It’s hard to follow Tottenham
I first knew of Tottenham in 1994. Harry Kane, talismanic striker of today’s Spurs team (chap on the right) was just a year old.
Spurs had signed a fellow named Jürgen Klinsmann (chap on the left), part of the German World Cup-winning team that eliminated England at Italia ’90 and had a reputation as a diver. Which meant an uncertain reception from the English.
But the ‘diving German’ won over Spurs fans and neutrals alike with his exciting play and scoring prowess (he scored 30 goals for Tottenham that season), not to mention a self-deprecating ‘dive’ goal celebration.
Tottenham couldn’t hold on to Klinsmann (though he returned 2 years later to save Spurs from relegation), but they gained at least one lifelong fan.
It’s hard for FANS to follow Tottenham
And so began 24 seasons following Tottenham Hotspur. Three of which were spent in London, with trips to White Hart Lane — that ‘mecca of quality football’ (to quote 1 fellow Spurs fan), to watch the team in white play exciting, attacking football.
Every Spurs fan has their favourite, inevitably a forward — today’s Kane, Eriksen, Dele and Son follow in the footsteps of Bale, Berbatov, Ginola, Klinsmann, Sheringham, Gascoigne, Lineker, Hoddle, Waddle, Ardilles, Villa, and many other legends I am too young to know.
Spurs fans demand a certain style and philosophy of football. No ‘1–0 to the (pre-Wenger) Arsenal’ long balls for us. Tottenham had to win in style, even if it was sometimes suicidal.
Anyone who’s followed Spurs knew that even a 3–0 lead may not be enough on occasion. Not to mention a reputation for bottling it when it mattered, and rival fans would laugh at “Spursy” Tottenham.
Even the 2017/18 season was notable for how much harder the Spurs team made it for themselves, when Champions League qualification for next season seemed a certainty. Yet we stumbled across the line in 3rd place (barely), and Spurs fans had that ‘heart-in-their-mouth’ feeling and wondering ‘what if’...
But for every fan disappointed by 2017/18, there is one who remembers that this is the best we have seen of Tottenham for a very long time.
May we never return to the late 1990s — wilderness years of mid-table mediocrity and the 2000s’ nearly-there years, always 5th / 6th and floundering in the Europa League (happy hunting, Arsenal).
Tottenham in those dark days were poor, yet fans stayed loyal.
For we invest in lines, not dots.
We hold on for the moments of magic that would come from time to time. Like the 2010 beating of Man City to 4th, and that glorious 2011 Champions League Quarter-finals run by ‘Harry’s Hotspurs’, announcing Gareth Bale’s arrival on the world stage. Unfortunately these were too rare.
Then along came Mauricio Pochettino.
Slowly but surely, the Argentine Russell Crowe doppelgänger transformed Tottenham into a fast-running, hard-pressing, quality footballing machine.
Adding substance to style, new heroes started to emerge — the League’s most formidable backline, flying wingbacks who also defended with gusto, and box-to-box midfielders that covered more ground in each match than Mo Farah.
And they scored goals. Tons of them.
Today’s hero, Harry Kane, was not your typical Tottenham-esque Number 9. Back in 2014, he wasn’t that fast, wasn’t that limber, wasn’t that strong, wasn’t that skilful. But he flourished under Pochettino’s methods (true, Sherwood gave Kane his break), who turned him from a gangly misfiring young forward into one of the world’s most-feared strikers.
And what magic Christian Eriksen weaves, week-in and week-out. A player unrecognisable from his first season’s flattering-to-deceive. I hope he stays a while more.
There has never been a better Tottenham team, and much is the credit of #Poch and his team.
Yet there will still be the heartaches, the angst at the dogmatic Argentine manager’s late substitutions, his refusal to quickly change the team’s shape when the team is down.
If it were easy, it would not be Tottenham.
And I suppose we wouldn’t have it any other way. We’re a special breed of fans, ever-slightly masochistic. Never one for the easy route. We like it better when they dazzle, even when it comes with some heart-in-mouth moments.
But these days we also appreciate a bit of steel.
We want to see Mourinho-style grinding, ugly wins for the 3-points when we don’t play well. Pressing and tackling till the final whistle is blown. Personally I hope these are few and far between, but where needed, I hope the team grinds them out. After all, the judgment comes in the results.
So while it might be hard, we’re still proud to back Spurs.
They’re special in our hearts — I remember a particularly rough time in the business couple of years ago, where nothing seemed to go right. But I’d always look forward to the weekends, where two things would get me back fighting the following week: (i) time with the family, and (ii) the football that Tottenham played providing just that little bit of solace, and often-times celebration.
We’re a special breed of fans; sticking with Spurs when they were plain-lousy in the late 90s-2000s. We will certainly do it now, when this is the best Tottenham team in many fans’ lifetimes, and Champions League football under the floodlights of a brand-new stadium next season. It’s been a joy to have gotten to know many Tottenham fans (I haven’t met a one I didn’t like yet). And may success breed success, though we know there will inevitability be dips, and we will still back Spurs because that’s what fans do.
For we used to cheer when Spurs were 4th. We’re now disappointed to place 2nd.
It’s hard for ANYONE to follow Tottenham
The reality in football as in life, is that money can buy success, to a degree.
Tottenham did it differently, spending relatively little money to achieve our 3 consecutive Top-3 placings, all while funding a new stadium (ostensibly an investment for higher future revenue).
The Pochettino-era saw a net spend of £50 million on that most important lifeblood of any football team — players.
Taken in context, many lower-placed teams have spent far more. Teams that spent £50m (Stoke & W.B.A.) end up being relegated... and they didn’t have to play 38 games away from home, and against Champions League giants Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, teams we soundly beat.
So Tottenham has a significantly positive R.O.I.. As Warren Buffet would call it, extremely capital efficient.
What are some of these possible success factors?
(i) Shared Vision— A clear long-term goal set by the Club and the Manager, everyone in the team believing in ‘the project’, and working their socks off to pull in the same direction.
(ii) No Deadweight— Often not easy for many organisations, who carry those who just ‘coast along’. But the Pochettino era was also noted for his fixation with creating a team that believes. Anyone who didn’t buy into the ‘project’ was made to leave. So there would never be any deadweight, anyone who didn’t live by the same rules. These end up being like cancer cells in any organisation; they kill everyone.
(iii) Positive Unit Economics— Sometimes spending a fortune on an established player may not yield as much as properly setting up the youth academy, and ensuring a good pipeline of talent (I wrote of this before), and sustainable success. 4 letters: K.A.N.E. #OneOfOurOwn
The way I see it, Tottenham Hotspur of 2014–18 makes a good case study for how to successfully run a business or organisation.
But obviously, there are limits to how far you can push on a shoestring budget.
Pochettino’s Tottenham has achieved product-market-fit, to use the term very liberally. It may now be time for Tottenham to scale, and for that a significantly larger war chest may very well be needed. The manager himself has already alluded as much.
OK, enough startup / VC analogies.
What’s next from here then?
I’ll end by going to my Portfolio Management roots.
My former Desk Head once said I was a highly-convicted long-term investor, spotting what others hadn’t seen yet, so often early in my trades. Though sometimes tactical nous was needed when markets were a bit slow to get it right =)
I like to think that I’ve taken some of that advice on board in my professional life, to be a little bit more tactical in my running of our firm’s day-to-day, while always staying convicted in the longer-term goal.
But in football and Tottenham Hotspur, I’ll stay convicted and long-term.
Though I hope the Tottenham manager employs some of the tactical nous a little more readily when our backs are against the wall.
To more glory nights under the floodlights of the new stadium. Can’t wait.