As fans’ restlessness and unease grows, Tottenham’s ownership seems primed to double down on their failed policies of the past 22 years. And while some may perceive Tottenham’s chronic malaise as neglect, or ineptitude, a closer look reveals far worse; everything is going exactly according to plan.
It was one of the most miserable, listless performances in recent North London Derby history. Yet it didn’t end with any great explosion of dissatisfaction or anger. It ended with a whimper. A quiet, solemn acknowledgement that this was where the two clubs were now. Arsenal barely had to move out of second gear, yet they looked levels above a woeful, hapless Tottenham side.
As always, the manager was the first to get the blame. “Tactics are all wrong!” fans screamed. “Play a back four!” many said. “Be more adventurous!”
Yet even a cursory look at the club’s recent history reveals that Antonio Conte is not the problem, The Italian is the club’s third manager in four years. Fourth if you count Ryan Mason’s interim stint. Even for a club notorious for managerial churn, that is as emphatic a sign of holistic dysfunction as you’re ever likely to see across Europe’s top clubs.
The simple, inescapable truth is that once more, Spurs are a club is in disarray. It is Groundhog Day. Again. Yet somehow, the more it happens, the less people seem to care. We seem to become numb to it; as though it’s expected, as if it’s now the way of Tottenham Hotspur. Lurching from one disaster to the next, stuck in a cycle of mediocrity, living perpetually in the shadow of our great rivals.
The derby performance highlighted the glaring differences of the two rivals not just on the pitch, but more pertinently, off it. Arteta has been backed with big money, consistently, and intelligently, allowed to ruthlessly cut adrift all those he didn’t want, and able to truly build a team in his image. Antonio Conte is still forced to start the players he inherited from the man who managed the club four years ago.
Tottenham have conceded more goals this season than Everton and West Ham, both of whom sit firmly in the relegation zone. For a manager who prides himself on a tight backline, and builds title-winning teams on defenses; this is shocking.
The problems were clear last year, when Conte somehow pulled a rabbit out of the hat and dragged this threadbare, mediocre squad to a Champions League spot. Everyone knew the club needed a massive overhaul of the playing squad — and especially in defense. Yet what transpired was the same sort of half-baked, tepid foray into the market we saw with Pochettino and Mourinho; signing a couple of non-priority players, while leaving glaring issues — many of which had persisted for years — completely unresolved. That he is still forced to not just use, but start, the likes of Eric Dier, Ben Davies, Ryan Sessegnon, and Emerson Royal, is nothing short of a disgrace.
Indeed, after defeat to Aston Villa, Antonio Conte lifted the curtain on what truly happens behind the scenes at England’s most secretive and opaque football club. For years Spurs have operated like a totalitarian regime, a hermetically sealed autocracy, where only the news and stories Dear Leader wants us to hear ever see the light of day. Antonio Conte was always likely to present a challenge unlike any Daniel Levy had faced before; an ego and personality simply too big to control. His recent quotes are illuminating.
Here, my task is different. My task is to build a solid base, then try to improve.
If you ask me if the challenge is to win the Premier League or the Champions League, this is not the task here. If I want to stay here, then I have to accept this. Otherwise, if I do not want to accept this, then I have to go.Antonio Conte
Conte’s fury with the board has been brewing for a while, and he’d made comments before indicating a lack of faith in their true ambitions or desire for competing. But he has never been so direct, and unequivocal. No Tottenham manager ever has.
While for years it may have seemed that the club was little more than a front for a property and entertainment portfolio, with little to no actual desire of winning things, Conte effectively confirmed as much. For a manager to come out publicly and state that his club’s ambition is not to challenge for silverware, is remarkable — unprecedented not just in England, but in football as a whole. It should make the ownership’s position untenable. Indeed, ENIC, and Daniel Levy in particular, would likely not have lasted more than a few short months at any other big 6 side. Yet other fanbases are not so inured to failure, or so accustomed to mediocrity.
And despite all this, rather inexplicably, it is still Conte’s name, and his management, that draws the greatest scrutiny. Four years after Pochettino was let down while on the cusp of achieving sustained success, two years after Mourinho came close to silverware, the manager still gets the blame for the failures of those above him.
For reclusive owners operating with impunity, delisting the club in 2011, shortly after the club was presented with its first real chance for success in a generation, was a masterstroke. The perfect cover. Zero accountability, the opportunity to work in the shadows, away from annoying, unnecessary scrutiny. The stadium, sadly, was their coup de grâce, their raison d’être. Suddenly there was a viable route to maintaining their vice-like grip on the club — and more crucially, for not having to ever significantly invest in the football team.
Though it should be common knowledge, it goes mostly unnoticed that more than any manager, it is the chairman’s footprints that still loom heavily over this current squad. It is Levy’s mistakes in the market — holding onto deadwood for years too long, inadequate quality, volume, and timing of reinforcements — that continues to hinder this team more than anything else.
The squad has maybe six or seven players of genuine, top tier quality, the rest is a loose patchwork of mismatched kids and rejects. Square pegs in round holes, with deadwood lingering throughout. The questions are manifold: how three years after Jan Vertonghen left the club, do they still not have a replacement? How three years after Christian Eriksen, their sole creative midfielder, left the club, do Tottenham still have a single attacking midfielder in the squad? Only at Tottenham are these things even plausible. And that is how it’s always been under Daniel Levy’s stewardship. The club we see today is an illusion; a mirage of sporting ambition. And everything that happens is entirely by design.
From Jol’s ignominious sacking at half time, to the infamous Saha and Nelson window when Redknapp asked for Tevez and Cahill, and Spurs were on the verge of a title charge. From the Berbatov/Frasier “swap” deal, to the 500+ days of no transfers — a record in English football — under the greatest manager the club has had since Burkinshaw, it has all been a meticulously calculated gambit to extend the grift, and continue their ruthless pursuit of profit. It should come as no surprise that no club in the history of English football has raked in as much profit as Tottenham have under ENIC. Even less so that no chairman has amassed a personal fortune like Daniel Levy has. They have milked the club dry over the past 22 years, using Tottenham as collateral for external real estate projects, using operating losses to carry over into their various other investment ventures, while diligently insisting that the club are too poor for actual footballing investment in the first team.
In light of Conte’s comments, everything makes sense. Why Spurs went for Jack Grealish, only to bid 3m + Josh Onamah; Why Levy sent his chief scout to Milan, to close a deal for Milan Skriniar — the center back Mourinho had targeted — only to come back with nothing. Why Bruno Fernandes had his bags packed to come to Spurs, and Levy reneged on the deal. Why Sadio Mane — scouted personally by Mauricio Pochettino and then head of recruitment Paul Mitchell — was at the training ground before Levy refused to meet his wage demands. It also reveals why the club are currently haggling with Sporting Lisbon over a £35m release clause, while the club employs some of the worst fullbacks in the league, or why a derisory offer of £12m was submitted for Leandro Trossard, when both players could, and should have been in the squad to face what is likely to be a defining run of fixtures in the coming days and weeks. ENIC are almost unfathomably risk averse when it comes to footballers…yet when it comes to real estate, money is still no object.
Few players exemplify the ENIC con than Eric Dier. The Englishman was signed in 2014 as a backup RB. He failed there, but was tried by Pochettino as a defensive midfielder. He failed there, as well, and was used only sparingly as a 4th choice CB. Pochettino never fully trusted him, and with good reason. Yet somehow, both Mourinho and Conte have been forced to start him as their lynchpin center back. It is extraordinary that Tottenham’s great rebuild, their attempt at genuinely winning trophies and joining the elite, includes dredging up a player from four managers and nine years ago, to solve their defensive crisis. Ben Davies was signed the same year as Dier, and was never anything more than a semi-competent backup for Danny Rose. Yet in 2023, he’s been promoted not just to the starting lineup, but in an entirely new position — as a left center back — for Antonio Conte. The notion that Conte scoured the world for top class center backs, and settled on Poch’s reserves from nine years ago is beyond farcical. Imagine if Liverpool, instead of going out and signing Virgil van Dijk to replace Dejan Lovren, or Fabinho to replace James Milner, simply held onto their underperformers, waited for other stars to leave, and then promoted them not only to the starting XI, but in entirely new positions? It sounds laughable, like something you’d read in a comedy skit, yet this is exactly what Tottenham Hotspur did.
Blaming managers at Tottenham for their team’s failings is like blaming a builder for not being able to build a house out of paper. Or a Formula 1 manufacturer for not building a winning car out of plywood. Each is set up to fail; defeat guaranteed from the start. Yet this is the unending scam that Levy has somehow pulled off — convincing people that handing managers subpar players, and unbalanced, inadequate squads, can still somehow lead to success. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of all this, is that for the most part, it has actually worked. Many fans, journalists, and pundits continue to fall for it, still blissfully unaware of the reality of the past two decades.
Some even aid in their bidding. Levy has long used the media to control the prevailing narrative around Tottenham Hotspur, and to do this, he needs willing accomplices. For some unbeknownst reason, whether it is the fear of retribution in stripping away club perks, or the enticement of financial or other incentives, there has never been a shortage of them. Still they wait diligently to snuff out any hint of discontent amongst the fanbase, and help Levy to weave new narratives invariably casting doubt on managers, and deflecting from what we all know is the root cause.
Take this recent gem from Dan Kilpatrick; who mysteriously unearthed this information right as antipathy towards the ownership was building.
It is as absurd and nonsensical an argument for why a manager should be taking the blame as you’re ever likely to see. Antonio Conte, a world class manager, who’s won trophies everywhere he’s been, should simply shut up, settle down, and accept mediocrity? He should relinquish his inner drive for trophies and glory because he sits in a nice office and works at a nice training ground? Managers should just be happy to be here? It is an extraordinary piece of disinformation, one which respectable journalists should be ashamed to share. Yet this is what happens every time crisis hits, and a manager reaches the end of his line with the paltry, inadequate resources he’s been given. We saw it with Poch, we saw it Mourinho, and now we’re seeing it with Conte. Somehow, the ENIC PR machine revs into overdrive, and the narrative always comes back to the manager. It’s been the same story for decades now; Levy feels pressure, and then activates his minions to start spreading misinformation, subtly undermining whichever manager is currently in the dugout. <insert manager’s> training methods were too intense; <insert manager> has lost the dressing room; <insert manager> is not committed enough. Different managers, same story.
The fallacy lies in thinking that Levy is even trying to compete. This, ultimately, is the greatest con. There is something inherently nefarious about an ownership who hires managers, sets them up to fail, and then fires them at the first sign of trouble. Yet this has all gone largely unnoticed in the public eye, where scrutiny from the general media is almost non-existent. That is perhaps the most troubling part about all this. Mike Ashley was always under pressure. Levy is feted still as some sort of protector of his realm, a tough negotiator, a transfer guru. It beggars belief.
This incredible fairy tale about Levy not being able to back Conte because of his lack of commitment to the club might have made a semblance of sense had it not been for the previous 15 managers, none of whom were ever properly backed. Indeed, Conte’s three immediate predecessors were all on long term contracts at the time of their firing, utterly dispelling this absurd excuse Kilpatrick and others are somehow keen to spread. Kilpatrick went even further in his article, claiming that Conte is demanding a pay rise to his existing salary to stay on — another snippet of information released purely to rile up the fanbase, and turn them on the Italian.
There’s a word for stories and narratives coming out of an institution designed to manipulate and control the prevailing narrative. It’s something that authoritarians throughout history have used with devastating effect. Control the media, control the reality. What’s happening at Tottenham, in every sense of the word, is a form of weaponized propaganda, leaking information through selected outlets, and quietly turning Tottenham’s fanbase against their 15th consecutive manager. Kilpatrick was the messenger, but it’s fairly clear where the message originated from. The words could have been uttered directly from Daniel Levy’s mouth. It’s the con he’s been trying to pull throughout his tenure as chairman. Football is irrelevant, shiny new infrastructure is what matters. Nevermind all of your great rivals spending vast sums of money — which we also have in abundance by the way — and winning trophies; we will do things differently. It won’t yield success, but you should still be happy. It is a central mandate, spread through various arms in the media, echoed for decades, and spoken with unerring consistency. The club have no money, spending money doesn’t correlate to success, the manager isn’t committed, the players we have (who’ve failed multiple managers already) are good enough, there are no players who could improve this team, Covid precludes transfers, the stadium (built for the club to finally compete) is preventing us from spending, etc. An endless stream of lies and misinformation carefully spun to paint the club in the light they choose and to manipulate the paying masses. Slowly, but surely, the words take root, and the brainwashing succeeds. Daniel Levy might be the greatest propagandist in football history.
Another trick borrowed from the authoritarian playbook is the five year plan. A constant moving target of drip-fed lies and false hope, again designed to buy time while the leaders exploit the working class patrons who actually line his pockets. Tottenham are now in the midst of what would be the fifth five-year plan, and no closer to actually winning major trophies than at the very beginning of ENIC’s tenure. One could argue, given the club’s actual trophy performance over the past 22 years, that they are further away than at any point in Tottenham’s post-war history.
Incredibly, the most disheartening part about all this, is that despite trying the exact same trick 15 times over the past two decades; it is working again, with a large chunk of the fanbase now training their fury at Antonio Conte, and ignoring the underlying issues. One wonders how many top flight fanbases could have been hoodwinked so many times, for so long, yet Spurs appear to be unique in that capacity, suffering a form of collective Stockholm syndrome, with past trauma blinding current thought.
None of this should come as any surprise — they’ve outlined their goals right from the offset.
Once more, with the January window wide open, the world’s 9th richest football club, is pleading poverty. This rotting, festering carcass of a squad, with holdovers from *four* managers ago, still cannot be substantially improved. All of those issues Pochettino wasn’t able to address, that Mourinho wasn’t able to address, that Nuno haphazardly walked into — Antonio Conte is now unable to address. He has not signed a single senior CB or RWB since his appointment. For a manager who builds teams around his defense, that is a damning indictment of the levels to which Levy and co. have been prepared to back him.
We cannot say that we weren’t warned. Slavia Prague endured their worst spell in nearly half a century under ENIC, going 12 years without lifting the title, in a league with only two serious clubs.
AEK Athens chairman, Cornelius Sierhuis, was even more forthright.
The investment of ENIC in Tottenham does not bode well for their supporters.
Their investments in football clubs have failed, with the exception of Vicenza, thanks to an exceptionally clever manager, and all largely because of an inability, or unwillingness to spend in accordance with their stakes.Cornelius Sierhuis, AEK Athens chairman.
Sound familiar? ENIC are like a parasite. A ruthless, insatiable investment firm that latches its teeth onto unsuspecting football clubs, before sinking them ever deeper into their operations. Slowly, but surely, the football clubs die a miserable death, their identities and DNA quietly eroded, while something altogether different takes shape in its place. Tottenham today are not a football club. They are, at best, a sports and leisure company. At worst, they are merely an arm of the English National Investment Company, an asset in a sprawling global real estate portfolio.
The multiple five year plans, the constant moving of the goalposts, the “wait till next window/year” rhetoric, the shiny new stadium; it was all a lie, an elaborate ruse designed to buy time and allow ENIC to bilk the club in perpetuity. The likes of Carrick, Modric, Bale, Walker, Eriksen, etc were right to get off this sinking, rudderless ship and seek trophies elsewhere. Sadly, Kane, Son, and Lloris have wasted their careers at this club, giving their all for a club not even remotely interested in silverware. It all starts from the top. And if those at the top of the chain set the tone that mediocrity and failure is acceptable, it is insanity to expect any other result.
That blaring red light, that alarm in fans’ collective heads screaming that what they’re seeing is not lining up with what they’re being told, has been on for 22 years. Tottenham Hotspur, in its current iteration, is a scam. The entire operation. From top to bottom. A hollow vessel feigning interest in football, while allowing the owners to funnel funds into ventures they actually care about, and to exponentially grow their personal fortunes. It is sickeningly real, despite many still being blinded by it. Levy and Lewis have telegraphed their intentions the whole time; the stadium was the end game. Football is now an irrelevance, the club that Nicholson built consigned to the history books and annals of the past.