"I do not want to sell Bale. No way, absolutely no way. If you do, where do you go from there? If you want to progress as a team and as a club you have no chance if you sell players like that." – Harry Redknapp, 2010.
Three years later Gareth Bale has been sold. And Harry Redknapp is in the Championship.
More importantly, despite selling their best player for a world record 100 million euro fee, Tottenham are indeed progressing as a team thanks to a brilliant strategy, led by their manager Andre Villas-Boas, that has seen them excel in three crucial areas where many other clubs struggle.
Evaluate your own talent better than everybody else
For any sports franchise this can be very difficult. Clubs have a tendency to overrate their own players. After all, there is a reason why the player is at the club in the first place as usually someone senior at the club is still there after they initially brought you to the club or through the youth ranks. In the case of Bale, Spurs learned under former manager Redknapp, how to initially get the better of him, moving him from left back and on to the wing where his explosive speed and ball control was best utilized.
This prepared Bale to shine on the game's biggest stage, particularly during a 15 day period in 2010 when Tottenham played Inter Milan twice in the Champions League. Bale tore apart one of the world's best right backs Maicon at the San Siro, scoring a hat-trick, and was equally impressive in their return match at White Hart Lane with a sensational combination of attacking play down the left flank.
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European football's giants were now on high-alert but Redknapp was ready for them, sending this message post match: "He's an amazing young player, he's just signed a new contract and we have to build a team around him here for years to come."
Redknapp's attempts to build around Bale with the likes of Steven Pienaar, Scott Parker, William Gallas and Rafael van der Vaart ultimately cost him his job and left Bale's reported value in the media around the 30 million pound mark.
New manager Andre Villas-Boas came in with a different approach to help Bale blossom.
At half-time in a match at Norwich last season, with his side trailing 1-0, Villas-Boas switched Bale from the left wing to the number 10 position more centrally and it had an instant impact. Not only did Bale score one of the goals of the season he also contributed far more to the team's attack in the final third.
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Villas-Boas had seen enough and Bale's move to a number 10 meant his minutes per pass received and minutes per shot went down while, crucially, his average shots per match, strike-rate and passing accuracy went up. Six goals in his next four games and 12 goals in his last 14 in total elevated him to a world class standard. By getting the best out of Bale, Villas-Boas not only increased Bale's value in the market but also the player's value to the club. 'Where would Spurs be without Bale?' was the overriding message, meaning any potential buyer knew the reliance the club had on the player, instantly pushing the price up further. In this case it went from a reported 50 million pounds to the staggering sum agreed upon today.
Evaluate your own club in the market
Tottenham had found a way to get the best out of their star player and show just how much they needed him. The footballing intelligence they required to do that was now required in reaching reality in terms of the player's wishes.
In 1998, Aston Villa striker Dwight Yorke, after nine years at the club, went to see manager John Gregory in his office to tell him he wanted to go to Manchester United after they had tabled a bid that Villa rejected. Gregory was so disappointed that he famously said of the moment: "If I had a gun I would have shot him." The manager was clearly disappointed that he would be losing his best player but in reality if a club like Manchester United come calling for his players, what would he expect them to do? Stay?
A game older than 150 years that allows teams to simply buy players from other teams without giving more than cash is bound to create a hierarchy system where clubs are simply bigger than others. Tottenham Hotspur has a fantastic history but they are not, and never will be, larger than Real Madrid. If they are lucky enough to have a player wanted by the Spanish giants it is up to them to do whatever they can to get the best price for him and then do whatever you can to use those funds to improve the team and make them bigger than others.
A crucial mistake made by many sports franchises happens when they overestimate the desire of their own players to stay with them. Tottenham were very unlucky to not reach the Champions League this season (the 72pts they achieved last season meant they were the first team in Premier League history to get that many and not finish in the top four) and Bale's wishes to play at the top level are warranted but he isn't leaving because he can't play in Europe for Spurs on Wednesday nights. Had Tottenham qualified for the Champions League they simply cannot have hoped to stop Bale from wanting to go to Real Madrid once interest was shown. Big football clubs everywhere are best suited in these cases to remind themselves who is bigger, and it is clear by Tottenham's performances off the field this summer that they did just that.
Evaluate the market, be an expert in recruiting talent
Speak to any coach in one of the big North American sports about European soccer and sooner rather than later the conversation comes around to the role of a Premier League manager. Coaches on this side of the continent cannot understand how so many managers are in charge of coaching their team and being the major decision makers in recruitment. Before they signed a player this summer, Tottenham made a superb acquisition with the hiring of Franco Baldini as technical director.
Villas-Boas, unlike Redknapp, had wanted a TD who knew the continental market since he arrived. He and Baldini got to work immediately. Villas-Boas had evaluated his team from his first season and crucially had realized they had significant flaws. Without Champions League revenue and with an old stadium, Baldini knew most of his transfer kitty would come from the upcoming money from Real Madrid so he moved swiftly and effectively. Thanks to his manager's ability to evaluate the club's players, make Bale better to get more money, and know realistically he would go to Real Madrid, Baldini was able to go about spending a good deal of money to improve key areas.
Last season the likes of William Gallas, Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone and Clint Dempsey (all since departed) featured in 50 per cent or more of their league games, yet Spurs still got to 72 points. Bale played a massive part in that, without doubt, but the club's overreliance on the Welshman meant two significant things.
1) They clearly needed to strengthen in other areas, and
2) Bale's price was never going to be higher because of how often he 'Baled' them out in 2012-13.
Sure, Tottenham finished just a point behind Arsenal last season but Villas-Boas will know Arsenal led in 32.7 per cent of their matches (1,119 minutes) as opposed to Tottenham's 28.2 per cent (966 minutes) which was even lower than Everton and Liverpool.
It was time to go to work to put a squad together that can ensure they found themselves in winning positions more often. The additions of Paulinho and Etienne Capoue make their midfield much more dynamic and stable and they are certainly massive upgrades over Parker and Huddlestone. Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela will surely score more than the 16 league goals Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe managed last season. The Spaniard's off-the-ball movement and finishing ability are on a different level to his other strike partners while 21-year-old Lamela is a diamond in the rough unearthed by Baldini who is reunited with him from their time at Roma. These signings are not gambles; they are proven international players with experience in the Champions League and for their countries.
Considering they were able to get them after selling a player with very little experience playing at the highest level shows just what can be done at a club when you have smart men like Baldini and Villas-Boas running it.
"I don't know where we'd be without him," once said Redknapp after a Spurs match he'd managed.
The truth is they have a plan in place to be much better.