Levy Reaps the Rewards as Tottenham Rule the Roost

It’s 2001.  Tottenham are facing Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final.  New wealthy owners ENIC have installed club legend Glenn Hoddle as a new coach, replacing George Graham.  A populist, if somewhat, odd move.

The teams walk out at Old Trafford.  The atmosphere is raucous.  Expectation amongst the white half of North London, sky high.  Spurs take the lead.  Captain Campbell limps off.  Arsenal score twice and head to Cardiff.

The season rumbled on, Spurs finished mid table, Campbell never played for the club again, instead walking out the door and straight down the Seven Sisters Road.  The euphoria had well and truly died down.  A quick look at the team sheets that April day speaks volumes.  For Arsenal, Adams, Keown, Pires, Henry, Ljungberg.  Spurs?  Perry, Clemence, Doherty, Iversen.

Tottenham were well and truly in their place.  The task facing ENIC and Chief Executive at the time Daniel Levy, huge.

levy

Fast forward to 2013.  Spurs are basking in a third place spot, having beaten their rivals 2-1.  The teamsheets tell a story.  For Spurs Bale, Lennon, Lloris, Vertonghen.  Arsenal? Mertesacker, Ramsey and Giroud.  Times are a changing.

Arsenal’s longevity in the top echelon of English football is remarkable.  Arsene Wenger has presided over an era of success unmatched outside of Manchester.  He’s done it all whilst being financially responsible too.

But there is finally a sense of change in the North London air.  As bold and proactive as the Tottenham board has been, the counterparts in N5 are eyeing the bottom line rather than the league table.  Tottenham have been knocking on the door for a few seasons.  Now they look set to break it down.

Much of the credit lies with Levy.  He has made decisions.  Bold decisions.  Not always decisions that worked out, but he has been strong enough to make them.

Known as a ferocious negotiator, Levy has seen six managers come and go since he shook hands with George Graham.  He’s made errors. Santini wasn’t a fabulous idea.  And admitted his mistakes.  But when he’s decided on a course of action, he is all in. Dispensing with the popular Martin Jol was brave.  Saying no to Harry Redknapp’s demands, even braver.  But he’s done it his way.

Coaches have been given cash to spend, and licence to do things their way.  He’s ignored the press, and often his own supporters who have been vocal in their doubts.  And he is reaping the rewards.

baleChampions League qualification is no certainty this year.  There are many battles to come.  But this club is on a firm footing on and off the pitch regardless of how the remaining ten games pan out.

Tottenham have gone from a team renowned for underachieving and looking back on a glorious past, to team that may just have their best days in front of them.

When Harry Left Danny

The end when it came was swift and delivered in the dead of night. At 3.37am, Tottenham released a short statement confirming the rumours. Redknapp was gone. A decision Chairman Daniel Levy “didn’t take lightly”. A love affair between two vastly different characters was over.

So how did it come to this? Four months ago, Redknapp was a free man, in charge of a team playing sparkling football and ensconsed in third place. He was also the man destined to lead his country into the Euro and beyond. Now Harry heads home to Bournemouth with a cheque amounting to the last year of his contract and his belongings in a cardboard box. England are being Greece under Hodgson, and Spurs are facing a season of Thursday night trips to Turkey and the loss of key players.

Harry famously berated Sky’s Rob Palmer who portrayed him as being a wheelie dealer. In this case, he tried a deal too many. Despite protestations to the contrary, Spurs form disappeared down the gurgler, not when the boss was in court facing Porridge, but when he was fluttering his eyelids and lifting his skirt in the direction of the FA.

All the while, his public statements suggested that it didnt effect the team, yet just days ago, Harry claimed that his contract talks with Levy could destabilise the players? This despite the fact that he already had a year to run.

Redknapp tried to have an each way bet, and ended up tout of the places.

Levy didnt demand a Champions League spot. And theres no doubt there was plenty of misfortune over the manner that fourth spot was tossed away. But his fury at the way a ten point cushion over Arsenal disappeared into another desperate late scramble, whilst playing hard ball over his own future, would have been the final straw.

There are suggestions too that Redknapp had a bonus in his contract for a top four finish, and his priority was ensuring that over striving for third and an automatic spot.

Outside of the club, theres disbelief that Spurs could make this decision. Things are not so clear cut within though. Harry, like many managers, had his issues with players at times, over decisions. Amongst the fans theres universal appreciation for what he did in resurrecting a club that was a shambles. After that though the punters seem to fall into three groups. Pro-Harry, Anti-Harry or a bit of both. I take a position in the latter.

The way he galvanised the team after replacing Juande Ramos was superb. He coaxed performances out of a group that were absent for years, developed Modric into a world class playmaker and released Gareth Bale into the player we now see. The style of football was also, generally, to our liking, despite the odd love of the back-to-front when Crouchie played.

But the cracks appeared over the past two seasons. Odd tactical decisions like switching Bale and Lennon. The reluctance to rotate players, leading to successive mid season fade outs. The inability to make mid game changes to influence a game, the Villa match a prime example when a win would’ve pretty much sealed third and rendered all this redundant. The FA Cup semi final defeat by Chelsea was also a bitter pill.

His relationship with the supporters was often strained by his attitude toward them. At one time berating them as idiots, and constantly harking back to the situation at the club when he arrived. Of course, the team is in better shape than in 2008, but so it should be. That was a false position given the quality of players. Harry inherited the likes of Lennon, Assou-Ekotto, Modric and Bale. And while his wheeler dealer reputation is based on his record, many of his Spurs signings shone briefly before disappearing, the likes of Palacios, Crouch, Pienaar and Bassong. Not to mention the odd short term moves for Saha and Nelsen.

And now he is gone. And with Modric and Van der Vaart unsettled, Adebayor still a City player and Bale in demand, the rebuild may take some time. Theres no football director at Spurs. Levy gave Redknapp autonomy over first team matters.

Who comes in? Moyes, Martinez, AVB and Capello have all been mentioned. Whoever it is, Levy has gambled here. He risks a backlash and ridicule should this go wrong. He’s made some big decisions in the past with mixed success. The populist road (Hoddle, Redknapp), the latest trend model (Santini/Ramos) or the safe option (Jol). This is his biggest yet.

For Harry, there’ll be a job soon no doubt. I’ll have fond memories and we’ll never forget you for what you did; delivering the Champions League anthem to The Lane; for Milan at the San Siro, for Inter, for Wembley trips and for two nil down, three two up at The Emirates.

Harry thank you, but its goodbye. Audere est Facere.