Europa League a necessary evil for Tottenham
With Arsenal's victory against Newcastle on Monday night making Spurs' inability to qualify for next year's Champions League a mathematical certainty, the only remaining question to be answered this season is just how keen the club is to play in the Europa League. Two sleepy, below-par performances against West Ham and Aston Villa could just be enough to keep them away from Thursday night football, providing Manchester United maintain their mini-renaissance under Ryan Giggs.
Were that to happen, the fans would be far happier than Daniel Levy. Clubs receive graduated payments of more than 800,000 pounds per place for their Premier league finishing position, and the chairman isn't the sort of man who appreciates any loss of revenue. Not least because he's already had to bite one financial bullet this year: under ordinary circumstances, with the economy improving and more than 40,000 members on the season-ticket waiting list, the club would have been looking to increase the prices for next year's season tickets by between 5 and 10 percent. In the past, the club has had no compunction in imposing inflation-busting rises in ticket prices, citing the club's ambitions to build a new stadium and achieve regular Champions League football.
That season-ticket prices for next year have been frozen is a sign that Levy recognises the club's performances this season have driven many fans to the breaking point. While Spurs could theoretically still achieve the same record number of points as last season, no one is under any illusion about the reality. Many games have been lost by large margins -- a sure sign of a team's lack of mental strength -- and most of those that have been won have been done so playing an incoherent, uncommitted, dull style of football that is anathema to the club's traditions. Raising ticket prices would have placed yet more unwelcome attention on the club's on-field and off-field failings, something Levy was anxious to avoid. But make no mistake, his inability to raise prices will have annoyed Levy greatly. He will regard that as revenue lost.
Much as he might also not particularly enjoy lengthy mid-week trips to little-known cities in Eastern Europe, Levy also recognises the Europa League as a desirable revenue stream. While the competition may stretch a club's limits, with elimination in the knockout phases and a Premier League finish outside the top four the most likely outcome, it does generate cash -- both through the turnstiles and from TV. Just as importantly, the current Spurs setup of a large first-team squad only makes sense if the club is playing in Europe. For both these reasons, Levy wouldn't be happy about missing out.
Then there's the question of the manager and the squad itself. Tim Sherwood is on his way out, and Spurs now face a tricky problem attracting a new manager of the quality they would like. Louis van Gaal is almost certainly going to Manchester United and the two new front-runners for the Spurs job, Frank de Boer and Mauricio Pochettino, could well land better offers. Spurs need every every asset at their disposal to bring in the best talent, and Europa League football is better than nothing. Much the same applies to the players. Some of the present squad will be looking for bigger and more successful clubs after the World Cup, and if Spurs aren't to end up with a squad of journeymen, they need to be seen to be competing in Europe.
That may not be what the fans want; it may not even be what many of the current squad wants, but it's definitely what Levy wants. And if he doesn't get it in the last two games, there could be hell to pay.