Tottenham Hotspur is a big club. A club of history. Success in the top division; success in domestic cups; success in Europe. Tottenham have had some good times, but the reality is that the best of those came a great many years ago. Decades ago. Over half a century ago.
Yes, there have been recent “successes” too. Second and third place finishes in the Premier League; a Champions League final; this season, a League Cup final. Admittedly, Tottenham have not actually won anything, yet there has been an element of consistency over the last six or seven years which has seen an upward trend.
So, Tottenham are a big club. Agreed. But, to an extent.
Success-wise, Tottenham might be considered a good club. Not excellent. Not winners. But good. Consistently “in the mix”, but seemingly destined to forever be bridesmaids rather than brides.
There are elements about Tottenham which are undoubtedly indicative of a big club, and indeed, without doubt qualify as one of the biggest clubs in the world: the stadium; the training ground, and even some players in the first team squad (essentially limited, in my view, to Harry Kane, Heung-Min-Son, Hugo Lloris, and Gareth Bale). These assets are the assets of a big club. Yet, still it seems, not a winning club.
Daniel Levy has assisted Tottenham in having the appearance of being a big club. To all intents and purposes, they look like a big club. Incredible stadium, all singing and all dancing training complex, and some superstar names, the four of whom mentioned above, are captains of their respective national football teams.
Yet, they do not win anything.
This is what I am coining the “Levy Paradox”: the logical argument being that based on the assets of the club, their classification as a ‘big club’ can be measured. Contrarily though, is the illogical argument, which is that a failure to win anything, or indeed to seemingly continue to progress as a team, cannot be equated with the same.
So there you have it- by the one hand Tottenham are a big club, one of the biggest and most successful in the world, and yet by the other, they cannot be considered as big a club as Leicester, even.
Thus arises the Levy Paradox.
The issue is, that aside from recognising it as a paradox, there seems to be little chance of it ceasing to be one. Because despite these assets, Tottenham appear to be going backwards. They have had no Champions League football this season. They lost the League Cup final with what can only be described as a disastrously poor performance. They are battling for Europa League football alone, next season. They have no manager, and the team is currently being stewarded by a 29-year-old Premiership managerial virgin. Their pursuits of various managers with whom they have been linked appear very unlikely to yield any positive results (Evening Standard).
Harry Kane, their star player, most consistent performer, and at times, one-man team, is equivocal over his future and is rumoured to be asking the Chairman to be allowed to leave in the summer transfer window (Sky Sports). Heung-Min-Son, their second-best and most reliable player, has, as yet, failed to sign a new contract, and it seems his future may be intrinsically linked to the future of Harry Kane (GiveMe Sport). Hugo Lloris’s contract and Gareth Bale’s loan agreement are both due to expire in the near future (Football.London). The club is in enormous debt (Evening Standard), and finally, the club has recently been publicly reviled throughout the footballing world and beyond for their part in the despised European Super League (BBC).
And so the Levy Paradox strikes: amazing stadium, amazing training complex, and yet a football team that hasn’t won anything (and, based on the failure to top Leicester, and resounding defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City in the Champions League and League Cup finals respectively, did not even come close) and appears to be going backwards in every conceivable way.
So how did we get here? Well, the cause of the Levy Paradox has been an approach which was the wrong way around. The assets do not turn the club into winners; the team turns the club into winners which can generate improved assets. If Levy were to have taken the funds for the new stadium and invested them in the team, I would suggest there could have been a foundation created within the side that led to a sustainable winning platform.
It is this approach that Manchester City adopted, that Liverpool have adopted, that Chelsea adopted, and that Leicester are now adopting. Team first, assets second. Essentially, a model which enables growth in assets born out of the success of the team. It is that success which makes the assets sustainable. Loss of Champions League revenue is devastating for Tottenham (Statista), as would loss of European football in its entirety. But this loss has been allowed to happen through the inefficient prioritisation of assets over team. If you allow your defence to deteriorate to the extent it has through underinvestment, the natural consequence is that it will not be able to defend as effectively as a better class of defence would be able to. This has been evident with Liverpool this season. They have conceded more goals without their three first-choice central defenders. This has been Liverpool’s bad luck, and it has seen them fall down the table. The parallel in Tottenham is that Spurs have actually conceded more goals than Liverpool, despite having had a their “best” defenders available throughout the season. So it is not bad luck which is the issue.
Underinvestment in Tottenham’s first team squad has precipitated this similar decline. However while Liverpool strengthened their first team in the January transfer window with two additional defenders (Goal) and are likely to continue to have funds available to strengthen that area in the summer (should they need to, as obviously their first choice defenders will return – Liverpool), Tottenham are said to have real cash-flow problems impacting their budget (Football.London).
Why the difference?
The prioritisation of assets over team.
Liverpool have not yet constructed a mega-stadium at Stanley Park in replace of Anfield. Liverpool continue to invest in team over assets. Their loss of defenders this season has been unlucky, and its impact has been clear. Yet, if you consider the same team with Virgil Van Dijk and Joel Matip / Joe Gomez at its heart throughout the season, their fortunes would likely have been markedly different.
The consequence is that next season, Liverpool will be stronger. They will almost invariably strengthen in the summer (if they need to) and will likely achieve a top-four position, as well as a lengthy European run in either the Champions or Europa League. Tottenham, by contrast, may well have a side which may not contain any of the four superstar players mentioned earlier. They may well have no European football. If they replicate the Mourinho route in choosing a manager, they may be stuck with a manager ill-equipped to operate on a shoestring budget with a group of under-performing and under-capable disaffected players. They may well not be able to strengthen in the summer, not least because of the club’s financial situation, but also because to do so might necessitate the loss of Harry Kane, the biggest draw for any player wanting to come to Spurs (who isn’t a striker).
In short, without significant investment in the first team, Tottenham may not be able to stop the rot. The “successes” of the last six or seven years may become a positive footnote for future generations to read of. A better time when Tottenham enjoyed a brief resurgence under the ENIC stewardship, where they finished second in the premiership and in the Champions League.
But, on a positive note, we can remember that Tottenham are a big club. The assets tell us so.
As our future selves watch Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez ‘Sunday league ball-watching’ as Teemo Pukki steals in at the back post to nod home an 88th-minute goal to put the gloss on a 3-1 victory for Norwich at Carrow Road, in the 34th game of the season, once again depriving Tottenham of any European football the following season, at least the Levy Paradox means we, the fans, can take solace from knowing the players will reflect on that loss in their wonderful training complex, before losing 0-2 to Chelsea at the beautiful Tottenham Hotspur Stadium the following weekend.
No chance of a trophy, but who needs them? No one, these days, so long as your assets tell everyone just how big a club you are.
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