x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Champions League absence has Tottenham Hotspur exposed

Failure to secure Champions League football means clubs may come knocking for Gareth Bale and attracting fresh blood will be harder, writes Jonathan Wilson.

Gareth Bale and manager Andre Villas-Boas finished the season with a win.
Gareth Bale and manager Andre Villas-Boas finished the season with a win.

On Sunday, after seeing his team miss out on the top four, Andre Villas-Boas was almost definitive on the issue. Gareth Bale will not be leaving Tottenham Hotspur.


"It's difficult," he said, "to lure a player of this dimension away. If you want to develop the team, you have to keep hold of your best assets."

Difficult, but not impossible.

Bale has three years remaining on his contract and there has been talk of an offer of a new five-year deal worth £150,000 (Dh848,000) a week, double what he is currently earning.

It is unclear whether that was contingent on Uefa Champions League qualification. There is no suggestion that Bale has any burning desire to leave, but equally it is hard to deny that he is worth more than £75,000 a week.

While Daniel Levy, Tottenham's chief executive, has shown a willingness to be stubborn in the past, there will almost certainly be a price at which he sees cashing in as worthwhile. The issue is the damage that losing Bale would do to Tottenham's reputation. Are they part of the elite, or a feeder club?

In that regard, there is no doubt that failing to qualify for the Champions League is a setback.

The competition perpetuates success not only in terms of finances, but prestige. Keep playing in the Champions League season after season and not only does it generate £20-25 million each year in direct revenues than the Europa League, but clubs benefit hugely in indirect ways.

Teams playing in the Champions League have a global profile that those in the Europa League do not, which attracts more fans and exposure, increasing opportunities for advertising and sponsorship deals. It also affects the perception of players and agents.

Imagine being a gifted footballer from Senegal, Japan or Sweden. The team has won a league title and you are ready to step up to the next level and the big money is in the Premier League.

A move to London sounds good, and as luck would have it, both Tottenham and Arsenal are interested.

Arsenal's Arsene Wenger makes an impression upon meeting him, but so does Villas-Boas of Tottenham, who is younger.

A friend who knows about these things notes that there is a feeling Wenger may be stuck in a rut, while Tottenham are an up-and-coming team.

Signing with Tottenham is tempting. But Arsenal are in the Champions League. They are always in the Champions League. You have tasted the Champions League in the past, but your team have gone out in the group stage. You want to go farther.

And even if things go wrong, even if your friend is correct and Arsenal are stagnating, nobody can take away that season in the shop window.

It might include a game against Real Madrid. The chance to knock in three goals against a minnow, so your name appears near the top of the scoring charts. Then the future is secured.

A season in the Europa League offers no such assurances. Players want to compete against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, not Bursaspor and Braga.

So the choice is Arsenal.

And if Tottenham find it harder to bring in top-level talent, then equally they will find it harder to keep the talent they already have.

"We had to be aware, independent of making it or not - and we didn't make it - that we would have to raise the bar again because our competitors will do the same," Villas-Boas said.

"They will do their job in window and we must do ours, in the Tottenham way, scouting properly and looking for good grabs in the summer window to make it a stronger squad.

"This year is very, very unusual. Next season, you expect Liverpool to be stronger, and so there will be one more squad in the mix. We have to continue."

At the moment, there is a sense that Tottenham are a developing force.

They finished a place lower in the table than last season, but picked up a club-record points total.

To keep Bale, to keep progressing, they cannot keep missing out on the Champions League.

How long without it before Villas-Boas feels stale? One year? No more than two. The best way to become a Champions League team is to be in the Champions League.