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Tottenham: Can Pochettino Raise The Runt Of The Elite?
In a club of exactly one, Tottenham are very much the sixth club in the country right now. Mauricio Pochettino is charged with the task of bucking the numbers...
Premier League 6th, 69pts, +4 GD Europa League Last 16 FA Cup Third round League Cup Quarter-finals Top league scorer Emmanuel Adebayor 11 Bookings 65 (7th=) with four red cards
Manager Mauricio Pochettino (since May 2014; age 42) Odds on being first out of his job 25-1 (9th=)
Players in Ben Davies (Swansea, £8m plus swap), Michel Vorm (Swansea, £4.5m), Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon, £4m).
Players out Jake Livermore (Hull, £8m), Iago Falque (Genoa, £4m), Heurelho Gomes (Watford, free), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea, swap), Grant Hall (Birmingham, loan), Alex Pritchard (Brentford, free), Kenny McEvoy (Peterborough, free), Shaquile Coulthirst (Southend, loan), Jordan Archer (Northampton, loan).
Club turnover in 2012-13 £147m, 6th
Wage bill in 2012-13 £96m, 6th
Six, six, six. Not the number of the beast (unless you support Arsenal) but the number, three times, of Tottenham last season. No. 6 was their ranking in terms of turnover, No. 6 their ranking in terms of player wages, No. 6 where they finished in the table.
True, the exact financial figures quoted come from 2012-13, but Spurs are in a category of one: only someone newly armed with an oligarch can overtake them and only someone stripped of their sugar daddy will fall behind. So in one reading, at least, Daniel Levy got what he paid for in a season when he disposed of one manager and one wannabe. And that is the challenge for Mauricio Pochettino.
Of course, one of the big financial five plummeted from first to seventh and Everton exploited the poor show of their former manager at Manchester United and Tottenham's inconsistency. Levy believes that over-performance is possible; he has had it before, with Harry Redknapp's top-four finishes, and the evidence is there of others. As well as Everton rising to fifth on the ninth biggest budget, Liverpool were up to second with the fifth highest wages, having previously underperformed for a few years.
The truth of money at the top is that you need a lot of it to get there but there is a law of diminishing returns: obviously enough, £5m spent to improve a £10m team will have far more effect than the same amount on a £100m team, or a £200m team. You can only field 11 players at a time and 14 in a game; standing firm against any further increase in the number of substitutes is an absolute must for the authorities. Levy and others see that provided you are far enough clear of the middle then you can tilt at the top, or at least at that dotted line under the fourth team that usually offers a Champions League play-off.
Andre Villas-Boas was not sacked just because the table suggested such a challenge was unlikely, but because of the manner of the failure: the embarrassments against Manchester City and Liverpool. Levy was probably rationally sympathetic to the Portuguese, faced with replacing Gareth Bale, but the chairman was emotionally stung by the 11 strikes at his heart in those two games.
Mention of Bale brings to mind the jokes about how Spurs went about the rebuilding job, such as the one about them selling an iPhone and then buying items to perform its different functions. Yet it is worth reflecting that none of last summer's purchases - Torch Soldado, MP3 Player Eriksen, Camera Lamela, Phone Paulinho, Pager Capoue, Fax Machine Chiriches, Diary Chadli - has been sold yet, despite speculation that many of them (and a clutch of others) are available. Integrating so many players into the team at once would have been hard enough had they all been accustomed to the Premier League; all should be sufficiently adjusted now to perform as they would hope. It was also unfortunate for the Portuguese that the signing who shone the brightest, Eriksen, did not play for a month from November 10, injured for the City game and not match-fit to face Liverpool.
Villas-Boas could have, should have played a more cautious game against the leading sides, because his team were not ready to take them on. Now, for Pochettino, those that remain should have reached that stage. Even Erik Lamela, after only three league starts and six games off the bench, will be better prepared. Ben Davies and Michel Vorm come from Swansea and will not have that adjustment to make. Eric Dier, a £4m centre-back from Sporting Lisbon, is the only significant import to date. Loic Remy, a possible signing from QPR with Andros Townsend and Harry Kane wanted by Harry Redknapp, is a proven Premier League goalscorer.
Tottenham start the season with two derbies, initially at West Ham on Saturday before hosting QPR the following Sunday. Seven days later, Liverpool are the visitors. In September, Spurs visit Sunderland and host West Brom before making the short journey to the Emirates. It is a reasonably balanced programme for a club a third of the way down the table: two games against opponents beneath them last season and one above, then a repeat of the pattern. By the end of September, we should have a decent idea of where Spurs stand.
The new stadium in 2017 should help narrow the financial gap. What attracted Levy to Pochettino as a manager to get them there? Despite the substantial investment that separates them from the 14 sides below, Spurs are the lightest heavyweight, the runt of the elite. They need an individual, player or manager, who can lift a side above the level indicated by their wage bill, and after Pochettino took over from Nigel Adkins Southampton came 14th in 2013 with the 18th biggest salary spend, and the latter placing will not have changed too much en route to eighth in May. If the Argentinian can lift Spurs just two places then Levy's eyes, stuck in that stone-cold stare after the Liverpool defeat, will be warm and smiling.