There was something contrived about the way Tottenham Hotspur greeted the finalisation of their plans for a new stadium. With a 61,000-seat capacity, the new venue will give Spurs the biggest Premier League home ground in London—a point the club and its fans were all too keen to stress.
Of course, the true stature of a club is determined by more than just stadium seats, but it’s true that in one sense Tottenham’s new venue will make them London’s biggest. By planning their ground to have 61,000 seats exactly, Spurs' £400 million new venue looks like something of a vanity project, purely to get one over their north London rivals Arsenal, whose Emirates Stadium holds just 60,432 fans.
Spurs will be, by their own calculations, 0.9398993910510988 percent bigger than the Gunners.
On the pitch, however, Tottenham remain short of Arsenal, and the rest of the Premier League’s top four for that matter. Every summer, they plot their grand scheme to break through the ever-present Champions League glass ceiling, and almost every season, they fail.
If football was a cartoon, Spurs would be Wile E. Coyote—always trying to catch the Road Runner (the Road Runner being Arsenal and the Champions League) only to be scuppered by an ACME bomb, a falling anvil or a dodgy lasagna. Will Spurs ever become the club they have wanted to be for so long?
It’s been over three years since Tottenham last finished in the Premier League’s top four, and they have spent over £190 million in the past four years in their pained efforts to get back there. And yet Spurs are no closer to achieving their objective, having finished last season six points adrift of Champions League qualification (and 11 points short of Arsenal).
Their current plight can be traced back to the world-record sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid two years ago. With the Welsh winger in their team, Spurs legitimately seemed to be on an upward arc, with some even questioning whether the White Hart Lane side could soon mount a title challenge.
But with Bale’s exit, Spurs lost their impetus and reinvested the subsequent transfer windfall poorly. That summer set the club back years, and after three managerial changes, Tottenham are still making up for it. Their transfer market activity over the past two summers has been handicapped as a consequence of their past failures, although their recent struggles are down to more than just the sale of Bale.
Spurs certainly aren’t the only club guilty of lurching from one extreme to the other with every single managerial appointment, but they do it with more gusto than anyone else. Just look at their managerial record over the past two decades, going all the way back to Glenn Hoddle’s stewardship of the club.
The former England manager was known for some new-age methods, but he was still a distinctly traditional coach. So when he was fired in 2003, Spurs decided to opt for a more continental, modern manager in then-France boss Jacques Santini.
Of course, Santini lasted just 13 games at White Hart Lane, and so Spurs reverted back to their orthodox roots, appointing Martin Jol who, admittedly, enjoyed a period of success there. But when the Dutchman outstayed his welcome in north London, Spurs hired Juande Ramos, once again bringing the continent to the club.
Ramos was ultimately a failure, and Spurs eventually replaced him with the archetypal English manager himself, Harry Redknapp—a man so traditional he has admitted to not knowing how to use a mobile phone. A pattern was starting to take shape by this point, and true to form, Spurs opted for a continental option when the time came to replace Redknapp, hiring Andre Villas-Boas.
Then there was Tim Sherwood after Villas-Boas, and Maurico Pochettino after that. Spurs pose and pretend that they have some form of long-term strategy—often manifested in the signing of young, unproven players—but their recent record with managers suggests the contrary.
Spurs have treaded water for the last two seasons, with Pochettino succeeding in at least restoring a concept of style, of identity to a team that had become a mishmash of ideas and philosophies under both Villas-Boas and Sherwood. Daniel Levy—the club's notoriously trigger-happy chairman—must refrain from dismissing the Argentine at the first sign of struggle if he wants to implement a long-term plan for the club’s growth ahead of their move to a new home.
Too often in the past, Spurs have been guilty of buying players for the sake of buying players. As a club, they tend to go for quantity over quality. For instance, was Lewis Holtby really an improvement on Gylfi Sigurdsson? Or was Paulinho a necessary signing given that they already had Mousa Dembele and Sandro in the centre of midfield at that time?
A smarter and shrewder strategy is needed for Spurs to progress into genuine top-four contenders, particularly after the disastrous summer of 2013. Levy is heralded as a master negotiator when it comes to selling players, but now the Tottenham chairman must show that he can perform similar tricks in bringing players in.
In the long run, Spurs’ new stadium could well take them closer to Arsenal and the top end of the English game. Look at how increased ticket revenue from the Emirates Stadium has finally bolstered the Gunners’ transfer-market muscle, allowing them to compete on a level playing field with the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Arsenal once found themselves in the position Spurs currently situate—unable to keep their best players from joining the best clubs with the biggest money. Now Man City and the like don’t go shopping at the Emirates so often.
Spurs have the chance to prove that they too are on a similar path by keeping hold of Harry Kane amid speculated interest from Manchester United this summer. If Tottenham cannot keep hold of their best players, they are forever doomed to be stuck in their own personal Groundhog Day, regardless of how many supporters are watching from the stands.