It’s hard to argue that Daniel Levy and ENIC haven’t vastly improved the state of Tottenham Hotspur over their 20 year tenure. While developing world-class training facilities and the iconic 62,000-seater Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, they’ve transformed the club into a financially stable and globally-recognised brand in the world of football. It’s a far cry from the shambolic outfit ENIC took over in 2001.
But while everything off the pitch has grown drastically, Tottenham’s progression under ENIC has been marked with just one League Cup win over two decades. And silverware is, unfortunately for Levy, the only measuring stick that fans will use to judge his performance as chairman.
With the appointment of Antonio Conte as manager, Spurs fans have a renewed sense of optimism. But calls for #ENICOUT have been gaining momentum year on year. So what’s gone wrong for Daniel Levy at Tottenham Hotspur? Does ENIC deserve the criticism they receive?
In this article I take off my Spurs Goggles and explore the successes and failures of ENIC, and what the future is likely to hold for the Tottenham hierarchy.
2001 ENIC Takeover
It’s important to remember that ENIC took over Tottenham Hostpur in 2001 at a point where the club was in turmoil. It had just survived a financial crisis, the football was dire, and the club had fallen far behind an exciting and successful stint during the 80’s where Spurs lifted two FA cups, a league cup, and the UEFA cup.
As late 80’s baby, I didn’t witness those good old days. But I very clearly remember Spurs during the 90’s and I’ll tell you now: things were a lot worse before Levy arrived.
I grew up in North London at a time that Arsenal were celebrating European football and and lifting domestic titles, while Tottenham could only hope to put a thorn in their side and temporarily gain the local bragging rights. Beating Arsenal was the highlight of some seasons. The gulf between the two clubs was huge.
90’s Spurs was as shambolic off the pitch as it was on it, with a series of poor signings and managers, coupled with backstage power struggles between then chairman, Alan Sugar, and other members of the hierarchy — most notably Terry Venables. On a couple of occasions (’94 and ’98) Spurs stooped low enough to find themselves playing for safety at the later stages of the season to avoid possible relegation, finishing 15th and 14th respectively.
For the benefit of younger readers: 90s Spurs were most comparable to Newcastle under Mike Ashley. We were a ‘big’ club, but not a good one. Like Newcastle, our fans despised the chairman and depicted him as a self-interested businessman with no passion for the game itself.
But for all our faults, Spurs were somewhat redeemed by the superb attacking talent on display. The likes of Jurgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham and David Ginola would be unbelievable additions to today’s squad.
I think it’s important to recall this image of Tottenham to realise how far Spurs have come since then. Levy has made relatively few missteps in his twenty year journey with the club. Through exciting eras under Martin Jol, Harry Redknapp and Mauricio Pochettino he’s transformed Spurs into a club with a leading training facility, a top football stadium, a hit Amazon Prime series, an unrivalled flow of income from live sporting & leisure events. Importantly, Tottenham’s league finishes have vastly improved, averaging 6.5th position under ENIC despite the hangover from the previous era.
However, the most shocking thing about the new & improved post-90’s-ENIC-version of Spurs is that, in terms of silverware, the previous era was more successful. Even the few remaining ENIC fans cannot hide from the fact that the most chaotic version of Spurs under Alan Sugar somehow lifted an FA cup in 1991 and the League Cup in 1999.
Trophies trump all else in football. So beneath the glossy exterior of the new Tottenham Hotspur, from a purely footballing perspective, Levy has fallen well short of growing expectations during his 20 year tenure at the helm. The question is, why?
Have Spurs Been Unlucky?
Luck plays a huge part in football, and shouldn’t be disregarded. Luck defines careers — for both managers and players. Games are so frequently lost and won by the thinnest of margins. The futures of players and managers are constantly in the balance.
Under ENIC Spurs have reached five League Cup finals, and one Champions League final — but have only one League Cup winner’s medal to show for it. Spurs have lost five FA cup semi finals during the same period, and cracked the all-time record for most consecutive losses in that fixture (6).
Yes, Spurs could’ve been more fortunate, and no doubt that would’ve eased the pressure on the club’s owners. But unlike many fans, I don’t see Spurs as being particularly unlucky, or “cursed”. On the contrary, I believe that getting so close to glory and continually falling at the final hurdle is no coincidence. It only reaffirms that the club, although on the right track, was consistently shy of the mark.
In terms of the COVID-19 outbreak coinciding with the £1bn stadium build, Spurs have indeed suffered from the worst possible timing imaginable. With so many of the stadiums planned events cancelled, the club’s key financial strategy has been thrown into disarray.
However Tottenham are not the only football club to be hit hard by the pandemic. In fact, there’s more than enough evidence to suggest that Tottenham are one of the most stable clubs in World football and that recent failures are a recurring pattern, not a hoodoo, and not all due to cancelled events. Spurs are simply reaping what they sow — but I’ll get onto that later.
Given all the near-misses of recent times, hindsight tells us that Spurs needed reinforcements to get over the line.
While Levy has become increasingly astute in holding onto existing talent at Tottenham, most Spurs fans will openly admit that the likes of Gareth Bale, Luca Modric, Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, and Christian Eriksen, at times, papered over the cracks. Spurs have often needed something extra boost performances over the course of a season.
Think back to the team that achieved Tottenham’s highest ever Premier League finish (2nd) under Mauricio Pochettino in 2016-17. Spurs scored 86 goals (1st in EPL), and conceded 26 (also 1st in EPL). But yet, remarkably, that still wasn’t enough to win the title. That same squad finished 3rd the previous season, meaning Tottenham produced the highest total points tally of all Premier League teams across that two season period.
Then there was the Champions League final in 2019. Pochettino guided, near enough, the same (declining) group of players right up to the very pinnace of European football — losing to Liverpool 2-0 in unexciting fashion. Before that game he preempted the inevitable fall that would follow, and all but nailed himself to the cross in doing so. He made a public analogy that the club had built a beautiful house (the new stadium) but that it required better furniture (players) to put inside it. He was right, and everyone could see it. Yet he was shown the exit door just months later, shouldering the blame for the club’s shortcomings in the process.
During that period Tottenham were capable of winning any game when all cylinders were firing. But it was far too easy to destabilise the squad with an injury, a suspension or even slight dip in form from a key player. As exciting as Pochettino’s era was, it lacked squad depth, experience, competition for places, and most importantly — new blood. These fundamental issues have plagued Tottenham, as the club stubbornly persists with buying ‘potential’ over proven talent that can make an immediate impact.
Yes, Levy’s conservative approach worked in assembling Pochettino’s team — with homegrown Harry Kane, a young and fiery £5.97m Dele Alli from MK Dons, £12.74m Eriksen (dating back to 2013), and one of the club’s best ever signings in Heung Min-Son for £27m in 2015. But those kinds acquisitions are almost impossible to replicate year on year, as Spurs discovered while the squad slowly but surely stagnated.
Spurs were crying out for a more aggressive, bolder, approach to player acquisitions in the transfer market to keep on moving, to continue building, to push onto the next level. It was criminal of of ENIC to rest on the talent we had rather than push to create a buffer behind us.
ENIC’s Erratic Behaviour
After Pochettino was sacked, ENIC proceeded with a series of questionable moves. The first was bringing in Jose Mourinho — one of the world’s most expensive (and volatile) managers, and an unlikely fit for the club given his defensive playing style.
ENIC subsequently loosened of the transfer purse strings to back Mourinho in his project, bringing several promising signings to the club such as Gareth Bale (loan), Sergio Reguilon, Steven Bergwijn, and Emile-Pierre Hojbjerg. This modest, but ambitious, period was what the fans and Pochettino had cried out for — but it came years too late. So late, in fact, that the team needed an overhaul rather than just a patch up. It left fans asking: why didn’t the board just do this earlier?
Other unusual decisions surrounded the club during this period. Daniel Levy made the decision to Furlough staff during COVID-19, and to sign Spurs up to the proposed Super League. Both plans were swiftly withdrawn due to fan resistance, and Spurs were fined around £3.6m for being part of the highly controversial breakaway proposal.
After 17 months in charge, Mourinho was eventually sacked following a string of poor performances, and Nuno Espirito-Santo was brought in. Nuno was far from Tottenham’s first choice, and was sacked four months later after mixed results and intense fan unrest over several abysmal performances. Then Antonio Conte was brought in, despite stating he was unconvinced of the club’s ambitions during the previous summer window. Hectic times indeed.
While Conte’s appointment has boosted the morale among fans, it doesn’t disguise ENIC’s recent hiccups. Their erratic behaviour has left a trail of destruction, payouts, and embarrassment, in its wake. Levy’s sceptics feel as though the introduction of Conte could just be a desperate PR stunt to keep the fans onside, rather than the beginning of a more ambitious Tottenham.
Levy and ENIC have admitted to some failures — but have tended to defend their decisions by pointing towards the enormous £1bn stadium cost, inflated player fees, as well as the immense pressures of COVID-19 on top. It’s certainly devastating timing for Spurs. No doubt about it.
Nonetheless, it’s difficult to understand why such obstacles haven’t stopped the club from investing heavily in new managers, as well as a new director of football, golf courses, additional building works and, apparently, a new transfer kitty ready for Antonio Conte. Furthermore, such obstacles didn’t remotely break Levy’s resolve and tempt him into selling Harry Kane for a club record fee of over £100m during the summer transfer window.
While few fans will complain about developing the club and holding onto or top players it begs the question: how are Tottenham so adaptable and resilient during the most turbulent time of ENIC’s tenure, but couldn’t find a way to break the transfer policy to push for major trophies?
It seems that ENIC are willing to pull a rabbit out of the hat when the pressure is on. They wait for a failure and react once the damage is already done.
When Tottenham fans voice their disappointment to the board with regards to the lack of investment into the squad, it can come across as unappreciative, unrealistic, incoherent and simply too emotional. So I’m going to make an effort to be rational.
To be fair to Levy, he has always made it clear that Tottenham cannot spend to the extent of clubs like Man City, Chelsea and Man United. Truthfully, our fans don’t expect that, either.
However, it’s important to point out that Spurs are consistently ranked among the richest clubs in the world (9th as of October 2021), boasting a revenue of €445.7m. The club owner, Joe Lewis, is ranked the 457th-richest person in the world with a £4.8bn fortune, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index. It’s therefore reasonable to think Spurs hierarchy have more funds than they let on.
The perception of Tottenham — especially among our own fanbase — is that we’re obscenely frugal in the transfer market given our potential spending power. Spurs have reportedly missed out on signing the likes of Jack Grealish, Sadio Mane, Paulo Dybala, Milan Skriniar, and countless others, due to Levy’s well-documented hardball approach.
Yet surprisingly the club has in fact spent the 6th highest of any English club since the 2001 ENIC Takeover, as per the following table from Transfermarkt.
|9||West Ham United||£789.98m||483||£485.60m||503||£-304.39m|
|15||Brighton & Hove Albion||£317.12m||559||£124.15m||540||£-192.97m|
|18||West Bromwich Albion||£362.29m||401||£212.09m||407||£-150.20m|
In case you’re interested, Spurs ranked 8th in net spend over the past five seasons. But this isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to Tottenham’s finances.
As a Spurs fan, you cannot avoid noticing that every aspect of the club is monetised to the absolute fullest. The season ticket prices are the second highest in the Premier League, the club gift shop is one of the largest in Europe, bars and food stands are situated all around a stadium that constantly hosts tours and functions — as well as some of the world’s most prestigious live events.
Tottenham is a business in its own right, and this is reflected in their expenditure. Similarly to the transfer budget, Tottenham’s wage bill mirrors their typical league finishes; so it’s unsurprising that they paid the 6th highest of any English club in 2019/20 and finished precisely 6th. However, what’s more revealing is that Spurs held the lowest Wages-to-Turnover ratio for that season (39%) meaning that, pound for pound, the club spends less than anyone else in the Premier League. This figure rose to 57% for 2020/21 due to the heavy impact of COVID-19 — with Spurs still maintaining the best ratio.
The breakdown was provided by Swiss Ramble on a Twitter:
Interpreting Tottenham’s league-leading Wage-to-Turnover ratio is a matter of opinion. One way to look at this is that ENIC have turned Spurs into the most secure and streamlined club in the league, with revenue coming in from so many angles that player wages aren’t at any serious risk of bleeding the club dry. On the other hand, these stats are likely to enrage fans that look back to crucial moments in recent history, and wonder ‘what could have been’ had the board stretched the wage ratio in line with other clubs or, better yet, raised the transfer budget to improve the quality of the team. Spurs have the wiggle room to do more.
The latter argument is all the more valid once we consider that our Champions League 2019 final opponents, Liverpool, were ranked the highest net spender in English football during the 2018-19 season, beat Spurs and went on to win the Premier League in the following 2019-20 season. In contrast, Tottenham’s net spend was unranked by Transfermarkt for the 2018-19 season due to no activity. What might we have achieved from buying just a couple of key players over that period?
And if that’s not enough to convince you that investment converts into trophies, look back at the top three spenders in English Football during ENIC’s tenure: Man City, Man United and Chelsea; the most successful clubs of the Premier League era. Tottenham, typically 6th highest spender in terms of wages and net spend in the transfer market, are essentially right where they belong: competitive in the league, but unlikely to win it. On paper, pushing for a Champions League spot is the best Spurs could realistically hope for.
With that hard truth it’s absolutely imperative that golden opportunities are seized whenever they present themselves; and that’s where ENIC have undoubtedly let themselves, and the fans, down.
What Does The Future Hold For ENIC?
For the past two decades the Spurs fan base has generally bought into the idea at the club is slowly progressing into an entity that’s ready to take on the world’s most elite clubs on the pitch. Consistent qualification to the Champions League signaled that we were on track.
But there’s a growing fear that Tottenham is becoming a business attached to a football club, doomed to mediocrity by the limited resources given to player recruitment.
Nevertheless, the latest project has instilled excitement among Tottenham fans. With top facilities, one of the worlds best managers in Conte, a director of football with pedigree, and — outside of football matters — a brilliant businessmen in Daniel Levy leading the way, the club is primed and ready to jump the next hurdle; to win the trophies that the fans have patiently waited for.
Yet beneath the renewed optimism, I sense that Conte is ENIC’s last gasp attempt at success. A substantial portion of the Spurs fanbase would already prefer to gamble on new ownership than to continue under ENIC and risk going through the same cycles. Fans are, rightfully, concerned that errors and lack of ambition made during the peak stages of the Pochettino era will be repeated once more. It would be all too predictable — Spursy if you will — for us to fail under Conte.
The fans won’t tolerate another failure that’s down to the board’s lack of ambition on the footballing front.
This time round ENIC must eradicate institutional weaknesses. They must act as big and ambitious as they evidently want the public to perceive them. Problems must be met with quick solutions. Gaps must be plugged. No more hiding behind the manager.
This time ENIC must take risks to reap the rewards for all the hard work and investment they’ve made to grow the club to this stage. This time they must follow the slogan they plaster all around the shiny new stadium that they promised would host trophy-winning Tottenham sides and Champions League football. This time they must Dare To Do.
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