Where Lewis Holtby, Tottenham, Schalke and the economies of big-time soccer collide

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What’s an early arrival worth for one genuine, card-carrying, ballyhooed prize of an incoming summer transfer?

And that what’s an early departure worth for an outgoing one?

These are the tough negotiating points between Germany’s Schalke and England’s Tottenham at the moment.

Lewis Holtby is en route from Germany to the North London club, having already signed a pre-contract and set to report to White Hart Lane during the summer transfer period. But Spurs want to spur the deal, to get it moving now rather than later.

So they have offered Schalke almost £1 million (about $1.5 million) to make it a rush job, which would see the 22-year-old midfielder move in January.

For Spurs, Holtby would provide needed cover for a thinning midfield; a knee injury will keep defensive midfielder Sandro out for perhaps the rest of the season.

Holtby is an attacking midfielder, so it would not be a this-for-that replacement, exactly. It would, however, provide Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas some options. But the German club is holding out for about double the current asking price.

Here’s why both clubs want the emerging German international: Spurs are fourth in the table, and that means a good shot at Champions League soccer next year. (Don’t forget, that’s why Clint Dempsey moved across London from Fulham in the first place, for his chance on the big UEFA stage.) Fifth-place Everton covets Spurs’ spot in the table. Liverpool and Arsenal, two teams more accustomed to landing those European spots, are right behind and desperate to keep hope alive.

The full standings EPL are here.

Schalke sits 5th in the Bundesliga table. The European placement looks similar there, with three automatic spots into Champions League and a fourth-place finisher going into qualifying for the lucrative tournament.

So the economics matter. If Spurs get Holtby early and qualify for Champions League, they could very well make back the money – even if it might be difficult to quantify Holtby’s impact. Of course, Schalke could stand to lose more than the $2 or $3 million they make if they fall out of fourth.

Where are those data-inclined kids from Freakonomics when you need them?