Back in 1999 when I first heard the rumours that we were going to be bought by a billionaire whose company already owned parts of another couple of football clubs, and who was a Spurs fan, I was pretty excited. Here was an end to flirting with relegation and bankruptcy, the start of the new “Glory, Glory” years and an improvement in the rate of trophy wins back to the level us Spurs fans knew we deserved. Don’t get me wrong though I had been grateful for the two pieces of silverware we had garnered in the previous 10 years, it was just that it wasn’t really the Spurs I signed up to support years at age five – thanks Granddad. I needed the new dawn so I could again brag with Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United fans (our only real historic competitors) on more or less an even footing and say “No, Spurs are the best. We are the first British team to win a major European honour, the first team to win the League and Cup double in the 20th century, we have won the most FA Cups and have NEVER lost in a major final. Oh, and have won more than you in the last 5 years”. Like Ossie, I had a dream and surely it wouldn’t be long before we were again holding that FA Cup record, winning another major European trophy and / or the league. Back then it was just 38 year since we had, and now 54 and climbing, but what was it Bill Nicholson said? “Spurs have got to be the best in the land, not the second best.” And I was really confident that would be the mantra of our new owner in the ensuing years.
What I didn’t realise was that ENIC weren’t planning on delivering my dream anytime soon. They had a plan, and it was a very long one, which didn’t prioritise on field success with a quick race up the table collecting silverware on the way. No, what we were embarking on was a 25 year plan. The Soviet Union were big on that sort of thing, but dealt in 10 year versions that never delivered, and ours seems similarly successful gaining one trophy in 16 years. That makes us less than half as successful as we had been in the 10 years before, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom in 1999. We were no basket case as, just a handful of years before, we had been one of the main instigators of the Premier League and small, poor clubs didn’t have the sort of muscle to threaten a breakaway. No it was more that we were in need of good management and investment from an owner who knew how to run a football club in the modern era. I wasn’t expecting an instant fix even though I knew that money could win the title fairly quickly – courtesy of Jack Walker’s Blackburn. The slow and careful approach we took was a bit of a surprise but, ultimately, it was fine with me right up until the sacking of Jol whilst we were, at last, back right outside the gates of the top four, closing in on silverware and discovering a taste for Lasagne. The idiocy of that decision started to make me question a few things and look at what we had really done in nearly 10 years of billionaire ownership – during which we had seen what serious money and an owner who wanted to win things could do over a prolonged period for a club far less rich or successful than we had ever been.
Why was it that we kept appointing and sacking managers time and time again? Was it their fault that we never won anything or broke the top four? Were all incompetent? Some were certainly useless, but who appointed them? Surely a company with experience of owning clubs should be able to pick the right man to lead the football side? To have the ability to pick a good manager out of a choice between a man and a tomato? Previous regimes had managed it on quite a few occasions. Was it so hard to find a Nicholson? A Burkenshaw? A Venables? Why were we no longer attracting top class players and, instead, becoming a stepping stone? Why wasn’t our owner putting his money in to buy us top players to win things? – Financial Fair Play rules didn’t exist for the first 12 years of our owners tenure. Why couldn’t our owner have treated “his” club to a Messi or two and hasten the on-field success? So many questions and, sadly, it was by that time blindingly obvious that Joe Lewis saw us as a possession to earn money from, rather than an obsession to spend money on. That’s his right of course, but it disappoints me a lot.
However I jumped ahead a bit, so back to 1999 again and that 25 year plan. At its inception I had thought that Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy sat down and had a conversation a bit like this “Ok Daniel we have got some experience in running clubs, so let’s go and make Spurs the biggest club in England and one of the best in the world. Here’s my plan that I want you to execute. In the next 5 years I want you to make us top 6 and deliver a trophy. Within 10 years I want to have won at least 4 trophies and be top 4, close to challenging for the league little and regulars in the Champions League. Within 15 years I want to be producing top class players from our own Academy, to have won the league title and at least 5 other trophies. By the end of 25 years I want a new stadium and all that goes with that, to be regular league champions and to have won the Champions League. It’s going to make you very popular, so over to you”. With the benefit if 16 years hindsight, I now feel that the conversation was more likely to have been “Ok Daniel we have got some experience in running clubs, so let’s go for Spurs as they are the biggest club in England that we can buy and make money out of. Here’s my plan that I want you to execute. In the next 5 years I want you to make me enough money from them so that I am in the top 500 of the world’s richest men. Within 10 years I want to be in the top 250. Within 15 years I want to be producing top class players from our own Academy that we can sell for profit and get me into the top 100. By the end of 25 years I want to be in the top 10. It’s going to make you very unpopular but that’s the price for the wealth you will achieve too”.
Am I joking? I really don’t know, but I am now quite the cynic rather than the ever optimistic believer. What I do know is that the club hasn’t done anything at all to mirror the first version, but during the 16 years ownership Mr. Lewis has got himself to number 277 in the world listing, having built a personal fortune (according to the Forbes List) of £5.2b. Good for him and bad for us, so where have ENIC gone wrong?
Well I think it is a linked two-fold mistake. First has been the actual model used which sees the football as secondary to the money business, and second is not appreciating the importance of the Champions League. It has taken 14 years but ENIC realised their football model wasn’t right and set out to copy the real innovation of the Southampton model, by first stealing their manager – that one was a mistake – and then their head of recruitment along with his sophisticated systems. Will that bear fruit? Let’s wait and see, but it probably won’t be worse than what went before albeit the limiting factor remains Joe Lewis allowing expenditure. The importance of the Champions League is where they really got it wrong and it wasn’t that hard to recognise its value when they bought us – a whole group of other club owners saw the opportunity and acted but we had been bought by “experts” who didn’t. There was though a rare second-chance to get it right back in the brief new Glory days of 2010 /11, but that was firmly spurned in the interests of not spending or taking a risk so in the space of a season 10 years laborious building was undone. Then the manager was sacked. Farcical doesn’t begin to describe it. Four seasons on, and further behind the five biggest clubs, the challenge is how to attract big players to get us into the Champions League, when not being in it doesn’t attract those players who want to be in it – a puzzle as hard to grapple with as Isaac Asimov and Albert Einstein found when considering the possibility of time travel.
But all is not lost allegedly, as we are told that the new stadium is the game changer. Yes it will be around 10 years before it’s built and paid for and bigger monies can be directed to the playing talent but, hey, it was a 25 year plan.
Have something to tell us about this article?