This is a topic that is done to death I know. Every podcast, every Spurs blog site and every social media fandom has had this debate for years and that is our owners and their perceived lack of ambition constantly leaving us falling short. Currently this debate has opened up again and there is even talk that a fans group are going to fly a plane over the Tottenham Hotspur stadium this weekend, during the North London derby with a banner saying ENIC Out. According to the Twitter account its going to cost about £550 … I have to be honest if I was wealthy enough I would have so much fun flying banners over people’s houses saying all sorts… however I digress.
So in this blog I wanted to take a bit of a deep dive into this and try to offer up some facts and not just pure angry conjecture. The first point I want to make is about me and that is I am neither “Levy out” nor am I a massive fan of his where I am blinded to his faults. I like to think of myself as pretty balanced when discussing our chairman I hope to put that across here in this blog.
I think the place to start is why are we having this debate right now as that is likely the easiest question to answer. We have fallen from grace quite spectacularly following a few years of really challenging not only at England’s top table but also in Europe. Whenever things turn like they have for us as a team supporters rightly want to know why and look to see changes to fix it.
In football what typically happens is the manager is gone, a new one comes in and you see a results bump followed by player changes in the next available window and the team is revived, freshened and away we go. However what has happened with Tottenham for me is actually quite unique as the circumstances are not like at other clubs.
Mauricio Pochettino was our manager and popular with the fans due to the fact of when he arrived we were a mess and he not only built a squad of players quickly that blended home grown youth and bought in quality but also a squad that was genuinely likable and seemed to really care. Under AVB and Sherwood it felt, to me anyway, we had a squad full of paid for mercenaries that arrived, played and left and didnt actually care about results or the club and so Pochettino doing that alone was enough for me to like him and I think many were the same.
However the Argentinian didnt just do that, he also got us playing in a way that I have not seen in my lifetime. We had fire, we had pace, we hunted the ball and were relentless and for two full seasons culminating in the Lane the finale as we said goodbye to our home we were the best team in the Premier League – however there are small margins which are the difference between lifting a trophy and just being regarded the best on average over two seasons.
Those fine margins for us I think most fans would say was around the fact we were maybe one player short. In the season won the league many felt the games we drew we could have turned into wins if we had signed one player who in the summer Pochettino had said he wanted. That player was Zaha from Crystal Palace, who had one year left on his deal with the Eagles and even handed in a transfer request to try and get his move to work with Pochettino at Spurs. Zaha & Poch saw the idea of him playing behind Kane as a potentially lethal combination.
Crystal Palace stated they would not let him go for less than £40m; we offered £15m. On deadline day we went back in raising our offer however not to the £40m and by that time Zaha had given up on us, withdrawn his request and was in talks over a new deal. Now we all know our chairman tries to drive a hard bargain however imagine if someone had said; “£40m on this player wins you the league this season” I have to believe knowing the financial windfall and obvious trophy success that would bring he would have snapped their hands off. However it was not to be and we were left without that match winner and we fell short. We ended the season finishing 3rd due to the team simply running out of energy in the final 10 games.
It happened again the following season where we once again were second in the league. It was obvious to everyone we needed that extra quality, that one more player who would make the difference but our signings then were all N’ot very good (see what I did there). Pochettino was a very professional club man but at the end of this season for the first team we saw his frustration boil over with not getting the players he wanted – he said; “We as a club need to think differently, we need to act differently in the market.”
A cryptic message which over the next few years became less cryptic. We moved to Wembley stadium for a prolonged period while our new stadium was being built and over this time we also sold our main right sided offensive weapon in Kyle Walker. A key player in how Pochettino wanted us to play, pace and power down the flank – sold for £50m and replaced with Serge Aurier. I am not going to say anymore than that although will add that Pochettino did not want Aurier, a quick read of his book can once again see that signings were being made at the club by Daniel Levy such as Sissoko for £30m on deadline day.
So why do I think this current situation is unique to Tottenham. The reason is that I believe in most clubs when results falter the manager is gone and replaced and things change however Pochettino was clever in making sure he told the press and in turn the fans on a regular basis he was not getting what he asked for and after two consecutive seasons of falling short in terms of winning anything he said the following: “We as a club need to be better. We must think bigger in the market and act in a way that is of a team that is looking to win competitions.” and the following season; “…. we need to be brave. This club needs to take risks to take the final step and that means bravery. We must make changes with personnel that may seem painful, painful goodbyes to players and people who have done well and are good but necessary changes to move to the next level…..”
I often laughed at Pochettino press conferences because through a combination of his English language skills and his clever way with words it would so often be really random and not very informative however he was pretty clear with his messages two seasons in a row. Things had to change and every fan heard that message and waited. Hoped. Pochettino even signed a new deal after saying this so everyone was expecting he must have been given assurances on some spending… right? right? however no, we broke records for going so long without signing anyone. NOT what any of us had in mind when we heard “we needed to be brave” and so unlike with most clubs when results start to falter the manager is blamed right away at Tottenham due to Pochettino’s clear messages and then lack of action from Daniel Levy / ENIC it was not his head fans were screaming for.
You could of course look at it as very smart PR from Pochettino where he knew the team was on the decline and also knew we could not sign anyone … accepted the position but wanted to make it clear to everyone it was not his fault. I believe him to be quite an honest man and in many situations perhaps naive in how honest he was and I hope going forward in his career he has learned from that.
Despite having a terrible end to our domestic season in 2018/19 we did end up in the 2019 Champions league final following two insane games against Manchester City in the quarter final and Ajax in the semi final got us there. We all know how that ended so I wont dwell on it but it was what was said before and what happened after which again is worth thinking about in how our situation is unique.
Before the final Pochettino was asked a direct question: ‘What would winning the Champions League with Tottenham mean?’ and he answered and surprised many by admitting if we did it and we won he may need to quit his position as he doesn’t think he would ever be able to top that. Once again, being to honest and it got blown up into a massive story and I know from conversations on our Facebook page with fellow fans that many think that was when we lost that final, him saying that and also they think that was him leaving us…. his eventual sacking a simple formality based on him saying he would have left.
The person closest to him in footballing terms is his assistant Jesus Perez who has in recent weeks actually been quoted as saying that was never going to happen. He said they had plans in place and ideas going forward and discussed them daily and they were all based on winning, which they truly believed they were going to do it. They felt the team were prepared however no one could have predicted the impact of that opening minute penalty mentally on the players or on the game as whole and after the defeat the coaching team, Pochettino especially struggled to shake it off and it took all summer to return to work and even then as the new season was starting the Argentine has admitted he was not himself and he could not shake it off and he fears that translated to the squad.
Of course we have an Amazon documentary to “enjoy” which will show us all of this so no need for me to dwell on it to much but I do think as I said right at the start his dismissal and expectations around that are unique with Spurs because although a vocal minority had turned on the manager – yes minority – at the time of his sacking he still had the backing of the majority of fans, in fact to this day he is still likely backed more than the current manager and certainly backed more than Daniel Levy and ENIC. I am sure if I said on our Facebook page in a poll that a new owner is coming in and his first change will be to bring Pochettino back and back him financially in the market almost everyone would be on board. That is a pretty rare feeling for a fan base over a sacked manager.
Looking at everything I said here you would say that it is pretty obvious we should be holding Daniel Levy / ENIC responsible for our current position and decline and I think this is why this debate has arrived again and why someone is willing to part with their money to fly a plane over the new stadium… but its the new stadium that actually kind of blurs the debate here for me.
You see when Daniel Levy hired Mauricio Pochettino he did so on a five year contract initially and its been revealed in Poch’s book and in many interviews since he made it clear to him that he needed stability, he wanted the team to be in the top half of the table and holding a challenge for the top four spots and use the clubs academy as much as possible as… and I quote; “…..club funds will be diverted to ensure the successful completion of the new stadium development which we must have to be competitive…….”
So Pochettino signed on knowing transfer funds and wage structure would be very tight compared to rivals. He signed on knowing his objectives was to get the team playing well, re-engage the fans and to try and challenge for the top four. He achieved that and some and its in the “and some” that lies the beauty but also the problem. You see he raised expectations to a level that sadly the club simply was not in a position to act on.
The stadium build was not a sudden decision, it has been a long time in development and the club had worked hard to try and delivery a scheme that would be a modern stadium but also not be the new build soul less bowl up the road. I am also not a fan of Wembley either for atmosphere if I am honest and so the club looked to do things and develop things in a way the new stadium would be special. I think we can all agree it is special, it is one of the very best stadiums in the world but a project of that size of course took not only financial input but also time.
A documentary on the development of our stadium showed that the developers and architects all described Daniel Levy as the most demanding person they have ever worked with / for. This is likely no shock to most fans however in that industry I think it came as a shock that he managed and knew about every aspect. If the toilets on a certain floor were behind schedule by a day he would be on the phone chasing it.
Now there is a debate well worth having over knowing his attention to detail and the stadium build being “his baby” Daniel Levy should have brought in a sporting director to handle all the footballing side of things, within a budget, during that time. (In my opinion we should have one anyway). However lets park that otherwise this blog post will break all records for length and level or boring.
So while the stadium was being built we not only had to manage with the financial impact but also the lack of a person being there day to day to handle financial football matters. So my point here is if we had been 6th or 5th in the league for a few years then maybe the expectation for big signings and to kick on would not have been there but by over achieving in his second and third season in charge Pochettino handed a unique problem to the board which was that they needed to invest to win something at a time they actually could not do that. Awful timing? Poor planning? A combination…. however can you fully lay fault at the door step of either the manager or the chairman. Just circumstances beyond all control and terrible timing in the history of our club. Had we stayed at the Lane and used money to sign players would we have lifted the Premier League trophy? A good chance for sure however long term for the club was it the right thing and honestly we all know the answer is no, the stadium needed to change. As painful as that was and is by the way as I still really miss the Lane.
Enic history with Spurs.
In 2001 ENIC became the majority owner of Tottenham Hotspur FC after completing the purchase from Alan Sugar and Daniel Levy became the club chairman. It is now 2020 so when we enter the 2020/21 season (eventually) that is twenty years of them being in charge. In that time we have lifted one major trophy (I am sorry everyone, the AUDI Cup is not considered a major trophy… nor was the Peace cup… or the International Challenge nonsense that we also somehow won a few summers back) and that was a league cup. We have also just had our first trophy-less decade since the 1940’s and that I believe is a major factor in fans screaming once again about Levy & Enic needing to go.
It is worth putting into context though that Tottenham in our entire history are not a trophy laden club, in fact we have won 17 major trophies in our entire history (two top division league titles, eight FA Cup’s, four League Cup’s, one European Cup Winners cup and two UEFA cup’s). Now football is a funny old game (I think I owe Greavsey a tenner for saying that) and you can do everything right, have a great team, be amazing and then reach the final of something and somehow just not win the game… the other team be better on the day than they have ever been in their lives or the posts seem wider and you hit them all day etc etc it just sometimes is not your day. Under ENIC we have reached many finals and many semi finals. What is an interesting thought is how different we all could be viewing things had those games / the luck just gone our way. ENIC would have delivered various FA Cups, League cups, the Premier League title and the Champions league. We have been in touching distance of all of those in the last decade and yes you could argue with this player or that player purchased we might have won but also with a bit of luck here or there we could have also. Sissoko handball. The rule was changed for that final. It was changed back after that final. The most Spursy thing ever no!?
For the lack of success on the pitch though the club has been transformed off of it from a mid table and treading water entity to a club that looks for all to see as one of the big boys. Some of the best training facilities in the world, on site accommodation for players and staff which is state of the art and of course one of the best stadiums in the world.
Even the strongest opinion of hatred on Levy & ENIC will have to accept that off the field the development in the last two decades is incredible. We are a different club to look at and on a global scale now we are a brand recognised all over the world and that is again down to their work off the field because as we have said, on the field we have not been a trophy winning dominant force at all.
So with the stadium built, the debt being serviced by a clever combination of stadium naming rights (eventually) and non footballing events and the training facilities in place surely it was all about moving on up for Tottenham Hotspur. The club even spent money bringing in a new club record signing in Tanguy Ndombele and others in Ryan Sessegnon, Giovani Lo Celso, Jack Clarke and then later adding Steven Bergwijn and Gedson Fernandes. Two windows and activity!! What is this madness!!
However as I type this today only one of these signings has made an impact at the club and that is Bergwijn who arrived and scored on debut before also scoring upon the resumption of games too (he likes a goal against Manchester clubs it seems). Sessegnon cannot even make the bench, Clarke has gone to two clubs on loan this season and failed to get off the bench for ether and I have to be honest I am still not sure what Gedson is in terms of his playing style or position.. anyone? Lo Celso I will say is a real highlight but at the same time has been injured a lot so only now are we seeing him. The Ndombele situation of course we all know and face palm about. What a bloody mess.
So does this prove that spending money doesn’t get you success? Daniel Levy would have you think so. In a meeting with the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust he said; “….spending money doesn’t guarantee success…. you have to be smart…..” and I don’t know about anyone else looking at our recent signings I am curious as to where the smart kicks in. However there is of course one major factor in why these new signings, from last summer anyway, are not settling into the club and that is because the manager they signed to play under has gone.
On the 19th November 2019 Mauricio Pochettino was sacked by Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy.
The announcement pointed to domestic results at the end of the 2018/19 season and the start of the 2019/20 season being the factor. We ended the last season fourth, just and were 14th in the table this season but not only were results bad the team was playing badly. It was a mess. The reason for the mess the manager? Could you blame the man for the squad looking a mess when he has pleaded publicly for players to be sold and new players brought in for at least four transfer windows?
For me, and this is my personal opinion, Daniel Levy had a choice. He could accept that season was going to be poor due to transfer inactivity for so long and work with Pochettino to change the squad, likely costing a lot or he could sack the manager and hope a new one could come in and get a results bump from the squad. In a lot of ways option two in his mind was cheaper and faster and so that was what he did. He believes and hoped if he brought in a top manager the squad would suddenly all start playing.
He would have also known that the fans loved Pochettino and so did many of the top players. Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane and others all were not only fans of their current manager but spoke of him like they would family. A change like sacking him could rip the team apart not repair it and so Daniel Levy knew he had to appoint someone with a CV that everyone would be impressed by. A manager that everyone would say is an upgrade. Daniel Levy of course turned to the ‘special one’ and appointed former two time Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
He had that initial new manager bounce, like most new managers do when they join a team however right from that first game he must have realised the task was huge. Also right from that first game every fan could see this was not going to be a fix. We raced into a three goal lead against a poor West Ham side, who battled back and nearly grabbed a draw…. and from then on its been an absolute walk in the mud with Jose in charge.
We have picked up points at a better rate than under Pochettino however the football being played is not really anything to talk about, no real patterns or clear idea / structure. Also we are conceding like a school boy team. Basic errors from individuals as well as collectively constantly. A recent defeat to Sheffield United only serving to show once again that even when we look in control we will still concede rubbish goals. We conceded three basic tap in’s even though our defenders were there. They just didnt react.
Now since Jose arrived he has had a very unique situation to deal with however. That is of course the fact that football as a whole was brought to a stop as the whole world was due to the COVID-19 outbreak and as such this whole season really is a complete write off. In history it will forever have an asterix next to it and as such I think most fans, even though bored and worried by lack of progress under Jose are thinking next season is when it is fair to judge him.
It is not a simple question to answer with regards to ENIC. Should they stay or should they go. I think and I hope in what I have written and laid out before this I have detailed circumstances and in some cases luck just being against us at certain times. Maybe that is the new Spursy? It was once about throwing games away but now perhaps Spursy is just when all of the fates, gods, circumstances seem to conspire against you…. like having a goal chalked off because one of YOUR players was fouled. Wont happen next year following it happening to us this year… DOES NOT HELP US NOW THOUGH DOES IT!!! …. Spursy.
I honestly do not believe ENIC or Daniel Levy have any intention of selling. With everything in place in terms of infrastructure the club now is at a very high value globally, you are looking at any deal being circa £2bn and in this current global crisis simply put no one is spending that on a football team. You can fly as many planes over the stadium as you like I fear you are only wasting your money. If an offer comes in they will look at it, of course, ENIC is quite literally an investment company and their investment in Tottenham is going to pay off in a big way. When they sell.
So my final thought is this. We did actually spend last summer and we were active again in January. That needs to keep happening. The club needs to learn from past mistakes and one of the ways they could address this is by looking at employing a sporting director. This would allow Daniel Levy to focus on what he does best, grow the club, the brand, lock in that stadium naming rights deal, expand the NFL deal … all things that will generate money and pay down the stadium debt… all while a sporting director, with a budget and football brain can work on signings players, contracts and selling players as all three is equally as important.
When Pochettino decided it was time for Alderweireld, Eriksen, Rose, Wanyama etc had to go they should have been sold. Holding on for top dollar meant that they ended up staying. Annoyed and that affected performance, the squad and the manager. If sold and replaced with the players the manager wanted you were looking at us selling and signing Van Dijk beofre Liverpool. Fernandes before Man Utd, Chilwell etc etc etc
The club must learn from this. We are where we are. We cannot go back in time but we must learn. We have appointed one of the most successful managers in the history of club football in Europe. Now we must back him if we want to win things because if we do not and we become the first club he has ever managed where he doesn’t lift a trophy then that might just be the most Spursy thing of all.
Thank you for reading, I hope you found my ramblings on this subject interesting.