In recent years there has been something about Spurs that causes opinions to become polarised. Harry Redknapp is the prime example of this phenomenon. It seems you can be either a Harry lover or an ‘arry ‘ater, there’s no middle ground. It’s the same for Daniel Levy. No sooner than someone dares to stammer out the merest possibility that there’s both good and bad in his reign at Tottenham, they will be shouted down and cast into one or other of the camps, Levy Luvvers or Levy Loathers. Martin Jol’s time at Spurs provoked a similar split between those who rated his achievements and wanted to give him more time and others who believed he did not have the ability to work at the highest level, although he was never surrounded by the degree of vitriol and bile attached to the Redknapp and Levy debates.
It wasn’t always this way. It makes you long for the good old days when everyone agreed that Graham, Gross and Francis were rubbish. We could all moan together, as one. There was limited acrimony around Hoddle because the realisation that he couldn’t take Spurs to the top was, and still is, mitigated by the fact that he is one of us, the finest Spurs midfielder of modern times. This affection was coupled with the almost desperate hope that he would succeed.
It’s summer and flaming June is named not after the weather but the flaming transfer window with its infernal mix of hope and frustration. We all know that even just a couple of players could enable us to become genuine contenders. The stakes are high but it’s a combustible cocktail, with emotions running high and focussed around Levy’s performance in the market.
This summer has created a new set of divisions, this time between those who frequent social media and those who manage to resist. The mere fact you are reading this blog online and have probably reached it via Newsnow or twitter means that you are in the former group. I think we can all agree it has been a ghastly nightmare, except that at the moment there’s no prospect of waking up and finding it was all a dream. On top of the Bale saga, we also have the bid for Soldado, the mythical striker to lead the chosen people into the promised land, come down to earth in human form. Or was that Benteke? I forget…
If you receive an unsolicited e-mail from a kindly African gentleman congratulating you on your lottery win or cutting you and you alone in on a cast-iron business deal, it’s safe to say that you don’t immediately forward your bank details as requested. So why then believe anything that an ITK says on twitter or on a messageboard. It’s just as unverifiable, yet by rapid repetition it becomes ‘fact’. Lies, misdirection, absurd over-interpretation, there’s no escape. I yearn for predictable tabloid sensationalism in the red tops and on Talksport. You know where you are with that muck. Those of you without a twitter account have missed the endless lengthy debates on the significance of Bale’s picture on the cover of FIFA 14, Soldado’s picture on the club website or the arrival of a Spurs player (Bale) at the training ground of the club he plays for.
As in previous seasons I have sworn not to get into this debate, a sort of evil footballing Seinfeld, famously the sitcom about nothing. However, bloggers write and my pages are empty. Check out Spooky’s excellent series of articles on Dear Mr Levy, a perfect take-down of the whole sorry mess in all its gory detail. The level of expressed anger does worry me. I see perfectly well the reasons for discussion and disagreement, especially in the light of Levy’s record in the market. I am not in favour of him being a spendthrift but he’s failed to bring in those couple of players that could have made (and could still make) a huge difference.
However, the way this debate has been carried on it’s set Spur against Spur. My fear is that this is a consequence of success in the modern era. Demands are stratospheric, competition has never been fiercer and it is instant gratification or nothing. I don’t want us to be like that. We’re different, better.
I don’t want us to spout the vainglorious entitlement that characterises the world-view of any Ch**sea fan who began to support the club since Roman took over, people saying they have washed their hands of the club because we’ve finished fifth and something might, repeat might, happen in the market.
The reality is more basic and familiar, which I suspect readers not hotwired to twitter might better grasp. Step away from the 140 characters, deep breath and this is what I see.
Much of what is going on in this window is normal and unavoidable. We may not like it but that’s the way it is. The most significant change is a positive one: Daniel Levy is backing his manager. Over the last year I’ve criticised Levy for not spending big to buy top quality players at market prices. I admire his prudence but felt he missed a golden opportunity last summer to invest in the team. If it’s money he’s after, the CL could have brought it. Also, with all the top earners like King and Keane having left, he had the freedom to raise the self-imposed salary cap without upsetting the good atmosphere in the squad or destroying the club’s hard-won financial stability. Yet at that crucial moment, he took the risk on Villas-Boas then adopted a ‘wait and see’ approach, in particular cruelly denying him Moutinho, AVB’s man. Our Andre has far exceeded expectations so now at last Levy is getting to work. It remains to be seen if it is too late but the support is there.
The other point I always trot out during windows is that we have competitors. Good players, especially strikers, are popular. Supply is short, demand high. I would have liked to have got the squad sorted for pre-season but these days that is impossible unless you are Manchester City who can pay what they like and chuck their bank statement in the bin without opening it. Arsenal, United, not even Chelsea have got anywhere near concluding their business.
We are no different. Shame but that’s the way it is. This isn’t Football Manager. You don’t put in a bid, have it accepted and fly home with the player. It’s a tortuous and lengthy negotiation, further complicated these days by third-party agreements, medicals and agents’ fees. If we come in with a bid, any self-respecting agent is going to tell his guy to hang on a bit and see who else might be interested. Look at Huigain: Arsenal were ready to spend over £20m, it all looked done and dusted then Napoli trumped the offer by ten or twelve million. The agent takes his cut but the Argentinian and Madrid are delighted they waited. It takes time. At least Levy has put good money on the table.
Bale has only ever been about one thing – Daniel Levy. Doesn’t matter what agents, Real Madrid, Marca say. £60m, £70m, £80m, £85m: hot air. Bid or no bid: irrelevant, we know Real want him. Doesn’t matter if Bale makes a statement or stays silent: agents, managers, chairmen and players misdirect and mislead. Statements can be retracted. We know he’s tempted and frankly who wouldn’t be, but in the end, Levy.
If by this time you are remotely interested, I would keep Bale, at least for another season. Don’t sell your best players. Always been that way, always will, this is no different whatever cash is on the table. If we had the money, we would still have to spend it. We need to avoid the slow starts of recent seasons and get going from the kick-off at Palace and this would delay team-building for another year.
Finally, Bale is no different from any world-class footballer. Transfer gossip will dog his entire career from now on. I intensely dislike the income-generating fabrication and sensationalism that surrounds all this but even without that it would still be in the papers because it’s a real story. One of the world’s best clubs is interested in one of the world’s best players. Unavoidable, especially as he plays for a team outside the Champions League. Even that would make little difference, given his age and that talent. There was talk of PSG putting in a bid for Messi, for goodness sake. Don’t like but that’s the way of the world. It’s in the papers because it is a real story.