On Thursday, just three days before Tottenham Hotspur’s Premier League season opener and three weeks before the summer transfer window closes, the worst newspaper in England published a shocking interview with Tottenham’s 27-year-old star left back Danny Rose, horrifying Spurs supporters the world over.
“I am reaching my peak and have probably only got one big contract left in me,” the England international said. “Time is running out and I do want to win trophies. I don’t want to play football for 15 years and not have one trophy or one medal.” He went on to say that he wants more money and that he wants the club to spend more money on bringing quality players in.
“I will say this too, I will play up north,” he continued. (Rose is from Doncaster, in Yorkshire, but when elite English soccer players talk about “playing up north” they are talking about playing in Manchester.) “I’m not saying I want out but if something came to me that was concrete, I’d have no qualms about voicing my opinions to anyone at the club.” He also said that he doesn’t get to see his mom as much as he’d like.
This is as good as an invitation to the Manchester clubs, wealthy beyond all imagining, to submit a bid. A good chunk of the roughly half a billion pounds City have spent on defenders this window went toward bringing in left back Benjamin Mendy for £52 million, so they probably aren’t realistic suitors for Rose. United, though, with no great left-sided full backs other than the out-of-favor Luke Shaw and a few others who can play out of their normal positions there, have both the need and financial ability to sign a player of Rose’s caliber. Rose didn’t leave it at that, though: “I know my worth and I will make sure I get what I am worth. I am not playing as well as I have done not to get paid what I think I am worth. As with everyone else in my team, in my opinion, I am worth more than I am getting.”
This is indisputably true: Tottenham do not pay market rate, because the market rate is absurd. Spurs not only lack the ability to pay outsized transfer fees for name-brand players, but also—and in this case even more crucially—cannot afford to match the weekly wages that those players would get almost anywhere else. This isn’t just a financial calculation, either: If Spurs broke their wage structure to bring in, say, Ross Barkley on £150,000/week, he would be making £30k more than repeat Golden Boot winner Harry Kane or captain and French international goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Barkley simply isn’t that good, and this would not make for a harmonious locker room—something that is less of a concern at other clubs where players are getting paid in Monopoly money.
In any case, the club is caught in the difficult position of relying on the strength of manager Mauricio Pochettino’s personality and vision to keep talented, valuable players at a relatively small but ambitious team in a hideously inflated international market. Rose, it is worth remembering, has been injured since January; Ben Davies, a Welsh international, has done an adequate job covering for him in certain tactical formations, but is not an adequate replacement for the best left back in the league, especially if Spurs are to continue playing in the style Pochettino prefers.
It is also worth remembering that before Pochettino came to Tottenham in 2014, few would have predicted that Rose would bloom as vividly as he has; in fact, no player embodies the transformative effect Pochettino has had on the club more than Rose, whose teammates teasingly call him “the gaffer’s son.” Just under a year ago, Rose himself described the manager as a “father figure” and shared an anecdote about how, when he first arrived at the club, Pochettino promised the left back that “if I entered into his philosophy, he would make me into an England player.” Two years later, he made his senior international debut, and today is the favorite to be his country’s starting left back at next summer’s World Cup.
In many ways, Rose owes his career to the Argentinian: He would not be in a position to make the demands he is now making without Pochettino, which makes his most recent comments all the more astonishing—so astonishing, in fact, that some Tottenham supporters have begun spinning conspiracy theories to explain them. Tempting as it is to believe that Rose and Pochettino are working together to try to get Chairman Daniel Levy to bring in some new players, I’m inclined to agree with Chris “Windy” Miller that such a move is far too risky for any professional player to chance his career on. Windy writes:
In my opinion there can be little doubt as to the intentions of this: it’s both a ‘come and get me’ plea to the Manchester clubs, and a pre-emptive, PR-driven ‘I had no choice but to leave’, face-saving, mop-up job. Rose wants fans, media and potential sponsors to feel as though he was backed into a corner by Spurs’ lack of transfer activity, lack of silverware and by them not paying him market rate.
To arrange this interview days before the season starts in order to benefit himself (either, depending on your interpretation, to ruffle feathers, negotiate a better contract or to try to force through a transfer) will — at worst — leave us without a top class left-back for the season or — at best — have a destabilising impact. This self-centred approach to the game is a stark reminder of what football (a game played by a team) has become, and also of where Spurs really sit in the pecking order.
While I think this interpretation puts too much blame on Rose himself as an individual, I’m sympathetic to the disappointment and outrage as a fan. Finishing second in the league last season on a record number of points, the goal for the summer was to keep hold of as many key players as possible. Now, Spurs are heading into a pivotal season for the club with an existing liability (i.e. Wembley) that has been compounded by not picking up a new right back after selling Walker—especially concerning now that Kieran Trippier has picked up an injury—which seems to have had the unexpected consequence of unsettling our longest-serving player.
It’s easy enough for Tottenham supporters to point to a homegrown hero like Harry Kane, who could walk into the starting eleven of any team in the world but seems to have no interest in playing anywhere but Spurs, as evidence that “loyalty” still means something. They’re not wrong, either; Kane is on his way to becoming a legend. Rose, however, is in a very different position. He’s a skilled worker at the peak of his career; the older he gets, the more likely he is to get injured, and even if he stays healthy his physical prowess will inexorably decline. He has many successful years ahead of him no doubt, but the window will close eventually. And with these thoughts floating around in his mind, it makes sense that he’d look at his paycheck in frustration, angry with the knowledge that he could easily double his salary if he were to move to a club without Spurs’ financial constraints.
I wish Rose would stay at Tottenham, but I understand why he might not; I wish he hadn’t gone to The Sun, and I don’t understand why he did; more than anything I wish the wealth of the richest Premier League teams would be redistributed and a more just world built upon the ashes of the old.
More pressingly for the actual squad, though, is the fact that Pochettino has sent players to the gulag for shows of disloyalty far less egregious than this. Even if someone doesn’t buy Rose, his future at the club is very much in question—unless this really was a conspiracy to pressure Levy. On the other hand, selling Rose would leave Tottenham with quite a bit of cash, between that and the Walker sale. And hey, Real Madrid are looking to offload at least one of their stars. He even has experience playing left back.