The English papers are awash with rumors these days about Tottenham Hotspur purchasing Schalke’s Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. It's presumably contingent on the January sale of Roberto Soldado, who is reportedly not in the plans of Mauricio Pochettino.
As Kevin McCauley eloquently wrote earlier today, signing Roberto Soldado for £26m from Valencia was a colossal mistake, one that could rank up there with David Bentley and Grzegorz Rasiak as one of Spurs' worst ever signings. It’s probably past time to cash in on him and move on.
I wrote about this (very) briefly in the Hoddle and called it ridiculous. But what if it's not? So let’s perform a hypothetical intellectual exercise together, gentle readers. Let’s pretend that the Klaas-Jan Huntelaar rumors are an actual thing and that Tottenham might possibly buy him in January. What would a Huntelaar purchase look like, and why should Tottenham even consider it?
1. Huntelaar has been linked to Spurs since forever, but don’t hold that against him.
When I became a Spurs fan back in 2007, Martin Jol’s final year, I explicitly remember reading reports linking Tottenham with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, then a rising star who was scoring goals for fun at Ajax. He went on to sign with Real Madrid for £20m two years later. While Hunter never again replicated the form he exhibited in the Eredivisie with any other club during his career, his name continually kept getting linked back to English clubs including Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham during just about every transfer window since.
While we joke about players like Hunter and Leandro Damiao who are perennially linked with the club ("death, taxes, Huntelaar"), it’s not as though his failure to move to England has been a mark against him. And it’s also not as though he’s been a terrible player. While he struggled during stints in Spain and Italy, since moving to Schalke he’s scored 61 goals in 106 appearances, an emphatically not-terrible tally in a solid league. He’s 31 now, no longer a spring chicken, but is in the last year of his contract, and reports are that Schalke could let him go for as low as £3-5m.
2. Huntelaar may not be an upgrade on Soldado, but he doesn’t have to be.
At first blush, replacing a 29-year old Soldado with a 31-year old Huntelaar doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. While Huntelaar’s form at Schalke has been pretty good, a transfer to White Hart Lane would mean he would be adjusting to play football in a league in which he has never before played. We’ve seen other better players like Shinji Kagawa struggle to make the transition from the Bundesliga to the Premier League, and it seems possible that an aging Huntelaar could find life difficult in the meat-grinder that is the EPL.
However by targeting Huntelaar, Spurs may be making a different kind of statement. One of the pleasant surprises arising from this season has been the very good form of Harry Kane, who has certainly been playing better than Soldado, and arguably better than Emmanuel Adebayor. Signing an experienced striker on the decline like Huntelaar might mean that Pochettino is willing to give Kane a larger role in league matches, effectively shunting him up to second or even first-choice striker, something that many of us have been wishing for quite a while now.
Soldado is clearly a better player than what he has shown at Spurs, but it appears likely that we’ll never see that player while he’s here. Likewise, Huntelaar is probably not going to be Spurs’ first choice striker. He might not even be the second choice, and that’s probably okay. Even if he gets spot minutes in the league and mostly features in the cups and Europa League, he’d be a useful player to have around. And who knows, he could even be good! For £3-5m it's probably worth taking a flyer on Huntelaar, because frankly, even if he's as poor as Soldado, he'll certainly cost a lot less. Which brings us to:
3. Spurs can break even on Soldado this year, and free up funds for a future signing next summer.
There’s no doubt that Spurs are going to lose their shirt overall on the Soldado deal, but we knew that when we signed him. You don’t sign a 28-year old striker without the implicit understanding that he’s going to lose value in the short term, and since it has now become clear that Roberto is a lemon who isn't going to shoot Spurs to the Champions League promise land on his own, then discussions need to start about how best to cut bait.
Based on our understanding of the amortization of Soldado’s transfer fee, Spurs have probably paid about £19.5m of his £26m transfer fee. If we sell him in January, we have to pay the remainder of his fee to Valencia. That makes the delta of the budget -£13m. However, some of that is offset by the savings we gain by not having to pay his wages for half the season (let’s say £2.5m) and any transfer fee we get from him (let’s say, for the sake of argument, £10m). That’s a total one-year budget outlay for the club of £500k, and Spurs save a boatload of money for the wages we DON’T have to pay Roberto over the next couple of years, essentially removing a massive financial millstone from around the neck of the club.
So let’s say we sign Huntelaar for £5m. His current wages at Schalke are reportedly around £76k/week, and he'll probably make at least this much at Spurs. This seems high, but considering Roberto's wages are around £100k/week it's still a significant savings. You can do the math, but even at his current Schalke wages from a financial standpoint, it’s a net win. We’re going to lose money overall on Roberto regardless, but by selling him now we might be able to break even for this season’s budget.
Signing Huntelaar is savvy from a financial perspective, since it would probably be on a short-term contract which would then free up a substantial amount of money for a younger, better striker a little ways down the road.
I realize what I wrote about Huntelaar in the Hoddle this morning, which was based on two minutes of consideration in an article that took me ten minutes to write. It was a cheap and lazy opinion, and doesn’t hold up to further scrutiny. While the rabid Spurs fan in me quails at the thought that we could replace a potentially world-class striker with one two years older and potentially less useful, the circumstances surrounding the signing makes it more sensible the closer you look at it.
Spurs do need an upgrade at striker, and the Soldado experiment has failed. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar would certainly be a Louis Saha-style signing, one meant to kick the can down the road a bit until something better comes along. And, even at 31, Huntelaar is a better footballer than Saha was during his tenure at Spurs. Huntelaar may or may not be a clear upgrade on Soldado in terms of on-pitch performance, but he wouldn’t be terrible as a third striker option, something that seems wasteful for a player of Soldado’s fee and wages. And even if Hunter is terrible, the club would minimize the financial damage of Soldado’s signing as much as possible by cashing in now.
As a footballing move, signing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar might only be a push, but financially, there's zero risk involved. It’s not a terrible idea, and it’s worth considering.