When you sell your soul to the devil, you’re supposed to get something in exchange for your newfound pariah status; but if the past week is anything to go by, Daniel Levy’s long fabled skills of negotiation appear to have failed him and Spurs.
Having attempted to run blood from a stone for the past 18 months, hoping that hiring and firing Jose Mourinho would prove a much faster and cheaper route to success than repairing the squad they’d allowed to grow stale under a manager who’d more than earned the right to rebuild it, Tottenham find themselves lying in an unappealing bed that is entirely of their own making.
Needing more than just a head coach or manager, hiring a would-be talisman to heal a fractured club, provide direction, reconnect with its soul, unify a disengaged fanbase and provide belief to superstars who have their hearts set on playing elsewhere is not an easy task – and that’s why, one by one, the likes of Julian Nagelsmann, Jesse Marsch and Erik ten Hag have all decided the grass is greener elsewhere. Being the manager of Tottenham Hotspur is not the attractive proposition it once was, and it’s that loss of reputation that requires just as much attention as who is going to be in the dug-out next season.
Mauricio Pochettino is deified because of what he managed to represent and achieve in the face of overwhelming odds against him and his team. Attempting to repeat that is not only naive, but actively insulting to what is perhaps the most fruitful and enjoyable period in the modern history of the football club. Tottenham are now beyond the help of just one man or coaching department. The club requires much deeper work.
There are two decades of precedent that suggest the following is more than unlikely, but the time has come for Daniel Levy to finally accept that he is not the face of this football club – and nor should he be. While it would be churlish to argue with where he has brought the club compared to where he inherited it, patience with his methodology is at an all-time low, and the trifecta of the European Super League announcement, Mourinho being sacked the week of a cup final and being publicly rejected at a rate that is unheard of outside of the Love Island villa has removed any goodwill or trust he may have still had.
Given that the recently launched campaign from the official Supporters’ Trust to have a new board appointed is as unlikely as it is admirable, where do Spurs go from here?
ENIC will not be selling the club until somebody matches their valuation, and that’s unlikely to happen in the midst of a pandemic-hit market unless either Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk fancy dropping a few billion. Tottenham also cannot afford to continue on this current trajectory, because all that achieves is the club losing value and reputation, which also harms the current ownership’s financial ambitions. So we find ourselves at a juncture where, perversely, it is in everybody’s best interest for Spurs to become a functional and successful football team again – but that, as the last year and a half has proven, is much easier said than done.
In order to remove himself from the firing line, recapture the enthusiasm of the core fanbase and give his playing squad something to stick around for, Daniel Levy should add several things to his to-do list. As well as hiring a new manager who will reinforce the ideals of playing Tottenham Hotspur football, the footballing department of the club needs to be restructured, with his prominence across transfers significantly downgraded. Putting in place a Director of Football that can work alongside the new coach, with autonomy over transfers both incoming and outgoing, Tottenham are less likely to be held back by a man whose main tactics in any negotiation appears to be an acute blend of stubbornness and subterfuge. While he will likely retain his final say, removing his name from the narrative will go some way to giving the club the internal refresh it so clearly needs.
This progressive course of action immediately withdraws the candidacy of Nuno Espirito Santo and Rafa Benitez, and with Maurizio Sarri likely to find work closer to home, Brendan Rodgers, Graham Potter, Ralf Rangnick, Roberto Martinez and Scott Parker appear to be the names most prominently floated, with Gareth Southgate, Eddie Howe and Steven Gerrard further down the betting. While no name immediately leaps out in the same way Naglesmann and Ten Hag did, neither did Pochettino’s or Redknapp’s at the time of hire, and they both went on to make relative successes of their time at the club. While the optics of a Potter aren’t as sexy as hiring the Leipzig or Ajax manager, constantly being batted away and having Fabrizio Romano live tweet your embarrassment isn’t a great look, either.
Tottenham sell themselves as the club that aims so high, that even in failure they retain an echo of glory. To Dare Is To Do, as the branding tells us. Having done far more daring, it’s time to back that up with some doing – and in that, realign the ideas of what the club is, and what it is going to be, because that crisis of personality is doing nothing but causing headaches both on and off the field.
In the Godfather sequel, Michael Corleone’s family life suffers as he becomes increasingly obsessed by the business of being a mob boss. As his father had previously uttered in the first instalment: “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” The more that Daniel Levy and ENIC’s attention has been on NFL deals, stadium revenue, Amazon documentaries and joining shameful Super Leagues rather than the football team that sits directly within the centre of it all, the greater damage has been done to their immediate on-field aspirations, relationship with their fans and happiness of their players.
Regardless of who the next Tottenham Hotspur manager is going to be, one man isn’t going to be able to paper over those cracks. Not this time.
Raj Bains – follow him on Twitter