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Let’s talk about Daniel Levy’s reported wages at Tottenham Hotspur

The Times is reporting that Tottenham’s chairman is making more than any of his players, but the figures are misleading.

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Most of you have probably seen the reports by now. Buried in the recently released Tottenham Hotspur financial records for the 2016-17 season were statements that showed chairman Daniel Levy had made just over £6m in compensation last season. That figure was well above the £2.8m Levy made the season prior, and double the salary of the next highest paid football chief executive.

Enter The Times, which has released a somewhat blistering article (£) suggesting that Levy’s executive pay has upset the Tottenham dressing room, with some players already concerned about Spurs’ existing wage structure and the hard line that Levy has taken in player negotiations.

Here’s the relevant paragraph, with emphasis mine:

Tottenham have refused to meet the salary demands of a number of their leading players, most recently Toby Alderweireld and Mousa Dembélé, during increasingly tense contract negotiations, and the details of Levy’s pay have caused disquiet in the dressing room. The size of the chairman’s pay packet was revealed in Tottenham’s annual accounts that show that Levy received £6.013 million in 2016-17, more than double the £2.84 million he was paid the previous season. The huge increase is understood to be a one-off payment that included bonuses for achieving record turnover for the club and delivering the new stadium, which is due to open at the start of next season, rather than a new salary.

— The Times

As an exercise, let’s ignore the bonus/back-dated pay part of that paragraph and take the Times’ reporting of player dissatisfaction at face value. Break that £6m figure down, and it comes to about £115k/week, which is higher than any single player currently on Tottenham Hotspur’s roster. That’s more per week than Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris are making on their existing contracts.

Looking at it that way you can see how some players might look at those figures and wonder why the chief executive is seemingly getting a huge raise while at the same time taking an extremely hard line with players’ wages in salary negotiations and while running a club that pays its players far less than its top six competitors. That’s the kind of thing that could rankle.

The Times predictably brings up Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, and Toby Alderweireld, all of whom either had or still have their issues with compensation and contract negotiations. The idea is that the Spurs’ players “are not interested in such nuances” in a time when the club is making record profits. That’s fair.

I have no doubt that the Times is sourced on this story, though I suspect that the source is either a current player or, more likely, a player’s agent who plans to use this issue as a wedge when negotiating his client’s new contract. It’s also worth noting that there are no player quotes or direct references to any specific figures in the Times’ allegations.

However, it’s not the full picture. Levy’s £6m “wage” includes not only substantial bonuses for delivering Spurs’ new stadium — a hugely complicated and transformative project that is expected to boost the club’s stature into the upper echelon of the Premier League — but also includes a back-dated pay raise and bonuses for Spurs’ profit margins recently.

Building a stadium is a hugely difficult task, requiring countless hours of logistics, management, and budgetary work over an extended period of time, and Levy has pulled it off magnificently. He’s due to deliver what will almost certainly be the finest stadium in England on time (if not under budget). It should rightfully be considered the capstone achievement of his tenure as Tottenham Hotspur chairman.

Not only that, but Levy has done everything with an eye towards making sure that Spurs are set up to be financially sound in everything that they do. The reports of player unrest are likely true to some extent but there are already reports that suggest that Spurs are planning to offer new, improved contracts to most of their best players in the next few months. Things are already changing, if not at the pace that some players would want.

Levy reportedly has an extremely generous bonus structure in place for Tottenham player contracts. It’s probably the reason why Spurs players have been more or less content to stay at Spurs while making at or less than £100k/week — most have substantial team and individual bonuses in their contracts that could dramatically increase their pay at the end of the season should they meet certain goals. In that sense, should not the chairman also be subject to similar bonuses if he also meets the goals set out for him by Spurs’ ownership?

I have a hard time really taking this article super seriously. I realize this may come across as essentially an argument in favor of CEO pay, and the arguments that CEOs should make orders of magnitude more than their employees are almost universally bad. It does make me feel slightly icky to say that the people in suits who are at the top of the food chain deserve to make more money, rather than less.

However, football is one of the few fields where managers and CEOs usually make substantially less than the players on the pitch, and Daniel Levy has been one of the best chairmen in the Premier League the past decade. You can make an argument that another chairman could have achieved everything that Levy has during the same period, but I find it difficult to imagine that it could’ve been done so well. That’s a testament to his leadership and his love for the club.

What Daniel Levy has accomplished is remarkable. He’s in every sense a superstar football chairman. It doesn’t seem at all odd to me that he should be well compensated for that — he’s been worth it.