We think Todd Boehly is an idiot, but it may be he alone knows how much investing in a new squad really costs, whilst we continue to underestimate it
The “ENIC Out” movement, which is seemingly gaining traction, has a number of complaints: the pace and scale of commercialisation, the prices of ticketing and matchday experiences, the incoherence of managerial appointments to name a few. But more than anything, there is a sense that Spurs just will not spend what is necessary to take the squad to the next level. The recent overreaction to the momentary news that Pedro Porro might not sign was a case in point.
I have previously written about how poor Tottenham really are and why the fans are somewhat wide of the mark in their financial expectations – particularly when unhelpful and misleading news comes out about “record profits” or our wealth rankings. But here I want to consider how misleading the headline numbers are about what is needed or how much a certain amount buys you, since we supposedly know what the gaps we need plugging are. A central defender and an attacking midfielder, for instance, will likely cost us some £125m between them. Factoring in another young talent and we can round that up to maybe £150m – the amount, incidentally, that ENIC put into the club back in the summer.
But the problem is this: that £150m will get you two players that you need, in theory only. The reality is that one of them will be a dud, and possibly both. We may need at least one more player, if not two more, just to bring us the likelihood of two decent players who fulfil our potential. This is a leads us to a risk-adjusted spending of more like £250m-£300m.
To think about how much we need to risk-adjust, I have gone back to every transfer Tottenham have done since the summer of 2015, and assessed broadly how successful they were for us. Why 2015? Well, it was the summer after the new 2016 Premier League TV rights package was announced in Feb 2015, leading to clubs spending more money in anticipation (the TV rights have stayed static since then). As an example, it was the summer of Anthony Martial’s £36m-rising-to-£58m transfer to Man Utd, a symbol, if ever one were needed, of the new age of spending.
Looking at these transfers, we then need to think about what the “hit rate” has been. For instance, if one in two signings have been successful, this would be a 50% hit rate and based on this, the amount we need to spend to get £150m of value is £300m. If only one in three signings have been a success, we would have to triple our spend, with £150m becoming more like £450m of real spending required.
There are two ways of looking at our hit rate: simple numeric (did a given player succeed?) or weight-adjusted (how much of his transfer fee as he worth?). Neither is perfect. The weight-adjusted number makes it difficult to account for free signings such as Perisic or Lenglet. The simple numeric figure treats players as more or less equal. I lean towards the simple numeric however, because for me the transfer fee is a function of the market you cannot control. Much as players supposedly try to ignore their own transfer fee in terms of the weight of expectation, the reality is that if we need a player for that position, we need him whether he costs £100m or is free.
Based on this, I have had a go at allocating Tottenham’s hit rate over time since 2015:
From this analysis, in turns out that indeed our hit rate on weight-adjusted transfers is about one in two, and on the simple numeric basis it is even worse, one in three. We can argue all day about whether the success allocations I have given are right or wrong, but in the end this will not affect the final percentages much. I think it conveys a sense of, did a given player fulfil the expectations we would have had of them, particularly in making regular first team appearances, whilst he was there?
Taking these numbers therefore, to get the aforementioned £150m of necessary talent through the door, would actually cost ENIC between £300m and £450m of spending, given our track record. Is that a lot of money? Yes – but it also puts into perspective why the other clubs have been spending so much. If they are splashing out £1bn in transfer fees, the likelihood is they are only getting £300m – £500m in actual talent. The headlines are distorted.
So then the question arises, are we better or worse than the others? I have gone into a single other example below, that of Chelsea, due to their recent big spending. Comprehensively analysing other clubs is not only time-consuming, but I also do not know their players well enough. The assessment of Chelsea really is based on a mixture of comments from Match of the Day, Gary Neville and Twitter. I think it’s a reasonable reflection, but stand to be corrected.
It makes interesting reading though:
Chelsea have, if anything, been even worse than us over this period. And this makes intuitive sense of course, since for every N’Dombele they have had a Lukaku and a Pulisic thrown in for good measure. If anything, our possibly better hit rate on a weighted basis means we are more careful with our money, and do better with more expensive signings. Unsurprisingly.
To round this off, I would add one additional measure, which is that Chelsea do of course have a much better academy than us. Against our Harry Kane and, to an extent, Harry Winks, Chelsea’s free production list includes:
We can reasonably say that this has not only produced sellable talent, but has over time strengthened their squad significantly for a period. On this score, we could improve. Are any other clubs materially better than us? Off the top of my head, only Man City feel like they hit the target more frequently than others, and this may be poignant.
To bring this to its conclusion, when we think about our transfer needs, we should be realistic. If we feel we need, say, £150m of talent, double it (or more). If we have £150m to spend, halve it (or less). And do not be distracted by the headline spend of others – whilst they are buying more talent, they are not quite pulling as far ahead of us as we fear. What we need is to either improve our hit rate considerably (the role of Paratici et al), improve our academy, or find a backer who will spend not only what they need, but twice as much as that, just for us to make even a small improvement. Because the absolute money numbers associated with life in the Premier League will continue to astonish us – and Todd Boehly may well be ahead of the game on this.