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.

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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.

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The Premier League: 8 Key Questions

  1. Can City go back-to-back?

The heart-stopping finale to last season may still be fresh in the minds of the City faithful, but the warm and fuzzy has well and truly gone from Roberto Mancini.  The Italian has cut a cranky figure during a surprisingly quiet pre-season at Eastlands.  When asked about the lack of transfer activity, Mancini spat out “Ask Marwood”.  Jack Rodwell is the only new face at City, and it’s hard to see him being in the first team in the immediate future.  Van Persie headed toward Salford, leaving Mancini with pretty much the same squad.  The good news? Tevez is back in the fold and looks interested, Balotelli hasn’t gone loopy and the creative core of Silva, Nasri, Aguerro will be better for another pre-season.  City deserve favouritism, but only just.

  1. Can Van Persie deliver the title back to Old Trafford?

It was a transfer saga of the summer, and a coup for United to pull it off.  The best striker in the Premier League last season leaving 3rd place to join 2nd.  It’s big money for an injury prone, 29 year old, but if Van Persie delivers as he did in 2011/12, it’s money well spent.  The problem here for United is how to fit him into the system.  Is it back to the 4-4-2?  Where does Kagawa fit in? Is Rooney up top or in the hole? What about Young, Nani, Valencia, Wellbeck?  Defensively nothing has changed either.  The anticipated move for Baines hasn’t materialised, Rio and Vidic are a year older, as are Carrick and Scholes.  Tom Cleverley, so impressive in the Olympic campaign and in England’s win over Italy, has a pivotal year ahead of him.  It looks set for a Manchester title battle.

  1. Can Di Matteo revive Chelsea?

Sounds odd to say the European Champions need reviving, but we have to be honest. Chelsea’s UCL triumph was almost achieved despite themselves.  Now the hard work really starts.  Drogba will be a huge miss, almost as much for his personality as his goals.  Torres is coming good, but in the striker stakes, the cupboard is pretty bare behind the Spaniard with Kalou, Anelka and Drogba gone.  Only Sturridge remains.  Countering that is an abundance of midfield creativity, with Marin, Oscar and Hazard all arriving to join Mata.  There’ll be the usual reliance on Lampard and Terry to go around once more, and defence could be an Achilles heel.  A title challenge is unlikely.  A tilt at the top 4 should be a given, but a bad start and who knows what could happen down the Kings Road.

  1. Are the North London clubs in transition?

It was heartening for Arsenal fans to see Wenger be proactive in the transfer market, bringing in Podolski, Giroud and Carzola all before the inevitable Van Persie exit.  But again, questions are being raised about the club’s ambition with another big name exiting the Emirates. Alex Song could be next, which would leave a hole in the defensive part of the side.  As per usual, creativity is not a problem for the Gunners, with the new boys joining Walcott, The Ox and rejuvenated Rosicky and Arteta.  But it’s the return of Jack Wilshere that may ultimately decide the fate of Arsenal this year.  His injury is career threatening, but if he returns at the same level as in 2010/11 Arsenal will have a good season.

Up the Seven Sisters Road, it’s all change. No more Arry. No more Luka. In come tactics. And a swagger. Villas-Boas has a fair bit to prove, but has probably chosen the perfect club to start his coaching comeback.  For all the pretty football in the early part of last season, Spurs collapsed under the distraction of Arry courting England, and a squad threadbare in key areas.  The latter part hasn’t changed with Defoe the only striker at the club.  This is the area in need of urgent attention now the Modric deal is concluded.  Vertonghen is a shrewd addition as is Sigurdsson, and expect a more advanced role for Gareth Bale, as AVB seeks to implement his Porto system on Spurs.  Top 4 challengers again, but no sack if he doesn’t make it this season.

  1. Can Rodgers revive The Reds?

He’s the British coach that even Craig Foster likes.  No pressure then at Liverpool for Brendan Rodgers.  The architect of Barcelona-in-South-Wales, has taken his Northern Irish Tikka Takka to Anfield, to try and revive the sleeping giant, after 2 years of Hodgson/Dalglish related misery.  It seems the majority of Liverpool fans are all for Rodgers and are prepared to give him time to succeed.  Fed up of false dawns, they want a coach, and a playing style, to stick.  The early signs are promising. Youthful signings who fit the Rodgers philosophy of pass, pass, pass, press, press, press, and the relative light use of Andy Carroll, all point to a brighter future.  They will be tough to beat at Anfield but it’ll be on the road where Liverpool’s destiny this season will be decided.  Either way, the future is certainly brighter than it was 12 months ago.

  1. Can anyone make the break into the top 4?

Newcastle got damn close last season.  Everton have been there or there abouts before, as have Villa.  The Geordies look best placed to have another crack with a settled squad and a confident coach who has delivered above expectation.  Papiss Cisse was the revelation of last year and his partnership with Demba Ba will make or break Newcastle’s season.

Everton have again had to cut their cloth.  Pienaar and Naismith come in. Rodwell leaves.  Traditionally slow starters, if they can hit the ground running, and Jelavic is amongst the goals they will on course for a good season.

For Villa just forgetting last season’s flirtation with relegation may be enough. The McLeish year was traumatic, and he’s replaced by another Scot in Paul lambert who did wonderous things at Norwich.  The football should be better, the fans should be happier and the results should improve.  Not enough to crack the big boys, but enough to be competitive again.

  1. Can Norwich and Swansea go again?

A massive challenge lies ahead for the 2 sides who impressed and delighted in equal measure last season.  Both are under new coaches, with Chris Hughton at Carrow Road, out to build on the reputation he developed at Newcastle, then Birmingham, and amazingly Michael Laudrup in charge at Swansea. Yes, Michael Laudrup.  At Swansea.  On paper the changes will be felt least at Norwich with no major departures, Grant Holt retained and Michael Turner on board.  The Swans however have lost not just Rodgers, but 2 key members of that impressive midfield in Sigurdsson and Allen.  Laudrup forged his coaching reputation with a young, exciting Getafe team, but has found recent jobs trickier.  On paper his style is similar to Rodgers, but in reality times could be much tougher this time around in South Wales.

  1. Who will go down?

A really tough call this year.  Wigan have flirted with relegation for years now, and no matter how much we respect Martinez football, they may finally run out of luck, especially if Victor Moses moves on.

The promoted teams all face a tough year with Reading perhaps the best placed to survive, with a solid, settled squad, good youth set up and a star signing in Pogrebnyak.

Southampton were League One 2 years ago, and will bank on home form in front of a parochial crowd to keep them up.

West Ham snuck in through the play-offs after faltering late on.  Big Sam will divide opinion inside and outside the club once again, but they have enough Premier league experience within the squad to survive.

QPR survived on a fraught final day, but seem set to prosper in 2012/13 after Mark Hughes latest shopping spree that brought in Park and Fabio from United plus Robert Green, Junior Hoilett and Andy Johnson.

 

Predictions

Winner: Manchester United

UCL Spots: Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham

Europa Spot: Chelsea

FA Cup: Chelsea

League Cup: Newcastle

Relegated: Swansea, Southampton, Wigan

 

 

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.