Groundhog Day at Tottenham Hotspur

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Tottenham are in disarray. Again. Another season of disappointment. Another manager hired and fired. It is Groundhog Day in N17.

As the 2020-21 season draws to a premature and underwhelming end for fans of Tottenham Hotspur, the same tired, old, but pervasive questions loom ever larger over the club. What is the club’s identity? It’s culture? It’s style? And perhaps most pertinently; just what is Spurs’ actual plan for footballing success? As has been the case for much of ENIC’s twenty one year reign, the answer is that no one seems to know.

Daniel Levy is now embarking on his search for his 13th manager in 21 years, a fact which speaks volumes about the way in which Spurs have been run throughout those years. The only other chairman or owner in England to hire and fire so prolifically is Roman Abramovich, and it’s not hard to understand the major, glaring difference between the two. One churns through managers because they demand results after providing better backing than almost any other club in Europe; the other to distract and cover from a woeful, chronic, and systemic lack of backing at any level. Managers at Tottenham are expected to pull off the impossible: Champions League on a relegation budget; champagne results on lemonade money. When the rot inevitably sets in, rather than finally dipping into the club’s vast financial reserves and belatedly setting the team up for success, Levy invariably elects to pull the trigger and part with his manager.

Never has this been more apparent than during the Pochettino era, where the club came agonizingly close to success, only for lack of options and depth to derail them at crucial moments. Year after year one of Europe’s brightest young managers pleaded for reinforcements, yet was snubbed in favor of paying higher executive salaries and pocketing ever-increasing profits. It was an incredible timeline of neglect, one from which Tottenham will likely feel the effects for years to come.

Failing to back managers before throwing them to the wolves has been a tried and tested tactic for Spurs over the past two decades, and despite it yielding zero success, the man at the helm appears hellbent on staying the course. Mourinho was Tottenham’s latest victim, a man who was never the right fit for the job, but who showed glimmers of potential at various intervals during his turbulent 18 months at the club. As was the case with Jol, AVB, Harry, and Poch before him, Tottenham are left to wonder what might have been if Levy had bucked the trend and actually deigned to back his manager. What if Bruno Fernandes had been signed instead of Gedson? What if Ruben Dias or Milan Skriniar had been signed instead of Joe Rodon? These are questions we will never know the answer to. What we do know, however, is that Tottenham are still trapped in a never ending cycle of false hope and mediocrity — one that shows little hope of abating. 

So where does that leave the North London club ?

A Poisoned Chalice

There were rumors throughout the Mourinho reign that Julien Nagelsmann was the chosen one. That if — or rather, when — Mourinho was to part, it was the young German who would assume the mantle. That, however, would have required foresight, planning, and competency — traits painfully lacking in recent years at Tottenham. The truth, as is becoming increasingly apparent, is that there was no plan in place. No contingency, not even in the short term. Ryan Mason was tapped up to oversee the biggest game in Tottenham’s recent history, and the only man to beat Pep Guardiola in a cup final — who’d won the English League Cup on four separate occasions no less — was fired six days before the Wembley showpiece. The more cynical among us might believe the rumors that Levy fired Jose in order to save himself money on the eventual payout, fearing a potential trophy and/or improved league performance might result in more compensation being parted with. Perhaps it was to distract and deflect from the explosive fallout from ENIC’s latest attempt to sell the club’s soul in joining the European Super League? Whatever you believe, one thing we should all be able to agree on was that the timing was diabolically ill-advised. Whatever the reasoning behind it, firing your permanent manager just days before a major cup final, with no one but a 29 year old trainee coach in line to replace him, is a disaster. It’s a symptom of deep seated issues; antithetical to how a fully-functional football club should work. Yet incredibly, in many ways, the episode serves as a microcosm of the manner in which Spurs are run under Daniel Levy. Foolhardy, haphazard, and always focused on the wrong thing. Footballing success, at least in the form of silverware and titles, has become so far detached from the club’s list of priorities it’s almost extraordinary.

With Nagelsmann turning Tottenham down in favour of a move to Bayern Munich, the club shifted their attention to Brendan Rodgers, another manager they’d had eyes on for several seasons. Yet even he appears to have little appetite for the job — knowing that at Leicester he has a more competent, coherent, and ambitious board than he will ever have at Spurs. Ten Hag was approached, and agreed to an interview with Daniel Levy. He signed a new contract with Ajax the very next day. Even Jesse Marsch, another prospective target, declined the offer, opting instead to replace Nagelsmann at Leipzig. 

For context; this is not European royalty turning down Levy’s overtures. RB Leipzig were founded just over ten years ago. Leicester City were in the Championship six years ago.

So just how has Tottenham’s stock fallen so far, in such a short period of time? And most importantly, why? 

In 2017, there were probably few managers in the game who wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to join Tottenham Hotspur. The club were aspirational, going places under Pochettino, and destined for what appeared to be inevitable success. Harry Kane had emerged as one of Europe’s most lethal strikers, Christian Eriksen as one of the Premier League’s most effective orchestrators, and a cast of fresh, hungry players were flourishing around them. Yet the warning signs were always there. Pochettino’s teams were never able to sustain early-season bluster, their league form dropping off almost like clockwork each and every season — exactly as it did under Redknapp before. The squad was in dire need of reinforcements, crying out for new signings. Yet none arrived; Levy’s lack of support, his willful neglect would prove almost unprecedented in the modern game. The club didn’t just stand still, they actively, and knowingly moved backwards. Spurs sold a vital cog in what was then the Premier League’s best defense, allowing Kyle Walker to leave for Manchester City, before somehow deciding to slap themselves with a self-imposed transfer ban to become the first team in English football history to go two consecutive windows without signing a single player. In truth, Spurs have never recovered from this ill-judged and utterly self-inflicted shot in the foot. Dembele and Wanyama would begin to ail — neither of whom have still been replaced properly. Eriksen, like Walker before him would leave the club to fulfill his ambitions, and while the likes of Bruno, Dybala and Coutinho were touted as possible replacements, the club settled on signing no one. Nearly two years after his departure, Spurs still do not have a single playmaker, or number 10, in their entire squad — another illustration of the remarkable disdain with which Levy and co. handle the club’s recruitment. Even the search for Walker’s replacement has become a never-ending comedy in itself, with Spurs somehow contriving to downgrade in his position on no less than three separate occasions since 2017. Tottenham, under Daniel Levy, are nothing if not consistent. 

Indeed, virtually every position across the park was to be downgraded in the coming years. Kane and Son are the only outfield players to be performing at anything like the level of those peak Pochettino years. Managers across Europe will have been taking note: sure I can get a team playing good football, and might be able to nurture and develop potential… But when the crunch time comes, the next step will invariably be backwards. In a league in which financial behemoths flex their muscle every single window, and where mega clubs fight to improve at every turn, Tottenham’s pathological aversion to not only spending, but fundamentally even bothering to compete, is terminal. 

The answer one now has to ask themselves, in the context of recent history, and after a spate of managerial rejections, is who would want this job? Daniel Levy has turned Tottenham radioactive, and made the managerial vacancy — previously one of the most coveted jobs in Europe — a poisoned chalice. Managers from outside of England — the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, Serie A, La Liga, Eredivisie, etc — would have once jumped at the chance to manage Tottenham. One of the traditional Big 6, a club in the heart of London, with a rich, illustrious history. Not any more. Levy has frittered away even this built in, traditional cache the club has always had to fall back on. 

Different Coach, Same Players, Same Problems

One of the biggest issues that plagued Mauricio Pochettino’s time at Tottenham Hotspur was the inability of the club to shift unwanted deadwood. Players who the manager did not trust or favor, ended up remaining for years past their sell-by date, and by virtue of the lack of reinforcements brought in, ended up starting important games. Predictably, it didn’t end well. 

Mourinho was to suffer the exact same fate, from the exact same group of players — some of whom had been at the club since 2013. It was an extraordinary affirmation of Tottenham’s steadfast refusal to compete — or to be more accurate; to even try to compete. Assets were bought, almost a decade a go, and the ownership wanted a return on their investment. Failing that, any new manager at Spurs was always doomed to suffer the same troubles and repeat the same mistakes as their predecessors. As Levy sharpens his gaze upon whichever managers are naive or desperate enough to take this job, foremost among his criteria will undoubtedly be a willingness to work with the deadwood he has stockpiled at the club — the very same core group that has now seen the back of two world class managers. 

Anyone who works in football — whether as a technical director, coach, or manager — knows that one of the most important challenges in building and maintaining a successful football team is preventing the group from growing stale. Once the rot sets in, the manager becomes somewhat of an irrelevance. Just ask Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp how they would have fared at City or Liverpool respectively without the requisite churn to continue motivating, inspiring, and refreshing their teams. The other component of this, of course, is bringing in players of sufficient quality, footballers who can genuinely help take the existing group to the next level. Needless to say, in this regard, Levy has also failed the club miserably. 

Indeed, since 2017, not a single senior defender has been signed. Since 2015, not a single attacking player has been signed to improve the club’s first choice attacking options. And since 2013, not a single playmaker has been brought in to improve the club’s creative options. It’s an astonishing level of neglect and disinterest, virtually unparalleled in the modern game. 

Amidst the systemic decay, few positions within the squad are as downright farcical as striker. Seven years after Harry Kane burst onto the scene, the club are still searching for a viable alternative to share the load, ease the burden, and complement him on the pitch. Two cheap, bargain priced options have come and gone, and the third, Carlos Vinicius — a last-minute loan acquisition last summer, is already on this way out. It is yet another damning indictment of Tottenham’s troubles in the transfer market. For context, the club were in for Ollie Watkins and Calum Wilson last summer — two players who could undoubtedly have contributed in the Premier league — only to be outbid by Aston Villa and Newcastle respectively. Yes, you read that right, even Mike Ashley is now showing more footballing ambition than Daniel Levy. 

The Big Lie

It’s well known that Tottenham’s spending has been much lower than their rivals — those they are ostensibly attempting to usurp — for some time now. Their parsimony has become so pronounced, however, that today even relegation threatened and newly promoted clubs are now outspending them.

Spurs have a lower net spend than Brighton, Wolves, Villa and West Ham, despite being the 8th richest club on the planet, and having made more profit than any other over the past twenty years. The club today exist within a curious dichotomy; more revenue and profit than ever before, highest executive salary in English football, highest ticket prices in the league, and yet less money and tighter budgets than almost any other club. Indeed, despite being more flush with cash from lucrative TV money, sponsorship deals and ticket pricing — the club somehow have less to spend on squad improvements than perhaps at any time in its 138 year history. It goes without saying that things are not adding up. No money for the long-awaited and desperately needed rebuild , no money to shift deadwood, no money to support Harry Kane’s quest for trophies — no money, in fact, for just about anything football related. And yet, when the opportunity for new real estate development comes up, they seem to have no problems tapping into a limitless pot of money.

Every club, regardless of size of stature is fighting to improve their relative position. Teams at the lower end of the table are fighting desperately to improve their standing at the foot of the table, clubs at the top are fighting to ensure their place at the pinnacle of the domestic and European game come the end of the season; and then there’s Tottenham. Perfectly content to sit still and stagnate, foisting deadwood upon manager after manager, in the faint hope that one of them might spark something previously unseen by anyone. This isn’t strictly accurate; no one at Tottenham — certainly not Daniel Levy — truly believes that the likes of Eric Dier, Ben Davies and Moussa Sissoko are suddenly going to become world beaters. But what better way to protect your company’s bottom line and maximize profits than to simply stand still and stick with the same players you have already acquired? 

New signings create all sorts of problems; first and foremost there’s those pesky transfer fees. No way in this day and age should any self-respecting football club be forced to pay them! Nope, not for Spurs. Levy is too smart to fall for that. So Tottenham will continue trying to sign modern day players at 2005 prices, hoping that one day, others, too see the light. 

In the meantime, Spurs, once again, are left to ponder what might have been. What if Mourinho had been backed? What if Pochettino had been backed in the first place and Mourinho never even needed to begin with? What if deadwood was actually removed at the club, instead of being allowed to rot and fester indefinitely? What if transfers befitting the 8th richest club in the world — one ostensibly vying for Champions League football — were actually made? The truth is that we’ll never know. As has been the case since 2001, the club are at the mercy of its reclusive, yet insatiable owners. Investment managers who prophesied that football would one day become so lucrative, so drenched in cash, that the sport itself could become an afterthought. That the auxiliary, tangential ventures sprouting from this behemoth economy would be enough to bilk and exploit in perpetuity. 


Unfortunately for Tottenham fans, it’s a gamble which has paid off. Today, while the Glazers, FSG, Moshiri and all other football owners fight for ways to improve their teams and build their brands through footballing success; Spurs have figured out other means of growth. Between the NFL, rugby union, boxing and pop concerts, there will be more than enough spoils to go around even with barren trophy hauls and angry fans. What was once an irksome inconvenience, is quickly becoming an irrelevance. 

The sad reality is that Tottenham are going nowhere fast. The stadium that was supposed to herald in a new era of success and silverware sits as a white elephant in the heart of North London — a symbol of the emptiness and waste that has pervaded the club. Fans are as disinterested, apathetic and disillusioned as ever before, tired of the same old excuses being trotted out, annoyed that even clubs lower on the totem pole are showing more ambition to improve and compete than them. Leicester City’s rise is not insignificant. As evidenced by Rodgers’ preference to stay, they are now above Tottenham in the pecking order, a more attractive destination both for players and managers. West Ham also are on the verge of finishing above Spurs for the first time in thirteen years. Tellingly, both employ more cogent, intelligent and ambitious recruitment than Spurs, both back their managers better, and both are reaping the dividends. 

In terms of Tottenham competing at the very top of the table — that crucial next step that seemed a mere formality just a few short years ago? The gap is as wide as it’s ever been. Any memories of nascent ambition and endeavor, rampant during the early days of the Pochettino regime, are now distant and abstract, banished to irrelevance like so many other managerial reigns under Levy’s stewardship. We had our chance. Levy had his chance. And he failed. Again. 

Under Pochettino, the team’s biggest needs were at least one top CB (preferably two), a new RB, a new DM, backup for Kane, and a replacement for Eriksen. Eighteen months after his departure, the team’s biggest needs are at least one top CB (preferably two), a new RB…you get where this is going. Sissoko is still here. Davies, Dier, Lamela and Sanchez are still here. Almost nothing has changed, outside of the core group getting a little older, and the existing inadequacies exacerbated to even greater proportions. Tottenham appear destined to relive the exact same moment over and over again.

The bigger problem for Tottenham, is that no one within the club’s leadership appears to have any intention whatsoever of actually altering the paradigm of failure that has gripped them over these past couple of decades. People are starting to notice, however, and for the first time in the ENIC reign, there appears to be concerted pressure on Levy and the board to step down from their positions. No one knows how the situation will end, but it’s been a particularly fractious past few months, even for one of England’s most infamous and unpopular ownership groups. From the furlough debacle at the start of the pandemic lockdown, to the Super League catastrophe, Tottenham’s owners have become magnets for controversy and antipathy.

Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, Levy remains defiant. With football finally back in stadiums in mid-May, the club had an opportunity to make amends; to finally repair some of the damage done over this past few weeks — and indeed over the past twenty one years. Levy’s response? To charge double what Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United were charging for admission. For a midweek game, against Aston Villa. It was another incredible, almost unfathomable display of greed and tone-deafness from an ownership that appears increasingly set on alienating its customer base. 

There used to be a football club over there

Keith Burkinshaw

A wise man once saw what was coming, although, in truth, even he could likely never have envisaged the degree to which his prediction would come true. The sad reality is that Daniel Levy and ENIC have gutted this football club from the inside. They have destroyed everything that made it special, hollowed its soul, and left something cold and lifeless in its place. This is no longer the club that Bill made. The club of Blanchflower, Grieves, Ardiles and Hoddle.

In the cold light of day, it’s barely a football club at all. 

12 thoughts on “Groundhog Day at Tottenham Hotspur”

  1. Levy is the sole reason for the culture cancer in our club. You can buy the best players (which we never do) and hire the top managers (that one is also debatable) but nothing will change while Levy remains at the helm. He’s hated by just about every other chairmen and no decent manager will take on this job now when the chairman signs players himself and then wants to pick the team. He’s a parasite and has to go for the sake of us…the supporters. If he doesn’t go, we will lose Kane, Son, Emile, Alli and others…and who could blame them for leaving? Kane & Son deserve to win trophies, j likely to happen whilst they stay at our underperforming, mediocre, losing mentality of a club!

    1. David page-smith

      Do you not think Levy has also under instruction from Joe Lewis …he has the money and resources to inject life not Tottenham but he is not interested…so where do you go from here ….???

  2. Stuart joseph

    Superb article, Levy a disgrace.ive lost my Spurs after 65 years. The management has to go or things will get worse.

  3. Vincent Hegarty

    Excellent article thank you. Hurts to read it but every word highlights the endemic problems within the club.

    Root and branch changes are needed but, unfortunately, as long as Daniel Levy and ENIC remain at the helm our football future and our place in the Premier League is in deep jeopardy.

  4. A brilliantly written article which has a single agenda. It conveniently forgets facts when they don’t fit the story, and states facts that are just hindsight. There is of course lots of truth which hurts but I would have appreciate it more had there been more balance to the story.

  5. On the forum I use there’s a guy who’s been telling it as it is where Levy is concerned for many years now. He spotted it early but took stick for it fair play to him he’s a shrewd guy.

  6. Lots of nonsensical hype. Typical of modern day 21st journalism. A few poor results and the whole world collapses. Win one week and the world is your oyster. Lose the next week and everything is bad. I really do not take any notice of all the rubbish that is spouted about our club. The 21st century has skewed football so much in favour of one or two financially doped club, that for Spurs to even be in touch is a miracle. Things have been infinitely worse than now, in my 63 years of supporting Tottenham.

  7. Yes, a very true assessment of Tottenham Hotspur under Levy, I can only think that DL has a pathological reason for his actions over the years.He can’t be a football fan that is for sure.While we have him at the helm the soul,and spirit of Spurs will sink further& further into a dominion of haplas, and hopeless irrelevance, a once proud, successful and entertaining club left in the backwaters of football history.Its hard to conjure that DL will have a change of heart, to me he seems devoid of emotion, emotionally disfunctional until you mention money!! then those Largs eyes like piss holes in the snow grow larger with every mention of the dollar! For me, a person born in a house owned by THFC by a Tottenham born Mother, who married a Tottenham player in 1951 it is very sad, but true to my nature. I have to believe of better times ahead!! I have too.

  8. I have spoken to DL’s father——it will not surprise you to know DL as a boy was not interested in football
    That has not changed

  9. That is probably the finest, honest and saddest summations of what Tottenham is I’ve ever read. Every Spurs fan around the world should read this. Well done

  10. A very well written article, ENIC need to sell Tottenham and go, as for Levi I just see it as he is following the instructions given he is a tough negotiator and could achieve if given the scope to do so but have to say I don’t believe he will ever been given that chance.

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