If Spurs were a car they’d be an Alfa Romeo. The Italian car manufacturer is famous, historic and sought after amongst those in the know, but it’s niche.
After a two decade absence in the American market Alfa Romeo is attempting to reintroduce itself in a big way. The brand’s plan is to break the established order of BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Audi in the luxury car market, thereby jumping out of the second tier of car manufacturers right into the top tier.
As they put their plan into action, Alfa Romeo’s board might want to take a cursory glance towards North London since in the footballing arena, Tottenham Hotspur have done much the same thing.
The last time Spurs won the League was 1961, the last time they won the FA Cup was 1991 and the last time they won anything was almost a decade ago, with the securing of the League Cup in 2008.
As a club, Tottenham has long been associated with style and panache.
White Hart Lane has been graced by some exceptionally stylish footballers, from golden oldies like David Ginola and Jurgen Klinsmann to some of the best players of the modern age like Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale.
Yet rarely has it counted for much. When a Spurs player reaches a certain level, they are sold for a lot of money, the money received gets reinvested in talented youngsters and the wheel spins.
Yet since 2014 that wheel hasn’t just been spinning, it has been moving in a genuine, proper, bonafide direction under the guidance of perhaps the best manager in the Premier League, Mauricio Pochettino. Funnily enough, it was Gareth Bale who put the gears into motion.
When the Welshman moved to Real Madrid for a world record fee in 2013 Tottenham responded in typical fashion bringing in 7 players sparking former Spurs midfielder and generally weird bloke Garth Crooks to announce that Spurs had ‘sold Elvis and bought the Beatles’.
They hadn’t and the manager who had overseen the transfers, Andre Villas-Boas didn’t even make it to Christmas. His successor Tim Sherwood was never more than a temporary fixture and was removed at the end of the season.
Spurs were hopeless and without focus.
Mr. Pochettino arrives
Then arrived the man with the plan, Mr. Pochettino, ‘Poch’ to his friends.
Pochettino set about culling his squad. Of those 7 who arrived in 2013 only 2 remain at the club, Christian Eriksen and Eric Lamela.
The others were moved on alongside talented, but temperamental striker Emmanuel Adebayor. Instead Pochettino focussed on developing the talent he already had.
Players with question marks under their names like Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Moussa Dembele developed into some of the league’s best. The club’s youth players were also given a chance and local lad Harry Kane announced himself in a big way, scoring 21 goals in his debut season before following up his one season wonder with two more.
Fellow youngun Dele Alli has done an equally impressive job, making the jump from League 1 to the Premier League without so much as a hiccup, on the way becoming one of Europe’s most valuable players.
Pochettino has cultivated a lean squad full of hungry, young, talented, committed players, which also carries a very impressive British contingent, a rarity in the modern game. As a result, Spurs have gone from stylishly toothless to genuine title contenders.
With the breakup of the established top 4 of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, Tottenham have seized their chance, making their own Alfa Romeo-like transition from second tier to the top.
Naturally, that transition has not been without bumps in the road, in 2015/16 Spurs offered up the most Spursy title challenge ever by managing to finish 3rd in a two horse race. Nonetheless the next season the team came back with renewed vigour and focus and last season improved again, finishing 2nd while also boasting the League’s best attack and best defence.
Rose bares all
With key players including Kane, Alli, Dembele, Dier, Eriksen and Rose all signing new contracts last season, Spurs looked for the first time in a long time, secure.
Keeping hold of key players, building on last year’s performances with the natural progression of young players and with the addition of some fresh faces, the prospect of silverware looked tantalisingly close.
However, after making so much progress and establishing themselves as genuine title contenders, Spurs might just be in danger of their wheels falling off.
This week Danny Rose made the inexplicable decision to air out his club in an interview with everyone’s favourite newspaper, The Sun.
Taking the lead of racists everywhere Rose went for the ‘I’m not going to disrespect anyone, but…’ approach before launching into a wide-ranging criticism of his club for not paying him what he his worth and for only signing players you have to google in order to find out who they are.
Not disrespectful at all. Rose also hinted heavily at being open to a move, particularly ‘up North’ sparking rumours of a move to Manchester United.
The interview was a rare moment of disunity in the Spurs camp, but one which nonetheless touches on a problem foreseen by many and which has already seen one of their best players, Kyle Walker, leave this summer.
Money over loyalty
When Walker decided he wanted to leave White Hart Lane his chances of winning major titles likely played a part, but so did getting paid what he felt he was worth. At Spurs the Sheffield born wing-back earned £70,000 per week, at City that has almost doubled to £130,000 per week.
The debate about chasing money over glory, or loyalty, has waged long in football and will continue to do so, but ultimately, if you are at the top of your profession you are a fool if you do not demand to be paid as such.
The question therefore is whether Spurs and Chairman Daniel Levy are prepared to offer the sorts of contracts that top level players covet and deserve. The evidence so far suggests that is unlikely.
Tottenham currently houses many of the best players in the Premier League, yet few of them are paid as such. Currently only Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane and Jan Vertonghen are paid £100,000 per week or more and no player is paid more than £150,000 per week.
Shrewd, but unattractive financial model
The Spurs model is financially shrewd, as it always has been under Levy, but in the current market the club risks alienating some of its brightest talent if players are not paid in line with the status they achieve in the game.
Spurs have already lost Walker, but with Kieran Trippier they have a ready made replacement.
Losing Danny Rose would be a tougher pill to swallow and a harder replacement to make, especially with Spurs failing so far to bring in any players this summer, itself a cause for concern. Equally, should Rose leave in addition to Walker and for the same reason, it has the potential to fatally undermine the Spurs project.
Players might be happy to accept modest wages when they play in a team they feel is capable of achieving something significant, but should they cease to feel that way, would they still be happy at White Hart Lane, or would they too look to join teams who can match their ambition, as well as their financial requirements?
Fork in the road
Tottenham’s progression has been a shining light in the Premier League over the past few years.
Equally, their resistance to paying ludicrous transfer fees (bar Sissoko) and wages is admirable. However, not keeping pace with the big spenders is a risk which threatens to undermine a project seemingly within spitting distance of delivering a piece of major silverware.
Danny Rose for all of his idiocy has created a fork in the road for Tottenham.
If Tottenham accepts what he is saying and offers him a bumper new contract, it will leave behind the model on which it has based its success so far, yet doing so may be the best, or only, way to keep hold of Spurs’ prodigious talent.
Alternatively, if the club refuses to bend it takes a very big risk. Will player’s loyalty to the club and commitment to the project be enough to keep them in the white half of North London, or will Spurs wheels’ fall off for good?
A Premier League title might make things a little clearer for everyone, but then again, it might not.
Written by Scott Pope
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