Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager who sets the bar for managerial success, was rumoured to be on the verge of losing his job at Manchester United before he won a trophy, the FA Cup in 1990. In fact, it was three years before he would deliver his first trophy at Old Trafford, and as legend would have it, it was the FA Cup win that kept him in a job. Winning the FA Cup was survival, not an ego trip, as Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino suggested in response to watching his team dumped out of two trophies in four days last week.
From a stats perspective, Pochettino is only .69% behind Liverpool’s Klopp for win ratio (57% vs 57.69), and they have both won exactly the same number of trophies with their respective clubs, zero.
Another important aspect to compare is that this season Spurs have spent no money on transfers. Not a single penny, and have a net difference of £5m to the good. Liverpool? They spent £164m and have a net loss of £129m.
Is it relevant? Of course. As is the fact that for the past three seasons Spurs have finished higher in the Premier League than Liverpool.
Another factor to consider is where Pochettino’s head is at regarding his aspirations for the club and its future direction. He recently spoke about the club making decisions not to sign people, even going so far as to say that winning the League or FA Cup involved an element of luck. He may have a point there, to some degree, but it does tend to take away the self-efficacy of performance. The belief that there is a point to practice. While it is true that a fluke goal can happen, and a little luck is needed along the way at times, Arsenal didn’t win 13 FA Cups through luck.
On the other side of the coin, Wigan were relegated the same year they won the FA Cup, and Portsmouth found themselves crashing through the relegation zones a couple of years after winning it. Financially, there was little long-term benefit to either of these clubs. Spurs, according to Pochettino, are the lowest spending club in Europe and are keeping up with big spending Liverpool and Manchester City. Perhaps he was right that Spurs will have to change the way they do business if they want to win the Premier League, but they’re hanging with the big boys quite well currently.
Spurs are currently being run as an incredibly financially responsibly business. They are making money from being in the top 4 of the Premier League, which brings with it the Champion’s League cash cow. Is the club in a position that they need to win trophies? Probably not. As a top Premier League team, they will always have fans to fill the stadium. Under the current system, they seem to be doing quite well of making money in the Champion’s League. And they also seem to have a manager happy to continue with them, regardless of whether he is given the money to be competitive. Why change anything at all?
What about the money? Last season the Manchester teams earned approx. £150 million from the Premier League. Spurs earned approx. £5 million and they have already made that back through selling one player. Is it really worth investing tens of millions of pounds to win the Premier League when they can be £125m richer simply by not buying the players to win it?
Can anyone give Levy a reason to invest and win? If Pochettino continues his personal brand of alchemy it would be worth Levy giving an extra £20m to the coaching team just to maintain the status quo.
But this is where it gets a little sticky. How many players will want to join a team happy to be around the big boys, but not actually invest enough to truly compete? Will Harry Kane or Dele Alli be happy treading water when they could be at clubs genuinely trying to win something? Being a big fish in an above average sized pond, but with no vision to expand must surely get old, especially for a true competitor.
The message from Pochettino right now is that Spurs aren’t in a position to compete; it would be nice to win a trophy, but it’s not really important, and that he and the club are happy to hang with the big boys, but probably won’t be joining them with any actual trophies. It’s a dangerous message to send to players who want to win things, and who will eventually start to wonder why they’re putting the effort in when the club isn’t. Trophies may be a nice stroke to the ego, but they are a critical measure of success and the empire of Sir Alex was built on them.