20 years of Levy at Tottenham: Transformation without gilding

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR are not just one of England’s top clubs, they have moved into the top dozen in Europe. What’s more, they have leapfrogged Arsenal, their North London rivals, built a terrific new stadium and have reached the Champions League final. The past decade has been eventful for the Spurs, but they still haven’t won anything since 2008. 

As chairman Daniel Levy celebrates 20 years in charge, Spurs can reflect on a transformation that has made them into a modern European super club. In any other major league, they would probably have lifted a trophy or two by now, but Spurs’ misfortune is they are in a league with another five European super clubs.

There’s little doubt to many people that Spurs are playing in Britain’s most modern and eye-catching stadium, albeit an empty one at present. It’s not just functional, it also ticks many of the aesthete’s boxes. For quite a while, the club has had a squad that has been envied by most clubs, a minor achievement given Spurs under Levy have mostly been quite prudent with their wage bills. But there has been a missing ingredient, one that they have struggled to identify. When they hired José Mourinho, it was an attempt to bring someone to the club who knew how to win trophies.

When Levy took over in February 2001, Spurs were not quite in the elite category, but they did have cachet. The club’s true golden age was between 1960 and 1963 when they won the Football League, two FA Cups and the European Cup-Winners’ Cup. Aside from spells in the early 1970s and the early 1980s, in which they became strong cup fighters, Spurs have underachieved for a long time. They’ve won just two league titles and for a club of their size and heritage, that seems a paltry sum.

In 2000-01, Spurs finished 12th in the Premier and reached the semi-final of the FA Cup. Right up until 2008-09, they were occasional visitors to the top six. When they surprisingly beat Chelsea in the Football League Cup final in 2008, they ended the campaign in 11th position. Since 2009, they have not finished outside the top half dozen, arguably the most consistent run of final placings in the club’s long history.

In 2010, Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League. They were last in the premier European competition in 1961-62, when Bill Nicholson’s double winners reached the semi-final, losing to a brilliant Benfica side. This time they reached the last eight and they’ve competed at that level a further four times since 2011.

Like Arsenal, Spurs suffered from the rise of Chelsea under Roman Abramovich, sometimes missing out on players in the market to the South West London club. Like Chelsea, they seemed to go through managers rather quickly at times – Mourinho is the ninth man appointed by Levy. It did look, for a long time, as though Mauricio Pochettino was the right choice, but when they reached the Champions League final in 2019, it seemed to signal the end of an era, not the start. His win rate of 54.27% was impressive, although short-term hiring André Villas-Boas had a 55% rate. Pochettino’s departure was a shock, coming just a few months after their Champions League final.

Trophies aside, there has been a lot to admire about Spurs in the Levy era. The last decade, in particular, has seen them move from a pedestrian club in a tired stadium to a money-making machine in a space-age arena. The club also has a new training centre in nearby Enfield. Players like Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Dele Alli have all become part of the England set-up under Gareth Southgate.

In 2010-11, Spurs generated £ 163.5 million in revenues, way below both Arsenal and Chelsea. Within five years, they had reached the £ 200 million mark, but they were still £ 150 million behind Arsenal. The new stadium was always going to even things up and in 2018-19, Spurs’ income totalled £ 459 million, a major factor being the club’s temporary relocation to Wembley. In 2019-20, their revenues totalled £ 391 million, some £ 50 million more than Arsenal’s total. This represented a 139% increase on 2010-11, compared to Arsenal’s 53% and Chelsea’s 80%. Furthermore, Spurs have also tried to diversify their revenues by an innovative link-up with the NFL, which could prove to be a lucrative arrangement.

Over the past 20 years, Spurs expenditure in the transfer market has amounted to € 1.33 billion and their net spend has been € 475 million (source: Transfermarkt), making them the fifth most active club in the Premier League. Chelsea and Manchester City, unsurprisingly, have spent over € 2 billion and these two, along with Manchester United have run-up a net spend of over € 1 billion. The club has, over the past 20 years, continually broken its transfer record, notably in 2018 when they signed Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for € 60 million. Their biggest and most celebrated sale was Gareth Bale, who went to Real Madrid for £ 85,300,000 in September 2013.

Quite rightly, Spurs stepped back from the market while their new stadium was being prioritised, but they would not have been able to attract Mourinho, for example, if there were no funds for squad development. 

Tottenham have been deprived of the opportunity to fully leverage their new home due to the pandemic, but once the crowds return, it is not hard to see Spurs continuing their upward trajectory, both financially and on the field of play. It will be interesting to see if the pandemic has affected their ability to pay for the gleaming construction on the Tottenham High Road. The club does currently carry worrying levels of debt that will take time to work through. Rebirth does come at a cost.

Levy is renowned as a tough negotiator and shrewd businessman. He has applied sound processes to running Tottenham Hotspur and although the trophies haven’t poured in yet, the foundations are in place. Even non-Spurs fans have to acknowledge that this is a model that will bear fruit in the future, the key will be to navigate uncertain times to ensure the club’s brave ground redevelopment doesn’t compromise that future. But even though he has his detractors, it cannot be denied Daniel Levy has been very instrumental in Tottenham Hotspur joining the elite band of European clubs.