The brinkmanship has begun at Tottenham Hotspur.
On one side stands Mauricio Pochettino, the hottest prospect in club management and a frustrated leader starting to cast covetous glances at his moneyed competitors.
The intractable Daniel Levy is on the other side. A chairman famed for his parsimony who has permitted a £40.3m (Dh200m) net spend in four seasons by the Argentine and has a new stadium to pay for, of which escalating costs put the reported total outlay at £1 billion (Dh5bn).
It is not by accident that rumours of Chelsea’s interest caught fire on Tuesday.
These followed Sunday’s confirmation of a third-successive top-three Premier League finish on a shoestring budget and subsequent exclamations from Pochettino that Levy must be “brave” and “take risks”.
The scene is set for a battle of wills that could define the club’s short-term future. Certainly before the new revenue streams start flowing and the debt becomes manageable at the White Hart Lane redevelopment – which judging by Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium could be more than half a decade away.
A solution appears obvious. Purse strings clasped tight must be belatedly loosened.
Yet, this narrative betrays the truth. Levy is not the party still with much to prove.
He’s shown Spurs’ reclusive billionaire owner Joe Lewis that he can deliver profits of £41.2m (Dh204.4m) on 2016/17’s club-record revenue of £306.3m (Dh1.5bn) that is the lowest in the Premier League’s top six, while safeguarding the riches earned from Champions League qualification. Some juggling act.
In an era when the Manchester sides are regularly spending more than £150m (Dh744.3m) every summer and even neighbours Arsenal have broken their club record twice in the last year, Pochettino’s development is laudable. Not since 1959-63 has the top three been breached so often by Spurs.
A disclaimer remains, however, that Levy cannot ignore. It is now exactly a decade since Spurs lifted the 2007/08 League Cup.
Since Pochettino’s arrival in May 2014 from Southampton, he’s finished third in 2015/16’s two-horse race for Premier League glory with Leicester.
The 46-year-old lost the 2014/15 League Cup showpiece to Chelsea and made the semi-finals of the last two FA Cups.
During this time, Arsene Wenger has effectively been chased out of Arsenal after he won two FA Cups.
Manchester United lifted the 2015/16 FA Cup as Louis van Gaal’s reign disintegrated. They have subsequently claimed the League Cup and Europa League despite the ongoing disquiet about manager Jose Mourinho’s methods – with the promise of Saturday’s FA Cup showdown to come.
A dismissive narrative has emerged from Pochettino about these competitions.
“We need a big trophy,” he said last August. “A big trophy is Premier League or Champions League.”
Rich words, oft repeated, when a nine-year managerial career has delivered zero silverware. No matter the laudable style or startling progress seen in the likes of England pair Harry Kane and Dele Alli, plus Denmark’s exceptional playmaker Christian Eriksen.
Levy is an astute operator. Such disdainful statements will not be missed.
For all Pochettino’s promise, it is yet to be delivered upon.
Mourinho secured 22 of the game’s prizes, big or small, before he joined United for 2016/17. But he understands the catalysing value of success – no matter where it is found.
In times of excessive investment on infrastructure, Pochettino cannot point to anything truly tangible when he enters negotiations about both an improved contract and budget.
The ex-Argentina defender is unable to produce incontrovertible proof that another gamble from Levy with Tottenham’s finances would deliver elusive silverware. It would just be a punt.
Levy never gets his sums wrong. Pochettino, in contrast, has miscalculated.
As we continue to hand out our end-of-season awards following the conclusion of the Premier League campaign, we reveal the winner of our Coach of the Season.
Their football was mesmerising and unstoppable, as they romped to the title. A run of 18 straight wins between August and December, in which time City beat Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and Arsenal, may never be repeated.
They moved to the top of the table after a 6-0 away win at Watford in September and never looked like being caught.
While others will argue the Manchester United team of 1999, or the Arsenal side of 2004, are the greatest in Premier League history, with the records City have broken and the football they’ve played, they may well stand alone at the top – and that is all down to Guardiola.
What a job from the Burnley boss. Dyche guided the Clarets to a seventh-placed finish in the Premier League, meaning they will be playing Europa League football next season. After moving into seventh in September, Burnley never dropped lower than ninth, picking up some excellent wins along the way, including a 3-2 success at Stamford Bridge. While their style of play may not have been the most exciting, Burnley showed a real togetherness and work ethic to finish just behind Arsenal.
Taking over after a shocking start to the season, in which Crystal Palace failed to score in their opening seven games, losing them all, Hodgson deserves a lot of credit for the job he did with the Eagles. Palace lost just nine more league games after that difficult start, winning 11 and scoring 45 goals in the process, as they ended the campaign in 11th. After his disastrous ending with England, Hodgson has restored his reputation at Selhurst Park.
The former Liverpool and Chelsea boss did an excellent job with what is a limited Newcastle squad. After not receiving the funds to strengthen as he would have liked, and despite goals being hard to come by, Benitez guided Newcastle to a top-ten finish, improving the levels of a number of the players. Wins at home to Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the second half of the season were superb results that helped secure safety.
With the Premier League campaign over, we’re handing out our end-of-season awards. The latest trophy isn’t one any player would want to get their hands on however, as we announce our Flop of the Season.
When Antonio Conte decided that Diego Costa wasn’t in his plans for the 2017/18 season, despite him playing such an influential part in Chelsea’s success last term, it was imperative that whoever replaced the controversial striker hit the ground running.
Having missed out on Romelu Lukaku, Conte and Chelsea paid Real Madrid nearly €70 million for Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard made a positive start to life at Stamford Bridge, netting in four of his first six games, including a hat-trick against Stoke City, but the goals only told half the story.
Morata lacked the dominating presence of Costa that had been so crucial to Chelsea last season, and he struggled to find the net if it wasn’t with his head. It was no surprise when Conte signed Olivier Giroud in January.
The Frenchman started the FA Cup semi-final and the crunch match with Liverpool, showing how far out-of-favour Morata had fallen.
Serie A side Juventus are linked with a move for the striker this summer, and Chelsea would be better off cutting their losses now.
It’s fair to say it couldn’t have gone much worse for youngster Sanches, who joined Swansea City for a season on loan from German giants Bayern Munich. The 20-year-old, who had helped Portugal win the European Championships in 2016, was expected to make a big impact for the Swans, but failed to impress. In total, he made just 15 appearances as Swansea suffered relegation.
Another transfer that failed to work out for Conte and Chelsea. While he has made 43 appearances in all competitions, the move hasn’t worked out as expected, with the former Monaco man not able to match up to former midfielder Nemanja Matic alongside N’Golo Kante. Errors, a lack of positional understanding, and poor passing mean Bakayoko has a long way to go to prove why Chelsea paid €40 million for his services.
The Dutchman’s move from Ajax to Everton has been a disaster. The attacking midfielder perhaps knew life wouldn’t be easy when both Wayne Rooney and Glyfi Sigurdsson signed in the same summer, but he wouldn’t have envisaged it going so badly. He made 16 appearances in all competitions, with just seven of those coming in the Premier League, while he failed to score a single goal.