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Leagues: EPL

Tottenham entering a defining period, on and off the field


Perhaps it was losing the opening match of the season to Manchester United, or maybe it has been the controversy freely flowing at Stamford Bridge, but for a team that is unbeaten in their last 10 Premier League matches, Spurs have been getting precious little attention so far.

Granted five of the 10 matches have been drawn, but there has been ample evidence – a 4-1 shellacking of Manchester City a prime example – that an on form Spurs are capable of beating any team in the Premier League, and with Chelsea’s recent struggles, a top-four finish looks to be up for grabs.

But there again, predictions of a top-four finish for Spurs have been as common as the flu over the last six seasons, and all too often the team has floundered down the stretch.

MORE SPURS: Harry Kane excited about Tottenham’s growing belief.

There was a fourth place finish at the expense of Manchester City in 2010. and it resulted in top flight European competition returning to White Hart Lane for the first time since 1962. Two years later, fourth was again secured, but Chelsea backdoored the Champions League after qualifying as unlikely winners.

But more times than not Champions League dreams have turned into Europa League reality. But maybe, just maybe this season might be the one when Spurs deliver over a full season rather than just part of it.

The goal scoring fortunes of Harry Kane generate the greatest discourse, but a credible case can be made that Spurs’ relative success so far has been down to how well they have done at the other end of the pitch. The last two Premier League seasons, Spurs have conceded over 50 goals – 51 in 2013-14 and 53 last season. So far, in 11 games this season, Spurs have allowed just nine goals – a number only bettered by Manchester United and Arsenal.

Then there is the faith manager Mauricio Pochettino is placing in younger players. According to a recent post from CIES Football Observatory, Spurs are fielding the league’s youngest lineup, with an average age of 24.7 years of age, and it is by design rather than a desperate throw of the dice.

Pochettino has his side playing high-energy soccer and fitness and mobility is a necessity. But over the next five weeks, the depth of Pochettino’s squad will be given a rigorous test. There are three Europa League matches, starting with Anderlecht at White Hart Lane on Thursday. On Saturday, Spurs need to travel just a short distance to play Arsenal in the North London derby followed by home games against two other London rivals, West Ham and Chelsea.

As important as these games are, there is another date, Dec. 8, ringed on the calendars of Spurs’ fans. That’s the day that Spurs hope to have their revised plans for a new 61,000-seat stadium come before the Planning Sub Committee of the London Borough of Haringey.

MORE SPURS: Pochettino banishes Townsend after confrontation with fitness coach.

With a present cap of just 36,000 spectators, Spurs are ill-equipped to match the revenue generation enjoyed by the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, and the White Hart Lane replace/retrofit/move saga has been a long-running tale of plans, revised plans and even more revised plans. But finally it looks like the latest version is going to be given the green light by the authorities. The current plan has a stadium opening date of 2018, with Spurs having to ground share during the 2017-18 season. The current estimated cost is over $616 million which puts it in the same “ballpark” as Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal that opened in 2006.

The Spurs financing model is not substantially different to that employed a decade or so ago by their greatest and bitterest rivals – the sale of naming rights, some portion financed by property development, and bank financing picking up the rest. Given Arsenal’s experience in navigating the high-wire act of stadium development, it is easy to draw the conclusion that Spurs’ experience will be analogous.

Chairman Daniel Levy’s assurances that the stadium development won’t impact on Spurs’ ability to buy players echoes statements from senior Arsenal figures over the last dozen years. Some people point to the escalation of television rights-fees since Arsenal embarked on the Emirates as a buffer now available to Spurs, as well as a benefit of lower borrowing costs. Both certainly offer Spurs a leg up in terms of managing the risk, but there is another significant difference.

Prior to the development of the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal was not a selling club. They quickly became one with the likes of Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Samir Nasri all leaving, most for large fees and seemingly greener pastures. Arsenal dropped from perennial contenders for silverware to a team that targeted Champions League qualification.

On the other hand Spurs have been a selling club for some time. Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric and Gareth Bale come readily to mind. A look at Spurs financials for the five years to 2014 tells the tale. Over that time Spurs generated a before tax profit of $108 million; during the same spell the profit from selling players was $251 million.

MORE EPL: Ancelotti an option for Chelsea but a better fit for Manchester United.

In other words, if Spurs had not sold players, their cumulative pre-tax loss would have been $143 million. It could be argued that Spurs did recycle some of that profit by bringing in new recruits. Nonetheless, Spurs is the only Premier League team that has generated a positive net transfer spend over the last five seasons – $55 million.

How Spurs navigate the treacherous financial waters over the next decade and how much on-field success can be achieved will be one on the most interesting Premier League stories of the next 10 years.

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