There is so much talk about foreign owners with no link to the football clubs they invest in (or add debt to, whichever way you want to look at it) so it must be good for Tottenham Hotspur fans to know that their club has a real Spurs fan right at the summit.
Daniel Levy has acted as Chairman of his beloved lilywhites since February 2001, when he took over from Sir Alan Sugar. In a way there must be added pressure when taking control of the side you have always supported. For starters it is necessary to separate yourself from your fellow fans and make decisions with your business brain, not your football supporter’s heart. It seems as though Levy has succeeded with this over the past nine years.
The Essex-born tycoon quickly got into the business world after graduating from Cambridge University with a First Class Honours degree in Land Economy. And since 1995 he has been Managing Director of ENIC, the company that bought a controlling stake in Spurs, along with his partner Joe Lewis, a Bahama-based businessman believed to be worth £2.8 billion.
ENIC had stakes in other football clubs, such as Rangers, AEK Athens, FC Basle and Vicenza along with other interests like Warner Bros. But it was Tottenham they always wanted and by last summer their controlling share had grown to 85 per cent. And Levy has since revealed plans for a new 55.000 seater stadium, a proposal that could really help the North London side move to the next level. This development is all part of the ‘detailed plan for the company’ that the 48-year-old talked about on his appointment as Chairman.
During his time at the Lane Levy has made many bold decisions, amongst them successes and failures, one of which was seen to be the appointment of David Pleat as caretaker manager after the sacking of club legend Glenn Hoddle. The controversial Pleat was given nearly the entire season in his temporary position which many fans believed to be a dithering decision, highlighting Levy’s indecision, despite his claims that he was simply taking his time to make the correct appointment. This wait eventually led to radical changes at Spurs and a continental approach with Frank Arnesen being appointed as Director of Football and a change of transfer policy focusing on recruiting younger talent with plenty of potential.
This strategy, led by the manager Martin Jol, after Jacques Santini had left the club for personal reasons, resulted in two consecutive fifth-place finishes at White Hart Lane and so Levy’s decision to wait for the right appointment was justified.
After overseeing six full-time managers in his time at the club with differing levels of success, Levy highlights the hiring of current boss, Harry Redknapp as his best decision of the past nine years.
He said: “My only regret is that he wasn’t manager here a number of years ago. Based on how we’ve progressed since he’s been here, it’s the board’s best football decision in my time as Chairman.”
Levy seems to be very popular amongst the Spurs faithful, not only for the endless backing he gives his managers with funds but also due to his openness, which he demonstrated most finely in an open letter to the fans after the sacking of Juande Ramos in 2008.
Here are some of the most interesting statements from that letter, ones that show confidence in his ability but also an understanding of supporters’ feelings and concerns:
“In my opinion, and with the benefit that comes with running our club with and without a sporting director in the past seven years, the successful management of a football club is not about structures or job titles. As in most businesses, it’s about people: their personal qualities, their knowledge, their experience, their relationships, communication skills, interaction with colleagues, leadership and, of course, their ability.
“In Harry, we are also accepting with his appointment that now is the right time for us to move back to a more traditional style of football management, one which we believe will be capable of initiating our climb back up the Premiership table and to maintaining our challenge in the UEFA, Carling and FA Cup competitions.
“There is also an inaccurate perception that our club is run entirely for profit and that football is secondary. Success on the pitch is the sole determinant to the future of the club and its financial stability, so it would be entirely counter-productive to have anything other than football as our first and foremost priority and it is ridiculous to suggest otherwise. At a time when football clubs are criticised for losing money and for their debt levels, I am surprised that we should be criticised for running our club on a sound commercial basis and for making a profit. Thank goodness we do make a profit because it has significantly supported the progress we have made over the last seven years and has helped to make us one of Europe’s most secure clubs. I make no apologies for the fact that we reinvest the club’s positive cash flow in both players and infrastructure.”
It is actions like these detailed answers that has made Levy so appreciated by Tottenham supporters. He may not get everything right but they see his passion and are probably willing to give him more leeway than they would to others. They know he has the club’s best interests at heart and that he will continue to run the North London outfit in a steady, yet ambitious, manner. And maybe one day this approach will help Spurs rediscover their former glories – that will make Levy not only a happy chairman, but a delighted fan too.