We all know the story by now. Two transfer windows without a penny being spent, followed by years of relatively net neutral spending in the transfer market. That is the Levy approach to player recruitment, and it is a limitation Pochettino was well aware of before he took the Tottenham job. His willingness to embrace the somewhat unique Tottenham financial challenge has been what has made his relationship with Daniel Levy a special one. To say Pochettino has not been backed by his chairman, or that the Levy and ENIC have not invested money into the club would be grossly unfair. The new stadium is an enormous outlay. You can just imagine Levy giving a tour to visiting guests and quoting the late Richard Attenborough … “we spared no expense”. Add to that further off field additions requested by Pochettino such as the 40 room player lodge built for rest, recuperation and pre-match preparation designed to Pochettino’s specifications.
Investment has been made in the clubs infrastructure which can contest to being amongst the best in the country, therefore amongst the best in the world. However, it is playing staff investment that fans and Pochettino are now looking to. In March this year Mauricio Pochettino gave us serious indications that he was working at the limits of his capability under Tottenham’s current model.
“Maybe if Daniel said to me next season, ‘We need to win a title. We need to win the Champions League and we need to win the Premier League’ then maybe I say, ‘Maybe you need to find another magic guy that can do this’.”
“If we’re not going to change the way we operate, I think we can be there? Yes. We’re going to fight? Yes. We’re going to find the way to be competitive? Of course.
“But you cannot put a gun to my head and say, ‘We need to win’ if we’re not fighting with the same tools as another team”.
The message is clear. With the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool spending hundreds of millions to compete with each other at the top of the league, Chelsea and Manchester United still generating more revenue than Spurs (the latter most substantially) the domestic competition for players is an extremely challenging environment. Add to that other European big spenders in Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus and PSG and the competition for the best players looks increasingly challenging for Spurs.
There is good news though. Tottenham will not be chasing the same players as the biggest spenders. Kalidou Koulibaly, Paul Pogba, Paulo Dybala, Eden Hazard and even Gareth Bale will all be available this summer for big money moves. However, these are not players that Pochettino will be looking to add to his squad. Pochettino doesn’t want pre established stars, prefering to make his own stars. Benfica’s Joao Felix, Napoli’s Amadou Diawara and Ajax’s brilliant Matthijs de Ligt would be the sort of players that he would certainly like to have added to the roster, but again would almost certainly see Spurs out bid by the bigger spenders given their profiles.
That doesn’t mean that Spurs have to miss out though. Rather, it means they will need to look elsewhere for players who would not be high priorities for the more spend rift clubs, and who are young enough for Pochettino to mould as he pleases. Ryan Sessegnon is a long term target who, with Fulham being relegated after spending £100m, will certainly be on the move. Jack Grealish will be on the agenda again, especially if Aston Villa fail gain promotion through the playoffs in the coming weeks. Ajax’s Donny van de Beek is a player we have been heavily linked with who would be an affordable addition and possibly with less competition from other clubs. The out of contract Adrien Rabiot is a tallent, but issues surrounding his attitude wage demands could be off putting to both manager and chairman respectively. Youri Tielmans would be of interest to Pochettino due to his age, potential and the adaptability to the Premier League he has shown at Leicester. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a player who has all the attributes to get Pochettino salivating at the prospect of working with, but you can expect Palace to fight tooth and nail to retain him, and the fee would be very high for a player who has just completed his first full season in the Premier League. Nevertheless, in the right circumstances (and as with all the players mentioned above) there is potential for a deal to be made.
So there are players out there that can be affordable without an excessive bidding war with rival clubs, but the warnings from Pochettino about changing the way the club operates goes a little further then simply how much is spent. It is well documented that he is a rigorous trainer and likes to put his players through a gruelling pre season training camp. In this case, whichever players come in, Pochettino wants them in before pre season training begins. This is where there is a divide between him and Levy.
We all know Levy is a tough negotiator. Deals being made late in the window are done on the basis that a players value will drop, sometimes dramatically, over the course of a summer. It is impossible to say how much money Levy has saved over the years with this approach, but we can predict that it is substantial given that he has shown no indication that he is willing to change this approach. Not only that, but it is an approach to player recruitment from mid table also-rans to regular Champions League qualifiers. The question remains though, would Daniel Levy ever change his approach?
New opportunities will be presented this summer. The Supporters Trust revealed on a recent podcast that the Tottenham board budget for a seasons spending based on on a Premier League campaign and Europa League Group stage (along with modest progress in domestic cup competitions). If accurate, we can assume that the Champions League money will be there to invest in the club to player transfers. Given the progress to the Semi Finals this year, Spurs can expect the Champions League run to have generated over £70m in prize money alone. Add to that revenue from the home fixtures and a modest, rough £30m that would already be allocated for player acquisitions from the usual budget, that gives Tottenham’s a transfer kitty comfortably over £100m. This is, of course, before factoringing in likely departures of Eriksen (which could be over £100m) and Alderweireld. Go a little further with Kieran Trippier’s potential move to Napoli and the possibility that there may be a buyer’s for Janssen and N’Kodou and the likely releases for Vorm and Llorente. We can expect departures this summer to free up space on the wage bill and further bolster resources for player recruitment.
This is where Daniel Levy needs to change his strategy. Getting the right players in time for the start of pre-season training is what the manager wants. This would involve not being bogged down in protracted negotiations where transfers fall through late on, or another club jumps us. It means there needs to be a change of course for Levy that we have only witnessed once before, and that was the summer of 2013, when money was spent in the knowledge that Gareth Bale was going to leave for a then record fee. There is potential we could be the same this summer.
Levy’s task is to get the players his manager wants in and in good time to prepare for the coming season. If he fails to do this, Pochettino may begin to feel he has done as much as he can given the restrictions placed upon him . He alluded to this with his comments in March, and job offers from United, PSG or Real will seem all the more tempting in the future. So Daniel, it’s over to you. It’s time to be bold. It’s time to take risks. It’s time to dare, and you know what we say about that.