Opinion: ENIC in or out? What the jury needs to know

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Daniel Levy
Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images

In an age where clickability far outweighs the value of context, the truth is often buried between swathes of rumour ripples, many of which grow to become tidal waves of misinformation. Football fans have never had so much access to transfer news, gossip, speculation, and opinion, and the truth has never been harder to decipher.

Tottenham is a club and fan base which have always been a target of lazy gossip and incessant tittle-tattle. On the back of another disappointing season, we’re now being fed speculative updates, by the minute. At the heart of these rumours are some solid and saddening truths; sacking a serial trophy-winning manager the week before a final, joining a mercenary breakaway league in an attempt to be seen as an elite level club, and the absolute manic managerial search played out in public. Fans have recently been turning their frustration and anger to the club management, ENIC and Mr Daniel Levy, and demanding their removal. 

After two particularly turbulent seasons, both on and off the pitch, it’s clear that something is not quite right at Tottenham. Change is necessary but it’s important we take a moment to put the current situation in the right context before deciding what we want next.

Life before Levy

I’ve been a Tottenham fan long enough to remember what things were like before we’d ever heard the name Daniel Levy or ENIC. I can remember the heartbreak of Gary Mabbutt’s own goal in the ‘87 FA Cup final, Gazza’s genius in the 90/91 season, and the gung-ho 93/94 season under Ossie Ardilles. But above all, I remember season after season of mid-table mediocrity under Alan Sugar, where finishing 7th was classed as a good season, especially in the post-Venables era.

When ENIC bought their controlling stake in Tottenham, from Alan Sugar in 2001, we were coming off the back of 3 years under the leadership of Arsenal legend, George Graham, who was solidifying us in the 10th to 12th league positions. Tottenham was the quintessential mid-table team, never threatening a half-hearted title challenge, and rarely flirting with relegation. At that time, our recent ‘star’ signings included Chris Perry, Ben Thatcher, and Sergiy Rebrov (the latter managing 10 goals in his 60 matches, at a cost of £1.6m per tap in). We’d recently lost our showman, David Ginola, and our most valuable asset, Sol Campbell, was about to leave… for Arsenal… on a free transfer…

Early ENIC

ENIC immediately made some common-sense moves, replacing the ex-gooner, Graham, with club legend Glenn Hoddle coming in as manager. They tempted Teddy Sheringham to return for two more fruitful seasons while singing a young Robbie Keane as his understudy.

In 2003, Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy were able to buy out their partners and gain full ownership of the ENIC, which was followed by a flurry of more ambitious signings. Attacking acquisitions included Jermaine Defoe, Helda Postiga, Bobby Zamora, and Freddie Kanoute. The following season Spurs finished 9th, followed by two dizzying 5th placed finishes, with an attacking brand of football on show.

ENIC continued to grab up more Tottenham shares, finally gaining an 85.55% controlling stake in the club in 2007. At the same time as increasing their control of Spurs, ENIC were selling shares in several other clubs and entertainment-related businesses, to focus on the Tottenham project.

In the following seasons, ENIC brought in a higher calibre of singing, with notable names including Luka Modric, Jonathan Woodgate, Dimitar Berbatov, Gareth Bale, Rafael Van Der Vaart, and Edgar Davids. Over the next 12 years, Spurs averaged a position of 4.5 in the league table, finishing in the all-important top 4 during 8 of those seasons.

Post-Poch

Whilst ENIC brought in steady improvements in the quality of the facilities, the strength of the brand, and most importantly, the calibre of the players and league finishes, under the coaching of Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs hit the next level. Under Poch, Tottenham firmly established themselves as a top-4 team, coming incredibly close to winning the title in 16/17, and hitting the heady heights of the Champions League final in 2019. 

The bar was raised beyond all expectation and had these achievements been during a one-off freak season, fans may have been able to curb their long term vision, but establishing the club as Champions League regulars and finally being in the talk for the title, made it very difficult to accept the last two seasons of ‘marketplace correction’.

Poch looked emotionally damaged by the Champions League loss in 2019, and there was a growing feeling he needed a serious injection of transfer talent to breathe new life into the squad. ENIC had a different perspective, and they were reluctant to give Poch the funds, instead, deciding to replace him with a coach famed for a pragmatic approach, questionable man-management, but moreover, an ability to win the games that matter. They sacked the fan’s favourite and made a pact with the ‘special one’, Jose Mourinho, ditching a high pressing, high-octane, attacking brand of football, for a more defensive style, in a bid to liven up the trophy cabinet.

In clearer context, Jose Mourinho’s time at Tottenham will be overshadowed by a global pandemic and an attempted coup by the European Super League, but despite the lack of fans and funds, Mourinho was given a chance to express his flair-free style of football and even had reasonable backing in a very difficult transfer market.

Despite this, Tottenham twice failed to finish in the top 4, and the trophy specialist was bizarrely booted the week before the league cup final (which we inevitably lost). A 29-year old trainee called Ryan Mason was put in charge of the rest of the season, and a pantomime of a managerial search entertained rival fans for 72 days and nights. 

The augment for ENIC to stay

Football fans have particularly short memories. Yes, the decision to sack Poch rather than fund a squad overhaul, was an extremely poor one, in hindsight. The fall from grace over the last 2 seasons has been hard to swallow, but finishing 6th and 7th, in extremely unusual circumstances, still keeps the team in European football. Let’s be honest, post-Champions League final, Pochettino looked like a broken man, and a growing number of fickle fans were beginning to call for his replacement before ENIC swung the axe. 

While it can be argued that Tottenham has failed to compete with the elite clubs in terms of signings and wages, Tottenham has spent over £160 million net on transfers in the last 4 markets, trumping the net spend for the 10 seasons previous (transfermarkt). Historically, Tottenham was very much a selling club, with major stars such as Bale, Modric, and Berbatov, all moving on before hitting their prime. With the exceptions of Kyle Walker and Christian Eriksen, Tottenham has been on the front foot in recent transfer windows, managing to keep hold of major talent while making some positive additions.

Yes, Tottenham has underperformed over the last 2 full seasons, but they still have the nucleus of a very talented squad, including the top Premier League goal scorer and assist maker, the French World Cup-winning captain, and the most talented (and marketable) player from Asia. Compare our recent form to that of life before ENIC and things aren’t as desperate as some would have you believe. The squad is strong, the stadium and training facilities are world-class, the foundations are there for us to push onwards and upwards now that we have a new manager in place.

The argument for ENIC to go

Chairmen and club owners may try to shine a light on the bigger picture when fans bemoan recent decisions and performance, but when it comes to judging managers or players, recent form is everything. Even a coach as overachieving as Pochettino received a swift and heartless chop after a run of mediocre matches. If club owners were held by the same level of judgement as they hold their employees, ENIC should be removed with immediate effect.

Whilst it may be true, rumours and gossip are clouding the truth, possibly painting a more pathetic picture of what is going on behind the scenes, the adage ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’ can’t be ignored. Even if we agreed that sacking Poch was necessary, sacking his replacement, a man famed for winning the big games, the week before his first cup final, seems absurd. And yes, a lot of the manager search mess could be more to do with menacing media and silly gossip, but the fact remains that it still took 72 days to find their man (someone who was openly available and left by mutual consent months previously).

Perhaps it’s true, Tottenham are no longer a so-called selling club, but they’re still not buying club either, and so much of our transfer dealings are done during the dying embers of the market window, with our pre-season preparation ritually thrown into chaos to get the best bargain. How many deals seem to fail due to our penny-pinching tendencies and a reluctance to pay a reasonable price for premium talent? Sadio Mane, Luis Suarez, Eden Hazard, Paulo Dybala, and most recently, Jack Grealish, all reportedly fell through due to Levy’s shameless bartering (PlanetFootball).

Yes, the club has come on leaps and bounds since ENIC took over, but so have our expectations. Levy and the board won’t change and it’s obvious they have taken the club as far as they can. To push forward, or even keep in touch with the top teams, Levy and ENIC need to go.

What’s your verdict?

We are all a little deflated and disappointed but it’s important to separate our emotions, try to look past the gossip and weigh up the facts. 

Tottenham Hotspur improved immensely under ENIC, but it’s also true that the club’s financial philosophy seems to stop us from making that final step to become an elite club. Hope is a cruel thing, we have been within one win of the champions league and premier league in recent history, but there is also the feeling Levy and co will never take that risk, and go that extra yard to get us over the line. 

We also need to be careful what we wish for. If the club owners were convinced to leave, they will be selling to the highest bidder, we don’t get a say on who our new masters will be. The golden goose, sugar daddy types are few and far between, and for every Sheikh Mansour there are a few Mike Ashleys. The German model of 51% fan ownership is never going to happen unless the laws dramatically change, and fan led consortiums rarely succeed, and even rarer do a good job once in power.

As with most things, the truth is always somewhere in the middle. I’m not 100% on board with the ENIC OUT movement, at least not until I get a better idea of what comes next. I’d rather stick with the devil I know for a bit longer. But I also think when the club takes backward steps, it’s important the fans put the pressure on and kick up a fuss. Next season is a crucial one, and if we slip any further back then maybe I’d be up for a new devil taking the reins. How about you?

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Congratulations Kim, a sensible, balanced article. Life before ENIC was dire, but ENIC hae failed to seize the moment too (as have the players who want trophies but fail to turn up when given the chance to win them). With ENIC is a matter of “careful what you wish for”!

    As to the alternative, do we really want to sell our soul to the devil? I’m glad that we are not owned by an Oligarch who got his money by dubious means. I’m also pleased that we do not have capricious owners who might drop us on a whim. And look what happened at Old Trafford. For every “good” new owner, there are 10 poor ones and 5 absolute stinkers.

    Younger fans may not realise just how close this club came to insolvency and, despite a poor track record on the pitch during his tenure, Alan Sugar saved us from exctinction or Bob Maxwell. ENIC also opened the door to much higher expectations. Unfortunately for Daniel Levy, he stoked the expectations then followed it up with his own annus horibilis!

    But whilst I have a much more nuanced view of ENIC than some, this article is spot on, we need to put pressure on the Board and the ultimate owners if we are going to move on to the next level. I think we can all agree on that.

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