In his new role, Dele isn’t creating or getting chances – that is what Spurs need from him right now

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

As Spurs wade through the rubble of Saturday’s calamitous defeat at Crystal Palace, the team’s well-documented lack of creativity from midfield will be one of the dominant themes. Among the other issues that arose at Selhurst Park, the chronic lack of goal threat from this area of the pitch is, as head coach Nuno Espirito Santo called it straight after the game, “A big concern”.

Continue reading “In his new role, Dele isn’t creating or getting chances – that is what Spurs need from him right now”

Why Tanguy Ndombele and Bryan Gil’s absence was even more awkward after Paratici’s Levy chat

By Alastair Gold, Football.London

The Frenchman’s absence from the miserable 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace was tough to explain away for the Tottenham head coach.
It was a performance to sum up a week of utter farce with Tottenham Hotspur at its centre.

It took just 12 minutes for the decisions of summer signing Cristian Romero and Davinson Sanchez to head off for their international call-ups, along with Giovani Lo Celso, to play in red listed South American countries to come back to haunt Tottenham.

Just to rub it in further, all those South American countries who had asked FIFA to ban the others players who did not accept call-ups dropped their grievances, meaning other clubs were not affected.

Even Eric Dier’s injury was avoidable, Hugo Lloris rolling the ball too far past the Spurs defender so he had to stretch and collide with a Palace attacker.

He attempted to play on but could barely move, a physio eventually having to guide him slowly and painfully down the touchline and back to the changing room.

Then came the sending off of Japhet Tanganga, who had been excellent in central defence until he got himself too pumped up after a scuffle with Wilfried Zaha and launched into another unnecessary challenge soon after that yellow card.
The footballing gods also decided to ensure the joke continued as another Spurs centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers scored on his debut on loan at Celtic.

Even with all of that, including the fact that Tottenham were shorn of six players who all probably would have either started or been on the bench, there was no excuse for the lack of creativity on display.

It started with Nuno Espirito Santo’s line-up, with the Portuguese feeling the need to play all three of his more defensively-minded midfielders in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks.

The idea looked to be to provide the full-backs with the ability to charge on in a 4-3-2-1 formation and hurt Palace down the flanks, pinning Zaha back in his own half.

Instead it resulted in a performance that will have had Tottenham fans worrying whether their fears were being realised of simply seeing just another version of Jose Mourinho, one without the silverware on his CV.

Tottenham’s managing director of football Fabio Paratici had needed to convince chairman Daniel Levy that that wasn’t the case when he pushed the Portuguese’s claims for the job in the summer.

The Italian showed the Spurs supremo clips of Espirito Santo’s Valencia side in his first season in Spain to emphasise that the football that could be played under the Portuguese could realise the promise the chairman made to the fans of attacking, entertaining football.

Those watching the game at Palace on Sunday might have been forgiven for wondering if those video clips were of someone else’s team.
Spurs were abysmal in everything they did going forward. There was no creativity, no drive and no movement among the attacking players.

Whenever a Tottenham player had the ball, they looked up to find nobody ahead of them to pass to. Emerson Royal, on his debut, waved his arms on a couple of occasions when in possession, beckoning someone to show for the ball. This was a long way from Barcelona.

Opta’s stats declared that with Spurs only managing two shots at goal in the entire match, it was their lowest shots in total in a Premier League game since a match in August 2005 against Blackburn Rovers.

Harry Kane, one of the world’s best strikers and creators, may well as have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out on Saturday afternoon, such was his lack of impact on the encounter.

A near complete absence of service was mostly to blame but we’ve also seen Kane grabbing games by the scruff of the neck before and firing Spurs to points they perhaps did not deserve.

Yet at Selhurst Park it was the first time ever Kane has not touched the ball in the opposition box or had a shot in a game he’s played 90 minutes in. That said it all.

When asked by football.london whether he was concerned about the lack of creativity on the day, Espirito Santo replied: “It is a big concern, we had enough quality and talent to play better.

“We didn’t do it, credit to Palace they were aggressive and they didn’t allow too much time on the ball. We lost duels, many, many situations that I think we should do much better. In terms of offensive, much improvement is required.”
The Portuguese pushed aside a question about not using Tanguy Ndombele or Bryan Gil with little thought.

There perhaps was a touch of frustration at something that clearly had caught everyone’s eye when the team was announced and had proven to be right by the course of the game.

Managers understandably hate it when their tactical decisions are picked apart by hindsight, but this one seemed glaring without it.

For the absence of either Ndombele or Gil from the pitch at any point, let alone in the starting line-up, remains as mystery.

Espirito Santo was clearly not impressed with Ndombele during the summer, with the Frenchman wanting to leave the club and not being in his view the required mental state to be included in matchday squads, in pre-season as well.

Yet with weeks’ worth of training at Hotspur Way, plus almost a fortnight after the transfer window closed and the two men are believed to have held positive talks about this coming season, it’s difficult to imagine Ndombele wasn’t fit enough to start the game.

Espirito Santo may well have felt that Winks, who showed a desire to stay at Tottenham in the summer despite interest in taking him away, deserved to be rewarded with the start.

The problem is that Winks can’t do what Ndombele can and particularly in a team that already had Hojbjerg and Skipp, the Frenchman was needed as a matter of urgency.

His ability to keep the ball, dribble past his man, creating space for others and the creativity to thread a pass through to the attackers was something Tottenham desperately needed on the day.

Dele Alli worked hard in his own half but was disappointing in the other. His attacking game has always been about the finishing rather than the creating. Lucas showed plenty of willing and some of his running in the first half was electric, but it came with no end product.

Instead of playing, Ndombele was left to watch on from the sidelines.

Before kick-off, after walking along in deep conversation with the laughing Pierluigi Gollini, he had purposefully sought out his compatriot Patrick Vieira, the Palace boss, to speak to him in the dugout.

Tottenham fans will see the former midfielder as an Arsenal man, but for Ndombele he would have been a World Cup-winning midfield inspiration for him as a youngster.

It’s difficult to see how Ndombele would not have inspired Tottenham to be better than they were.

Gil almost got on the pitch – twice – before Tanganga’s red card and before Palace’s second goal. Both times Espirito Santo changed his mind.

“He didn’t come on because I didn’t decide to put him on first,” said the Spurs boss. “Like you say, I think you saw, our idea previously was just the right moment, then the precise moment we’re to make the sub we’re made one man less and we had to find the balance of the team again, to go for a defender, so the decision was made based on that.”

Unfortunately for Espirito Santo, that defender was Ben Davies and the Welshman gave away the penalty that opened the scoring for the hosts.

Gil is one of Spain’s highest-rated young attacking players and during his loan spell at Eibar, he proved that even at one of La Liga’s strugglers he could create more chances than most, which makes it all the more bewildering he never made it on to the pitch after the obvious defender change.

Espirito Santo will be questioning his players tonight but he hopefully will also question whether his own line-up did Tottenham any favours.

It’s very early in the tenure of a man who has just won the Premier League’s manager of the month award, which shows just how quickly football comes at you.

Espirito Santo needs to make sure that this performance was a blip. He’s previously bemoaned the need for more attacking improvement, even in the victories, which suggests he does want attractive football even if this line-up suggested otherwise.
Ndombele and Gil will both get their chance in midweek against Rennes and they need to convince the Spurs boss that he can trust them.

Some fans are ready to label Espirito Santo as Mourinho 2.0 and with derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal up next in the Premier League, sandwiching a Carabao Cup match against his old team Wolves, the solid start to the season could swiftly be undone.

Espirito Santo said he wants to make the Tottenham fans proud. To do so he needs much more than he and his players provided at Selhurst Park.

Crystal Palace v Tottenham

TEAM NEWS

Crystal Palace’s summer signings Odsonne Edouard and Michael Olise are in line to make their debuts.

Captain Luka Milivojevic could make his first appearance of the season, but Jeffrey Schlupp has a tight hamstring and won’t be risked.

Tottenham are without Giovani Lo Celso, Cristian Romero and Davinson Sanchez as they need to follow Covid-19 protocols having played for their countries.

Son Heung-min is a doubt after injuring his calf on international duty.

Oliver Skipp, Steven Bergwijn and Ryan Sessegnon also suffered injuries during the international break and will be assessed.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • Crystal Palace are without a victory in 12 Premier League meetings since a 2-1 win in January 2015.
  • Palace have won only one of their 16 league matches versus Spurs since returning to the Premier League in 2013.
  • Tottenham could earn a 13th top-flight away victory at Palace, the most by any club.

Crystal Palace

  • Crystal Palace are the first side to start a top-flight campaign with four consecutive London derbies. They are without a win in their last 11 such games in the Premier League.
  • Palace have had the fewest shots (20) and shots on target (five) of any team in the top flight this season.
  • Wilfried Zaha has failed to register a goal or an assist in 12 Premier League games against Tottenham.
  • Jordan Ayew celebrates his 30th birthday on the day of this match. He has gone 30 Premier League appearances without a goal.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • Tottenham have started a league campaign with three wins and three clean sheets for the first time in their history. The only teams to have begun a top-flight campaign with four wins and no goals against are Aston Villa in 1900-01, Ipswich Town in 1974-75, Chelsea in 2005-06 and Manchester City in 2015-16.
  • On the two previous occasions in which Spurs started a season with three clean sheets (1924-25 and 2005-06), they lost 2-0 in their fourth game.
  • They are aiming to win their opening four top-flight matches to a season for only the fourth time. They last did so in 2009-10.
  • Nuno Espirito Santo is looking to become only the second manager to oversee a clean sheet in his opening four Premier League matches in charge of a club, emulating Joe Royle at Everton in 1994.
  • Tottenham have scored in 18 successive league fixtures, the longest current streak in the top flight.

Football’s next big fight: A World Cup every two years

By Matt Slater, The Athletic

You can pack a lot into two years. It’s how long Boris Johnson has been prime minister, it’s the time explorers Lewis and Clark spent finding out what was west of the Mississippi and it’s the average life span of the North American opossum.

Continue reading “Football’s next big fight: A World Cup every two years”

Fans don’t want legacy clubs dominating or state-funded clubs, so can football ever be happy?

By Matt Slater, The Athletic

OK, so let me get this straight.

We don’t want blue-blood clubs, like Liverpool and Manchester United, dominating for decades at a time and we are deeply suspicious of how enthusiastically these aristocrats embraced financial fair play (aka, Operation Drawbridge). When it comes to winners, we want to spread it around a bit — we like disruption.

Continue reading “Fans don’t want legacy clubs dominating or state-funded clubs, so can football ever be happy?”

Emerson Royal – what Tottenham should expect out of right-back signed from Barcelona

By Charlie Eccleshare and Mark Carey

After Serge Aurier’s positive attacking play but shaky defending, and Japhet Tanganga’s solid but conservative performances at the start of this season, have Tottenham Hotspur now found the happy medium at right-back?

Continue reading “Emerson Royal – what Tottenham should expect out of right-back signed from Barcelona”

What makes Daniel. Levy tick?

By Jack Pitt-Brook and Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

When the Football Association opened St George’s Park in October 2012, the £100 million training facility was meant to be the pride of the English game. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge presided over the ceremony, Roy Hodgson’s England team trained there, and plenty of football dignitaries attended. One of them was Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, who a few weeks earlier had opened Spurs’ new training ground in Enfield.

Continue reading “What makes Daniel. Levy tick?”

Kane staying at Spurs a victory for the club yet his legacy will be different now

By Seb Stafford-Bloor, The Athletic

It’s a peculiar reflection on such a pervasive saga, but there was never much doubt about that. Manchester City never got close to meeting Daniel Levy’s valuation. That said, we never really found out what Levy’s valuation actually was, or even if he actually had one.

So, nothing has happened and yet it feels as if everything has, and it’s difficult to know what an appropriate response truly is.

For many, it will be relief, because Tottenham’s fanbase has surely grown weary of updates on a situation that had been locked at stalemate for some time. Even before Kane trotted around a golf course with Gary Neville, the issue of his future had been a staple of Spurs life and was almost as much a part of match day as the line-up or final score.

How often did the commentary during their games meander into a discussion about Kane’s future? How often did pundits straighten their skinny ties at full time, shift in their seats and muse openly about why he had – just had – to leave?

It’s been incredibly annoying for a really, really long time. It’s also one of the facts of modern football that very wealthy clubs tend to get exactly what they want, whenever they want it. Fair enough, then, that plenty of fans are now revelling in this temporary break to that trend, and that this should seem like some sort of victory to them.

Especially in this instance, because in the last few weeks the tone turned weird, becoming infused by the implication that Tottenham were obliged to sell, or – at its strangest — that Levy should be somehow helping City to break the British transfer record.

Spurs have been presented as the killjoy in this, haven’t they? At times, in certain places and specifically in relation to Levy, the caricaturing has been decidedly worse, but – more broadly – he and his club have been quietly damned for not allowing this Very Big Transfer to happen.

That’s been irritating, too. It’s not a new problem and it certainly didn’t start with Kane or even anyone from his generation, but unless you’re a supporter of a certain type of club, you’re not really allowed to have nice things and you’re made to feel unreasonable for wanting to keep what you have. So, yes, of course Tottenham supporters are happy. This is a win and a rare one, and that outcome is almost enough to distract from the active and often very clumsy part that Kane himself played in this episode.

On reflection, the mistake he made was underestimating the supporters’ understanding. Footballers and their representatives are often guilty of this; they’re far too afraid of being honest. At the end of last season, had he recorded an interview in which he said he was approaching his thirties, had suffered plenty of injuries, and that he was dispirited by the mood that had descended around Spurs, then plenty of supporters would have understood. Still resented it, most likely, but while deep down knowing the club was asking more of him than what was reasonable.

But everything has to have that subterfuge. Football’s lingua franca has become this tedious little code, which prevents anyone from ever saying exactly what they mean. No, Kane’s desire to leave could never have been popular, but there were more honourable ways to behave.

Better yet, his exit might have been softened by the perception that he was holding his club to account. In the right way, in a manner that most fans can only dream of.

Deep down, we’d all prefer to matter a little more to our club – for our anger to actually count for something, or for our refusal to buy a ticket to be noticed by someone other than the person who snaps up our vacated seat.

harry-kane

Kane came off the bench for Tottenham against Wolves on Sunday (Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Kane could have done that. Instead, his communication came in whispers and briefs, through conversations at weddings or through statements nobody believed.

It was easy to be annoyed by that. It’s more tempting, though, to be affronted by how basic the PR tactics often were. That’s where the real offence lay — not in the wanting to leave, but in this situation’s lack of finesse. It lasted to the end too, with that tweet announcing he was staying and claiming ownership of a situation that played out way above his head.

But while PR will never win hearts and minds, goals often do.

Kane won’t be part of the Europa Conference League group stage qualification play-off decider at home to Pacos de Ferreira tomorrow (Thursday), but he will almost certainly start when Watford visit on Sunday.

What’s the correct way to behave?

When Steven Gerrard flirted with Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea all those years ago, Liverpool fans responded over the years by pretending it had never happened.

They sang the same songs and flew the same flags and, in time, Gerrard almost managed to use that Chelsea dalliance to garnish his legend: “You know, feeling like I belong to this city. I always want to be able to go back to Liverpool and take my little kids to the matches and take my family to the matches. I didn’t want to cause upset to them in any way.”

That kind of saccharine reflection wouldn’t play quite so well in north London, but Kane hasn’t come anywhere close to making this right. There’s been no apology, no regret, no self-reflection. But does that even matter?

Maybe the more pertinent question is whether fans can really be expected to hold players accountable. Kane’s legacy at Spurs will be different now. Quietly, in subtle ways, but different nonetheless. But can the fans really be expected to allow that to colour the way they respond to him, or to the goals he’ll obviously score for the club in the coming weeks and months?

When this news broke on Wednesday afternoon, quite a few joked on social media that it would take little more than a goal for them to forgive Kane and cheerfully recognised how fickle that made them out to be. But what’s the alternative — pious silence? He’s a wonderful player and he makes this team immeasurably better in almost every way; it’s a terrible thing to ask a fan to choose between their club’s values and its success. It’s worse still when the player forcing that choice is one of their own.

And that’s really the great tragedy of this situation – the biggest cost is the quandary it creates.

Harry Kane should be made to earn back what he was so willing to throw away. But he won’t be.

Because he can’t.

Because I refuse to hold him to account and so do you.

Because we know that we need him and, ultimately, because it’s brilliant that he hasn’t been allowed to leave us behind.

Nuno’s Spurs look functional but it’s hard to see them flourishing without the clinical and creative Harry Kane

By Nick Miller, The Athletic

The inevitable came just before the 70th minute.

Harry Kane had spent the first two-thirds of the second game of the season where he didn’t plan to be: on the bench, but more specifically on the Tottenham Hotspur bench, potentially mulling over how different things might have been and where he might have been playing.

Continue reading “Nuno’s Spurs look functional but it’s hard to see them flourishing without the clinical and creative Harry Kane”

Pacos de Ferreira v Tottenham

Harry Kane will not play for Tottenham in Thursday’s Europa Conference League play-off first leg against Pacos de Ferreira.

The England striker, who reportedly wants to leave the club, was not part of the group who flew to Portugal on Wednesday for the game.

Kane, 28, also missed Sunday’s 1-0 win over Manchester City, the team who are trying to buy him.

He returned to training late after a post-Euro 2020 holiday in the USA.

“He is getting his fitness better each day,” said boss Nuno Espirito Santo. “He is going to work today, he is going to work tomorrow, he’ll join the group on Friday and Saturday we will make a decision [on whether he could face Wolves on Sunday].”

Nuno has confirmed none of the starting XI who beat Manchester City will face Pacos de Ferreira, who finished fifth in the Portuguese league last season.

“It’s important that all of them have real competition,” he said. “The players that started the game on Sunday are not going to be involved.”

The winner of this two-legged tie will go into the group stage of the inaugural third-tier European competition.

BBC Sport

After Mourinho, the Super League, a managerial circus and the Harry Kane sideshow, at last Spurs have hope again.

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

This wasn’t just about the three points. It wasn’t just about beating the champions. It wasn’t just about showing Harry Kane what he might be missing.

The roar of celebration that greeted the final whistle of Tottenham’s 1-0 win over Manchester City on Sunday felt like the release of two years of pent-up frustration.

Two years that have taken in the Mauricio Pochettino sacking, the draining Jose Mourinho era, the pandemic that started with Spurs furloughing their staff (a decision so widely condemned it had to quickly be reversed), joining the European Super League (another decision so widely condemned it had to quickly be reversed), the Carabao Cup final defeat when Spurs barely laid a glove on Sunday’s opponents, a humiliating 72-day search for a head coach and the seemingly endless speculation about Kane’s future that dominated the build-up to Sunday’s game and will continue afresh this week.

The simple fact that 62,000 fans were in the stadium felt miraculous enough. The noise at the start of the game was visceral, a reminder of how much this has been missed by so many people.

And to get a sense of how omnipresent the feeling of crisis has been at Spurs in recent times, cast your minds back to the last time Spurs played in front of a full crowd at home.

Yep, that was the night when things were so toxic that Eric Dier marched up into the stands to confront a fan that was abusing him and his brother. An evening when Spurs, with no recognised striker in the absence of the injured Kane and Son Heung-min, were knocked out of the FA Cup by the Premier League’s bottom club Norwich City.

Or cast your minds back to the last time Spurs played a competitive game at this stadium. That was the night when Spurs were beaten 2-1 at home by Aston Villa — a game that began with protests outside the stadium and ended with fans venting their frustration from the stands at the team and chairman Daniel Levy. All played out under the shadow of stories emerging that Kane wanted to leave the club.

Let’s be honest, it’s been shit.

But all that only made Sunday feel even more glorious. It was one of those performances where you spend the whole way home reliving your favourite moments and poring over the elements you most enjoyed.

Which was yours? Japhet Tanganga’s outstanding performance at right-back, where he buffeted both Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling out of the game? “He’s one of our own…” sang the Spurs fans, on a day when in the absence of Kane it had extra resonance. “Japhet was huge today,” head coach Nuno Espirito Santo said afterwards. “He faced too many one-v-ones against fantastic players and he dealt fantastic with the situation.”

Or how about Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez both performing with such calmness and class after suffering badly last season? Sanchez is said to have returned from helping Colombia reach the Copa America semi-final with a new-found confidence and authority, and it showed.

Maybe it was Oliver Skipp, another academy graduate like Tanganga slotting into the midfield alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, and getting the better of Ilkay Gundogan and Fernandinho as if it was the most natural thing in the world? In the lead-up to the game Skipp, still only 20, is said to have been completely unfazed by what appeared to be a hugely daunting assignment. Again, it showed.

Or perhaps what most caught your eye was Spurs’ front four of Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn, Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min playing with such synergy and purpose. Spurs’ laid traps for City all afternoon and then sprung forward on the counter at pace, with the latter three all ripping into the City defenders and Dele picking up the pieces behind them. All four of them had enjoyed promising pre-seasons and this was even better. Moura in particular looked like a man reborn — another form of redemption for fans who all too often have howled in frustration at his failure to get his head up or make the final pass.

But this wasn’t just about individuals, it was a huge team effort — a contrast from the second half of last season when Spurs often looked like a bunch of ringers chucked together for a game of Sunday league. “What a change in teamwork,” as one dressing-room source put it afterwards.

And it rang true. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Spurs did put in performances like this sometimes under Jose Mourinho — November’s 2-0 win over Manchester City, for instance, was a brilliantly controlled display that sent the team top of the Premier League table.

But doing so in front of a buzzing full house and for a manager who the fans seem to have taken an instant shine to felt extra special. Nuno was given a huge cheer before the game, and serenaded by chants of “Nunoooooo”. After the final whistle he high-fived supporters as he walked down the tunnel.

Not since the dreamy post-Ajax euphoria of the home game against Everton in May 2019 that felt more like a festival than a football match has there been an occasion like this for Spurs fans. No angst, no tension, no anger.

Just that warm glow that comes from a big win, and the sense that there might be more to come.

Who knows if there will be? This might all be a false dawn. By next week we might be mourning the sale of Kane and cursing dropped points at Wolves. Lucas might be running down blind allies; the angst and anger will be back.

But none of that mattered on Sunday. Even Kane was forgotten about for a period, even the pandemic and the days, weeks and months spent away from this stadium and seeing the same familiar faces was forgotten about.

In so many ways, this was a redemptive afternoon.

Tottenham v Man City

Tottenham head coach Nuno Espirito Santo says a decision will be made on Saturday as to whether Manchester City target Harry Kane will feature.

The striker has been heavily linked with a move to City, whose manager Pep Guardiola declared his interest in signing the 28-year-old last week.

Guardiola did not comment again this week but Kane wants to leave the club he joined as a schoolboy.

Spurs boss Nuno said: “He is here with us, a Tottenham player.”

The 47-year-old added: “I don’t have any concerns about trying to convince players to play for Spurs. It’s such a huge club, it’s such a fantastic club. We should be proud of being here.”

Nuno, set to take charge of his first competitive game at Tottenham against City, said he does expect to conduct business during the transfer window as he feels Spurs have “positions we need to balance for all of the year”.

TEAM NEWS

There are doubts that Spurs captain Kane will be physically ready for the season opener and mentally prepared, given the widespread speculation over his future.

He trained with the squad for the first time on Friday following a five-day quarantine period after returning late from his holiday.

Nuno said: “He joined the group today, he trained, we had a talk. Of course it is a private conversation, but everything is OK. He is preparing himself.

“We still have the session of tomorrow to decide. We have to think and we have tomorrow to make the decision.”

New Tottenham signings Cristian Romero and Bryan Gil could be involved.

City are without Phil Foden for up to four weeks due to the foot injury he suffered on England duty.

Kevin de Bruyne is also absent as a result of the ankle injury he sustained during Belgium’s Euro 2020 quarter-final loss against Italy.

MATCH FACTS

Head-to-head

  • After winning only three of the first 27 Premier League meetings, Manchester City have won 13 of the past 21.
  • Spurs are yet to concede a goal in their three successive wins over City at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in all competitions. City manager Pep Guardiola has never lost four away games in a row to one opponent in his managerial career.

Tottenham Hotspur

  • This will be Nuno Espirito Santo’s first game as Tottenham manager. Andre Villas-Boas is the only one of Spurs’ last six bosses, including caretakers, not to win his first Premier League match in charge.
  • Tottenham have only won five of their past 17 Premier League matches without Harry Kane. One of those victories was 2-0 at home to Manchester City in February 2020.
  • If Hugo Lloris plays, he will equal Darren Anderton’s club record of 299 Premier League appearances.
  • Son Heung-min has scored six goals in all competitions against Manchester City, including in all three meetings at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Manchester City

  • When Manchester City lost 2-0 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on 21 November, they were 11th in the table and eight points behind league leaders Spurs. They finished the season six places and 24 points above Tottenham.
  • City can set a new top-flight record on Sunday of 11 successive victories in their opening match of the season, surpassing Aston Villa’s run from 1891-92 to 1900-01.
  • Manchester City last failed to win their opening fixture of a Premier League season when they drew 0-0 against Spurs at White Hart Lane in 2010-11. They haven’t lost their opening match of a top-flight season since 2008-09, when they were beaten at Villa.
  • Manager Pep Guardiola has lost four away matches against Spurs, the joint most of his managerial career along defeats at Chelsea and Liverpool.

BBC Sport

Kane saga rumbles on but Spurs players feel sharper under Nuno and Gil can be a fan favourite

By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic

After a tumultuous summer involving a 72-day search for a head coachthe ongoing Harry Kane saga and some very promising signings, the real action gets underway on Sunday.

Last season was similarly dramatic for Tottenham Hotspur as they sacked Jose Mourinho on the eve of the Carabao Cup final, joined then unjoined the Super League, and only stumbled into Europe in the final minutes of the final day of the campaign.

The Athletic looks at what the coming season might bring…

What would be a good season?

This feels like a bit of a copy and paste from last year, but a trophy or a top-four finish, or preferably both, would be pretty dandy.

Clambering back into the Champions League is the priority for the club, given the financial and reputational damage of missing out for two years and having to play in the Europa Conference League this season. Doing so is not a great look for a club with Spurs’ ambitions — it’s the footballing equivalent of a teenager being spotted out with their parents on a Saturday night.

Ending the 13-year trophy drought would be nice and after the last couple of years, having a bit of fun would go down well too.

What would be a bad one?

Umm, failing to achieve any of the above.

A third straight season outside of the Champions League would be pretty damaging, especially for a club that was slated to be a founding member of the Super League.

They need to stop the rot or face up to the emergence of a Spurs-less Big Four hoovering up the Champions League places, as happened for most of the 2000s.

What’s the biggest unknown about this team?

Probably the new manager Nuno Espirito Santo.

Broadly speaking, he did a great job at Wolverhampton Wanderers but the expectations there were very different. Nuno has managed at big clubs before but not since Porto in 2017, and he knows he has a big rebuilding job on his hands.

He’s never won a trophy as a manager — with a stronger squad, has his time arrived?

Who will be a star by the end of the campaign?

Bryan Gil (pictured above) arrives with a reputation for providing non-stop excitement, and he is someone I can’t wait to see live.

Still only 20, Gil is a direct, skilful dribbler who offers something a bit different. In Spain, he is regarded as one of the nation’s brightest prospects along with Barcelona’s Pedri and Ansu Fati. Once he settles and likely moves over to the right to make way for Son Heung-min on the left, Gil could be one of the Premier League’s breakout stars this season.

The most common type of goal this team will score is…

Kane drops into the space between midfield and attack, threads a pass through to Son Heung-min who finishes cooly. Or perhaps Son drifts wide and finds a late-arriving Kane in the box. Or Kane feeds an overlapping Sergio Reguilon or, if he stays, Serge Aurier to fizz a low cross into the box for someone to attack.

Should Kane leave… well, then your guess is as good as mine.

Thing other fans or pundits say about this team that annoys you most…

That Eric Dier or Harry Winks are useless. They have their limitations but have given their all for the team and in an age when that is so applauded — eg, Erik Lamela — it seems strange that fans are so quick to get on their backs.

How safe is the manager on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (Pep Guardiola)?

Er, let’s go with five.

The problem Nuno has is that he doesn’t have the kind of track record that will make fans say, “Hold on, let’s give this guy time if results don’t start off well.”

He really needs to hit the ground running, and even then, he’s only on a two-year contract without massive wages so would be relatively cheap to sack.

On the flip side, there should be understanding that this is a Spurs team in transition. So far, his calm, dignified approach has impressed supporters and the club’s hierarchy.

Tell us something you’ve been hearing…

Linked to the above… generally, the atmosphere at Hotspur Way is very positive at the moment. Nuno doesn’t speak very much to the players outside of matches and training sessions, but they’re enjoying working with him.

Many say they feel much fitter already after losing their sharpness under Mourinho.

Who will be the first player the crowd get on the backs of?

Dier and Winks will be up there. Moussa Sissoko, Serge Aurier and Davinson Sanchez also cop quite a bit of flak. But it’s been so long since we had full crowds at games that maybe fans will come back so pleased to be there that they won’t give their players such a hard time…

Maybe not.

Anyway, enjoy the season! Can’t imagine it will be dull.

Nutty Spurs 2021/22 FFL


Time is running out to join the “Nutty Spurs (Gooner Free Zone)” 2021/2022 Fantasy Football League.

Simply use the link below and you’ll be added automatically after you’ve entered the game.

https://fantasy.premierleague.com/leagues/auto-join/tlfub7

League Code: tlfub7

There’s only one rule and the clue is in the name – No Gooners may be selected for your squad at any time during the season.

Good luck and COYFS!

Debunking Harry Kane’s PR statement

Morning All, here’s a good thread (with some assumptions, of course) on THE STATEMENT and why it doesn’t quite add up. The author has run through various media reports etc chronologically, building a timeline of events. Added to this was the Telegraph report (16 July) whilst HK was still on England duty saying that his England colleagues ‘believed he may not turn up to training’ – either a very accurate shot in the dark, or the result of some pre-briefing.

My take is that the key to all the problems is the supposed ‘Gentleman’s Agreement’, and the very different interpretations that each party could read into it, in the absence of anything concrete being added, in writing, to the actual 6 year(!) contract he signed.

Kane (and his team) naively thought that a big bid, or a decent bid or whatever the words being used actually were, came in then he would be ‘allowed to leave’. For wantaway Harry, £100m fits that description. But can you imagine Levy, the consummate negotiator, even verbally agreeing to an agreement that leaves him in a position not to be able to maximise the return of his biggest asset?

More likely is that Levy used words like the ‘right’ bid – and this is where the interpretations diverge. To Levy, Kane is worth at least another 30, 40, 50 (?) million more than £100m. To be fair that’s a helluva lot of extra money, especially when compared tot he financial hit we’ve taken over the last few years (no CL, Pandemic).

So more fool Harry for sending his brother in to bat against a wily operator like Levy and not expecting googlies, bouncers and yorkers to come down the pitch at him at a later date.

David Allen Green (Contract Lawyer) has written a great, short thread on the contract approaches by Grealish and Kane: https://twitter.com/davidallengreen/status/1423569983427256322?s=21

I’m not as emotional about Harry’s ‘betrayal’ as some. In the end, footballers do what they believe is in their best interests, just like the rest of us. I rather see him as a bit hapless and badly advised. I was happy for him to leave before as I believed it would help our rebuild in the long run. I’m also ok if he stays, as I believe he’ll knuckle back down.

Lautaro, Vlahovic, Isak, Abraham: who could Tottenham target if Kane does leave.

By Mark Carey, The Athletic

The Harry Kane transfer saga looks likely to rumble on over the coming weeks. As things stand, the signs don’t look too good for Tottenham Hotspur fans, with Kane failing to report for pre-season training in an attempt to force a way out of the club.

As The Athletic have recently reported, Spurs remain staunchly devoted to keeping their most prized asset. Managing director of football Fabio Paratici is not believed to be considering a replacement striker this summer — such is the stance that Spurs are taking on the Kane situation.

However, things can change very quickly in football, so rather than sit back and watch the drama unfold, we thought that we could look at who manager Nuno Espirito Santo could look to sign, should Kane get his wish and be on his way.

Spurs are currently not in the strongest position if they did need to buy, given that they are unable to offer Champions League football to any potential signing. Therefore, the pool in which to consider might have to be altered slightly, but let’s take a look at some of the feasible options…


Dusan Vlahovic

We start with a player who has already attracted interest from many of the top European clubs this summer, and someone who is believed to be admired from afar by Paratici. The 21-year-old Vlahovic had a breakout year in Serie A, scoring 21 goals in 37 league games for Fiorentina last season — the fourth highest of any player in the Italian league.

At 6ft 3in, Vlahovic’s strong, powerful build would have little issue with the physical demands of the Premier League as he regularly enjoys battling against his opposition number, holding up the play, and competing in a high volume of headers as Fiorentina’s key target man, with his “aerial duels quantity” rated by analytics platform smarterscout as 91 out of 99.

Smarterscout profiles break down parts of a player’s game into different performance, skill and style metrics, and then give scores based on how often they perform a given action or how effective they are compared with others playing in their position, producing an overall rating between zero and 99.

He has shown himself to be more of a traditional No 9 — a target man who will score you goals. With that in mind, as you can see below in his smarterscout profile, he does not get too involved in the build-up play for a player in his position (link-up volume 22 out of 99), and is less of a creator than Kane with just three assists to his name last season.

However, give him the opportunities to score and he will duly oblige with a smart variety of finishing.

It is worth noting that six of Vlahovic’s 21 goals were from the penalty spot. Therefore, his non-penalty goal return of 0.46 per 90 is not quite as overwhelming — the 16th-best in Serie A — but does represent a strong return when considering that he played in a Fiorentina side who finished 13th in Serie A. The shots he does take are also in high-quality areas in the box, ensuring that he does his best work within the width of the goalposts. 

You also have to consider Vlahovic’s age in the equation. At 21, an investment in the Serbian could be a very good piece of business if he were able to transfer his performances to the Premier League.

That “if” is obviously the kicker — it might represent a slight gamble as Vlahovic is yet to show such form year in, year out, given his tender age. You would be wary of putting too much pressure on him as a Kane replacement, but he is certainly a huge talent worth considering.


Alexander Isak

Much like Vlahovic, Alexander Isak is an exciting young talent that has attracted a lot of attention across Europe. Despite being only 21, Isak has already had spells playing in Germany, the Netherlands and his native Sweden — although he did not enjoy the most productive spell in the Bundesliga, managing just 119 minutes and no goals for Borussia Dortmund. 

However, the Sweden international has enjoyed a far more prolific period since moving to Spain, scoring 17 goals in 34 league games for Real Sociedad last season. With a rate of 0.65 non-penalty goals per 90 — the fourth-highest in La Liga and level with Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez — you can understand why Isak has been getting so many plaudits, particularly after he impressed for Sweden at Euro 2020, too. 

There is a maturity to Isak’s play that defies his age, with intelligent timing of his runs that allow him to get into good goalscoring areas. The quality of the shots he takes (0.19 xG per shot) is the second-highest in La Liga for players with 10 or more goals last season.

Put simply, he has good movement, gets into good areas and often takes his chances. 

You can see such attacking efficiency highlighted in Isak’s smarterscout profile below, but it is also interesting to see what he offers in possession. For a player in his position, he performs at about an average rate in how often he gets involved in the build-up for Real Sociedad (link-up play volume 50 out of 99), but when he does receive it he is likely to run with the ball at his feet to evade pressure from the opponent (carry and dribble volume 91 out of 99) — a trait that is deemed a little less common for someone who is 6ft 4in. 

Parallels with Vlahovic may continue here. Isak has certainly enjoyed a breakout year but we are yet to know whether he can maintain such goalscoring performances in the long term. Evidence from last season suggests he has all the tools to go up another level and become a complete striker — but it is clear that a potential purchase would be for a player who is far less established in his career than someone like Kane. To complicate things a little more, Isak signed a new contract until 2026 earlier this summer which would mean that any purchase would be expensive if not unlikely.


Tammy Abraham

You get the feeling that a domino effect will ensue should any of the clubs across Europe land their striker target — and Tammy Abraham looks likely to be involved in this prospective chain reaction.

It is easy to forget that Abraham is still only 23 and arguably yet to reach his peak years, but there is no doubt that this is a crucial summer for the Englishman, as it is clear that he is surplus to requirements for Chelsea manager, Thomas Tuchel. Abraham has been linked with a number of Premier League clubs as he searches for regular minutes, including West Ham, Arsenal and more recently Aston Villa — where he enjoyed a productive loan spell in the 2018-19 season — with many aware of the skillset that he has to offer in attack. 

If you look over the most recent two seasons, Abraham’s non-penalty goals per 90 do stack up well, with a rate of 0.58 per 90 marginally edging Kane’s 0.56 per 90 since the 2019-20 campaign. His 0.63 expected goals per 90 is bettered by no one in this period, which shows how often he gets into high-quality positions to score.

The key point to note in relation to such numbers is that Abraham does not offer as much in his all-round play, certainly compared with Kane. This is highlighted below in his smarterscout profile which shows him to be below average for a striker in his volume of actions in possession. Similarly, he isn’t one to create for others and get the ball into dangerous areas himself (xG from ball progression 12 out of 99). 

Instead, he is a striker who relies on good movement and goalscoring instinct, often coming alive in the penalty area (receptions in the opposition box: 88 out of 99). Ninety-two per cent of Abraham’s shots have been inside the box since the start of the 2019-20 season — the 10th-highest of any centre-forward in that period. That shoots up to 97 per cent in the fewer minutes he accrued last season — the highest rate of any striker in 2020-21.

Overall, perhaps one to put in the “unlikely” category in terms of a move for Abraham, not least because there are so many other Premier League clubs looking to land his signature and Chelsea and Tottenham’s fairly frosty relationship. Notwithstanding, he certainly does offer huge attacking quality and if ever a move were to transpire, you would be guaranteed goals.


Lautaro Martinez

Lautaro is another player who has attracted interest on the other side of north London, with Arsenal exploring a move for the Inter Milan striker, but Spurs could swoop in if they were to reinvest the money generated by a potential Kane sale. It is believed that the 23-year-old is open to the prospect of a move to the Premier League if Inter were happy to sell him.

Inter would certainly be reluctant to let Lautaro go in the same summer as club strike-partner Romelu Lukaku, who has been the focus of intense interest from Champions League winners Chelsea. Furthermore, Inter go into the new season looking to defend the Scudetto and can offer Champions League football to Lautaro which neither of the north London rivals can. However, with Inter continuing to adjust to a more sustainable financial model this summer, they may take up the opportunity to generate large fees for their prized assets.

Lautaro’s attacking numbers were the best of his career last season, with 17 goals in 38 games helping Inter to the Serie A title. You can see how strong his attacking output was from his smarterscout profile, with his actions being key to his team creating chances (xG from shot creation: 79 out of 99), but also getting the ball into dangerous areas to score (xG from ball progression: 72 out of 99). 

It is clear that his preferred method to progress the ball is through his ball-carrying and close control to drive upfield (carry and dribble volume: 77 out of 99) more so than his eye for a threaded pass. His dribbling quality is also very strong, with smarterscout’s duel rating — which considers the quality of the opponent faced — giving Lautaro a dribble rating of 89 out of 99.

Noticeable too is Lautaro’s propensity to frequently get a shot away, given the touches he has (shot volume: 93 out of 99). According to data from Statsbomb via fbref, the Argentina international averaged 3.7 shots per 90 minutes last season, putting him in the top seven per cent of all forwards in Serie A.

An additional desirable attribute is how busy Lautaro is out of possession. As you can see from his smarterscout profile, he is defensively active and often gets close to his man with plenty of pressing from the front (defending intensity: 74 out of 99). He is also adept at reading the game, picking up plenty of loose balls and blocking passes to start a new attack (ball recoveries and interceptions: 85 out of 99).

Taken together, a move for Lautaro would make a lot of sense with what he could offer in his all-round game, and still with plenty of room to improve. Fabio Paratici will know a lot about Lautaro from his time in Italy, with little doubt over his quality.

It is perhaps worth noting that Lautaro enjoyed his most successful season as part of a striking duo alongside Lukaku in a trademark Antonio Conte 3-5-2 system, meaning he would be less adept at leading the line alone. But as Nuno Espirito Santo works out his best formation during pre-season, you would be sure that Spurs would find a way to maximise Lautaro’s talent if he were to make the switch to this part of north London. 


Patrik Schick

Schick might not be an option that will inspire too many fans but he is worthy of consideration. The 25-year-old enjoyed a productive Euro 2020 campaign with Czech Republic, scoring five goals in five games across the tournament including that goal against Scotland.

It would be too reactive to consider Schick’s quality simply based on his summer performances, but as we profiled in The Radar before Euro 2020, the Bayer Leverkusen forward does have plenty to offer in attack.

While he enjoyed a less successful spell at Roma — scoring just eight times in 58 games in all competitions — Schick has since built back his reputation in Germany at RB Leipzig and now Bayer Leverkusen, where he scored nine goals in 29 Bundesliga games last season which equated to a respectable 0.43 goals per 90.

At 6ft 2in, Schick is something of a target man that more pacey players can play off. As you can see from his smarterscout profile, he does look to drop deep and get involved in the build-up, playing shorter passes to knock it off to a nearby team-mate (link-up play volume: 67 out of 99), rather than playing searching balls forward for runners in behind (progressive passing: 6 out of 99). 

As shown by his smarterscout profile, Schick’s role is to be the focal point of the attack in dangerous areas (receptions in the opposition box: 87 out of 99), and despite scoring from nearly 50 yards in Euro 2020, you can see below from his shot map that he predominantly looks to get on the end of passes in high-quality, central areas of the box.

Think of Schick as a player in the mould of Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin. Not the most prolific striker, but one that certainly has an eye for goal, strong aerial presence, and surprisingly good feet for someone of his height. He can also act as a useful foil to attract defenders towards him which allows others to exploit the space in behind.

He might not be the answer to replace Kane if it were to happen, but Schick could offer something different to Spurs’ forward line if considered alongside other attacking options.


Duvan Zapata

Another player who looks likely to be embroiled in the potential striker chain reaction across Europe. For all intents and purposes, it would look most probable that any signing of Zapata would be from Inter Milan this summer, should Lukaku leave for pastures new.

But things change very quickly in football, and with Paratici’s connections in the Italian league, Zapata would have to be in the conversation as a potential signing, having scored 56 goals in 102 Serie A games for Atalanta since joining in 2018.

Last season saw a return of 15 league goals and a career-high nine assists for Zapata, which shows his ability to be a goalscorer and creator for the team — as Kane is for Spurs. This is highlighted below in the Colombian’s smarterscout profile, which shows him elite in generating goalscoring chances for his team (xG from shot creation: 98 out of 99) and getting the ball into dangerous areas with his creativity (xG from ball progression: 97 out of 99).

Stylistically, Zapata is keen to get at his man and run with the ball to progress it upfield (carry and dribble volume: 87 out of 99) rather than play raking passes in behind when coming to collect the ball (progressive passing: 14 out of 99). Indeed, according to Statsbomb via fbref, Zapata attempted 3.4 dribbles per 90 in Serie A last season, putting him in the top 10 per cent of forwards in the Italian league.

His success in beating his man is also strong. Looking at smarterscout’s duel ratings — which account for the strength of the opponent faced — Zapata’s dribble rating of 66 out of 99 suggests he gets the better of his opponent more often than not when attempting to run with the ball.

Interestingly, considering Zapata’s powerful physique, you would imagine that his aerial presence would be stronger for a player of his calibre. Instead, his aerial duel ratings from open play (21 out of 99) and set pieces (38 out of 99) place him below average.

One key consideration is how attractive a move to north London could be to Zapata, with Atalanta yet again qualifying for the Champions League this season — which Spurs are unable to currently offer. This links with another factor which is Zapata’s age. At 30 years old, his opportunities to play at the highest level of club football are precious.

Considering his age, the Colombian would not provide much of a long-term investment and very little resale value — much like Danny Ings, who joined Aston Villa from Southampton yesterday. Nevertheless, if Kane were to leave and Zapata were to be interested in a move to the Premier League, the Colombian could provide a short-term fix for Spurs to cushion the blow from Kane’s departure.

Taken together, Spurs do have options to consider in the transfer market if they were forced into looking for a replacement for Kane. Their stance remains unchanged in holding onto their star striker, but it would be wise to at least survey the options across Europe if the unthinkable were to happen. 

This shortlist could be a healthy start.

Alfie Devine: The Tottenham teenager creating a buzz signs first professional deal

By Charlie Eccleshare and Adam. Crafton, The Athletic

It was the morning after the night before, and Alfie Devine was reflecting on an eventful evening in which he had been sent off for Tottenham Hotspur’s under-23s against Chelsea. Devine was given the red for a bad tackle on Danny Drinkwater, which prompted a furious reaction from the Chelsea midfielder and led to a melee between the two sets of players.

Continue reading “Alfie Devine: The Tottenham teenager creating a buzz signs first professional deal”

What if the Premier League had spending caps for clubs like La Liga?

By Keiran Maguire, The Athletic

The Premier League is one of the UK’s most successful exports and everyone in it makes money, right? Well, the first part of that statement is true, with the broadcast rights the envy of the rest of the football world and only fans in five countries (North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan, Moldova and Turkmenistan) are denied the chance to watch Norwich vs Burnley on a Monday night.

Continue reading “What if the Premier League had spending caps for clubs like La Liga?”

Explained: The latest on PL probe into Manchester City FFP claims, its implications for transparency and what next?

By Matt Slater, The Athletic

Two and a half years is a long time in football. Turn the clock back that far and you will find Bournemouth in the top half of the Premier League, Frank Lampard’s Derby County vying for promotion from the Championship and Southend United mid-table in League One. Time can be cruel.

But as Lord Justice Males noted in a ruling published this week, time is relative — two and a half years is plenty for some things to happen but not nearly enough for others.

Referring to the Premier League’s probe into allegations that Manchester City may have disguised investment from owner Sheikh Mansour as sponsorship revenue — allegations the club’s chief executive Ferran Soriano strongly denied — the judge wrote: “This is an investigation which commenced in December 2018. It is surprising, and a matter of legitimate public concern, that so little progress has been made after two and a half years — during which, it may be noted, the club has twice been crowned Premier League champions.”

During the same period, City have also been found guilty of cheating on their Financial Fair Play (FFP) returns by UEFA and thrown out of European football, only to overturn that verdict at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Furthermore, they have won an FA Cup and three League Cups, lost a Champions League final and their parent company has bought stakes in four more clubs in four different countries to bring the City Football Group family to 10.

They have used their time profitably… well, they actually lost £125 million in 2019-20, but they certainly packed a lot in.

The Premier League’s investigation into those FFP claims? Not so much, although we have just received a progress report of sorts, which brings us back to Lord Justice Males and a ruling that does not tell us much more about Manchester City vs the Premier League but speaks volumes about football’s view on how much the public should know about its disputes.

The short answer to that is “as little as possible”. The good news is the Court of Appeal disagrees, to an extent, but before we get into a debate about the balance between maintaining faith in the English judicial system and the desire to settle disputes quickly, quietly and cheaply, let us wind back three Christmases…

Why is the league investigating Manchester City? 

In November 2018, Der Spiegel published a series of incendiary stories based on emails stolen by the Portuguese whistleblower Rui “Football Leaks” Pinto.

Over a week, the German outlet claimed City’s majority owner Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and deputy prime minister of the UAE, had secretly been topping up the club’s revenues via inflated deals with Emirati sponsors. Der Spiegel claimed he would then reimburse these sponsors, all of whom have close links to the Emirati government, out of his own pocket.

Sheikh Mansour did this, it wrote, to keep free-spending City from breaching UEFA’s limit for permitted losses between 2012 and 2016. Several sponsorship deals were cited and there were also claims about elaborate ruses the club used to hide costs, such as some of manager Roberto Mancini’s salary and the players’ image rights payments.

Describing the emails as “criminally obtained”, the club has always denied any wrongdoing and claimed the hacks are part of a deliberate attempt to smear City’s reputation.

UEFA announced it would look into the allegations almost immediately and opened a formal investigation into possible FFP breaches on March 7, 2019. The Premier League has slightly different FFP rules to the European body — clubs are allowed to lose significantly more money, for example — but the same principles apply. It issued a statement the following day to say it was investigating the matter, too.

When the case reached the adjudicatory chamber of UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body in February 2020, City’s lawyers said Der Spiegel had redacted some of the emails and quoted them all out of context. The chamber disagreed and found City guilty of misstating their accounts to the tune of more than £200 million and failing to cooperate with European football’s financial watchdogs. It banned City from European competition for two years and fined them €30 million.

But five months later, in July, a three-man CAS panel cleared City of the most serious charge — overstating revenues — by a majority verdict and lifted the two-year ban.

This panel decided some of UEFA’s case against the Premier League side was “time-barred”, in that the events happened outside the governing body’s own five-year statute of limitations, and the rest was simply “not established”.

In short, sport’s highest court believed City when it said the schemes that appeared to be outlined in the emails were not carried out. And while City did not really try to prove their case to the UEFA panel, they threw everything they had at CAS: numerous witnesses, audits, a forensic accountant and sworn testimony from Sheikh Mansour.

UEFA, on the other hand, was left with half a dozen seemingly incriminating emails but no conclusive proof that the scams they described actually occurred. The club, however, was found guilty of not cooperating with the investigation. As that was considered a lesser offence, the fine was reduced to €10 million.

What about the Premier League investigation? 

Until this week, we had no clue what was happening with it. In fact, some wondered if the league had quietly dropped it.

But then four judgments appeared on the British and Irish Legal Institute’s website and we suddenly know quite a lot.

How much? This much:

  • In August 2019, the league issued a disciplinary complaint against the club and asked City to release documents; the club refused
  • In October 2019, the league set up an arbitration tribunal to enforce that request; the club challenged the tribunal’s jurisdiction and impartiality
  • In February 2020, the league changed its rules to ensure impartiality and the tribunal restated the demand for disclosure
  • In June 2020, the tribunal rejected a fresh challenge from the club, who then filed an arbitration claim at Companies Court
  • In July and November 2020, the tribunal again rejected arguments from the club and issued a final demand for disclosure but the order was stayed pending court proceedings
  • In March 2021, Justice Moulder rejected the club’s arguments about the league tribunal, denied it permission to appeal and informed City she intended to publish these decisions; she did, however, give City permission to apply for an appeal on the publication issue, which City accepted
  • In April 2021, Lord Justice Males accepted the appeal, and it was heard on June 30 by him, Sir John Flaux, the Chancellor of the High Court, and Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Master of the Rolls
  • And on Tuesday, July 20, their rejection of City’s appeal was published, along with Justice Moulder’s rulings from March

Blimey, they didn’t drop it, then… but what does it mean?  

Most of the above is about whether the league can compel City to release documents for its investigation and then take the matter to an arbitration tribunal, as per its rule book, with the more recent court action being about how transparent this process should be. And it is that last argument that gives this saga its real and much wider significance.

The cynical amongst you could be forgiven for thinking, “Why should I care about the rich owners of Manchester City choosing to spend their money on an attritional legal battle with the league when everyone thinks this process will end up with the club getting another fine for non-cooperation?”

But what if we told you there is a plot twist: the league supported the appeal against the publication of Justice Moulder’s findings.

Just let that sink in.

City spent a year stalling on a request to supply documents and information for an FFP investigation and then took the league to court, claiming the league’s procedures were biased and illegal. The league changed the process for selecting arbitrators for its tribunals — so that each party in a dispute could choose one member from a list of experts and those two would then select a third member to chair the tribunal — but contested, and won, every other argument.

When City asked the Court of Appeal to keep all this secret, however, the league agreed, with one condition: City let the league tell any other club it was intending to take to arbitration that Companies Court had already backed its approach, so appealing to them was a waste of time and money.

Sir Julian Flaux described this as the Premier League trying to have “the best of both worlds” — preserving the confidentiality of the arbitration process but being able to break that confidentiality to scare future litigants off — and added it was “commercially understandable”.

Understandable but bloody cheeky, sunshine.

“The fact the PL supports the club’s appeal so that both parties to the arbitration are opposed to publication is of some weight but should lead to the court being careful not simply to accept the parties’ wishes without scrutiny,” wrote Sir Flaux.

“As Sir Christopher Staughton said… ‘when both sides agreed that information should be kept from the public, that was when the court had to be most vigilant’.”

Lord Justice Males added: “If the judgment is to be available as a potentially important precedent, it must be available to all.”

Ouch.

But why wouldn’t the league want this ruling to be published?

Newcastle United fans might have an opinion on this and it is interesting that one of the first lawyers to comment publicly was Nick De Marco QC, the man who is currently acting for Newcastle in their dispute with the league over the stalled Saudi takeover.

In two tweets, De Marco noted that the Court of Appeal cited a recent ruling which backed publication of a judgment in the Newcastle case as a precedent for doing so here:https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1418086372095692803&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Ftwitter.com%2F&sessionId=558f05bc054bb3cec6fb05c71f43eab5c3212949&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

That there is public interest in these disputes is, well, indisputable: Manchester City v UEFA; the English Football League v Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and others; and Newcastle v the Premier League have been among the biggest stories The Athletic has covered over the past two years.

The lack of transparency in the Newcastle saga alone has sparked complaints from local politicians and a protest outside the Houses of Parliament.

As former sports minister Tracey Crouch MP put it in her Fan-Led Review update this week: “It is absolutely evident from our sessions that the football authorities have lost the trust and confidence of the fans as have, in a number of cases, clubs themselves.”

So what is the league playing at? Is it scared of the clubs? 

There is no doubt that the league is frightened of being dragged through the courts. After all, one of its biggest crises occurred when Sheffield United tried to sue it for not deducting points from West Ham over the Carlos Tevez affair in 2007.

Given the fact that one of Der Spiegel’s hacked Manchester City emails was from the club lawyer saying his chief executive “would rather spend £30 million on the 50 best lawyers in the world to sue them for the next 10 years” than settle with UEFA, it is not an unreasonable fear for the Premier League or any other competition organiser to have.

And City have taken the league to court yet still the league preferred secrecy.

The more charitable assessment of why this is the case is that the league, and every other sports body, strongly believes arbitration is better than litigation. The latter involves going to court, where a court-appointed judge, or judges, will decide who wins. It is expensive, slow and, except in special circumstances, public. Both parties can also appeal court rulings, which adds to the duration and costs.

Arbitration, on the other hand, is a non-judicial process in which the parties choose the panel and venue. It is quicker, cheaper and there is no automatic right of appeal. It is also confidential.

The Premier League would appear to take a fairly absolutist approach to that last point, believing its disciplinary rules hinge on the clubs having total faith in them, which means trusting that their dirty laundry never sees the light of day, or should only be made public at the end of a process via the publication of a carefully-worded judgment.

To be fair, that is a widely-shared view of how arbitration should work. The EFL, for example, does not want any of its hearings held in public but it has got into the good habit of publishing every judgment, whether it wins or loses.

It is also what the courts believe should happen. Justice Moulder in the City v Premier League case and His Honour Judge Pelling in the Newcastle v Premier League case were both happy to maintain the cloak of confidentiality for their court hearings but were adamant neither City nor the league would be allowed to bind their hands in terms of publication.

As Justice Moulder put it: “The public interest in ensuring appropriate standards of fairness in the conduct of arbitrations militates in favour of a public judgment… the desirability of public scrutiny as a means by which confidence in the courts can be maintained and the administration of justice made transparent applies here as in other areas of court activity.”

She gave short shrift to the arguments of City’s superstar barrister Lord Pannick QC that publication would lead to the disclosure of “significant confidential information” or damage the club’s reputation, hindering its ability to sign new commercial deals, because the league had already announced it was investigating the club, this had been reported by the media, a reasonable reader would infer that an investigation probably does involve requesting information and the existence of this dispute with the league would come up in any potential commercial partner’s due diligence.

On these points, Justice Moulder was strongly backed by the Court of Appeal judges, who described Pannick’s arguments as “fanciful” and “unconvincing”.

But before Newcastle fans start booking tickets and time off for their next arbitration hearing — should that ever happen — it is important to note that these judges are not saying arbitration should be as transparent as litigation.

On the contrary, as Lord Justice Males put it when discussing the possibility that publishing judgments might lead to the “business community” losing faith in arbitration: “Commercial Court judges can be trusted to ensure that genuinely confidential information is not published… (and) publication of such judgments will confirm the pro-arbitration stance consistently taken by the English courts.”

What next then for the City investigation? 

Ah, having briefly popped above the surface to tell us it is still out there, that particular submarine has gone dark again.

As the judges pointed out, there really was very little actual information about the state of the investigation in their judgments, beyond City’s steadfast refusal to hand over documents, the league accusing City’s procedural challenges as “tactical” (about which Justice Moulder added she had not made any judgment) and a reference to City saying publication would be detrimental as they were in talks over a commercial deal earlier this year but that was no longer the case by late June.

What we can say is the league should not run into the same “time-barred” issues as UEFA, as it has no five-year rule, and it also has the benefit of the additional emails Der Spiegel published after City were cleared by CAS last summer.

Those emails appeared to add more weight to the suggestion that City’s main sponsor, Etihad, was substantially reimbursed for its generous support of the club by Sheikh Mansour. It is a suggestion the club has flatly rejected and UEFA has not revisited.

There are fresh allegations surrounding the topped-up sponsorships trick in this weekend’s Mail on Sunday. Many may feel they have seen this film before.

It is also the case that the Premier League’s allowable losses limit — £105 million over three years — is about four times as generous as UEFA’s and City, once all the permitted deductions are made, might not break that ceiling even if the most serious of Der Spiegel’s allegations are proven.

What is more likely is that City might eventually be charged with a charge akin to misleading the league or simply failing to cooperate with an FFP inquiry.

But as Lord Justice Males noted: “The Club has been anxious to emphasise before us that ‘the arbitral proceedings relate to an ongoing and confidential investigatory and disciplinary process which is still in its early stages’, and that it may be that no charges will ever be brought against it.”

Very true.

But there will be many fans, who see that City are already odds-on to win a fourth Premier League title in five years and might be about to sign England’s best player, wondering why the champions are so reluctant to let the Premier League have the documents that should clear all this confusion up.

The evolution of Son Heung-Min

A version of this article was originally published on November 27, 2020, it has been updated following the confirmation that Son Heung-min has signed a new contract with Tottenham Hotspur running through to 2025.

By Charlie E********* and Tom Worville, The Athletic

As Son Heung-min finished coolly past Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson back in November 2020 to briefly move clear at the top of the Premier League goalscoring charts, not to mention keep Tottenham top of the Premier League, it was tempting to think about how far he had come over the previous few years.

Continue reading “The evolution of Son Heung-Min”