Bean bags and sleeping pods
The ultimate goal for any company – in or outside of football – is to achieve the highest possible returns for the lowest possible cost. A key factor in delivering this has been the ability to attract and retain better talent than your competitors. This is perhaps more true of sport than any other industry given the visibility of results.
Historically, this has involved simply paying more than anyone else. Today, however, companies are increasingly turning to culture to attract the top people. Google are perhaps the standard-bearer for ‘cultural differentiation’ with their campus-based offices, in-house chefs, bean bags and sleeping pods proving an effective means to keep their staff engaged.
But in football we are still generally trying to differentiate ourselves by the depth of our pockets, assuming players are only interested in what they can earn.
For the top teams, we predict that simply paying more will become increasingly ineffective at attracting talent. We already hear of players being prepared to take a cut in wages in return for more playing time, or for Champions League football, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain being a recent example. This presents an opportunity for smart clubs to differentiate themselves through providing a sense of achievement and belonging that numbers alone cannot afford.
This may go some way to explaining Tottenham Hotspur’s current ability to punch above their financial weight.
In our analysis of team strength relative to wages as calculated by 21st Club’s World Super League, Tottenham are the clear outlier – achieving performances that are broadly in line with the other top six teams but at a much lower cost. The club are clearly on a journey – they have lofty aspirations, an exciting new stadium in development, a young, high-quality squad and a dynamic coach. That the club have retained players capable of this level of performance suggests that they are bought into the vision and are there for more than just money. They want to see where the journey ends.
There are obviously challenges with this, and Kyle Walker’s move to a direct rival was a stark reminder that money still talks. But through their culture, Tottenham are perhaps proving that return doesn’t have to be solely financial.