stating that he would move on for a bigger wage and a better shot at trophies if he had to. He claimed many of his teammates had similar ambitions and wouldn’t stay at Spurs forever unless the club spent a lot of money and started pushing to win the title.
Pochettino got past that incident without too much of a problem, keeping his stars for this past season without having to give any raises that blew up the club’s wage structure. But the jig is up, and Spurs’ players know they can succeed elsewhere. Their victories over Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in Champions League, coupled with Walker’s success at City, probably have a few of Tottenham’s best players thinking about their next move.
Meanwhile, Pochettino doesn’t want a Gareth Bale or Luka Modric situation to unfold on his watch. He wants to get out in front of the problem by offering big contracts immediately to keep as many stars as he can, and selling the players he can’t re-sign as soon as possible.
But the question Levy needs to answer isn’t whether or not Spurs want to invest in Pochettino’s plan. He’d undoubtedly love to give the most successful manager he’s ever worked with unlimited resources. The question is whether or not the benefits of backing Pochettino are worth going into the red for.
On Tuesday, Spurs sent a signal to the rest of its squad by extending the contract of Davinson Sanchez, who was signed just one year ago. The club didn’t have to do that. Sanchez had five years left on his deal, which would have made it easy to resist any transfer offers for him. But Sanchez deserved a raise, so he got a raise. Spurs gave him a new contract because they value him, not because they needed to keep control of him. It’s a good sign that Levy is willing to make some big investments into players this summer, but the club isn’t exactly swimming in cash yet.
Tottenham’s shiny new stadium is going to increase the club’s matchday revenue to around £100 million per season, but it’s also coming in way over budget. It’s still very much a good investment for the club, but not the money printing machine it appeared to be when it was assumed to cost half as much as it will when it’s finished.
The good news for Pochettino and his prospects of getting his high-spending plan rubber stamped is that the increasing costs of building the stadium do not affect Tottenham’s Financial Fair Play status, since money spent on facilities is exempt from FFP. And when asked how much stadium cost increases would affect the club’s ability to compete in the transfer market, Tottenham’s director of finance and operations Matthew Collecott said that “this is not going to touch the football, these are very separate budgets.” Backing or not backing Pochettino’s plan is simply a matter of how much Levy and majority owner Joe Lewis are willing to lose over the next couple of years.
If Spurs are able to sign their best players to new contracts and bring in a couple of big-name signings, the long-term benefits could be enormous for the club. A happy Pochettino and continued on-pitch success could lead to increased sponsorship interest, increased loyalty from the local fanbase, and increased reach globally. All of that leads to the club being worth more money. If that best-case scenario happens, it’s clearly well worth Tottenham’s while to operate at a significant loss for a few seasons.
But the likely bad scenarios aren’t bad enough to avoid taking a risk. Even if Spurs have a terrible season, Pochettino leaves and his project crumbles, there will be a way out from under the financial commitment. Barring catastrophic injury, all of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier and Son Hueng-Min will retain transfer value. Spurs can get some big wages off the books and sell its top assets at any time if it really needs to.
After 17 years of work, true “big club” status is finally on the horizon for Tottenham Hotspur. It’s time for Levy to take a big risk and go for it.