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The death and birth of Tottenham Hotspur: Chapter III

Our heroes emerge.

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"Why did you do it? Why did you sell the club to them?"

"I didn't think I had a choice. Joe wanted a deal to get done quickly. I asked them to promise me they'd build around local lads."

"You didn't believe them, did you?"

"No, of course not. But I felt like I'd done my part. I told them my concerns, I asked them to make a promise, and then I did what my boss told me to do. I was wrong. I should have fought Joe on it."

"It's okay. I understand. But you can help us make it right."

★★★

July, 2015

"We're thrilled to announce that in its first month of operation, Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium will host an NFL game between teams to be determined. It will be the first international regular season game hosted in a stadium other than Wembley, and we couldn't be prouder."

Donald Trump was grinning ear to ear, just having been made a few million dollars richer. A sold-out NFL game at his organization's new stadium would make the club money hand over fist. But he wasn't just targeting one game, once a year. The Tottenham Hotspur president had bigger plans.

"As of this moment, we only have an agreement with the NFL for a minimum of one game in 2017, but we're working towards more. We want to be the biggest, the best, the most important destination for international NFL fans, and we hope we can secure more than one game for the 2017 NFL season."

This announcement was a monumental occasion for the men behind Tottenham Hotspur FC. Just two months after completing the purchase of the team from ENIC, the trio of Aubrey Graham, Zayn Malik and Justin Bieber stood next to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, behind Trump, who spoke at a podium between where White Hart Lane stood and a new stadium -- certainly set to be named something other than White Hart Lane or Tottenham Stadium -- was just a hole in the ground. Soon, that hole would become a skeleton of metal, then hollow shell, then the grandest arena in all of British sport.

Notably absent from the announcement was the club's official community ambassador, who stood behind the new owners when they purchased the club. They told him nothing about the NFL then and they told him nothing about the NFL until a day before this announcement, when they asked him to come and stand on the stage with them again. He never showed.

★★★

"Thanks for coming, Ledley. Have a seat."

Trump knew he had some bridges to mend. Nothing was going to stop him from going forward with his plans to build a global sporting empire, but he knew a big part of making the transition from what Tottenham Hotspur was in the summer of 2015 to what he wanted it to be 10 years in the future was going to be public relations. He needed a name and face that the local public knew and trusted to tell them that the new owners had everyone's best interests at heart, that they loved Tottenham Hotspur and that they cared about the people in N17. The best man for that job was Ledley King.

"I wanted to ask you in person why you didn't come to the NFL announcement yesterday," said Trump.

"You never told me anything about the NFL," King replied. "I'm worried about it. You told me your priority was the football club, that it came first, you never mentioned the NFL. Now you're telling me one day before an announcement that I'm supposed to show up and show support for that?"

"I'm sorry I didn't give you more notice, but the negotiations moved fast. I told you as soon as it was official."

"Why did you think you couldn't tell me before then? Did you think I was going to leak it to the press? That you couldn't trust me?"

"Of course I think I can trust you, but you never asked to be informed about any business deals. I didn't know you wanted to be involved."

"How can I know if I want to be involved in things I've never heard of? You didn't tell me anything about the NFL when you came here, and don't tell me the idea was last minute. You bought the club knowing you wanted to do that."

"Of course I did, I want this club to be the biggest, the best, the most world renown, the..."

"Will you stop it with all that? We get it. Everything you do is the biggest."

"Ledley, I just want to make this club great. Will you help me?"

"Promise me it's just hosting games to bring in revenue to help the football club. Promise me that's all this is."

Trump froze.

"You can't promise me that, can you?"

Community ambassador Ledley King had turned into community representative Ledley King. He was happy to show up at charity events and cut the ribbon at Sainsbury's for Daniel Levy, who genuinely did have the best interests of the football club at heart. Did King always agree with him? No, not at all. He was concerned about the club becoming too commercial and regular fans getting priced out of the game. But he knew that everything Levy did was for the purpose of bettering the club. He invested in a training center and youth facilities because he believed British kids could form the backbone of the team. He spent £30 million on Erik Lamela because he wanted to win trophies. He wanted to make a profit, yes, but it wasn't his only motive. Trump's motive was money and money alone.

"I can promise you that we will consult with you on any future business deals and how they'll be perceived by our fans and the community at large."

"That's not good enough."

"Well, that's what I can offer you."

"Okay then. Mr. Trump, I'm resigning as community ambassador. I no longer wish to have any association with the club in an official capacity."

★★★

As the Premier League season approached, the new ownership group got to work on securing Mauricio Pochettino's top targets in the transfer market. Kevin Wimmer, Hector Moreno, Radja Nainggolan, Adrien Rabiot, Kevin Mirallas and Mattia Destro joined, with the promise of more to come in January after Pochettino had half a season to assess his new squad. Liverpool failed to secure any of their top targets. Manchester City paid absurd sums of money for Jack Wilshere and Ross Barkley after losing their best players. Almost every major publication picked Tottenham to finish in the top four.

★★★

"How can I make this right?", asked Daniel Levy. "I can't take the club back. It's done. It's theirs now."

"You can help me start a community club," said King.

King had called Levy and asked if he could meet the former Tottenham president at his home, and Levy obliged.

"Come on, don't you remember what the fans used to say about me? Levy out, ENIC out? What could possibly be more insulting to these fans who are about to be alienated by the club they love than having their community club run by me? Besides, I don't want anything to do with football anymore. We've already sold the house and my wife and I are moving to Los Angeles."

"Give us the money we need to get started."

"You've seriously come to my house to just ask me to write you a big check? You've got some nerve."

"I promise, it'll go far. You made more money than you ever dreamed of by selling off the club, and thanks to that, it's about to become f--king Disneyland FC. You've taken the team that you've loved since you were a boy and ruined it. It's not going to cost you even one percent of what you made off it to help me make this right."

"If I write you a check, will you leave me alone, forever? Will you never ask me for more money, or for advice on how to run a football club?"

"Yes."

"I know what I've done. I just want to be left alone."

Levy took out his checkbook for the people of N17 one last time, wrote out a six-figure sum, signed it, and handed it to King.

"Now get the f--k out of my house."

★★★

If there was a loser from the summer's transfer dealings, it was Ryan Mason. Pochettino played him as often as possible in the previous season to give him every chance of winning a spot going forward, but he just wasn't quite good enough. Mason figured he'd be relegated to substitute duty the following season, but didn't expect to be unseated by all of Nainggolan, Rabiot, Dele Alli and the returning Tom Carroll. He was very comfortably sixth choice, but refused all offers from other clubs, despite Spurs being willing to accept any fee for him. He was sick of moving around.

And so, on the first day of August, Mason requested his release from Tottenham Hotspur. He wanted no compensation, just to be allowed to leave. Given his complete lack of desire to sign a contract with any other club, Pochettino and his superiors obliged. They figured he'd take a year off football, then return with a club that was unlikely to hurt them.

Later that day, Mason sat in his apartment, staring at his phone. He couldn't pick it up. He couldn't make the call. He was scared.

But he had to make the call.

"Ledley King?"

"Speaking."

"Hello Ledley, this is Ryan Mason."

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