Tottenham’s stadium issues threaten to overtake on-pitch success
On the pitch, Tottenham Hotspur have began the Premier Leagues season perfectly, winning both opening games, but disruption off the pitch, compounded by a further stadium delay threatens to derail their progress. Gregor Kerr writes.
Over a year ago Tottenham Hotspur and Daniel Levy had fans in the palm of their hand. The memorable farewell match and ceremony at White Hart Lane, the club’s highest league finish since the 60s, key players signing contracts. Most key of all, a new, game-changing stadium was on the horizon. The relationship between the club’s hierarchy and fans hasn’t always been the most amicable, but at that point they could do no wrong.
Fast-forward to now and the general mood of optimism and hope had disintegrated into an irritable, bleak cloud over the club. The factors contributing to this are endless.
A season on the road at Wembley has no doubt had its toll on supporters. The doubtful future of players such as Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose remain no clearer than a year before. The now infamous transfer window without a single signing in throw the door, the first time in England since the introduction of a summer transfer window 15 years ago, meant that the playing squad will be weaker than last season, should others leave.
The news this week, perhaps to be expected, seemed like the final nail in the PR coffin. The new stadium, which the club have failed to find a naming sponsor for, had been pushed back even further. Instead of a projected date which was originally planned for a clash with Liverpool on 15th September. Now, the move-in date is anybody’s guess.
A meeting with Manchester City near the end of October had also been earmarked, but yet again dismissed. While Wembley will host Spurs for a few months longer than they would have preferred, the City game would come at a problematic time, with the NFL’s annual trip to Wembley taking place just 24 hours before.
This delay comes about after a safety concern from the stadium contractors, MACE, who highlighted extensive issues with ‘critical safety systems’. While frustrating, it’s easy to recognise that safety must take priority, particularly after the circus surrounding neighbours West Ham and their move to the Olympic Stadium. Levy will have looked the Hammers’ complications following relocation and planned to avoid the same mistakes.
The lack of communication on Spurs’ part has been the real large mood killer here, chairman Daniel Levy has had little to comment, leaving manager Mauricio Pochettino as the peacemaker. This week he empathised with fan’s frustrations: “We all feel disappointed of course with the announcement from the club this week. I feel so sorry for myself first of all, for our fans, the players, everyone, and of course for our chairman.”, he said.
“Of course I understand the problems about the tickets, the money and everything, and I feel sorry for them. I want to say thank you and apologise. We’re going to try to reward them by winning games.”
As Pochettino mentioned, Spurs’ supporters are being left short-changed. At the very least four league fixtures at the new stadium will not go ahead, meaning that season ticket holders are left somewhat in the dark, though discussions over refunds are still in early stages. Along with this, a location for Champions League and Carabao Cup matches remains undecided.
Perhaps the stadium news would have been handled more delicately had the summer transfer window lived up to expectations. Before signing his new contract, until 2023, in the summer, Pochettino claimed that the club needed to be ‘more brave’. He may have been referring to pushing the boat out in more bold, big-name signings, or in terms of offering his stars wages comparable to other top sides.
If he did wish for those things, Daniel Levy did not deliver. They managed to make history, in embarrassing fashion. Deadline day’s conclusion at 5pm last Thursday confirmed Spurs as the first club since the summer transfer window’s inception in 2003 to bring zero players into the club.
It wasn’t as if there was no links. Players ranging from Ajax’s Mathias De Ligt, Tangiuy Ndombele from Lyon, and the most concrete of all being Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. The saga surrounding the latter summed up their window, a paltry initial bid of £3 million plus, fringe player Joshua Onomah, was understandably rejected in an insatnt.
Then came deadline day, and by that time the damage was already done. A £25 million bid for Grealish was turned down and reality dawned, no new faces would grace the incoming stadium. Speculating, lowballing and gambling in the transfer market had come back to bite. The backlash from fans was to be expected, and the pile-on of bad news has been relentless in recent months.
In the summer in which Tottenham were supposed to take their next step, they have stood still.
Perhaps in 10 years’ time business and media students will look at a 2018 Tottenham Hotspur case study on how to dismantle the club-fan relationship within the space of a few months.
The silver lining is that bigger names remain at the club, for now at least. Toby Alderweireld seemed a nailed on departure to Manchester United in the early stages of the summer, a move that never seemed to get going eventually. Harry Kane and Dele Alli have signed improved contracts, while Christian Eriksen’s links to Spain have grown stronger. With other European leagues still free to purchase until the end of August, some fringe and key players may still leave North London.
It can be easy to focus on all of the negative aspects, while ignoring the fact that Tottenham on the pitch are as strong as ever. Their first XI matches most in the country, back a lack of depth has cost them dear previously. One thing standing in the way of trophies and getting to the next level is strength in depth, something which you can expect to diminish even further should players depart before the 31st August deadline.
If the chaos off the pitch has distracted fans, then the players are unmoved, with two wins from the opening two matches Pochettino’s promise is being delivered. He has promised a clean slate for the entire squad and the re-introduction of Alderweireld and Danny Rose suggests there is weight to his words.
The danger is though that positive results are proving a welcome distraction, but should results slip, which happens to every side at some point, the deeper issues will come back to the forefront.
While stadium moves aren’t the easiest of transitions, both financially for the club and in terms of planning, Spurs would have been keen to avoid the route that Arsenal and West Ham have tread. Whether it be a period of transfer inactivity, infighting within their own ground, or regression on the pitch.
Moving to a new stadium is no different from moving to a new house. It’s stressful, it can take time, and often there can be delays. Tottenham’s move in date remains unclear.