Daniel Levy’s time as Spurs chairman has been about legacy from the moment it began. It was about building something. About leaving behind something bigger and better than what he inherited. To show those up high that he could, yes, but also to give the club a platform to compete at the highest level after years of mediocrity. So how is that legacy shaping up?
A distracting succession of emotive and high profile talking points in recent years set to a backdrop of progress and chaos, of ambitious long-term planning and crushing short-term disappointments have made it impossible to conclude with certainty. But are we now, finally, reaching the time when the Levy years will be defined?
ENIC’s ownership of the club began when the unpopular George Graham was replaced with club legend Glenn Hoddle in 2001 but the truly instructive period, where insight into Levy’s vision for the club can really be gained, began with Hoddle’s dismissal in September 2003.
Former Lyon manager Jacques Santini was eventually confirmed as his successor but only after a Director of Football had already been in place and it’s clear the Frenchman had little to do with Martin Jol’s appointment as assistant coach, and even less to do with signings. Levy had articulated his vision for the club for the first time. Central to not just its structure but the nature of its creation was the manager working with what the chairman gave him, rather than the chairman giving the manager what he wanted. It failed. The manager, with players he didn’t ask for, failed to get results the chairman required.
It was November and a second successive season lost to a lengthy search for a manager was unfeasible and would have been an embarrassment to Levy. Jol had a good relationship with Arnesen and after a single game as caretaker manager his swift appointment as full-time manager was confirmed. Levy talked about the continuity the new structure provided, but had little choice except to appoint Jol after Santini’s bizarre exit.
Jol was popular with the press, seen as a motivator of the players and brought consistency to the team. Relying on 4-4-2 he turned a season that threatened to be lost to managerial chaos into a creditable top 10 finish. His finest hour came the following season. The team started well and on January 2nd 2006 the club was 4 points ahead of Arsenal. By this time Levy had replaced Arnesen, with whom Jol got on well, with Damien Comolli. Needing a centre forward and another winger Comolli brought in Danny Murphy and Hossam Ghaly. In the same window Arsenal signed Emmanuel Adebayor. There is much more to the story of the 2005/06 season than that, but it wasn’t the last time inaction in January cost us.
Jol’s relationship with Comolli deteriorated. Jol got a centre forward in Dimitar Berbatov who proved a huge success but few of the players signed were of his choosing. His creative linchpin Michael Carrick had been sold, the money had been re-invested but Carrick was never replaced. The 2006/07 season had its moments but the manager, never the chairman’s first choice, was in an increasingly insecure position. He survived into the following season but only just and his brutal sacking on 25 October 2007 has become the stuff of club legend.
Levy had identified his successor long before that. Again he appointed a foreign manager. Where Santini had enjoyed success with Lyon, Ramos’ Sevilla side had earned rave reviews. Again Levy put his faith in the reputation of a tactician despite concerns over communication. Ramos, like Santini, spoke little English. Ramos’ first season in English football went well, league form picked up, only penalty kicks prevented us reaching the quarter final of the UEFA Cup and Spurs won the Carling Cup beating Arsenal and Chelsea on the way.
Yet, despite more than £70m invested in the squad in the summer and less than 9 months after the Carling Cup victory and a year and a day after Jol’s dismissal, Ramos was gone. How? Keane and Berbatov were sold. As when Carrick was sold, the money was re-invested, but the players weren’t replaced. Ramos’ Sevilla team had been built on quick wingers, technically adept forwards and mobility in defence. Comolli spent almost £40m on Pavlyuchenko, Bentley and Corluka. Again, the manager may have failed. But the recruitment failed the manager as well.
This was the zenith of the Levy reign. Almost £250m had been spent on 2 Carling Cups and the Champions League never felt further away. The chairman who was supposed to bring stability and a long-term plan now appointed the club’s 5th manager in 6 seasons. There are suggestions Levy was a long-term admirer of Harry Redknapp’s but judging by his other appointments it’s hard to believe Redknapp fit the profile as his ideal manager. Bottom of the league and without a win, we were in trouble. Redknapp wasn’t the type of Spurs manager Levy wanted but he was the type we needed. The Director of Football role had been discarded.
We know the story now. Relegation, never as real a danger as it felt at the time, was survived comfortably. Relying on 4-4-2, popular with the press and with a reputation as a motivator, Redknapp’s finest hour, like Jol’s, came in his first full season as the team finished 4th and qualified for the Champions League. Again, the manager Levy needed was succeeding where the manager he wanted had failed.
On January 2nd 2011 we looked like qualifying for the Champions League for successive seasons. We were 1 point clear of Chelsea who started sluggishly under Carlo Ancelotti. Crouch and Pavlyuchenko weren’t convincing and the team was over-reliant on the fitness of Lennon and Bale. Levy signed Steven Pienaar from Everton and Bongani Khumalo from Supersport United. Chelsea, hardly models of prudent spending, paid £50m for Fernando Torres and £21m for David Luiz. But their early season sluggishness had abated and we hadn’t capitalized. We faded and finished 5th while Chelsea finished 2nd.
Levy spent heavily early on in Redknapp’s reign but investment was now scaled back. Levy had started to question Jol’s loyalty after dalliances with Newcastle and Redknapp was strongly being linked with the England job. A job he clearly wanted. In the summer of 2011 Spurs signed Scott Parker, Brad Friedel and Emmanuel Adebayor on loan for the season. On the surface the chairman was giving him the experienced players he asked for but Redknapp wanted heavier investment.
On January 14th 2012 Spurs, starting the season superbly, were 3rd and 14 points clear of Arsenal in 5th. Roman Pavlyuchenko had played just 18 minutes of first team football and another centre forward and cover for Lennon and Bale was hoped for. Levy signed Louis Saha from Everton and Ryan Nelsen from Blackburn. The team finished 4th, the club missed out on Champions League football and Redknapp was sacked on 13th June. As with Jol’s dismissal, it was both shocking and entirely unsurprising.
So have we turned full circle? For a third time in succession, Levy, given the freedom to choose the manager he wants, has appointed a foreign manager who was associated with a Director of Football system, tactical acumen and adventurous, counter attacking football and one who, on arrival, did little to inspire on a personal level. Even worse, he was unproven in the Premier League.
There is, however, a lot to suggest that this time is different. This is the first time in recent memory that a Spurs manager has inherited a team that has been winning. Results have been good; the league table confirms as much. The insecure, tetchy and at times incoherent man we saw fail at Chelsea bears little resemblance to the relaxed and confident manager under our employ. He has faced hostility, from both inside and outside the club, with dignity and clarity in recent months. One still senses he would favour a 4-3-3/4-5-1 hybrid but the regular use of 4-4-2 suggests a pragmatist within the tactical idealist. The Chelsea job has become an ever bigger farce than a year ago. To fail whilst in Abramovich’s employment isn’t to be exposed as not good enough any more, merely to be guilty of naivety in taking the job in the first place.
The mood at the club seems to be calming after 12 months of upheaval. The chairman has the man he wants getting the results he wants. Perhaps, the last decade tells us, for the first time. It also tells us that the difference between giving the manager the tools he wants and the tools you think he needs is the difference between an appointment being a success and a failure.
This isn’t about money or pressuring Levy to open the purse strings. They aren’t his purse strings for one thing. It’s about the thinking behind the spending. Money spent on a player the manager asks for is a better investment than money spent on someone he agrees to. January is when the weaknesses in the squad are most obvious and failure to address them can be most costly. Those are the lessons he needs to have learned.
The squad is unbalanced and the first 11 lacks a playmaker and centre forward yet we are still very much in contention. It is clear: getting the players he wants will define Villas-Boas’ reign and, on that basis, weeks like this one will likely define the Levy years as well.