Daniel Levy is the best thing to happen to Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Daniel Levy is holding Tottenham back. What he pulled off from becoming the club’s chairman until 2019 is one of the great sports business accomplishments in history. It’s time to go. The future might be worse for Spurs without him, but he is no longer improving Tottenham as chairman, and if he cannot change, it is time to move on.
It’s worth starting with his very real accomplishments. Tottenham’s climb up the table had been nearly linear since ENIC bought Spurs from Alan Sugar.
The trophies have not come as often as anybody would hope, but quite frankly, there’s been a lot of luck involved in that. The team of the past ten years has made too many finals and semifinals and captured too many points on average to have a trophy case so bare. It sucks, perhaps it’s Spursy, but it’s mostly just dumb luck.
In last year’s evaluation of the most valuable soccer clubs in the world, the following clubs were worth more than Spurs: Barcelona, Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus abroad; Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea at home. I would not be shocked if Arsenal were valued more highly this year, but Juventus falling behind Spurs would also make sense. Nonetheless, while teams fall down the list for a host of reasons, teams have rarely moved up the list without being bought by an oligarch or an oil state. Indeed, only Manchester City and Paris St. Germain have overtaken Tottenham in value since Daniel Levy took over.
Levy accomplished this while running Spurs as a profitable enterprise and plowing money back into the club, and without any financial shenanigans to assure profitability. There is no other way to look back at the history of 2000 to 2019 when Spurs made the Champions League final as a massive sports and sports business success. He bought young and cheap and sold peak and expensive, and made an absolute fortune on player trading, which helped to fund the stadium that anchors Spurs as an asset today.
So what the hell happened? What happened is that Levy wanted to be the chairman of a “Big Club” but could not change his ways. The Daniel Levy of 2000 to 2018 would have sold Harry Kane to Manchester City last summer, and taken his lumps with the fans, while going out to buy a player like Victor Osimhen to replace him and repeat the cycle. That was the Levy that sold Modric and Bale and set up the best period of soccer the club had seen since the 1980s.
And he may have been right that Spurs had moved beyond needing to be that club. The number of clubs above them in size had shrunk and the revenue gap had shrunk in relative terms as well. Spurs had over 60% of the revenue of top earner Manchester City last season. In 2001, it had under 40% of top earner Manchester United. But Levy has been unwilling to do everything else he needed to do in order to maintain Tottenham’s place near the top of the pyramid.
One option would be to Spend Some F’ing Money and simply be willing to run the team at a loss, hoping to increase the value of the asset because it wins and not simply hope that the asset is valuable as a profit making machine. Spurs’ wage bill is significantly lower than many of their rivals, particularly compared to revenue, and that is to Levy’s immense credit in many ways. Building a club that competes at the top without the wages is incredibly difficult, and he has largely done it.
If Levy does not want to take that route, and wants to continue to be the club of the 2010s, he could do so, but he has to recognize that the world of football has changed, and other teams are smarter now. It means selling players like Kane and Son at their late peak, but improving the way Spurs scout, develop, and recruit players. Teams have built massive analytics departments, build expanded scouting and player development networks, and made them work hand in hand. Manchester City and Liverpool do it at the top, or have at least. Brighton are doing it well with much less money than Spurs.
Teams have large front offices like those in American sports, and while Levy has finally brought in Fabio Parattici to run the footballing side of the team, by all accounts, he cannot keep himself away. And Parattici himself, even with an expanded front office, is not good enough. He seems to be a pretty good scout, but has no ability to blend that scouting with analytics. Of the three young signings that appear to be “his” - Sarr, Udogie, and Bryan - Bryan is the one that has struggled and the one who even a cursory look at Fbref would have suggested was a bad purchase.
I have no doubt that Levy wants to win and for Spurs to be one of the great clubs in the world. But it is time for him to recognize that the old ways of doing things are dead and to build out the structure of a true front office. If he cannot or will not do it, then the ENIC Out crowd will be right. Will the next chairman or ownership group be any better? That is hard to say, but staying in a mediocre relationship for fear of the unknown cannot last. The listless years since the no purchase summer are indicative of a club that needs to change fast or change entirely. I would love for Levy to see what he has built through, but I fear he will not be able to do so and hopefully the next ownership group will see Tottenham through to the promised land.