Tottenham Hotspur has long been a byword for the short-termism, and instability that is the hallmark of the majority of clubs in the Premier League.
Since replacing Sir Alan Sugar as chairman in 2001, Daniel Levy has overseen the hiring and firing of nine different managers (from George Graham to Tim Sherwood) and few clubs have rivalled Spurs’ heavy involvement in the transfer market during the Premier League era. Transfer League, for instance, record Tottenham as having net spent in excess of £142 million on players since the institution of the Premier League in 1992, splurging £658 million on new recruits while taking in £516 million in sales.
To put these figures into context, Arsenal net spent £1 million less than Spurs over the previous 14 seasons despite being ever present in the Champions League and winning three Premier Leagues and seven FA Cups to Tottenham’s zero. Everton, meanwhile, a similar profile of club to Tottenham throughout the Premier League era, have spent just £340 million on new players over the last 14 years, taking in £254 million in sales, for an £86 million net spend.
It is in this context that Mauricio Pochettino’s record of having made a net profit of £6.3 million in the transfer market through the course of his 18 months in charge at White Hart Lane is so eye-catching, and it is made even more remarkable owing to the fact that he has simultaneously succeeded in crafting the youngest and most promising Tottenham team in decades.
Tottenham are the only squad in the Premier League with an average age below 25 (24.7, to be precise) and the manner in which Pochettino has succeeded in purging the club of overpaid, underperforming deadwood such as Paulinho, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado in order to make room for academy products such as Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb, and Tom Carroll as well as young, home-grown recruits such as Eric Dier, Delle Ali and Ben Davies has been a masterclass in long-term, succession planning.
Pochettino took over the running at Tottenham with a clear vision of how he wanted his side to set up, and any player unable to fit into this system was instantly deemed disposable. Such strategic clarity is a blessing for Spurs who have suffered for the lack of accountability inherent in clubs characterized by a high turnover of players and managers (see Liverpool and Newcastle) and The Guardian’s David Hytner reports that Pochettino has frequently turned down the opportunity to sign players once he believes they do not fit his team’s profile.
“Levy was very keen for him [Pochettino] to sign a striker at the last moment in the summer”, Hytner notes. “He said that he could get Charlie Austin, who was then at Queens Park Rangers, only for Pochettino to say ‘No’ – and, once again in January, it was Levy who was eager to do the business…Pochettino would have liked somebody else up front but not just anybody and the chemistry within the dressing-room that he has concocted remains of overriding importance.”
The Argentine’s focus on developing highly motivated, tactically intelligent and ambitious young footballers who possess the raw materials required to fit his high-intensity pressing system has not only helped Spurs to balance their books, however; it has also dramatically improved results.
Tottenham’s 0-3 win away at Norwich on Tuesday was their fifth triumph in a row in all competitions and it moved them above Arsenal into third in the table, five points back from leaders Leicester. With Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United all enduring bad seasons, it would take a serious loss of form for Spurs to finish outside of the top-four and the unpredictable nature of the title race is such that this is realistically the club’s best ever shot at winning the Premier League.
But Pochettino is not getting carried away by this success. Indeed, it is a testament to the long-term philosophy underpinning his management that, instead of capitalizing on Spurs’ strong league position in order to advertise for the United or Chelsea job, the Argentine warned supporters that the club is facing into a “very tough period” ahead of their move to a new stadium in time for the 2018-19 season.
Pochettino said: “I have read a lot about Arsène Wenger saying the toughest period for Arsenal was in the period that they built their stadium and I think you need to know, and the people need to know, that this is a very tough period for us. We need to be careful because we need to arrive at the new stadium in very good condition to try to fight for everything, and try to show that we are one of the best clubs and teams in the world.”
All of this ties into the more cost-effective approach to player recruitment (“pragmatic player trading,” Levy called it) that Pochettino has helped to implement at Tottenham over the last two seasons. Just as Wenger needed to build his squad around a core of young players such as Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Denilson, Alex Song and Adebayor in the seasons which followed Arsenal’s move to the Emirates Stadium in 2006, players such as Dier, Delle Ali and Kane will be relied upon by Tottenham as they cut costs in order to pay down the new stadium debt.
Spurs fans could hardly have asked for a better manager than Pochettino to oversee this transition, but with United and Chelsea likely to be looking for new managers in the summer, they might face a difficult task keeping hold of him.
[Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images]