Why Spurs gamble on youth

11
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

There is, quite naturally I feel, a lot of speculation regarding our transfers. Spurs are a rich club, blessed and cursed with being in the Premier League. That brings in a lot of money, meaning that we are ranked as the 14th richest club in the world, yet only 6th in the EPL (according to Deloitte for the 2012-2013 season). That naturally would put us outside of the Champions League places, and as such means that we are always going to have some players that want to move on to play in that competition, and because of that other players to replace them. In recent years our best players have done just that, although at least there is the consolation that they are now going abroad.

But having money is not everything – it is also about how we spend it. After all Atletico Madrid are ranked 20th and they not only won La Liga but were 2 minutes from being European Champions. My third and final article in this series will be a review of what they did (and how we might learn from it). But before that I will be looking at our current transfer philosophy.

Rank Team Revenue (Matchday) (Broadcasting) (Commercial)
4 Manchester Utd £363m £109m £102m £153m
6 Manchester City £271m £40m £88m £143m
7 Chelsea £260m £70m £105m £84m
8 Arsenal £244m £93m £88m £62m
12 Liverpool £206m £45m £64m £98m
14 Tottenham Hotspur £147m £40m £62m £45m

This table highlights some of the problems facing us. We can be significantly out spent by all of these teams, so moving from 6th to top 4 will never happen if we just want to buy established and highly rated players and nobody else. If we do the obvious then we will run out of money long before our competitors do. So if we want to compete on players then we have to find players before they are established.

This essentially sums up much of the transfer philosophy that Spurs have had over the last few years. A lot is made about our gross spend, but it is the net spend that is really important. Of course that doesn’t give Sky Sports their big headlines (if Rooney were to go to Chelsea for £50m and Hazard make the reverse trip for £50m then that would be considered as £100m spent, even though it would effectively be a player swap), which is why it is less frequently talked about. Here’s our transfer history over the last 5 years, according to www.transferleague.co.uk

Year Purchases Sales Net
2013 / 2014 £103.7m £113.5m -£9.8m
2012 / 2013 £61.5m £62.8m -£1.3m
2011 / 2012 £8.0m £35.0m -£27.0m
2010 / 2011 £18.5m £1.0m £17.5m
2009 / 2010 £32.0m £33.0m -£1.0m
Total £223.7m £245.3m -£21.6m

So the ‘proof’ is there that we are a selling club. Only one of the last 5 seasons saw us spend more on transfers than we recouped, for a combined total of £20m in the black. Now it may be that money is being squirreled away like mad for the new stadium, as one thing we learnt from The Emirates is that you cannot afford the luxuries if your mortgage repayments are too large. But also it might be that we are just buying players that are naturally less expensive by going for youth.

Here are our transfers over the last 2 years.

Player Transfer Fee Age*
Paulinho £17.0m 24
Chadli £7.0m 23
Soldado £25.8m 28
Capoue £8.6m 24
Eriksen £11.0m 21
Lamela £25.8m 21
Chiriches £8.5m 23
Sigurdsson £8.0m 22
Vertonghen £10.0m 25
Adebayor £5.0m 28
Dembele £15.0m 24
Lloris £12.0m 25
Dempsey £7.0m 29
Fryers £3.0m 19
Holtby £1.5m 21
Average £11.0m 24

*age when signed

That’s 15 players bought (effectively an entire new team) at an average price of £11m each and an average age of 24. And that highlights our transfer policy; we seek to buy young players before they have hit their prime. Now this is nothing new, but for me the reason behind this is not the one that the media states. It is felt that the reason Spurs do this is because we want to be able to cash in on the player at a profit in a few years time. But actually this is not what we intend to do; we are not a selling club in the sense I said above, but rather we are forced to sell through practicality rather than intention.

The reason why we buy young players is because we have to. We have to take a gamble on them because anyone that becomes established will be picked up by one of the clubs that has a lot more money than us. Some of these gamblers just don’t pay off. David Bentley was 24 when we purchased him for £15m. After an average first season he was dropped and then spent the rest of his career on loan before being released by Spurs a year ago today. Some of the gambles do pay off:

  • Carrick was bought from then Championship side West Ham, having spent most of the season before that injured. Spurs bought him (aged 22) for £3.5m. After two strong seasons he was sold to Manchester Utd for £14m.
  • Luka Modric was a fan favourite at Dinamo Zagreb, and his qualities were clear to see. But he did play in an exceptionally weak league, and the team failed to get out of the group stages of the UEFA Cup. The fee was a staggering £16.5m but 4 seasons later he was sold for £33m.

In both of those cases (alongside numerous others) we had no intention to sell, but player requests forced our hand. Initially it was the lure of Manchester Utd that we could not hold off from turning the heads of our players, but more recently it has been Real Madrid. So I don’t think that we do buy young players to sell at a profit; I think we buy young players because we have to take a gamble before they become established, but if the gambler does pay off then they attract the attention of bigger clubs. We cannot keep hold of them when the player is determined to go, but it does allow us to dictate extraordinarily high transfer fees.

Baldini

And this then is the role of Baldini. Many people don’t like the Director of Football role, but it can make a lot of sense if there is strong teamwork and determination to succeed at all levels. Firstly I have to dispel the myth that the traditional manager in English football picks his own players all by himself. If that were true then why have scouts? Scouts perform a vital function being able to assess players (globally in the modern era) whilst the manager can focus on preparation for the first team. If it were just the manager picking some guy he saw off the telly then there would be no need for any scouts. These vital staff members then report their opinions to the manager and help to inform and influence a decision.

Nicola Cortese once described Pochettino as the “head of the football department”. Far from an insult it was a clarification of his role. Pochettino was free to focus on teamwork, preparation, and skill development. He would set up the system and describe the players that he needed to play that system. It would then be up to the scouting network to find those players and report on them to the manager to get his approval. This is the role that Baldini does, as he heads up the scouting team at Spurs.

But it is also a bit more than that. Baldini has extensive contacts and networks throughout Europe, and this is vital when it comes to spotting the potential of a player before they become established whilst minimising the David Bentleys.

Summary

So I think that the roles that the people play are clear. Pochettino is in charge of the football, and under his direction it is up to Baldini to find the right players for the manager. Baldini will use his extensive network of contacts to spot the talent and to negotiate the deals, leaving Pochettino free to focus on preparing the team. In particular we use Baldini’s skills to identify players before they become established as we cannot compete financially with our closest rivals. This invariably means going for younger players, and his ability to develop these young players to an international standard is almost certainly why Pochettino was appointed.

That just leaves one glaring omission; how do we keep hold of the gambles that do work out?

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11 COMMENTS

  1. Exactly right. Great fact gathering to support your explanation. If we succeed in CL qualification it may help to attract the more established players but we are still not in a position to pay the salaries that these players can command!!

  2. Excellent. all the moaners should read this article. the only problem with the last season signings was that we got in too many midfielders(5+holtby). But that can be redeemed this season by offloading some and recruiting in key areas and as the article says Baldini is important to us because he has got extensive contacts and networks throughout Europe and this is vital for our policy.

  3. Precisely why I want Levy out, we can't afford decent talent and as you rightly say we can't compete buying established players, so ENIC have resorted to buy cheap young talent and sell it on for a huge profit, they are quite content to sit 5th -8th on our shitty wage structure and tell the fans something entirely different, they won't ever tell us they are happy with mediocre rubbish so they spout out nonsense of making 4th, let's face it ENIC are doing a great job for ENIC, but certainly not for us, to be fair things are so bad with idiotic numpty fans like Vintage above that I would settle for relegation and rid the club of all these hanger on fans who are clueless about football.

  4. ps. as for the article I think it is exactly what most fans have been saying for years and you are light years behind the opinions of true fans

  5. Excellent article, but leftsockbeforeright, in the last 5 or 6 seasons we've been finishing around 5th, with is far higher than the mid-table mediocre performances we had in the mid nineties to the mid 2000's. I just think maybe instead of concentrating all our efforts on a top 4 place, we could be going all out for wining a cup competition instead. About time we got some silverware again.

    • 100% agree, only trouble with that is that we are not good enough to compete with the second string of some of the bigger clubs, seriously we all laugh at him but Gareth Barry or Milner would have been far more effective than Lennon or Sandro this season, I think ENIC have taken us as far as they can or are prepared to within a second tier salary structure, time they moved on.

  6. Good article that makes sense. I actually prefer this approach to buying the finished article — even if we had the money to compete for them. I'd like to get to a place where we can hold on to them, though.

    Actually, I'd prefer buying cheaper, younger players. Scout for top-rated 17-21 year-old players and pay a fraction of what they will cost shortly. Not only could we buy several good prospects but they'd have a couple years to acclimate to the culture and style of play before being expected to produce — not to mention getting to know other players.

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