Ridiculous or renaissance?

“IN ITALY, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

That quip from the movie The Third Man came to mind when looking at the current shenanigans in the transfer market. Nope, we don’t have warfare, but we do have chaos and prices that, according to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, are “unsustainable”.

It begs the question: unsustainable for whom?

Clearly for Spurs, who have yet to shell out a penny on players as they seek ways of financing their new £800 million (RM4.4b) new stadium. But Levy also had the big spenders in mind.

He added: “If somebody is spending £200 million (RM1.1b) more than they’re earning then eventually it catches up with you. You can’t keep doing it.” The implication was clear: for them and the game in general, the cuckoo clock is ticking.

If, in his eyes, Spurs are the sensible “Swiss”, and Man City, Man United, Chelsea, PSG and Real Madrid are “the Borgias”, Levy cannot deny that he is also taking a massive and – perhaps even greater – risk himself: by keeping his wallet shut.

Whilst there is admiration for his refusal to follow the herd in its stampede to possible oblivion, and reliance on young, mostly home-grown players, he could be squandering the chances of the best Spurs team in 50 years.

Mauricio Pochettino’s dynamic young side have come third and second in the past two seasons and are getting better.

Tottenham are most people’s idea of a model club: terrific young manager, low (relatively) wages, prudent signings, youth policy and they play attractive football.

According to many good judges, they are on the cusp of great things: they just need a couple of top notch acquisitions to get them there. If they have a weakness, it is a lack of depth and an over-reliance on Harry Kane.

But instead of topping off this already impressive edifice, Levy has let Kyle Walker go, as usual extracting blood while doing so, and made building the new White Hart Lane, not the team, his priority.

You don’t need to be an Arsenal fan to see parallels to what happened across north London just over a decade ago.

History could well be about to repeat itself with the club hamstrung by paying for a stadium and unable to compete at the highest level.

Arsene Wenger could tell Levy a thing or two about the disruption of moving to Wembley as Arsenal did while the Emirates was being built, as well as adjusting to a new home afterwards.

And Spurs already have a well-documented “thing” about Wembley’s broader acres: the difference in their record there compared to White Hart Lane last season was night and day: At the Lane it was played 23, won 21, drawn 2; at Wembley it was played 5, won 1, lost 3 , drawn 1.

However much of that is in the mind, you have to say it is something they could do without – especially this season. But things could be worse as at one point it looked as if they might be dismantling a team as well as a stadium.

For a while, it looked as if the wantaway Walker could be a Pied Piper and lead a procession out of the door.

United wanted Eric Dier and Barcelona looked at Dele Alli, but Pochettino was able to hang on to them both as well as Kane. But with a wage ceiling of £100,000 (RM550,000) a week, heads might be turned if the Spurs project should be derailed.

Today even Arsenal are loosening the purse strings as Wenger finally gets his head around the new economic reality.

They are offering Alexis Sanchez £280,000 (RM1.5m) a week and buying not one but two £50 million (RM275m) additions. Wenger has clearly lost his title as the biggest Scrooge to Levy.

Given his reputation, the Spurs boss might have chosen a more apt occasion than ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange in New York to talk about financial prudence.

Surrounded by a high-powered Spurs sales team, he was not only kicking off the club’s tour of the US this week, but offering the begging bowl to potential sponsors.

And at first glance, it might appear that he’d found an ally in the unlikely shape of Jose Mourinho.

Anointed as the highest spending manager of the previous decade even before smashing the world record for Paul Pogba, the Special One warned: “Clubs who commit £30 million (RM165m), £40 million (RM220m), £50 million in such an easy way for players who are not realistically worth it might be entering dangerous territory.

“I don’t think the problem is what you pay for Pogba, I don’t think the problem is going to pay crazy for Neymar.

“I don’t think it will ever kill the big clubs because the big clubs will always have the potential and conditions to produce this kind of money and not to be in problems.”

As usual, the Portuguese nails it with quite a different take to Levy. Even the “ridiculous” sums being mentioned for Neymar and Mbappe are not ridiculous for a club that has the money; indeed, with incomes in the stratosphere such fees are eminently sustainable. But £30 million or £40 million just might be unsustainable to a Swansea or a Leicester if they have a bad run.

What is happening is that the rich are getting richer and the gap is widening between them and the middling clubs.

The worst case scenario is that these “Borgias” will eventually break away and leave the “Swiss” behind to tinker with their clocks.

Levy has Spurs future in his hands and has to decide which side of the chasm the club will be on. The stakes couldn’t be higher: If he gets it wrong, there will be no renaissance.