Jose Mourinho’s meeting with his former club will be Tottenham’s 28th home match at their new stadium played behind closed doors (or with a vastly reduced crowd), equalling the number of full-capacity games at the ground since it opened in April 2019.
By the end of this season, Spurs will have played 32 matches with their 62,850-seat stadium mostly empty, including their final home game against Aston Villa, which is expected to have an attendance of 10,000.
Every club big and small is feeling the impact of Covid-19, but this weekend’s milestone underlines Daniel Levy’s claim that the pandemic “could not have come at a worse time” for Spurs.
The £1.2billion stadium saddled the club with debt of more than £600million but was supposed to quickly pay itself off through groundbreaking match-day revenues and events including NFL games and concerts. Spurs briefly reaped the rewards of the project, collecting nearly £6m per full-capacity match last season.
Had their final five games not been played behind closed doors, the club’s match-day revenue for the 2019/20 campaign would have been in the region of £124m — a Premier League record — while commercial income also took off.
For now, however, Spurs are continuing to count the cost of the ground, with Levy having forecast “irrecoverable” losses of more than £150m due to the ongoing absence of fans — equating to roughly £5m per fixture — and the club having taken on £175m more debt in the form of a Bank of England loan.
The shutout has dealt Levy’s carefully-curated business plan a hammer blow and what should have been a giant leap forward financially has ended up being a backwards step, with the long-term impact still unknown.
In the context of such financial devastation, securing Champions League football for next season has never been more important, with a place in the competition worth well over £50m in broadcast revenue and prize money, dwarfing figures for the Europa League.
For all the talk of Mourinho as the man to finally end Tottenham’s trophy drought, his job may ultimately hinge on returning the club to Europe’s leading competition via a top-four finish.
Ahead of this weekend’s game, Spurs are just three points from fourth place, but Mourinho has again found himself needing a reaction from his players following last weekend’s dismal draw at Newcastle, during which Spurs looked a long way from being capable of competing in the Champions League.
It was another display that would surely have been greeted with jeers from the away end, but there is another reason Mourinho needs to improve performances and results.
On Monday, Spurs open season-ticket renewals to roughly 50,000 supporters in the hope of staging full-capacity matches from the start of next term.
With fans having been locked out of stadiums since March 2020, the renewals window, which runs until June 3, is the first opportunity in over a year for Spurs supporters to take direct action over Mourinho’s tenure.
While the majority renew their seats regardless of the state of the team, a poorer-than-expected uptake between Monday and the end of the season would alarm the club and potentially destabilise the manager’s position.
Having glimpsed the potential of their new home, only to have the rug cruelly pulled from under their feet, Tottenham know the value of having a full stadium like never before.