Have Tottenham ‘done an Arsenal’ in building their new stadium?
Like their North London rivals a decade ago, Spurs are starting to experience the difficulties of competing for top honours while funding a new stadium.
Perhaps more than any of the lavish spenders on Thursday, no club attracted more attention than Tottenham on deadline day. The North London side became the first Premier League club since the summer transfer window’s inception in 2003 to go the entire window without buying a single player.
While on face value such a situation looks somewhat ridiculous, Tottenham have something of a caveat to contend with that the vast majority of the other Premier League clubs don’t. They have just invested what Mauricio Pochettino called “nearly £1 billion” in a brand new stadium they hope will reap long-term benefits, but in the short term will significantly curtail the club’s spending power.
It is perhaps slightly ironic that Spurs are experiencing what their North London rivals had to contend with ten years ago.
Arsenal are the most recent club to have transitioned stadiums while in the Premier League, and it proved to be a significant stalling block to what had been a hugely successful decade for the club before the move.
The Gunners went from being among the biggest spending clubs in the division to a team that had to sell many of their most valuable players and look for cheaper alternatives in the transfer market. This is a similar problem Spurs have had to face, though they themselves were already at a financial disadvantage compared to some of the big six, and they haven’t been able to rely on big-name signings for their success.
They’ve instead relied on smart, good value signings such as Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Son Heung-min, improving the players already at the club such as Kyle Walker, Danny Rose and Mousa Dembele, and finding or developing high-level young players like Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Davinson Sanchez.
Arsenal had two other issues they encountered when moving stadiums, however, and we’re yet to see whether the same will happen to Tottenham. One was the takeovers of Chelsea and Manchester City, which added new levels of spending at the top of the league and changed the financial landscape of football overall.
The other was the rise in commercial and broadcasting revenue. In the early 2000s, matchday income was the most significant form of revenue for Premier League clubs but, after hikes in the money invested into TV deals and sponsorships, money made from ticket sales had slipped down to the third rung on the ladder.
A missed opportunity?
Like Arsenal, Tottenham’s stadium move came while the team was at its peak. Hours after Spurs finished their best-ever Premier League season, demolition had already begun on the old White Hart Lane.
Similarly, it was only two years after going the 2003/04 Premier League season unbeaten that Arsenal were playing in a new home. There are positives about such situations. Because of the talent Arsenal had at the time, they were able to maintain a relatively competitive level.
If they’d been coming from a lower base, the drop off might have been more significant, and they could have found themselves slipping into more severe mediocrity. Spurs can be content that despite not having the spending power of even some mid-table and newly promoted clubs, they still have world class players already on the books, and are thus still serious contenders, possibly likely to, finish top four.
But equally compelling is the argument that a stadium move hit both clubs at the worst possible time. Arsenal were regularly battling for the league title in their final years at Highbury. In the ‘Emirates era’, title challenges have been rare, and the Premier League trophy has never made it into the Emirates trophy cabinet.
Tottenham are in the middle of their golden generation in the Premier League era. In Kane, they have possibly the finest centre forward in the world, and a myriad of talented players across the rest of the team. Just as crucially, in Pochettino they have a coach who can rightfully be considered one of the world’s finest, and is probably on the radar of richer and bigger clubs.
Tottenham are still yet to win anything with this golden era of coach and players, and the question must be; how much longer can they retain their best players and manager while other clubs can afford bigger wages?
This period could be Tottenham’s best chance for silverware in a long time, but their spending potential is more limited than it is may otherwise be. While a stadium move will always cause some on-pitch difficulties whenever it is undertaken, Spurs may rue it coinciding with the Kane era and damaging their chances of rare silverware.
With Chelsea and Manchester City’s new owners putting them at the top of the food chain in the Premier League, Arsenal failed to gain any serious benefits from their stadium move. They hoped it would allow them to compete with the biggest clubs in Europe, but by the time they’d settled into their new home they had fallen down the financial pecking order within their own league.
For Tottenham that doesn’t seem like it will be the case. They were already the sixth richest team in the league, and they weren’t particularly close to Arsenal or Liverpool either. Unless Everton or another side below them find an owner who is willing to spend — and even that kind of investment can’t be done so easily in the Financial Fair Play era — Tottenham are unlikely to slip out of the top six.
But moving to a larger stadium, thus improving their matchday revenue, and potentially using the move to secure better sponsorships, could all help them to bridge the gap on the five richest teams in the league. With the debts the move will put them in, however, the benefits will only really be reaped in the long-term.
There are many similarities between Tottenham under Pochettino and Arsenal from 2006 to 2013. Both clubs have had constrained budgets which were, at least partly, down to stadium moves.
Despite this, they still managed to regularly finish in the top four. The most significant difference is that, while Arsenal’s main competitors for top four were the likes of Aston Villa and Tottenham — sides who weren’t as strong as the current Spurs team are — Tottenham are trying to secure Champions League football in the era of the big six.
Simply being okay won’t be enough for Tottenham to continue their trend of recent top-three finishes. They’ll have to be better than two sides who have more spending power than them and, with the exception of Chelsea, don’t have the difficulty of a new stadium to fund.
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