How Not to Invest in a Football Team: The Levy Blueprint
Money, money, money
It’s approaching 70 days since Spurs bid farewell to Jose Mourinho, and with Daniel Levy at the helm, the club’s manager search has become a laughing stock. Eyes have been on the club chairman for years, as his failure to aid the team’s success has pushed fans to call for his removal. Is he the problem?
Meet Daniel Levy, the bane of the Spurs fan’s existence. He successfully bought Tottenham Hotspur from Alan Sugar in 2001, three years after his initial bid was deemed too low. At this point, fans were becoming increasingly hostile towards Sugar, who had made many strange managerial appointments, so Levy was a welcome replacement.
I remember coming here with my uncle more than 50 years ago to watch my first game against QPR, wearing a huge rosette. It is hard to pick out one single memory as a favourite, as there have been so many.
His position as chairman started well. His gambles on players like Son Heung-Min and Dele Ali (while it lasted) have been fruitful for the club, and he has a history of being a tough negotiator, selling Gareth Bale in 2013 for a then world-record £85 million to Real Madrid. Soon though, the cracks began to show.
The 2017/18 season is a well-remembered period among Spurs fans. The team had just moved into Wembley while their new stadium was under construction, yet this new environment didn’t stop them from finishing third in the Premier League. On top of this, the team’s Champions League campaign had been stellar, with the team dismantling European powerhouses Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund to finish top of their group. A new season was over the horizon, and rumours about new signings were everywhere. Christian Pulisic, Jack Grealish — the names were looking good. The summer transfer window came, and Daniel Levy did not buy a single new player. This was summer transfer window history — Spurs became the first team ever to have no players in during the window. Several players inked new deals, but that wasn’t enough; poor Pochettino needed a top team to succeed, and Levy hadn’t given him one.
This statistic becomes even worse when you realize that Tottenham Hotspur has a lot of money to spend. The club broke the world record for a football club’s profit, raking in £113 million over the 2017/18 season, yet in Pochettino’s first four years, Spurs had a net spend of only £29 million in total. Jamie Carragher broke this down perfectly:
In 5–10 years the team will break up and the manager will be gone and nobody will be looking at net spend and points; they will say “did they win anything?”
One would think that with all this money, a good chairman would be dishing out offers left, right and centre to build a formidable squad of players. But Levy’s tight-fisted nature is the reason why the club isn’t performing as well as it could, and this stinginess has seeped into the club’s search for a new manager.
After Jose Mourinho’s untimely sacking (which conveniently took place a few days before the Carabao Cup Final), all eyes turned towards Daniel Levy. Who was he going to talk to? Every fan knew that a Champions League-quality manager was essential for the club’s progression, not least in solving the issue of Harry Kane potentially leaving. The 27-year-old has broken records and is regarded as the best striker in the world. All that’s left is for him to win a trophy, which Spurs worryingly haven’t done for a while.
Reports and rumours started to flood in. Levy’s first targets were former Bayern Munich manager Hans Dieter-Flick and Ajax manager Erik ten Hag. However, talks fell apart with the former, and although the latter is still interested in the job after triggering a contract extension, fans have been kept in the dark about the club’s chances of signing him.
The Spurs fanbase erupted with glee with reports of Mauricio Pochettino wanting to return to the London club, but PSG kept their foot down, and the rumours faded away. Other managers revolved in and out of the rumour mill — Brendan Rodgers, Julian Nagelsmann, Scott Parker — but these were simply names floating around.
Then, it was Antonio Conte’s turn.
Conte’s departure from Inter Milan after winning the Serie A came as a surprise, but a welcome one. The decorated manager is notorious for demanding the best out of his players, a trait that Spurs fans were begging for at this point.
Talks began, and the team’s fanbase was hopeful — an authoritative and reputable figure like Conte would bring in some of the best players from around the world.
But as quickly as they began, the talks fell apart.
Daniel Levy was not comfortable with Conte’s transfer budget demands; the incoming manager believed that the squad needed a revamp; for that, he needed (surprise, surprise) a sizeable budget. Of course, this makes Levy’s businessman mind twitchy, and he walked away from the man who could have been the solution to Spurs’ problems.
And this is the problem with Daniel Levy.
In the Premier League, Tottenham Hotspur is among what many people call the “Big 6”. This elite group of clubs also includes both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal. The phrase “Big 6” refers to the biggest football clubs in the country; out of the 92 league clubs that play in English football, these six clubs are the best of them. The cream of the crop.
It seems that Levy is content with having the club sit in mediocracy every single season. Teams in the Big 6 fight amongst one other to sign the world’s best players, while Levy is afraid to open up his wallet for just one. Many of the club’s players are world-class in their own right, and the team chairman deserves his props for identifying them early on, but he also needs to understand that not every player in his youth academy is the next Harry Kane.
To break through the glass ceiling that is truly elite football, Levy must first find an elite manager. Relying on allocating the same low budget to each new face that comes in isn’t going to cut it anymore. Using the money that the team has earned from tickets, shirt sales and outgoing transfers, Levy is obligated in his role as a chairman to invest the money back into the football club. That begins with a new premier manager.
If Levy fails to fulfil these objectives, then his time at Tottenham may be coming to an end.