On the 28th May 2014, Tottenham appointed the ninth manager of the Daniel Levy era. Mauricio Pochettino. A young manager who plays an exciting brand of attacking football and has an excellent record of bringing through youth, he seems the perfect match for Tottenham. The one attribute he lacks is experience in European football, and indeed experience managing a big club, yet there were few possible candidates for Spurs who would’ve ticked that box. Frank De Boer was a long shot at best for a club outside of the Champions league.
However, for Pochettino, the deal may not prove to be as lucrative. Leaving behind him the best youth academy in the country and a possible £50m transfer kitty from the sales of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana, he has transferred to a club with the itchiest trigger finger in the Premier League and the impossible balance of trying to break into the top four whilst also having to serious reevaluate their financial situation. Pochettino might have been better off waiting.
The Saints have had a remarkable season, racking up their joint highest ever Premier league finish and a record points total whilst having captured the hearts of the English media with their young British core, bringing through the likes of Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Callum Chambers, Nathaniel Clyne, James Ward-Prose and Jay Rodriguez – to name but a few. They look set to cash in a rather farcical sum of £27-30 million for Luke Shaw whilst Lallana could also be sold for £20 million plus, thus giving Pochettino upwards of £50 million to spend – hypothecated from these sales alone.
Over at Spurs, with the ‘wasted summer’ still a bitter, bitter reality and £400 million of stadium costs about to be absorbed, the picture is very different. Soldado, Lamela, Chadli, Capoue, Chiriches and Paulinho are all yet to live up to their billing yet (with the exception of Chadli and Capoue) all are earning in excess of £50,000 a week. Put simply, the Bale money has gone, and then some – with Spurs’ expenditure on wages for these players nullifying the argument that Spurs in essence ‘broke even’ in the summer whilst adding eight players. The Guardian club-by-club report for the last financial year shows the picture for the two clubs:
Southampton: Gross profits: -£7m, Net Debt £19m, Turnover £72m
Tottenham: Gross profits: £4m, Net Debt: £55m, Turnover £147m
Clearly therefore, there is still a gulf in finances and it would be mad to try to suggest that in the long run Pochettino would have more to spend at Southampton than at Spurs. With revenues of over double Southampton’s there is little doubt that Spurs are the ‘bigger club’. However, in the short-term Spurs are set to take on £400 million of stadium debt and that cannot just be ignored. Their North London rivals took on a similar level of debt and have been paying for it for the last nine years, having to sacrifice all short run success in return for the financial rewards of Champions league qualification. Tottenham cannot even do that! There is a huge gulf in class between Tottenham and the current top four at the moment and with Manchester United set to rise back to prominence under Van Gaal Tottenham would do well to finish 6th next season.
It is telling that despite a £120 million summer, they still didn’t register a single player in WhoScored.com’s London team of the season. This after Levy has publicly stated that ‘under his guidance’ Tottenham would become the biggest club in London. They are living in a dream world if they think they can have another £120 million summer, but this time make it count.
Whilst £120 million well spent might be what is needed, Tottenham simply cannot afford it and as a result under any manager will not be returning to the Champions league any time soon. Will Levy realise this reality and give Pochettino the time to build through austerity and accept that top four might have to be a more long-term goal? History suggests not. The stadium redevelopment plans are quite magnificent, it is undeniable and were they to manufacture the move successfully, staying in line with FFP whilst maintaining their status as a top Premier League club they would be in a marvellous position to go on and become a major force on the world stage. But that’s a lot of ifs and buts.
One of the main reasons for Pochettino leaving Southampton was probably evidence of a lack of ambition, something that no one could deny Spurs have an abundance of. Nicola Cortese left the club in January of this year amidst reports Katharina Liebherr had plans to sell the club and Pochettino had previously warned that if Cortese left, he would be following him out the door. Furthermore, whilst gaining £50 million from the sales of Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana might be viewed as a positive by some (the price tag flouted for Shaw is enough to make even the most stubborn of owners take the money and run). But only Mauricio himself could tell us what is happening behind the scenes, maybe Liebherr has no intention of reinvesting the money into the squad, maybe there are still plans to sell, they’ve just made a point of doing it quietly. Who knows?
However, the noises from within seem to suggest that Liebherr is happy and committed for the time being and you would expect that – with no substantial debts to be paid off immediately – at least some of the money would be reinvested into the squad. Furthermore, the Saints’ biggest financial differential with Tottenham is their commercial revenues (excl. TV rights) standing at £7m compared to Spurs’ £57m.
With the current Southampton frenzy in the media and a bit of good marketing there is huge scope for this to be doubled, tripled and more in the next three years, then the gap between Southampton and the big clubs might really start to close, and once you’re in that bracket and gaining a global presence the possibilities are endless and the revenues exponential. This could’ve been the reality for Pochettino at Southampton. Liebherr does not strike me as a Mike Ashley-esque figure, who actively avoids Europa League football at risk of having to actually put some money into the club, and even if she did have plans to sell – who’s to say that a new owner wouldn’t recognise Southampton’s potential and take them onto that new level, with Pochettino at the helm.
If you’re a young player, looking for a club and you see the likes of Chambers, Shaw, Clyne, Rodriguez, Ward-Prowse and Schneiderlin all being given a chance to impress at a young age, as well as the lucrative paths that Walcott, Chamberlain and Gareth Bale have gone on to take, then St Mary’s very quickly becomes your first choice of destination, and that’s the privilege that Southampton have at the moment, a huge share of the market for young talent which is only expanding and the possibility from player sales and an increased marketing presence to really push on and become a big club.
Pochettino may well find himself the perfect home at Spurs. Indeed, it is possible that Levy sees him as the perfect man to oversee a tightening of the purse strings due to his success on very limited funds at Southampton in the short time he’s been manager there. However, history suggests otherwise. Levy sacked Martin Jol over a dodgy lasagne and Redknapp lost his job despite finishing fourth due to the huge misfortune dealt to them by Didier Drogba. AVB had his summer signings dictated to him and then was sacked for not getting them to perform whilst Sherwood bowed out with the greatest Premier League win rate of any Tottenham manager ever.
Pochettino will be expected to make up a gap on the other top five teams in the league (I exclude Everton from this as it is touch and go as to how they will perform next season without Lukaku, Delofeu, Barry and the burden of the Europa League) despite almost certainly being powerless to stop his team being outspent by them all. It is a dangerous fantasy to expect Tottenham to continue spending as they have done in the past with the new stadium debt and financial fair play to contend with.
If Levy gives Pochettino time and space to operate and steer Tottenham out of the debt and into a new era than he may yet become a legend, but the likelihood of that is very low indeed. Had he stayed at Southampton it is not impossible that they may have overtaken Tottenham in two or three years time, as Spurs struggle with the debt. In that occurrence, the world would be his oyster with Wenger surely into his last contract at Arsenal now and unstable managership and Barcelona and both Milan clubs. Instead, he has taken a huge gamble on a club with a reputation for a lack of patience who will soon be experiencing austerity.
It may well come off for him, but there is also a high chance it won’t and he will become yet another casualty of the Levy regime.