It's enough to make you feel optimistic again
Interesting perspective from the outside looking in via a Manchester United supporter discussing Tottenham and what should be considered our genuine standing and ambitions compared to others relative to the set-up Daniel Levy has crafted at the Lane.
For the three related posts in their original form, click on this link - http://www.reddit.com/r/coys/comments/20ogto/saw_this_on_one_of_the_spurs_boardsa_fairly/ - shared via Man Utd forum (not sure which one). It's also on the Spurs Community so you might have seen this already.
It's interesting because we are obviously biased with our opinions as Tottenham fans because of our emotional connection to the club and our desire to see us achieve tangible success, however there is one point that resonates and reminds me of a comment Levy stated a number of years ago where he admitted that Champions League qualification would never be a certainty from one season to the next even when competing on the same level as the competition (something we've arguably still not achieved).
I guess the question is - does our perspective control reality to the point where it bends out of view?
I've worked through the posts below. It's a stream of consciousness, so haven't had time to edit or attempt a more fluid arc to it. You should know me well enough by now. Just wanted to get my thoughts down to work out if I agreed with the posts or not.
Quoted italics are the comments taken from the Reddit link above.
He'd taken them as far as Tottenham could go. That's what in my opinion fans of all clubs, not just Spurs and the media get things wrong. In my opinion the majority of people who follow football don't seem to recognize the extent to which a club is limited by it's financial strength. The fact this thread exist kind of demonstrates that. Spurs will have the 7th highest wage bill and will finish in the top 7. They will be way behind the other 6 teams in the top 7 in terms of wages and turnover. Yet apparently they are apparently becoming a bit of a joke. They are actually doing perfectly well, in fact possible a bit better than they should be given their size.
The idea that Redknapp had taken them as far as he could seems flawed to me as it suggests another manager could have taken them even further, which when you look at how things are in football these days, that is hugely unlikely. When you look at the size of their wage bill it would incredibly hard to attract better players. They've tried on several occasions to higher "tactical coaches" to bridge the gap, but anyone who still believes in them is deluded if you ask me.
The truth is under Redknapp they over achieved and he was rightly lauded in the media, though this didn't sit well with lots of football fans as he isn't popular. Now they are still doing well all things considered. There net transfer spend over the last 5 years is very low and their spending on wages is much lower than the teams above them. They just don't have the scale to threaten at the top of the league. You need to be amssive club that can generate a huge income or be owned by wealthy benefactors.
One of the biggest discussion points about Levy and Spurs surrounds the eternal struggle with how well the club is run on a fiscal level in terms of profit, net spend, remaining competitive in the transfer market (considering top level players are always out of our reach because of Champions League and wage structures elsewhere) compared to the disappointment of being the seasoned nearly men. Levy is perpetually under scrutiny for not speculating further at pivotal moments in the season or perhaps allowing the football to mature over time rather than cater for the short-termism that exists with managerial appointments in the Premier League (by chopping and changing regularly).
There is no debating that in terms of financial health, there is a minor little miracle at play. Sure, if you compare wage bills and turnover (due to the 36k capacity) we are held back in many ways although the statue of the club and the fact it's London based has always meant that aside from the true 'giants' in England we are always the best option outside the title-challenging group of teams.
Are we a joke? I don't really care about opposing fans suggesting that, neither do I care much about the media who are more or less as flaky and irresponsible with their ever changing narratives thanks to their personal agenda to remain relative with opinion and always come across as being correct. So sure, we're doing well if you compare us with other clubs above us and around us but at the same time this is proving detrimental because it's now created a new culture of comfort where it's perfectly acceptable to 'almost' get there. Add to it the fact that some of the signings we make are considered world class or just below that standard are standing on a stepping-stone allowing them to move onto bigger and better things.
Although we rarely sell our very best players to clubs in the same league (not in recent seasons, thus side-stepping making rivals stronger) losing the players to a continental side will cause unavoidable impact. We get weaker, others will be stronger because of it. Losing our best players means we are forever having to rebuild vital areas of the team, sometimes changing the style completely and therefore influencing an overhaul across the squad.
Did Redknapp take us as far as he could? Although his tenure ended due to the problematic nature of his relationship with Levy and the England job, maybe it was as good as it got if you take the above realisation that we are currently bottlenecked from achieving more simply because of the limitations on what we can offer to prospective signings. This is the area of the discussion that can be pulled apart and argued over and over again because regardless of the limitations, we have still found ourselves in amongst it in the past.
Had Jermain Defoe got his toes to the ball in the game up at the Eastlands we would have won rather than lose 3-2. That moment has nothing to do with money or wage bills. It was luck. It was football. Had we won, the belief alone might have elevated us to the next level. Momentum is a powerful weapon. I guess it's a little bit like a boxer throwing a punch and missing, only to go on and lose on points. The you don't get to have that re-match as you watch others go toe to toe with him whilst you become the forgotten challenger.
Redknapp leaving and a more progressive coach entering the fray was meant to give us that extra missing dimension - possibly more to do with the tie in with the new academy and promoting the brand of THFC as modern and scientific (as opposed to wheeling and dealing our way through the season). The reality (as suggested in the article from the Utd fan) is that the tools available along with the system that backs it up is the exact same one that Redknapp had - except Andre Villas-Boas also had a director of football added to the mix. The constraints are still there meaning the job remains a difficult one. Redknapp rode the wave thanks to his recovery job he was appointed for. It blossomed. Him and Martin Jol, accidental managers - the only two times we've got lucky rather than strategically planning improvement. Proving that the chaos theory is prone to visiting and influencing events in N17.
What's interesting for me is the lack of apparent flexibility with any given appointment. If the job *is* this difficult and we are up against it (remember Levy once commented that CL football would not be attainable every season for any given club at the top because of the nature of competition) then why does it feel so fatalistic when we dip in form and why are coaches not given time to build over seasons? Perhaps the system at play, the chopping and changing, helps retain the club at a competitive level even if it remains frustrating as supporters. Jol was replaced with Juande Ramos, the idea again was for a more progressive approach but this particular appointed came to be because behind the scenes wanted to upgrade. Jol was going through a stale patch. Had he taken us as far as he could? We've never stuck with someone through the bad patch since our renaissance from mid-table to 5th to 4th spot marauders.
Yes, upgrading is to the prerogative of the chairman especially if there are reasons that we fans are not privy to as well as any obvious to see issues with the football. Perhaps every single chop and change made was unavoidable. If so - was it unavoidable because of the relationship (or lack of) between coach and chairman?
Did we over-achieve under Harry Redknapp?
Yes and no. Redknapp had his tactical limitations (doesn't everyone?) and we achieved exactly what we always need to be achieving as a football club - entertaining football. Absolutely no argument that we played some of the very best football (attractive is an under-statement) in the country. We also had backbone and took advantage of other clubs going through states of flux. However, we faltered towards the business end of the season too often, costing us third spot. So there's an argument to be made that we under-achieved or possibly even failed to over-achieve at a consistent level - enough to consolidate Champions League more than once.
Ignoring the form and transitional periods other clubs were going through, Spurs failed to retain the level of football when clubs wised up to our style. A testament to what we achieved in many ways, that clubs turned up and parked the bus at the Lane. What Redknapp wasn't capable of was to find a way through. We stagnated. The standard of the football dropped as we struggled to score. Hence that desire to have a more progressive coach (who had the exact same issues) or simply someone new to have a go at improving us. Obviously, that didn't quite work out either.
We don't have the scale to threaten at the top of the league if you simply compare the difference in wealth, but the points on the table (up until recently) proves there is currently not a lot in it. Although we're hardly in tip top shape to consider anything more than what we have. With Spurs, regardless of the fact Chelsea and Manchester City have ridiculous squad depth - what truly limits us is the fact that we lack the fortitude and mental strength to see something through to the end. A perfect way to illustrate this is that we posses players that want CL football but aren't willing to earn it. That culture of comfort allowing for excuses to kick in, the moment we have a wobble. We do well when there's a change, it then goes wrong, we then enforce another change. Repeat till fade.
As for aligning our support and expectations - this is the area, the perspective, that can make things look great one moment and at crisis point the next. Are things as bad as they look? No. But this isn't about Spurs being in a unrecoverable mess. This is about Spurs not being able to break out of the cycle they find themselves in. A cycle that allows us to retain an edge, to be up there with the rest and to sign quality players - but a cycle that doesn't allow for continuity in terms of the football. What I mean is, the base is there to support the signings of players and attract coaches to the job. Spurs are an option as an outsider that is easily accessible and just about trendy enough for those that can not quite seek a contract at City, Utd and Chelsea.
But with competition from Liverpool and Arsenal, it means that we have to retain a presence to keep the attraction at a premium. To do that, its not a question of how much money in the bank we have, but rather how well we appear to be doing with fighting towards the top four (the modern day be all and end all of football). Spurs have to keep up appearances. That's what the system allows for. As fans, we want more than this because the football suggests its a probable ambition to aspire for it.
Ultimately Spurs seem to consistently finish top of the also rans, which actually shows how well run they are. Yet due to their relatively large fan base and tradition they manage to somehow keep themselves seemingly relevant in discussions about who is going to win things each season and fight for the top 4. This makes them look like perennial losers, when if anything, for close to a decade now they have been one of the most effectively run clubs in the world. The truth is Spurs board should be congratulated, but they don't actually want that. They've got a nice little business model going and it's very well served by everyone talking about them as failed big club, rather than the truth, which is a very successful mid sized club. Levy and ENIC bought the club for about £30 million and have since gone about turning it into a £300-£400 million club, by keeping their fans believing they are close. They've built a brilliant training facility, have plans for a great stadium which Levy seems to be using every trick in the book to make others pay for and they have consistent European football and flirt with the big boys. But even though between them they are very wealthy, there is no chance Levy and Lewis would do what is needed to give Spurs a real chance of success.
So this part summarises what I spoke about above. The thing of note is the perspective we have as fans. We see our failings as managerial (from board level to coach) issues that are continually repeated even though the expectancy is that there is usually always three or four clubs better suited for the positions from 1st down to 4th than we are. But as I alluded to, in the past two seasons we've lost out by a mere couple of points so even though we're not meant to be challenging, even if we're over-achieving - we've failed only because of mistakes on the pitch - nothing to do with fiscal stature or anything else outside of 90 minutes of play. Unless you're going to suggest if we had more money the players would be even better and wouldn't make those mistakes.
'A nice little business' is probably why so many Spurs fans spit blood about our predicament. That cycle we can't break out of is one that the board and chairman don't mind navigating through as it doesn't hurt the business model. Sure, it means we're safe as houses as a club in an era where some have struggled but that leaves us in limbo. Are we meant to wait for that luck to shine on us? Get a break and another adventure with the elite of Europe before waiting a further 4/5 years for another shot? Even if that is the reality of our placement with the clubs around us, is it acceptable to just shrug and allow it to play out without question? As supporters, we can't hold back. Hearts on sleeves is what defines us. We have to dream and hope for more because dreaming and hoping are the fundamental building blocks of support. If we accept we are perennial losers (tbh, Spurs fans are self-deprecating to a level to know this regardless) then the buzz out of the game will diminish.
The key thing from the article so far is that ENIC have taken us into the realms of 14th (thereabouts) richest club in Europe and worth a packet in valuation along with the new state of the art training centre and the rubble around White Hart Lane that is meant to be the Northumberland Development Project that currently resides in the shadow of a supermarket. Now long term wise - for the sake of continuity beyond any this and next season - you would believe when it all falls into place that Spurs will break into the next tier thanks to the added value of revenue a new stadium will bring. Sadly, by the time that happens, Arsenal will have paid off their debts and all the revenue they make on match-days will elevate them to the next tier of pulling power. We'll always be chasing the same 3/4 clubs thanks to the Sky Sports era and the billionaire playboy owners. This isn't so much a negative (because we'll still attract the players) but a reminder that we're playing catch-up. Very very slowly. Which leads us onto this statement (made in the article):
...there is no chance Levy and Lewis would do what is needed to give Spurs a real chance of success.
Levy is by far the most intelligent man in football. He's got a 1st class honours degree from Cambridge for one thing and I doubt anyone else could boast that. The near perfect correlation between overall spending and success wont have been missed by him. He knows what it really takes to be successful and therefore can't have any serious expectations. But as long as he keeps people thinking he has and keeps doing the great job he is (and consistent top 6 finished is a great job) and all the while people considering it a failure, then his investment will grow. Before he took over Spurs were well behind the likes of Leeds, Villa and Newcastle. Now a sponsor would probably pay nearly twice as much to have their names on a Spurs shirt that any of those clubs, or the naming rights for their stadium will go for so much more. Top players actually consider and sometimes sign for Spurs. Ramos was the most sort after manager in Europe and he went there! LVG probably will go there. Everyone always believes that Spurs are on the brink. They've made a brand from it. You look at the growth markets of football around the world and Spurs will have a presence yet no other "also ran" will. The key to this is that they have convinced everyone they have the potential to go to the next level, when in reality they are doing superbly well to be where they are.
We've made a brand out of it. We've convinced everyone that we have the potential to get to the next level when the reality is - we're always there or thereabouts but never actually where we want to be. But where we want to be might be here and now. Levy seems happy to treat us to open letters come the end of the season, with uplifting messages for the future.
Fans, prospective players - they all buy into the project. We all think this might be the season we make the breakthrough. In some ways, there has been continuity with momentum. Belief that gets stretched and abused. Take this summer having lost Gareth Bale, we all thought (most of us) that the new players in would strengthen us - when what it's actually done is create new problems of acclimatisation and settlement and has in fact held us back and aided towards altering the course of the season.
Levy is supposedly doing what he needs to do - nothing more or nothing less. That something extra, that speculation - it's not possible judging by the way we are managed with finances if you take a generalised look at things. I guess here you need to decide if it's this simplified a system. That we are waiting for others to fail so that our over-achievements reach new heights and allow for that something extra (thanks to the statue of CL football and it's money) to elevate us further. Although that didn't exactly pan out the one time we achieved it. Three years ago this week we played Real Madrid away. Which goes back to the comment (a third time) attributed to Levy about 'not every season will allow for CL football'.
If that is the belief, then it's the acceptance of the cycle in-house. The nature of us holding back creates the illusion of hope because we continue to be the pretenders on the verge of contending. We spent £100M in the past summer because we had that amount to spend because of what we sold. In past January windows, we have failed to consolidate - when we could have.
This is the juncture where although I agree with some of the sentiment in the article, the fact is we've had money to spend but haven't when we've most needed to. Those moments of no consolidation. How many years did we spend seeking to sign a new striker?
Now if the case is the money wasn't really there to spend or the club didn't want to spend it - then that means the nature of us holding back is a tactic to keep the cycle intact. It makes no sense - footballing or business wise - to hold back if the money is there to spend and we can consolidate and strengthen the team. So are we simply a victim of circumstance in terms of the upper echelons of the league being out of our reach because of the financial clout of others therefore meaning we are actually doing as well as we can? Or are not doing enough to knock one of them off their perch? Preferring to protect what we have than risk it all?
With the gap in football not exactly being a gulf of difference (ignoring our capitulation for this season) should we be more shrewd with the way we conduct ourselves with building a team, allowing for patience and stability? Easier said than done, right? If a coach has to go, he has to go. But if we've ballsed up backing him in the first place then the issue is no longer about how good we are as a club with the revenue we produce. It becomes about mismanagement with the football aspects and the pressure being applied - because the football will always be key for more revenue.
Go back to Defoe's miss at Eastlands. Or even Kyle Walkers mistake at Anfield. Moments, seconds that define a season. It's proof that we shouldn't use the cycle or the fact we are punching above our weight as a reason to accept we'll never move on and upwards. And because we can't rely on luck either (it's something you make for yourself) why shouldn't we look beyond the structural design and workings of THFC and question how the ambitions purely with football work?
I spoke the other day (http://www.dearmrlevy.com/dml/2014/3/17/the-revolution-will-be-televised) about the director of football system and how stability is impacted by the lack of transparency with how the club looks to support the coach rather than the transfer policy. That we are lopsided towards the business model rather than the footballing one. I'll be cynical here and suggest that even Hotspur Way and our academy is another potential revenue stream. If that's the case, then football itself isn't built in a way that allows me to embrace it because the only breakthrough to be made will be to sit and wait for a billionaire.
Luckily I still harbour those hopes and dreams that one of these days a Defoe-like chance will be stuck in rather than missed. Does that mean we should be accepting our role as it stands currently?
Modern Premiership football is about money. What has happened to Spurs actually proves than more than anything. Look at how well they did investing a good young talent and finding value abroad. They went from mid table failures to CL challengers and when their time came look what happened. Man City over night became the wealthiest club in the world. Spurs have finished in the top 5 for the last 4 seasons and would have been in the CL every year had Man City not come along. They'd have done so on a far lower budget than anyone else, yet instead of Premier League football fans acknowledging this and crediting them for a great job, they are seen as a joke. That's the reality of Prem football. You spend years improving your squad, investing in the clubs future with a brilliant new training facility and instead of getting rewarded for it, a rich Arab comes along and people say you failed and should have done what Dortmund did!
That's enough to make you feel optimistic again, isn't it? The reality is, Manchester City do exist and clubs like Chelsea have changed the way players are signed in this country and shared out amongst the clubs that can afford to pay them tax-breaking wages. If you were a CL side already, then you're going to be accommodated in terms of that revenue and statue to keep ahead of the pretenders. This has actually jogged my memory that for most of the seasons when Spurs broke into the top 4 or challenged up there, at the start of every season we were not expected to (by our own fans included) finish in a CL place. Regardless of how it's meant to look and work, it isn't as tricky to involve yourself in the mix. The difference is still down to the football itself. Once more it depends on how accountable you make Levy and the system to influence your opinion and perspective.
Are we in fact underachieving rather than overachieving? I've cited enough reason to suggest there's an argument for it.
Also it's naive to think you can judge their spending at such an early stage. As I pointed out Spurs have a recent history of buying players and developing them. After his first season at Spurs would anyone have thought a year later we'd pay £18.6 million for Michael Carrick. Modric was considered a disappointment after his first season, but went on to become the best CM in the league. Bale struggled for his first 2 or 3 seasons before becoming the best player in the league. Spurs finished 5th in 2006/7 but then finished 8th and 9th the following seasons, it looked like they'd spent badly, but this was the period in which they bought Bale and Modric. They then finished 4 times in the top in a row. Would it really surprise you if a couple of Spurs signings went on the be major success's? I doubt anyone would be in shock if in 2 years from now Eriksen and Lamela are among the most sort after players in Europe. I think calling them a joke based on their summer spending is very premature especially given their recent history.
It's not as if Spurs can go out and spend a £100 million on top quality players. They don't pay the wages for that. They have to buy players who fit into their wage structure and that usually means buying younger players and players from outside the big 3 leagues. These players often take a year or two to adapt to a new league. For example, Lamela was their biggest signing and he's been injured for most of the season and is only 21. You can hardly call him a flop. Capoue has been injured for most of the season. Chiriches was doing well for them, but he too is now a long term injured player. Both Eriksen, Chadli and Paulinho are all new to the league, but at times have all shown their quality. But they will need time. The only one who can be seen as a real let down is Soldaldo. Even though it's his first season, he just doesn't seem to be a good fit for this league. Last season our fans would have said Cleverly and Welbeck are better than Henderson and Strurridge.
Ultimately you can't expect a club like Spurs to go out and buy a load of top quality players. Their entire model, which has seen them become CL challengers and meant they can spend £100 million is one window, has been built on buying players before they are ready to make a big impact. If in two years time they are mid table and their signings didn't work out, you can say they are a joke. But at the moment the very fact they were able to spend £100 in one window and still break even should actually be inspiring to an Everton fan.
This final part is logical, and it's often missed or forgotten about because of the high expectations new signings (and the momentum built in the past two seasons) has given us. I haven't written off any of the players we've signed. We signed too many and regardless of whether they were all approved and wanted by Andre Villas-Boas, expecting them all to settle with immediate impact has proven our undoing. On the field, and our meltdown off it.
Although, the fact that I've just said 'regardless whether they were approved' by AVB sends me back to the system at the club and the DoF and the fact it's holding us back above and beyond the money side of the game. A coach that controls the buying and selling means there is more chance we see a settled philosophy and blueprint but then this goes against the business model that exists to support the philosophy that Levy and the DoF are upholding - with the coach having to fit into it rather than the other way around.
There's the lack of transparency again.
Spurs will be judged more so next season depending on the coach that takes over from Tim Sherwood (hopefully). Players will have acclimatised after a troubled year, a summer and a pre-season will aid their development in Lilywhite. There is no disputing that we'll be involved once more up at the top of the table. Maybe next time we'll have the ruthless edge we need to gatecrash the party and stay there until the sun rises with another new dawn. One thing is a certainty. If that happens and we're back in the CL, it still won't guarantee us keeping that place the following season.
So to flip this entire perspective on its head - what Spurs are in need for is a winning mentality that aims for achievement in cup competitions, to win silverware that is noted in history and that we aim for the top so that in failure we might find ourselves at 4th place as a bonus rather than the goal of our ambition.
If we can't compete with the billionaire clubs, if we're going to be chasing them season in and season out, then we need to stop with the comparisons and the apologetic notions that we should be proud of the fact we're over-achieving and try to kick on where it matters most. On the pitch, as a team and a club with an ethos that doesn't break every two seasons.
How is that achieved? If it was easy enough done, we'll have worked it out by now.
Spurs are the team on the outside looking in. Yet I can't ignore the fact we have been so close so often that the thin margin usually comes down to personal error. Even on our budget and with our limitations, we still compete. Having someone make up for the lack of experience and building up that winning mentality is the key. The key being the coach managing the players.
The difference isn't to accept our tags as pretenders and brave challengers to the dominant uber rich but to instead make up that difference in those defining moments on the pitch.
At the moment, there is no clear ethos. The cycle has to be broken or at the very least we have to want to try and break it. I think deep down we know what we're up against and we're not being unreasonable or asking for the impossible. I personally need to see that there is an equal measure of balance and commitment that the business model gets when comparing to the football side. We've spent £100M on players, some of which have failed to settle, others are not being used to great effect. How can anyone suggest that this isn't the single thing holding us back? More so than the Russian or the Arab at rival clubs.
We've got the tools, that don't quite fit into the tool box.
If you're going to make Levy and ENIC accountable for the good business model, make them accountable for the lethargic handling of the team and the appointments and sacking of managers.
The cycle is there to be broken.