Doing things the hard way

by Charles Richards

Charles Richards looks at the difference between what Spurs are planning, and what City and Chelsea are doing. The quick path to "success" isn't always the best path, sometimes you have to earn it and be patient.

Two events occurred last week in the Premier League galaxy that have potentially far greater consequences for Tottenham’s long-term ambitions than any of the pleasant mood music emerging from White Hart Lane, or the 14-game unbeaten run that keeps our young side in the hunt for Champions League football next season.

First came the announcement that Chelsea had formally lodged planning permission to “do a Spurs” — that is, knock down their stadium and replace it with a bigger version.

Chelsea being Chelsea, they couldn’t just build a conventional stadium such as Spurs are building at White Hart Lane, or Woolwich built at Ashburton Grove. Instead, the stadium will resemble Rome’s Colosseum, sprawling like The Blob into every available inch of space and beyond.

The stadium is more than just the larger arena Chelsea will need in the long-term after outgrowing Stamford Bridge. It is a monument to Roman Abramovich’s vast wealth. His art collections, fleet of yachts and property empire are his private triumph — this stadium, towering over one of the wealthiest corners of London, is the public manifestation of his success.

At the Spurs fan forum last week, Daniel Levy estimated the final bill for the new Spurs stadium would be around £500 million. Chelsea’s initial estimates of the same figure for their stadium are extremely conservative.

Spurs had to buy out a kebab stick factory and relocate it on the outskirts of London, while executing compulsory purchase orders on 71 homes. Haringey, bless it, is not Fulham.

Chelsea being Chelsea, they couldn’t just build a conventional stadium such as Spurs are building at White Hart Lane, or Woolwich built at Ashburton Grove. Instead, the stadium will resemble Rome’s Colosseum

Chelsea are having to not only knock down the luxury flats they built a decade ago adjoining the stadium, they are also then required to find a place to rebuild them within the Hammersmith and Fulham borough, where there isn’t exactly a ton of open ground kicking about. Add in the fact they are building over two rail lines and remodelling Fulham Broadway station, and knocking down a hotel, this isn’t going to be a straightforward project. This bill is going to soar above the initial estimate.

However, when you are one of the richest men in the world, if the monument is sufficiently spectacular, and your ego is sufficiently stroked, the final bill is an irrelevance.

When thinking of Chelsea under Abramovich, I’m reminded of the spoiled kid at school who had all the really nice stuff. Your mum said at the time “money isn’t everything”, which was annoying, but years later you realised what she really meant was the kid’s parents were fighting all the time, and all the new shoes and toys couldn’t compensate for the emotional scars he’d carry for the rest of his life.

Hiding behind the sofa every time Jose Mourinho starts spitting bile, or being an apologist for John Terry, it really must be exhausting being a Chelsea fan.

So their new stadium is going to be a bit fancier than ours, and they might get to play at Wembley while we’re stuck in Milton Keynes? Mum was right: money isn’t everything.

Meanwhile, Manchester City were formulating global plans of their own. They announced a US$400 million deal with Chinese investors, valuing the “City Football Group” of clubs at an extremely optimistic US$3 billion. This will likely see a Sky Blue branded club plying its trade in the powerhouse that is the Chinese Super League.

The press release announcing this grand partnership was a masterpiece of corporate bulls**t. When not obsequiously toadying to “His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan”, highlights included phrases such as “the exponential growth pathway for the game”, “the partnership is predicated on the opportunity to create new value” and “finding the optimum model and associated strategies for the partnership”.

You can practically hear them chanting in the Etihad: “It’s one of our own, it’s one of our own, the exponential growth pathway, it’s one of our own”.

The emptiness of the rhetoric mirrors the emptiness of the whole project at Manchester City. It feels like the owners believe they need a grand global strategy to justify to themselves the fortune they’ve already poured into the project. They’ve employed a bunch of highly paid consultants to come up with something, which of course looks spectacular in a fancy corporate presentation, but utterly fails to connect on a basic emotional level.

Being a football fan isn’t logical. Customers don’t travel across the country in support of Waitrose, slide on our knees in front of the TV when we see Santander offering a higher-than-expected rate of interest, or spend hours tweeting, writing and ranting about why our chosen EE phone network is so much better than bitter rivals Vodafone and O2.

Manchester City fans themselves seem non-plussed by the grandeur they see in front of them, judging by the muted atmosphere on Champions League nights

Chelsea drive the rest of the league mad, but at least fans can understand Abramovich’s motivation for buying a club and running it in a mad way — we’d all do it if we’d been smart enough to siphon off billions in Russia’s natural resources wealth.

Only Manchester United fans are the least bit bothered by City’s rise, and even they still care more about beating Liverpool. The rest of the league just shrugs, sees this sort of announcement and thinks “that’s another £250 million for City to spend on players”, and moves on. Jealous? Not at all.

Manchester City fans themselves seem non-plussed by the grandeur they see in front of them, judging by the muted atmosphere on Champions League nights — there were thousands of empty seats against Monchengladbach, and even the commentators had a dig that they could only hear the Germans singing. It’s a far cry from the days of Paul Dickov and Georgi Kinkladze, when at least City fans knew who the hell they were. You wonder if some of the fanbase don’t miss it.

Meanwhile at Spurs, we’re just plugging away.

We’re crawling through the planning process for the new stadium, and eight years on we’re still at the “big hole in the ground” stage. That may change next week, but we’re conditioned to expect delays.

Rumours of potential takeovers, or significant outside investment, come and go, but 15 years on and Daniel Levy is still there, occasionally driving us all nuts.

A decade ago, Ricardo Moniz set in motion a revamp of the youth structure of the club, and Spurs invested millions in a world-class training facility. In the past two seasons, we’ve seen the fruits of that work with the “one of our own” philosophy sweeping through the club, personified by Harry Kane and Ryan Mason.

We’ve cycled through six managers in the past 10 years, alternating between old-style British and fancy foreign. We’ve tried Directors of Football, and tried without. But have we finally found the middle ground we craved in Mauricio Pochettino?

World class players have been sold, young talents bought and developed, and sold on in turn. For every Gareth Bale, there has been a John Bostock, for every Eric Dier there has been a Paulinho, for every Toby Alderweireld, there has been a Federico Fazio.

For Spurs, any success we have will come the hard way. And it will be all the sweeter for it.

Through the turbulent first decade of the Premier League, we hung in there, and in the last decade we’ve found a consistent spot in the top half despite the constant revolving door of players, coaches and philosophies. We’ve had the White Whale that is Champions League football in our hands briefly, but it has remained stubbornly in sight but out of reach, sometimes cruelly, since then.

Chelsea and Manchester City managed to leapfrog us in the Premier League pecking order. It cost them a billion quid — each — to achieve it.

I’m not sure I want a sugar daddy to come in and do the same with Spurs. In fact, I’m not sure there are all that many sugar daddies out there who can compete with with the Abu Dhabi royal family or one of the richest men in Russia. Do we really want to become part of Qatar’s odious footballing trophy collection?

There’s no guarantee that we’ll win the league in the years ahead, there’s no guarantee of regular Champions League football for Spurs even if we sneak over the threshold in this weird season. Our new stadium isn’t a silver bullet, as it is often billed — all it will do is ensure we’re in a fair fight with the likes of Woolwich, Liverpool, Man United and even West Ham.

For Spurs, any success we have will come the hard way. And it will be all the sweeter for it.


Charles Richards

Charles Richards blogs at The Spurs Report.


All views and opinions expressed in this article are the views and opinions of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of The Fighting Cock. We offer a platform for fans to commit their views to text and voice their thoughts. Football is a passionate game and as long as the views stay within the parameters of what is acceptable, we encourage people to write, get involved and share their thoughts on the mighty Tottenham Hotspur.


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