MILAN ITALY - FEBRUARY 15: Robinho of AC Milan and Sandro of Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between AC Milan and Tottenham Hotspur at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on February 15 2011 in Milan Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
Sandro, Bongani Khumalo, and Simon Dawkins. Ask an average Spurs supporter on the street and they might be able to list the trio as players involved in team transactions this year. But there's something more important that they have in common: the first products of the Tottenham Hotspur club partnerships. But what are these club partnerships, and why are they imperative to the growth of Tottenham in both talent and global prominence?
Tottenham's club partnerships began in 2007, with the announcement of a partnership with South African league champions SuperSport United. The backbone was the introduction of a coach exchange program, as well as the launch of the Tottenham Hotspur SuperSport Academy. Coming from SuperSport's academy which already ranked elite in South Africa, the partnership allowed Tottenham to help South Africa's top youth players not only get better training, but also give Tottenham an early scout on them and clear path to sign them.
This partnership paid off with the signing of Bongani Khumalo in January 2011 from SuperSport. Khumalo, a South African international, was signed at a value price of £1.5 million, and apparently impressed in a loan spell with Preston North End after being loaned out in March. While Khumalo's impact on Tottenham going forward is seems minimal, his arrival is meaningful.
The presence of two South Africans on Spurs (along with Steven Pienaar), combined with their involvement in the nation's most prominent football academy is helping establish Tottenham as the club of South Africa. The impact of this is multifold; it establishes the SuperSport academy as the academy to go to if you have Premiership dreams as a young player and it gives Tottenham an opportunity for revenues from a growing football fanbase in South Africa.
Perhaps Tottenham's best unheralded signing of the season though came from a different club partnership: Sandro of Internacional.The partnership established in August 2009 has the opportunity to be the most potent for the squad. Tottenham has had a spotted history at best with Brazilian players, like many other English clubs. Experts like Tim Vickery have pointed out the both footballing and cultural clashes that have hampered the success of Brazilians in England.
Daniel Levy described the partnership well as "co-operation between our two clubs, which will see an exchange of coaching methodologies as well as exchange visits, means that we shall be able to effect the placement and development of players from Brazil and South America." Tottenham watches over Internacional and helps them to ensure that they're producing players who are prepared for the European game. There is no better example of this than Sandro's acquisition in 2010-11. Sandro was able to quickly adjust to the English game and play a sterling defensive midfield, but also seemingly embed himself well into the squad. Throw in players like Alexandre Pato, Nilmar, and Lucio all coming from the Internacional system, and its clear that of all the clubs in Brazil, Inter is among the best in producing talented players able to handle the continental game.
Internacional's partnership will ultimately be defined though by its ability to provide Tottenham top talent at fair prices. To do so, Inter will need to provide Tottenham with first rights to sign players and not hold them for ransoms. The current negotiations for Inter star Leandro Damião is a perfect example of this. Tottenham seemingly had first crack at signing him, but the debate on the price seems to range between Tottenham's initial offer of £10 million and Inter's asking price of £17 million. Redknapp seems set on signing him, so it seems like the partnership will pay off in that manner. But just where the price falls between the two extremes will help show just who has the upper hand in the partnership. And with Inter providing a talent base of not only Brazilians, but also talented Argentines and Uruguayans, Spurs would be wise to keep the relationship strong.
Lastly, we get to Simon Dawkins and Spurs partnership with MLS side San Jose Earthquakes. This partnership is complex, but potentially revolutionary for Spurs. The simple basis for the partnership is getting a foothold in America, with the growing quality of MLS and gigantic soccer fanbase in US. But there are some other interesting factors at play.
One is the influence of Billy Beane, general manager of Major League Baseball's Oakland Athletics. Beane, a fervent Spurs supporter, came to prominence in America due to the book Moneyball, which explained his use of advanced metrics to help build the small market A's into a winning team. When the Athletics ownership group bought the nearby Earthquakes, Beane not only gained a financial stake in the MLS club, but also began helping to develop his cost analysis systems to be used in the restricted salary cap system of MLS. It was Beane's friendship with former Spurs Director of Football Damien Comolli that helped build the partnership between Tottenham and San Jose in 2008. It is in this partnership that we have begun to see the potential for advanced metrics to gain a foothold in Spurs operation. Even with Comolli gone, the impact of a player like Luka Modric is valued immensely by Tottenham although if his basic stats don't seem to demonstrate his value to the club.
Early in the partnership, it seemed it only was a money making venture, with Tottenham playing friendlies with San Jose, in addition to some opportunities for the Earthquakes to train with Tottenham at youth levels. But Simon Dawkins has begun to change the equation. Dawkins is an intriguing player, a youth product of Tottenham who was released by the club in 2009 only to re-sign with the club on a four year deal in March this year, where he was promptly loaned to San Jose. Dawkins has been a revelation at San Jose, being one of their best players and gaining notice around the league.
Loans to MLS have a great potential for Spurs. MLS's unique schedule from March to November provides an excellent opportunity to give playing time to players who lost time to bad club situations or injury during the season. Culturally, the adjustment has traditionally been easy for EPL players, and the style of football is very similar. On the flipside though, it is likely that San Jose may prove a training ground for future Spurs talent. Stuart Holden's sudden impact for Bolton has seemingly put MLS on the map, and it isn't too hard to believe that Tottenham will not only have eyes on San Jose top young MLS players, but also on its talent-rich Bay Area youth system and academy.
In the end, it's clear that Tottenham Hotspur is being impacted deeply by these partnerships. Not even addressing partnerships with Hong Kong's South China AA and Thai Club TOT S.C. that have yet to bare fruit, and its clear that Tottenham is trying to gain a foothold on all continents. It's great that Tottenham will be looking to buy from all places, but more meaningfully it is buying players who have been educated by Tottenham at the youth level, combining the strengths of their domestic game with a more worldly approach given by the Premiership side. Much still is left to be decided of just how deep these partnerships are. But with Sandro looking an immense signing, Khumalo blazing a new South African path, and Dawkins getting better and better as he plays in America, it seems that this game of Risk Tottenham is playing might be a winning strategy.