Why a change in approach off the pitch will allow Tottenham to reap the rewards on it
Tottenham Hotspur have been effective when it comes to attracting young, up-and-coming players to White Hart Lane in the past decade, but they haven’t made a great habit of keeping them.
Rafael van der Vaart aside, the north London outfit have often had to part ways with stars they helped to create before being entirely ready to do so. While the money received in exchange for such players has helped the club to grow, the loss of such talent has continually halted any momentum the team had managed to build up.
In the past, Tottenham – Daniel Levy specifically – were infamous for being frugal. The best example of this approach was Luka Modric's £16,000-a-week contract during his first two years at the club, terms which made it entirely justifiable for the Croatian to look around for better offers. Sure, the TV deals weren't as big back then, and Modric was rightly handed an improved deal once Spurs had qualified for the Champions League, but the club weren't exactly doing themselves any favours when it came to building positive relationships with their most valuable footballers.
That policy, however, is now a thing of the past; in the last couple of years, Tottenham's approach to talent management has completely changed. Whereas in the past they'd try to get more for less as long as possible, the current model means gifted players are regularly rewarded with incremental improvements to their contract, which not only keeps them happy and motivated but also ensures the club have a long-term grasp over their prized assets.
The policy of gambling with deals, something Daniel Levy was often guilty of in the past, has also been discontinued, and there's now a much more sophisticated understanding of how to handle young players too
Since changing their way of working, the entire spine of the Spurs' squad have renewed their deals, and the understanding appears to be that the more the player does for the club, the faster the latter will act to raise their pay.
As a result, Harry Kane, Hugo Lloris, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Mousa Dembele and Kevin Wimmer have all been reinvested in, while there's plenty of incentive for further improvement too. Before, these players would have hit a patch of good form and immediately started looking for other employers, but the new approach means that's no longer the case. Modric, for instance, might have been handed a new contract every six months if he still plied his trade at White Hart Lane.
The policy of gambling with deals, something Levy was often guilty of in the past, has also been discontinued, and there's now a much more sophisticated understanding of how to handle young players too. Marcus Edwards, the 17-year-old who excited fans with his pre-season performances, has signed a permanent contract with Spurs rather than been lured away by bigger rivals. With youth-friendly Mauricio Pochettino in the dugout, Edwards knows there are first-team opportunities available in the coming years.
Raising the price
With a stadium to pay for, an investment company at the helm and a desire to progress sustainably, Spurs weren’t ever likely to use the new television money to immediately inflate their wage bill overnight
Players' prices, too, are essentially safeguarded – should a bigger club come calling with a blank chequebook, Levy now has even more reason to hold out for large fees. By putting more money in, Spurs are practically guaranteeing they'll get more back should their best and brightest fancy jumping ship.
With a stadium to pay for, an investment company at the helm and a desire to progress sustainably, Tottenham weren’t ever likely to use the new television money to immediately inflate their wage bill overnight. Kane, for example, is still not close to maximising his earnings at White Hart Lane: he'll get there eventually rather than having it all handed to him on a plate at once.
Instant gratification can certainly dull the motivation of young players – Michael Johnson’s career at Manchester City is an obvious cautionary tale – and keeping their feet on the ground as much as possible is enormously beneficial to everyone involved.
Perhaps more so than any other club in the last few years, Tottenham have completely remodelled their infrastructure to marry with their manager's ideology. Pochettino has made it clear that his players will only get out of the game what they put into it, a policy which translates perfectly into Spurs' off-field actions: those who defy the process, take shortcuts or fall out of line with what’s in place don’t tend to last long.
Nabil Bentaleb looks set to follow Andros Townsend out of the door for exactly those reasons. The relationship between the Algerian and the club hasn’t been right since their publicly fraught contract negotiations, and Tottenham are prepared to let one of their most promising talents leave.
Contracts guarantee nothing, and loyalty has become more of an abstract concept than an actual character trait within the game. In reality, then, Tottenham are simply securing themselves the best possible foothold, and creating the best possible scenario out of a system stacked in the favour of those with cash to burn.
There is, however, plenty of merit in a club ditching its constant insecurity and state of flux for something altogether more stable. With one of the most exciting, talented and youthful marriages of squad and management anywhere in European football right now, it’s encouraging for Spurs fans to see their club taking ownership of what they have in the most sensible and secure way possible.
It's been some time since those associated with the club have been able to sleep easy but, for now at least, their nights are peaceful.