Heart Of Football

Tottenham need a calculated plan for next season

Cambridge economics have served Tottenham Hotspur extraordinarily well, but still the Spurs are on the cusp of failing the final exam.

Moments after Manuel Lanzini nipped between the Tottenham defenders to strike the winning goal for West Ham on Friday night, the TV cameras panned from the field to the stands.

On the touchline, stood Mauricio Pochettino the Argentinian manager who, for two years running, has coached, coaxed and cajoled Tottenham to the bridesmaid spot in the EPL.

Pochettino's shoulders slumped, his brow furrowed after Lanzini scored the only goal of the match.

Up in the Olympic Stadium grandstand, Daniel Levy cut a still and silent figure. Levy, the chairman of Spurs for 16 years, shows his feelings less than a poker player.

But the chase is all but over.

Once Tottenham's run of nine consecutive victories ran dry on Friday, and with Chelsea at home to Middlesbrough tomorrow, the pursuit is all but mathematically done. Rob Hughes

Spurs have been magnificent in 2017. They alone have been consistent in trying to close the gap on Chelsea. But once Tottenham's run of nine consecutive victories ran dry on Friday, and with Chelsea at home to Middlesbrough tomorrow, the pursuit is all but mathematically done.

"To win a trophy is to win key moments," Pochettino said ruefully. "It is not about playing well or playing badly, running more or running less. It's when you must win, you win."

Privately, he will tell his players what he told them last week when they beat Arsenal. That they must be proud, they must rest and come back on Monday ready to go again.

"Now is more difficult than before," the manager conceded. "But we have to fight until the end."

His chairman, though, knows the odds. Levy, after all, graduated with a first in economics and land economy from Cambridge, the university which educated such renowned mathematicians as Isaac Newton, Stephen Hawking and India's remarkable Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Given their backgrounds, Levy's use of a privileged mathematical schooling might be considered wasteful. He speculated in stocks and shares even in his student days, then joined Joe Lewis, the creator of a financial monolith started in the east of London but long since based in the Bahamas.

If Lewis, now 80, is the ultimate owner of Spurs and other football clubs, then Levy, his protege, has long been the day-to-day minder of the London flagship club. Throughout Levy's tenure he has turned over 11 team managers at White Hart Lane in a single-minded set of priorities.

First and foremost has been to catch, and overtake, the neighbours, Arsenal. Finally, with victory a week ago, Tottenham ensured that they will finish above the Gunners in the league.

There is a bigger mission. Arsenal sacrificed winning to move house, an enormous undertaking that denuded Arsene Wenger of key players but in return enabled Arsenal to build a stadium that now provides the club with millions more match-day proceeds than Tottenham, or any club in London.

Hence, Spurs must build and move (just as Chelsea will have to do). Much was made of the acrimonious tussle between West Ham and Tottenham to become tenants of the 2012 Olympic Stadium, won eventually by the Hammers.

That seemed a Pyrrhic victory for much of this season because West Ham struggled to win on the expansive pitch. Friday, against the closest enemy, was arguably their finest hour since the move.

It was tough. The tackles were unforgiving, not least by Kyle Walker for Spurs and Mark Noble for West Ham. Those were hacks that even in an English derby battle should be red carded but received only yellows.

Maybe some of this violence disrupted Tottenham's rhythm, though more likely it was the utter determination of Slaven Bilic to tell his Hammers to compete stride for stride, inch for inch, with the high-flying Lilywhites.

That West Ham achieved it, and that they "out-spurred the Spurs", was testimony to the competitive nature of the English league.

Pochettino's Tottenham pass the ball beautifully, and they earn the right to do that by closing down space, shrinking the field for all of their opponents.

But by changing tactics, organising his team around three centre-halves and instilling his players to press high up the pitch, Bilic showed how to throttle the fast-moving Tottenham.

And Spurs had very little to come off the bench to change things. Pochettino has produced his two highly impressive seasons with a contained hand.

His team lost Erik Lamela to hip injury last October, and he hasn't played since. In his position, Son Heung Min has blossomed into the top Asian player abroad.

But when Pochettino needs to change, his bench is thin. Compare it to the Chelsea bench in the FA Cup semi-final (against Spurs) last month when Antonio Conte was able to summon Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas, three game changers well beyond anyone at Tottenham's call.

That, again, is a question of applied mathematics.

Not for nothing has Daniel Levy earned his reputation as the toughest negotiator in the EPL, and possibly in European football. Ask Real Madrid.

When Real's president, property magnate Florentino Perez, wanted top Spurs, he paid Levy top prices. Tottenham signed Luka Modric for £16.5 million (S$30 million) in 2008, and sold him to Madrid for £30 million four years later.

Spurs paid Southampton £7 millions for Gareth Bale in 2007 and sold him to Real in 2013 for £86 million.

Today, right-back Kyle Walker knows that Manchester City would double, even treble, his salary if he goes there. Rising star Dele Alli could have his pick of world clubs if he felt that second is the best Tottenham can attain.

It's a question of scale. After this month, Tottenham vacate White Hart Lane to pay rental to Wembley Stadium for a year until Levy's new project, a 61,000-seat stadium, is ready.

The new arena will cost £800 million. The plot encompasses supermarket shopping, a hotel, a museum and apartments in a downtrodden London borough.

Tottenham, meanwhile, must fight to hold onto bright young players. At the same time, it faces the house move of the century. The chairman's Cambridge land economy degree is about to be tested to the limits.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 07, 2017, with the headline 'Tottenham need a calculated plan for next season'. Print Edition | Subscribe