While the media fixate on Gareth Bale’s transfer like a toddler staring at a lollypop in a sweetshop, Daniel Levy is getting on with business. As Spurs approach the new season, it’s remarkable that an £85m transfer is not the most significant development at the club.
Levy’s vision for Tottenham Hotspur has provoked bile-infused debate since he became chairman in 2001. His prudent approach to housekeeping has left us financially secure but perennially short of being true contenders. This summer, things have changed. Roberto Soldado is the scorer, the pivot, the leader, the talisman that we have craved for so long. Like the Holy Grail, the quest seemed never-ending but now the myth has become flesh and blood. It’s unheard of for Spurs to spend £26m on a 28-year-old: Levy has finally got the message.
Levy’s hard to work out. Goodness knows he gives nothing away. I can’t recall more than a single big interview with him in the last ten years. Certainly he’s far more complex than the two-dimensional miser he’s made out to be by his detractors. He’s a fan and like all us becomes conflicted when it comes to major decisions about the club we love. When decisions don’t come easy, he reverts to an instinctive response, and his instinct is business.
Like any businessman he seeks to manoeuvre a situation where he maximises opportunity and minimises risk. Win-win is the ideal, albeit seldom realistically achievable. If not, protect yourself with a fall-back position that ensures a reasonably soft landing. Last summer Harry Redknapp presented a demand for a new contract. Levy saw better value elsewhere and probably felt ‘arry’s ‘art wasn’t in it, still pining for that England job. All in all, not good for Spurs, so HR was sent packing with a flea in his ear.
Andre Villas-Boas was very different. Levy has a mixed record when it comes to picking managers. The last time he took a risk with a guy for whom Spurs was a step up, Juande Ramos, it was a total disaster. Again, he had sacked a manager who had been reasonably successful, at least compared with what had gone before. So this time, he hedged his bets. Cruelly he limited Villas-Boas’ funds in the market, in particular denying him Moutinho, AVB’s man, who would be his leader and lynchpin in midfield. That Villas-Boas took that plus the absence of a proper strikeforce in his stride is a measure of his committment to the club.
This wasn’t Levy being a skinflint. Rather, he wasn’t prepared to take the double risk of a new manager and large expenditure. A poor decision in my view – he should have backed his manager – but to Levy it’s the cold hard realities of business. Now however, Our Andre has proved himself. To DL the investment is worth it. Not only Soldado – Levy has made other funds available for players who provide value. In recent years, Spurs have spent good money on men for whom the club is a step up, who will mature on the field and contribute to the team while at the same time increasing their price in the market should they be sold on. Modric and Berbatov are the two best examples, Dembele and Lloris last season. Not cheap, not youngsters but with their best years ahead of them. Value on the pitch and off it. Win win.
This approach has brought in Paulinho and Chadli plus, it seems highly likely, Caboue. I can only comment from my own observations on the Brazilian, who judging from the Confederations Cup looks a fine prospect, with skill, drive and the physique to prosper in Premier League midfields. Chadli sounds like he will fit right in, a ball-player with pace and versatility, the latter being a significant attribute in any VIllas-Boas team where movement and mobility are key and tactics change not only from match to match but during the game too.
The outgoings and salaries (I strongly suspect the top end of our self-imposed restrictive salary structure has been moved too) will to some extent be offset by the sale of those surplus to requirements, Parker, Huddlestone and Dempsey, all good men and true in their way but note the lack of pace they have in common. Despite this, Levy’s spending is running at unprecedented levels. I admire his unwillingness to get caught up in the crazy upward spiral of Premier League transfer business that threatens the long-term security of clubs who get it wrong. However, his reluctance to fully commit long ago became indefensible. It’s a decisive change that is long overdue and will be heartily welcomed by supporters.
I’d like to think it’s the fan in him that has made him change tack. The passion, the romance, the danger that makes any fulfilling relationship so scary and exciting at the same time, but I doubt Levy has abandoned his principles. To him, there are real returns to be had. At other clubs it’s spending off the scale like a drunken lottery winner. Levy however maintains his dead-eyed stare on the prize. Maximise opportunity – trophies, the Champions League, TV cash – and minimise risk – there’s plenty of value and profit in the squad, plus judging by last season a fair to middling chance of being genuine contenders, if not for the league itself then the top four and silverware. Same equation. It may not be win-win but it’s close enough for Daniel to take the risk. He believes this team can really do something and so do I.
There remains the question of where the money’s coming from. Not bad, a Spurs blog 800 words in and only one mention of the B word so far. Now if you are looking for a prime example of win-win, let’s pop inside Levy’s head for a second. Record transfer fee or one of the best players in Europe stays with us for at least one more season and retains a high transfer value. He’s in clover and from such a position of security will screw Real Madrid for every last euro.
Levy’s handled this very well. As I said on the When Saturday Comes site the other day, amid the media frenzy (have you ever read so much about so little, bearing in mind Levy has said absolutely nothing and there have been no statements from the club?) he has been icy inscrutability, taking his time and resisting the pressure of jumping at riches beyond our wildest dreams. This is how he always is. 85k or 85m, all the same to him. He’s so bloody minded, he could just turn down flat that £85m and allow Gareth to play on.
I wonder if he’s actually decided. Time is key to any negotiation and he must think that’s on his side too. Maybe if they respond with something nearer £100m, he would be foolish to ignore it, especially as it’s unlikely that fee would still be on the table this time next year. Bale may play supremely well for the rest of his career but it’s unlikely that he will ever again match the impact he’s had on the world of football this past season. The shock of the new.
Given Spurs’ sound financial position and the money from the TV deal, I suspect this spending is budgeted separately from any Bale deal. Then again, it is substantial and anyway Real’s euros may be earmarked already, either for the new stadium or to prepare the club for a sale. The I in ENIC stands for investment and they have to get a return at some point.
Call me crazy, call me mad as long as you don’t call me Shirley but I would keep him, although I reckon he will be sold. But then again, for me it’s all about the passion, the romance, the pain and the pleasure that cannot be separated if the heart is to beat that little bit faster. With or without him, Levy and Spurs are headed in the right direction.
Part two of the season’s preview on Friday. Maybe Saturday. Friday probably. The Manager, The Players, the Fans.