Levy's An Easy Target But Spurs' Failure Is Not Just His Fault
This season has been funny (in a sort of sadistic way) for many reasons but one of the big changes for me has been the attitude towards Daniel Levy and ENIC. Now I am not saying both parties were on everyone’s Christmas card list but there was a certain tolerance and sometimes even respect (#Levy’d, #InLevyWeTrust). However this season has seen “Levy Out” placards at White Hart Lane (albeit only two of them); chants at games (“Levy is our manager”) and much derision on social media sites.
The most common accusations are that he is only interested in profit, he’s turned Spurs into a selling club and he interferes with the way managers operate before firing them on a whim. I don’t think he is perfect but I think some of the flak he has been getting is unfair and there maybe another side to the story.
The easiest accusation to deal with is that he has turned Spurs into a selling club and all he is interested is in making profits. Thinking back to the last few years there have been a number of high profile sales; Modric, VDV, Berbatov and of course Bale. However each of these sales was very rarely Levy’s choice; Modric wanted to leave and went on a mini-strike; VDV wanted to go back to Germany to be with his wife (insert your own quip about how you would too if you were married to her).
I think some of the flak he has been getting is unfair and there maybe another side to the story.
Then there is Bale – did Levy only see the £ signs (or should I say € signs) when Madrid came knocking? It’s always hard to know the full story but it may go like this; Madrid contacted Bale and said they wanted him to be their marquee signing and Bale, very understandably, said he wanted to go (as much of us would). It seems Daniel agreed that Bale could leave if his valuation was met and, presumably he set the bar at £80m + in the hope that it would scare off RM. It didn’t and the rest is history.
People regularly compare the Bale sale to the Suaraz transfer saga and you often hear quotes of “Liverpool managed to keep hold of their best player and now they are challenging for the league”. Whilst factually correct this leaves out one key piece of information; no-one made an offer for Suaraz that was acceptable to Liverpool. It was widely reported at the time that Liverpool would have accepted a figure of £50m. However neither Woolwich nor Real Madrid were willing pay that much (funnily this is all made me think where would Spurs, Liverpool and Woolwich have been if RM made Suarez their numero uno target). In a nutshell I’m not sure what you can do if a player wants to leave and your valuation of them is met – I guess you can take a risk, but that may alienate the player and there is only so long that strategy will work.
He can maybe shoulder some blame when it comes to timing of sales, which have tended to be at the 11th hour on transfer deadline day (usually in a bid to drive up the price of any sale). However you can’t claim that was an issue this year.
This is a more tricky point to deal with since who knows what goes on behind the closed doors of a football club. I couldn’t go back through all the managers under Levy’s reign (my memory isn’t so good and to be fair there have been a few) but I decided to start at Martin Jol (2004) and see if some sort of pattern emerged.
It’s worth remembering that Jol originally came as a coach to spurs as part of the holy trinity of Santini, Jol and Arnesen. Santini decided to quit after 13 games (officially due to personal reasons but potentially due to conflicts with Arnesen) and so that shoved Jol into the top job. For me this is where the story begins – Jol was and is a very good coach. He could improve the players and, backed by Levy (£75m+ net transfer spend) he achieved two top 5 finishes. However Jol for me lacked the ability to tactically outwit the big guns. In addition Arneson had been pinched by Chelsea and Comolli had come in, who is said to have had a fractious relationship with Jol. I suspect Comolli was whispering in Daniel’s ear that he knew of someone who could take Spurs to the next level. Maybe Levy, suspecting Jol’s limitations and as results worsened, decided to back his Director of Football. I think the manner of Jol’s departure was truly grating but Levy wasn’t the trigger man in his assassination
In stepped Spurs equivalent of “The Chosen One”; Juande Ramos. Juande started well and won the League Cup in his first season. However the summer saw major upheavel, when several of our top players forced through sales (Berbatov and Keane) and were replaced by less than stellar signings (presumably under the direction of Comolli). Spurs accumulated 2 points from their opening 8 games and relegation looked like a significant possibility. Here Levy had to act; relegation would be catastrophic. He decided to employ a man that went against his vision for the structure of the club but at least someone who could (almost) guarantee to avoid the drop into football oblivion.
Harry Redknapp came in and out went the Director of Football. Levy backed his manager again with significant spending in the January transfer window and Spurs stayed up. It surprises me that there is such an Anti-HR campaign – he led the Spurs to two top 4 finishes, playing good attacking football. This does not mean there were no flaws – he should have arguably finished 3rd (the season when Chelski fluked the Champions League) and he didn’t really know how to rotate his squad. However the main problem was that his recruitment policy was not line with Levy’s. There is much speculation why Harry was sacked; my opinion is that he and Levy were at odds on how the club should be run. Should Levy have backed off in this case? I guess Levy wasn’t happy to do so.
It surprises me that there is such an Anti-HR campaign – he led the Spurs to two top 4 finishes, playing good attacking football.
AVB arrived and there was a transformation in Tottenham – we were more organised and retained possession more effectively. He was able to get the best out of several players, notably of course one G.Bale, which culminated in Spurs achieving their PL record points tally but still finishing 5th. However there were also problems with Spurs’ ability to breakdown defences, which were exacerbated when Bale left. I think Levy tried to back him both in the transfer market and within the club; however the main issue wasn’t that he couldn’t get rid of Adebayor. Ade is a world class striker if you can manage him correctly but Andre couldn’t. That’s not a problem in itself but – here is where Levy went wrong – Levy saw that Soldado wasn’t scoring and probably tried to get Ade reintegrated into the team to make it more attacking. This was where it all went wrong for me; suddenly AVB was 2nd guessing himself and there appeared to be more disharmonies in the team. This must have led to talks between Levy and AVB and suddenly AVB was sacked (and he was probably happy to leave). It’s clear that this wasn’t planned (since we didn’t have a replacement lined up) but the falling out must have been so significant that AVB couldn’t continue. Was Levy right to interfere? Most certainly not but it’s a fine line a Chairman walks and in my opinion he does have a right to discuss how to improve the team.
Having not planned to release Andre, he had to give the job to Sherwood – there is no doubt that this was supposed to be on an interim basis but Tim didn’t want that. There is little else for me to write about this decision that hasn’t already been written.
So all in all I don’t think Levy is the meddler he sometimes made out to be. In most cases he has supported his managers and his Directors of Football. I think maybe the reliance on the latter, especially over his managers, has been one of his failings. One of his problems maybe is that he can’t always attract the right manager and then back his managers fully due to the financial resources of the club. For me he overstepped the line with AVB and he needs to learn from that but I don’t think it is a radical shift but more of a tweak. Chairmen have the right to try and steer the club in the correct direction; that’s their job. However they shouldn’t try to drive the ship themselves.
So now for the boring bit – I had a quick look through the financials for Spurs for the past five years. Looking at a football club’s finances are quite time consuming and I didn’t have a chance to go into a lot of detail but below is a quick summary of what I could find.
The first thing that strikes me is that Spurs have made either a modest profit or loss in the last few years but the last time they paid a dividend was in 2009 (which is one way ENIC would extract the profit from the club). So they have been reinvesting the profits into the club (although the situation is complicated due to the debt owed to ENIC).
However looking at profits only can be a bit misleading; so looking at cash flow the two things you notice is that the Spurs have invested relatively significantly in the squad in the last 5 years and they have spent also a significant amount on the new training ground and getting ready for the new stadium (highlighted in yellow). Again they seem to be supporting the club as much as possible without doing a Chelski.
Spurs have invested relatively significantly in the squad in the last 5 years and they have spent also a significant amount on the new training ground
The one question I do have is what is ENIC’s long term strategy? Do they want an exit? (at a profit of course) I am not sure what their aim is since there must have been plenty of opportunities to sell up and they haven’t taken them. If this is their strategy the one thing to be bear in mind is that valuations of companies are based on revenue, profit and cash flow. The only way to improve those things at a football club is to be more successful; finish higher up the table, win things – this increases revenue (and subsequently profit and cash). So if that’s the case then is there really an issue? The more success means we as fans are happier and ENIC gets more money when they sell up. FFP also means they have to leave behind a sustainable business model. The one thing the AVB saga also suggests is that Levy cares about the traditions of the club and the way the team plays.
The biggest failing
However one thing ENIC and Levy have got wrong is the stadium. We know that’s one of the main barriers to Spurs being more competitive and we really should have a new stadium by now. I understand the financial crisis may have impacted plans and that there are various hurdles to cross in clearing land but there should have been more progress (Liverpool will apparently extend their stadium before us even though we had 5+ years headstart).
There have been other issues (StubHub!) but I think Levy has done a great job taking Spurs to the next level and he receives an unjustifiable bad press sometimes. He isn’t perfect but I will still use #InLevyWeTrust for the time being. If Levy learns from the small mistakes he might have made, we all might be singing about Levy at games for a different reason.
Follow Sameer on Twitter, @Sumeer1000