The Perennial Stagnation of Tottenham Hotspur

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Spurs again enter a period of turmoil, with players lost, a manager embattled, and a team in free-fall. But is it fair to lay the blame solely at the hands of Jose Mourinho? Or do the real problems run far deeper at the club?

When the whistle blew against Brighton last Sunday, Spurs had reached another low point. The football was about as dire, listless, and uninspired as anything served up even in the darkest days of the 90’s and early 00’s, the team devoid of ideas up front, bereft of creativity, haphazard in defense, and outplayed and outfought by a team struggling to stay above the relegation zone. It was, in fact, Brighton’s first home win all season — the second week in a row that Dr Tottenham had intervened, just days after nobly resurrecting Liverpool’s sputtering front line and title charge.

Then came the Chelsea game. Somehow, some way, Spurs managed to plumb new depths of ineptitude, serving up a performance almost too poor and hopeless to judge. The team was wretched across the park, at no time threatening Chelsea, unable to string two passes together, and worst of all; rarely looking as if they even cared.

Yet Tottenham fans have seen this movie before. Many times in fact. It’s an all too familiar story, one we’re now almost conditioned to expect sooner rather than later.


In 2001, the ENIC group arrived to much fanfare, but began tempering the expectations of fans almost immediately. Transfer funds would be limited, Daniel Levy, the club’s new chairman insisted, at least in the short term. Nothing much has changed since then…

The club, in all fairness, was warned by one of the investment company’s previous acquisitions.

20 years later, the quotes from Cornelius Sierhuis become chillingly ominous. There was little ambiguity in his words:

“The investment of ENIC in Tottenham does not bode well for its supporters.”

Cornelius Sierhuis, former chairman of AEK Athens

It’s also worth paying special attention to the second part of his statement:

“Their (ENIC’s) 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 fund in accordance with their stakes.”

Cornelius Sierhuis

Their investments in football clubs failed, with the exception of Vicenza, thanks to an exceptionally clever manager…” Sound familiar? Spurs’ modern day analog: none other than Mauricio Pochettino, who soldiered on and defied gravity for 5 years, despite receiving less backing than most relegation sides, before being mercilessly sacked at the first sign of trouble. And if “an inability or unwillingness to fund in accordance with their stakes,” doesn’t sum up ENIC’s ownership, I don’t know what does. It’s unwillingness, by the way, rather than inability, as a cursory glance at the club’s underlying financials soon reveals. The 8th richest club in world football, the 19th biggest spenders in England.

And yet, despite Sierhuis’ warnings, no one listened. 20 years later, ENIC are still unwilling to invest in their football team, and Tottenham are still trapped in an endless cycle of struggling to shift unwanted players, having no funds for new signings, and leaving managers left to perform miracles with players inherited from previous regimes they never wanted. Tottenham have been mired in a series of “five year” plans, each one ending the same way it started: with nascent promise and potential frittered away due to lack of spending and strengthening at the right times.

Fans have been led to believe that successive managers such as Graham, Hoddle, Pleat, Jol, etc were all woefully out of their depth; so much so, in fact, that they were not even worthy of being backed. It was a terrible lie, in hindsight, but one that many Tottenham fans, for whatever reason, were all too eager to eat up. Thus, even when managers came in and performed far above expectations, the backing still never arrived. 20 years after ENIC took over, the club finds itself in exactly the same predicament. A manager who’s being criticized from all quarters, a transfer backing worse than many lower-league clubs, and a cold, familiar stagnation creeping in from all corners of the club. 

So how have Tottenham arrived at the exact same juncture, yet again? Are the club even trying to compete? All evidence would suggest, no. But what, exactly, is core of the problem at Spurs? Just how does the ownership kill the club’s footballing ambitions and prospects so chronically? To answer that, we have to take a look at the single most important aspect of a club’s footballing operations:


We’ve spoken before about the extraordinary lack of spending, even in comparison to the league’s smallest clubs — entities operating on a budget a fraction of Tottenham Hotspur.

Despite soaring profits, Tottenham’s net spend continues to be amongst the lowest in the Premier League. Taken as a percent of revenue, it’s rock bottom.

Yet worryingly, the problems at Tottenham run far worse than the pathological aversion to spending money. Unlike almost any other club on earth, Tottenham appear to actively embrace stagnation. If there is one unifying theme throughout ENIC’s tenure, and certainly through the last decade, it is stasis. The uncanny ability to stand still — even as the world around you shifts ever more dynamically. Despite all evidence that inactivity leads to regression, which then leads inevitably to crisis, ENIC persist with the same tired business model. Deadwood; players that were deemed surplus to requirements for a myriad of reasons — injury prone, inconsistent, haphazard, unreliable — and discarded by the previous manager (Pochettino), some of whom were signed even before his tenure (under AVB)…are somehow still here.

Here’s a list of them: 

2013: Erik Lamela

2014: Ben Davies, Eric Dier

2016: Moussa Sissoko

2017: Serge Aurier, Davinson Sanchez

2018: Lucas Moura

An unremarkable collection of misfits and junk — most of whom probably wake up every day wondering how on earth they’re still at a club purportedly chasing Champions League football. Ben Davies, for example, is among the more limited, decidedly average footballers you’re ever likely to see in the Premier League. Under Pochettino, he was very much an understudy, used sparingly, and never in big, consequential games. Yet here he is, seven years after signing, starting key matches, playing in a variety of positions, and all the while continuing to demonstrate his manifest limitations. The Welshman has rarely — if ever — given even the faintest impression of being a Top 6 level footballer. Yet, for Levy’s Tottenham, that doesn’t matter. The same can be said for Eric Dier, who after failing to impress in multiple positions across multiple seasons, suddenly found himself thrust into the spotlight as the club’s leading defensive lynchpin. Dier is a shockingly poor defender; slow, immobile, and as he proved once more against Chelsea, always prone to a rash tackle or catastrophic error. The fact that he too has been at the club since 2014 is nothing short of remarkable.

It’s difficult to comprehend the sheer extent of the malaise in Tottenham’s recruitment. The club were in for top defenders this past summer. Mourinho’s number one defensive target was a compatriot, a player he knew from Benfica. Yet Dias cost money. The club looked for a cheaper alternative, and settled eventually upon Milan Skriniar. Yet again, they ran into that familiar obstacle: he would cost money. Despite sending Steve Hitchen — a man who hates transfers only marginally less than Daniel Levy — to Milan to finalize a deal, Inter didn’t cave from their market value, and Hitchen returned with nothing. Alas, Levy realized, once more, that spending money on improving the football team runs counter to the ENIC business model, so Eric Dier was dredged up, repurposed, and presented as a passable alternative. The results are there for all to see, with Tottenham’s defense as shaky and unreliable as at any time in the previous decade — unable to protect leads, counter-attacks, or even basic crosses into the box. The issue is made even more unforgivable, when taking into account that Tottenham’s two best center backs — the leaders of their defense for the past few years — were widely known to be aging out. Vertonghen has left the club, and while Toby is still here, he’s patently not the same player her was, and certainly not able to play more than one game a week. And yet…where was the provision for this? Tottenham’s needs, from a footballing perspective, are criminally unmet.

The refusal to take a loss on players harms this football club arguably more than the fear of spending money on new ones. Davinson Sanchez — himself signed as a cheaper alternative to Matthijs de Ligt — has regressed steeply since his first season, and no one at the club is under any illusions as to his viability as a top level Premier League defender. Yet he’s still here. Why? The same reason Ben Davies, Eric Dier, Moussa Sissoko, and the rest of the players on the list are: it’s simply far cheaper to keep these players around, than take the loss, and be forced to go out and replace them. Great for ENIC, catastrophic for Tottenham Hotspur.

Sissoko’s case again, is an exercise in absurdity. Signed from Newcastle on deadline day in 2016, a window that began with Paul Mitchell, Poch’s then head of recruitment, strongly advocating for a move for Sadio Mane, a player he himself had brought to England via Southampton. Yet Mane’s wages were deemed too high, and Levy instead, in his infinite wisdom, chose to sign Sissoko on a similar transfer fee, but lower wages. Mitchell would tender his resignation shortly after, unable to work with such restrictive, unambitious employers. The ownership’s penchant for finding ways to save money on footballers is nothing if not prolific. Just imagine, for one second, a front line of Son, Kane, and Mane. It’s almost impossible to think that team wouldn’t have won anything — or at least come closer than they did with Sissoko. But as has always been the case under ENIC, to Dare is Too Dear.

Like many other players currently at the club, Sissoko is a player who wouldn’t have looked out of place in some of the very worst Tottenham teams of old. A player without technique, who struggles to trap the ball, to move the ball forwards, to connect play — again, it’s unlikely that anyone at Tottenham Hotspur watches him and says: yep, that’s the strong, dynamic midfielder the team needs to control their midfield. And yet, here he is. Five years after signing. Still on the Tottenham payroll, still starting games, still clogging up the path for younger players, all in an integral, well trodden pathway in ENIC’s transfer strategy. For why would they cut their losses, move him on, and sign a younger, better replacement? Ndidi at Leicester? Bissouma at Brighton? Zakaria at Monchengladback? Most clubs would have signed two or three players to replace Sissoko in the time he’s been here. Not Tottenham, who remain steadfast in their dedication to failed players, and in preserving a culture of prolonged stagnation.

Just imagine, for one second, a front line of Son, Kane, and Mane. It’s almost impossible to think that team wouldn’t have won anything — or at least come closer than they did with Sissoko. But alas, to Dare is Too Dear.

Erik Lamela is another extraordinary example of ENIC’s top level mismanagement in football. It’s an almost unfathomable state of affairs — that a player signed seven years ago, by the previous manager’s predecessor, is still here. Lamela has been injury prone, inconsistent, and rarely put together a strong of consecutive games. Again, it’s not through any work of his own that he’s still here; it’s because replacing him would cost more money. It’s a very important lesson for Tottenham fans to understand, and exactly the sort of thing that Cornelius Sierhuis was referring to. Simply put, unless there’s concrete to pour, or property rights to acquire, Daniel Levy and Joe Lewis are not interested in investing.

The most damning aspect of this culture of stagnation, is that these players are kept long after their commercial viability. Thus even the lower level clubs — to whom Levy could once pawn off his failed cast-off’s — are now not even interested in their services. It’s quite the paradox; that players who wouldn’t play for Burnley or Brighton, are still regular starters for Tottenham Hotspur.

What most functional football clubs have long understood, is that selling players, clearing the club’s deadwood, is just as important as buying new ones. Otherwise you’re left with a stale, rotting carcass of a squad, filled with players not particularly fancied, but there by default. Indeed, Levy has even found a way to use this lack of progression and self-imposed decay as an excuse for…you’ve guessed it, further stagnation. The squad is so bloated with overseas junk — junk that no one else wants — that due to the Homegrown Player Rule, the club is seemingly precluded from making new signings. Thus window after window, ENIC gets to further validate their approach, and Tottenham are left to suffer the consequences of having stale players, and an aging squad going nowhere fast. It’s among Levy’s more cunning and destructive tricks; one that he has repeated throughout his time as chairman, and one that is absolutely terminal to any chance Tottenham ever had of truly joining the elite clubs.

While the team’s defensive issues are well known (the manager trusts precisely zero of his three senior center backs), in an attacking capacity, the team is in even worse shape. It’s little wonder, considering that Harry Kane has been the team’s chief playmaker this season, and the only player seemingly capable of opening up a defense with his passing. Having the team’s talismanic striker forced to drop deep into midfield to create is not an ideal situation, but that is the level of squad depth and quality currently at Mourinho’s disposal. Who could have thought that selling the club’s one and only creative midfielder, and replacing him with absolutely no one might hurt the team? Again, the levels of neglect with regards to this football team are beyond compare, and further reinforces the notion that there simply is no club in world football less interested in improving their side. Failing to replace Christian Eriksen fits into a larger pattern of ENIC (non)investment, and a long, growing, list of players the ownership has failed to replace — even with years to prepare. Forget about strengthening the side and moving the team to a new level, Tottenham under ENIC struggle chronically to even replace those players who leave the club.

Ah, but what about the stadium, people say — doesn’t that show their commitment to the team? Well, in short, no. It shows their commitment to growing their property portfolio. Their dream all along was to build a sports and entertainment empire ripe for the picking; a cash cow they could milk for decades to come. In fairness, it’s not as if they were particularly coy about revealing this fact:

Investing in capital infrastructure is far different than investing in footballers — something Tottenham fans have come to know all too well.

The January transfer window came and went, and despite the club’s myriad needs at both ends of the pitch, precisely zero players were signed. It was the third window in the past six that Spurs have failed to sign a single player, another damning indictment of ENIC’s ambition and dedication to improving this football team. For contrast, Liverpool, who already have the world’s most expensive defender on their books, have just won the Premier League, and are close to challenging again, managed to go out and sign not one, but two center backs. One of whom, Ozan Kabak, a long term target of Spurs themselves. Miraculously, they were also able to shift Takumi Minamino, to make way for their new signings — all within the span of 24 hours. The disparity between the way in which the two clubs operate simply could not be more stark, and it should be of little surprise that they have now left Tottenham in the dust, moving to a level Spurs can only dream of.

“No money,” goes the prevailing narrative. No money for improvement, irrespective of how dire, or acute the need. No money to genuinely challenge at the top of the Premier League, Levy insists. This, from the same chairman that neglected to sign a single player during the 2018-19 season, all while increasing his renumeration to become the league’s highest paid executive. No team — whether struggling at the bottom, fighting to emerge from mid table, or genuinely competing for titles endures stasis on such a frequent, pervasive basis. Yet somehow, at Tottenham, this has long been accepted as normal. It’s a bizarre state of affairs, especially from a club who’s literal motto is “To Dare is To Do.”

All of this, by the way, does not absolve Mourinho of blame. He is proving more and more that he is not the right man for the job, and certainly a strange fit for Tottenham in particular. But in case we forget, who hired him? Who fired the greatest manager the club had seen in a generation — after failing to back him for five straight years — and replaced him with a man antithetical to everything Tottenham stood for? It’s for this reason that it’s almost futile to discuss the Portuguese’ various flaws and shortcomings. People were more than happy in mid-December when he had Tottenham sitting pretty at the very summit of the Premier League, and he has shown, in patches at least, that while not particularly exciting or inspiring, his brand of football can still be effective. His CV is second to none in European football, and few can argue that he possesses the “winning mentality” that Spurs have been accused of missing over the years. Once more, we’ll be left to wonder what he might have been able to achieve had he actually been backed. What if he’d been given a top-level playmaker to replace Eriksen? What if he been able to sign Ruben Dias instead of Guardiola? City had already spent untold millions on center backs in the past few years. Laporte, Stones, Otamendi, Mangala, etc. Spurs, meanwhile, had not signed one since Davinson Sanchez in 2017. Once again, the contrast between the two clubs — and their respective levels of ambition could not be more diametrically opposed. Dias has transformed the City defense, hailed as “undroppable” by Guardiola, and is now laying the foundation for their title charge. Like Mane, Grealish, Fernandes, Dybala, and far too many to mention, he now joins the long list of players Tottenham could have signed, but neglected to do so through fear of spending money.

Jose is not the root problem at this club, and the ripples of ENIC’s avarice and neglect will linger long after his inevitable departure. He is merely the latest victim in a long, ever-growing line of lame duck appointments. As was the case with Jol, Harry, Poch, and all who came before, the real problems lie above. Until Levy and Lewis change their model, or leave the club, Tottenham will continue to be mired in purgatory; too good to go down, but too cheap, afraid, and preoccupied with other ventures, to ever truly challenge the elite. 

9 thoughts on “The Perennial Stagnation of Tottenham Hotspur”

  1. Couldn’t even finish the article, this piece is written with a clear anti Enic agenda, choosing to skew or omit any facts that don’t support the writers bias views. I have no particular fondness for Enic or Levy, and they could certainly have done things better at times. If you wan’t to critique Enic and Levy you have to present better facts such as financial restrictions, outgoings as well as income. This piece could have been a far more interesting and worthy read if the writer had chosen to be objective. Shame.

    1. The club has invested in an incredible stadium that unluckily coincided with Corona. This multi purpose stadium was planned to provide the funds to build a sustainable top team. Of course the excellent team that Pochettino built only had a 5 year shelf life, and now we are a shambles because of the lack of spending to continue success. The same thing happened at Arsenal. Their new stadium is the reason they are no longer a top team.

  2. Good read, but Roden is CB we bought besides Sanchez. Before i go on I know ENIC etc could do a lot better on transfers etc, but lets look at facts. Leicester are playing brilliantly without spending millions, Wolves last season the same, West ham too, sometimes spending big isnt the answer, but having confidence and a manager that can get best out of players. Also maybe sometimes players we want dont want to join spurs, we cant gaurentee CL footy each season. United bought 1 player that has them playing great, maybe thats all we need too. I agree that we have many players that should go, lots need replacing, but we also have a manager that plays players out of position even when there is 2 fit ones available to play there, thats on Jose, not ENIC. Jose is a stubborn, ego person who has his favs, no matter who we buy, he may still not play them, Bale, Doherty, Vini, not play even though brought in for cover, even though regular footy can only improve them. Also never heard Levy etc say in public how bad a player, team are, Jose does, calling the squad ponys in a horse race while ostracising Dele to the point of him wanting out. The squad feel this and can lose faith in a manager if he slayes players publicly rather than own up to his own fault. ENIC and Levy may not invest properly, but at least they told us. Jose blames everyone but himself, even when he should.

    1. I totally agree about Leicester and Wolves. They don’t have huge funds, but the players look happy with their managers, they give 100% every game, and they are a joy to watch. The Spurs stagnation did not start with Morinho. Harry Kane is all we have now to paper over the cracks.

  3. Zulkifly Hairi Osman

    Mourinho really suck…he was once called ‘the special one’..but that was years ago until he was hired to coach man utd..and he change man utd philosophy of playing entertaining attacking football into a dull.defensive unit n got sack…n mr levy took him in to replaced the fans favourite utd,he also change spurs style of playing attractive football into a team who defends a lot n only relying counter attack…world class players like bale n deli alli never given chance playing regular football..instead Eric Dier becomes his favourite…the superb defender toby only plays a few games…so the downfall.of spurs is because we have a manager who doesn’t know the history of spurs..I agreed with ex spurs boss harry rednapp..that mourinho man management is not good..spurs can’t sack him just like that..the club has to pay a lot of money if they sack mourinho..I think Ledley king can take over if mourinho goes.

  4. Keith J Kavanagh

    Player investment has been too low. To finance the new WHL we needed our books in a VG place. You can’t borrow £100 with poor accounts never mind £1 billion. the author draws comparisons vs AFC, CFC, LFC etc they turned over £1 billion to £2 billion more than us in the last decade, therefore they had considerably more $ for player investment. Had we competed on transfers we’d have gone bust. You can’t cash roll a club due to new FIFA finance regs, so building the stadium was essential to generating revenues to compete on transfers. The ” I want a sugar daddy” brigade should accept that it can’t happen these days, see the big pic & draw comparisons to EFC, NUFC & AVFC who had similar honours & similar revenues a few years back. 2 got relegated, none in the UCL.

  5. Keith J Kavanagh

    Stagnation? We didn’t qualify for the UCL a few years back, seldomly beat our rivals, sold our stars & had a medium-sized stadium.

  6. When ENIC arrived we were a bottom 10 club, 10 – 12 players continually injured with near non existent medical facilities (Doug Livermore with a bucket and sponge) , our only hope of Europe was through the fair play league, a training ground so bad we ended up using Leyton Orients and then Dagenham & Redbridge, a crumbling frequently half empty stadium, our big signings were Chris Perry & Neil Sullivan!…we did manage a lofty 9th position in the league, just missing out in the inter toto cup by one place, free holiday brochures in feb as our season was over by then….on the bright side you could get a season ticket wherever you wanted, ditto away tickets, not to mention finishing 20/30 points behind Arsenal every season.
    Sure Levy has made some mistakes but given where he started from, got an awful lot right.

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