Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 July 2019

Tottenham Hotspur need new stadium to be catalyst for greater things

The Premier League club have shown ambition with the 62,000-capacity venue but now must hope that can be backed up by results on the field

Tottenham will finally play their first home game at their new stadium on Wednesday. AFP
Tottenham will finally play their first home game at their new stadium on Wednesday. AFP

Tottenham Hotspur will play their first truly home match for 689 days this evening when they take on Crystal Palace.

That at least is how it will feel to a majority of the 60,000 who enter, thrilled but with a sense of trepidation, the club’s new arena on what is forecast to be a chilly spring night in North London.

In the long term Spurs’s new stadium will be called by a name that becomes instinctive, though the rights to attach a corporate label to it are still being offered to potential sponsors.

For now it is the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. But just calling it ‘Home’ will do just fine for most Spurs, and the fact that it is not Wembley Stadium, which Spurs have been borrowing for almost two seasons, and the fact it is close enough to the old, loved White Hart Lane that the sites overlap, makes it feel as if it should bring good fortune to its owners.

And right now, Spurs need some good news, some promising omens. The club are moving, after a significant delay, to their own home just as the players stumble through the worst run of league form for more than five years.

Defeat at Liverpool on Sunday left Spurs with one point from their last possible 15, and with a more precarious grasp on top-four status in the Premier League than at any time in 2019.

Nothing shouts out that Tottenham are an elite, top-four club like the sleek construction now lording it over the borough of Haringey. The costs of the 62,000-capacity stadium run to over £1 billion (4.8bn), almost two-thirds of which will need to repaid over the coming years.

Those debts are carefully structured, but inevitably mortgaged against a degree of success on the pitch.

Failure to collect the substantial income that comes with appearing in the Uefa Champions League will not send Spurs into financial crisis, but they need to be qualifying for Europe's best competition regularly, if not annually.

That means finishing in the top four as often as they have in the four complete seasons of Mauricio Pochettino’s management: three times out of four.

A major trophy - Pochettino has been reminded more times than he would care to remember - would be welcome, too: The new stadium has thousands of square metres of executive space in which to display symbols of the club’s status.

What is Tottenham’s status? Their last senior trophy was the League Cup of 2008; of the seven Premier League titles to come to London this century, Spurs have won none.

Yet they are their city’s only representatives in the Champions League this season, and the new stadium gives them a deliberate extra edge over rivals Arsenal - the capacity is marginally greater than Arsenal’s Emirates, which was completed 12 years ago - and over Chelsea, whose Stamford Bridge is scheduled for extensive upgrading.

As for Wednesday's visitors Palace, they will look around London’s newest football super-structure with some envy. Palace’s Selhurst Park is unapologetically old-fashioned.

Sometimes, though an old, worn stadium more easily generates a rousing atmosphere. Spurs fans will note that West Ham United, who moved from their Boleyn Ground to the London Olympic stadium in 2016, found the atmosphere eerily quiet and stagnant; it affected the team.

The new Spurs arena should not suffer from those problems. West Ham’s ‘home’ is neither their own property - they rent it - nor designed principally for football.

Ambience and a sense of proximity to the pitch were priorities for the architects of the Tottenham Hotspur stadium, as well as the need to create ample space for the higher-spending supporter.

Better comparisons, perhaps, are with the new homes of the sorts of ambitious European clubs that Spurs want to be hosting at their new ground, year after year, in the later stages of the Champions League.

Clubs such as France’s Lyon, whose Parc OL, opened in 2016, has enabled Lyon to boost income, and reduce the need to sell so many of their best players each summer, even if they are long way off finding a budget to compete with Paris Saint-Germain.

Spurs will hope that a new venue has dividends like Atletico Madrid gained from their first season at the Metropolitano, which they moved into from a loved but ageing Calderon.

Atletico won a major prize, the Europa League, at the end of year one as tenants in their modern arena.

One day, the Tottenham Hotspur stadium may even become a fortress to compare with Juventus Stadium, where the Italian champions moved in 2011. It has housed the Serie A scudetto all its life.

For the Spurs players, the new home needs to feel like a new dawn. Son Heung-Min, the striker, speaks of “making history for this stadium”, of feeling proprietorial: “It's our turn,” said the Korean.

“The fans were tired with Wembley, a very nice stadium but not our home. But the most important thing is our performances.”

Updated: April 3, 2019 04:47 AM



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