Following Tottenham’s disappointing Premier League campaign, the fans have begun to vent their frustrations at chairman Daniel Levy – one of the club’s few remaining constants over the last decade, whilst managerial and player changes have been aplenty.
You can certainly understand it from the White Hart Lane faithful’s point of view. Harry Redknapp was axed in summer 2012 despite recording two top four finishes in the space of four seasons – the only time the North London side have done so since 1990. His replacement, Andre Villas-Boas, was brutally scapegoated for the Lilywhites’ lukewarm form at the start of the season, despite recording Spurs’ highest points total of the Premier League era last term. And the Portuguese’s successor, Tim Sherwood, was relieved of his managerial duties earlier this week despite boasting the highest win percentage of any Tottenham manager since the Premiership’s incarnation. Overall, Levy’s thirteen-year reign in North London has overseen eight sackings of permanent managers, with many considered worryingly rash by the Tottenham support.
Furthermore, the Lane outfit’s £110million spending spree last summer hasn’t paid off. Levy would be keen to argue that all incomings were offset by outgoings, mainly Gareth Bale’s £87million move to Real Madrid. But the added expertise of Franco Baldini as Sporting Director is yet to have the desired effect – in fact, the signings he’s been mooted as responsible for in the tabloids, namely £27million Roberto Soldado and £30million Erik Lamela, the two biggest signings in Tottenham’s history, have backfired tremendously. The former Valencia striker has found just two goals from open play this season, whilst the Argentine prodigy has managed just three Premier League starts since his record-breaking move from Roma. Rather than propelling the Lilywhites towards Champions League or even Premier League title glory, Tottenham’s summer of unprecedented spending power has seen them move in reverse.
But let’s consider Tottenham’s recent history from their chairman’s perspective too. Of all the managers Levy’s cruelly relinquished during his time at White Hart Lane, none have gone on to better things. Glen Hoddle, after a nothing-to-write-home-about stay at Wolves ending in 2006, is still awaiting his next appointment, and appears resigned to the fate of punditry work for the foreseeable future. Martin Jol, although a more talented manager than the damp end to his Fulham tenure might suggest, lasted just one title-less year at Ajax before getting the boot. They’ve since won four consecutive Eredivise titles under his successor, Frank de Boer. Juande Ramos, who was sacked in 2008 after recording the Lilywhites worst ever start to a season of two points from their first eight games, flopped equally as cermoniously at Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow, and now mans the dugout for Dnipro in Ukraine. Even Harry Redknapp, in no small part due to his habit of bankrupting every club in his path, is now in the Championship with QPR.
The sackings Spurs fans will feel most aggrieved about however are the two that have occurred this season. Villas-Boas was made to pay the price for a failed transfer policy that he appeared to play little part in manifesting. Although his short-lived, uninspiring stay at Chelsea cast doubts over the Portuguese’s Premier League credentials, judging from Tottenham’s remarkably similar results and league standing since his departure in January, it’s become clear that the quality of the Lane roster was as much at fault as AVB. A prior Europa League winner, still just 36 years of age and kicking off his Zenit tenure, starting in March, with six wins on the bounce, the former Porto boss could well become Tottenham’s ‘one that got away’.
Likewise, the manner in which Levy has handled the Sherwood situation in recent weeks has been appalling. It was no great secret that, despite the issuing of an 18-month contract, the geezer-gaffer’s Lane tenure wouldn’t span past the summer, but no Premier League manager deserves the displeasure of having to discuss the other candidates for his job in every press conference, especially whilst his employer remains completely silent on the subject throughout. That being said, Sherwood’s ‘supply teacher’ analogy summarised the situation perfectly – he did a good job steadying the ship, better than many expected, but the 45 year-old lacks the expertise and clear direction required to take Tottenham to the next level. Perhaps most fatally, rather than improving the form of Spurs’ costly summer signings, barring Christian Eriksen, Sherwood reverted back to the old guard and a less stylish brand of football.
In many ways, that is the crux of Levy’s controversial hire and fire record. Although I would argue that most of his sackings, with the exceptions of Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas, have been justified, his appointments often strike as overambitious. Rather than targeting managers that boast proven track records and would fit Spurs well, the chairman is in constant search of a gaffer who can catalyse the club to a different level. Perhaps understandably; it’s no secret that Tottenham’s ultimate ambition for the foreseeable future is making their flirtatious relationship with the Premier League’s top four permanent, with the aim to secure regular Champions League football before moving to a new 58,000 seater stadium in 2017.
Furthermore, although Tottenham are still yet to reap the rewards of their £110million spend last summer, the mistakes Levy and Baldini made are more than justifiable. He secured a world record sum for Gareth Bale, in itself a fantastic achievement, and judging from the Welshman’s explosion onto the Bernabeu scene this season, the Lilywhites couldn’t have held him back for much longer.
Accordingly, Spurs needed to replace a player who almost singlehandedly dragged them to fifth-place last season. Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado may have since proved to be rather risky alternatives, but other key targets, such as Willian and Henrik Mkhitaryan, were prized away by clubs that could offer Champions League football. Likewise, the burdens of the Europa League cost Tottenham dearly in the final run-in last term and resultantly, Levy was keen to fill the Lane roster with as much depth as possible.
The Tottenham chairman has certainly made mistakes during his thirteen-year running of the club and hasn’t been afraid to make unpopular decisions. Many have blurred the line between cut-throat and knee-jerk, and there’s clearly some weight behind the argument that a lack of stability in the dugout has prevented the club reaching its full potential – it’s no coincidence that Spurs’ best league finishes have come under Levy’s two-longest serving managers, Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp.
But considering how far Levy has taken the club since he took the helm in 2001, propelling them from a mediocre mid-table side into European regulars, the 52-year deserves more credit than he’s often received. Barring last summer, his record in the transfer market has been consistently strong, and he’s hardly the only Premier League chairman who can be accused of getting caught up in the division’s hire-and-fire culture.
Levy’s biggest crime remains over-ambition – but Tottenham fans need only look over at the other side of North London to consider if they’d prefer the opposite extreme.