Written by BelgianSpur
Levy and Marmite – a love/hate conundrum
A few weeks ago, I was invited by Geofspurs to write an article about my views on the ENIC era of Spurs. I actually wrote most of this article at the time, but I wanted to wait a few weeks to post it. I didn’t want to compound misery on VS on the back of our “end of season wobble”, but now that 3rd is in the bag, and spirits are a bit higher, it’s a better time to open the debate.
Over the last years, different groups of Spurs fans have often disagreed about what to think of Daniel Levy (and to a lesser degree Joe Lewis) and his ability to build a successful dynasty at Spurs, both on and off the pitch. Geof and I, specifically, have widely different views and expectations on the matter. Given that Geof has provided a lot of content to VS recently (thanks, by the way), but obviously supporting his views more than mine, he told me I should submit an article offering another point of view. Here I go, hoping it will generate a good and respectful discussion between posters, even if the article offers a point of view which is different to theirs. The purpose here is to open the discussion and try to understand where the differences of opinion come from, within a group of fans who should have rather similar aspirations – success for Spurs.
When it comes to Daniel Levy, he seems to be like the traditional British delicacy Marmite. Very few people are on the fence about him. You’re either in full and total support (and that certainly seems to be a popular opinion amongst Spurs fans at the moment, given a fairly recent uptick in performances, and of course, the very promising infrastructure projects which have been rather masterfully deployed) or reluctant to trust him and his choices (the number one argument for Levy detractors being the rather unenviable return of 1 trophy in 17 years, but limited investment in players, poor past managerial appointments, an iffy transfer record, and botched transfer deals over the years are other prime culprits here). While there is evidence to support both the good and bad marks (and each could warrant an article on its own, but let’s not dive too deep in any specific one here, at the risk of writing a book, not an article), even the bad marks have to be put in the context of modern football, a world with very few certainties. All of those elements are subject to some leniency/mitigating factors. It’s how much leniency one decides to give which varies from supporter to supporter.
Rather than list each positive development individually, I think the general consensus for Levy supporters is that while it’s taken some time, the last 3/4 seasons have offered lots of reasons for hope, not least the appointment of MP, which seems to be a new chapter in the history of the club. With the new stadium on the way, there is reason to be optimistic about the future of the club and the financial possibilities that said stadium could open. For this reason, Levy supporters seem willing to forget, or at the very least rationalise, some of the earlier Levy “mistakes”. The fact that it’s taken more than 17 years, a rather long time in modern football, to transform the club, is an afterthought given that we seem to be on a promising path today.
For Levy detractors, this is partly where the problem lies. It sometimes feels like Levy’s got some sort of a cult following on VS. The fact that the last 3 to 4 seasons have been better (and that much is undisputable) doesn’t erase the fact that over the entirety of the ENIC tenure, we have rarely been in positions to challenge (more on that later). And while the current trend is promising, there is the feeling that we have been here before (OK, maybe not quite as good, but thereabouts) in the recent past (our 2011 season comes to mind), only to go backwards after that. There is this ongoing expectation that while enjoyable, this current run of form is a flash in the pan which could be derailed by a Kane/Alli/Eriksen injury, or worse, departure, and that there are few credible contingency plans in place, due to poor recruitment, an unwillingness to spend despite having the means, or a combination of both.
Worse, given Levy’s financial rigidity in the past, there is a worry among Levy detractors that the new revenue streams generated by the new stadium will in fact only make the club richer, but not better on the pitch. Levy himself confirmed only a few weeks ago that he did not expect to drastically change his ways, even with the new stadium riches. For supporters who have long rued our lack of depth in certain positions, or a perception of having to settle for “plan C” transfers due to our unwillingness to pay the prices of top players, this is certainly cause for concern, and it puts a damper on the optimism the new stadium should be generating universally.
To try to bring substance to the argument supporting a rather limited ability to compete under Levy, I had a look at our results on the pitch during the ENIC era. In the last 17 years we’ve finished 7th on average, and have exited FA and League cups in the 4th and 5th rounds respectively, on average, with one trophy to show for it. We’ve had 3 podium finishes, all coming in the last 3 years. In the 17 years before ENIC (coincidentally, going back to my year of birth, 1984), we finished on average 9th, had the same number of podium finishes, and won 2 trophies. I’m not sure what 7th gets you that 9th does not, and our trophy haul and podium finishes seem to indicate that Levy, over his entire tenure, has failed to transform our club’s sporting achievements dramatically so far. If anything, we’re doing more of the same, if not slightly worse.
There are of course many factors which have changed football in the last 15 years (money, primarily), and each era had its challenges. The fact remains that our standing in English football hasn’t radically changed under ENIC, despite having a rather attractive location and rich history. There sometimes seems like there is this passiveness, or general acceptance, of our footballing shortcomings, and a strange rationalization that this is somehow OK because we’ve got a great training facility, and that Brazil want to train there ahead of the World Cup. Since when is that a valid substitution for winning football?
Of course, on-field success is not the only measure of progress. Levy supporters will be quick to point that out, and it’s a fair point. But for a …football club, the football should, in my mind, be priority number one.
In my opinion, a new stadium is a welcome addition primarily for the new revenue streams it opens, and a second consideration is the improved fan experience during games (and some older fans will even dispute that, claiming modern arenas are too asepticised). But if you fundamentally have little faith in the fact that the new revenues are going to be reinvested in the squad (and wisely at that), either to reward our top performers or attract new talent, and not just to build a strong 11 but a deep squad, the new stadium is a bit anticlimactic. And given Levy’s past, can fans really believe he’ll put up the money when it counts?
Believe it or not, I haven’t always felt that way about ENIC. At first, I was enchanted by Levy’s ability to turn the club from a financial liability into a well-run PL institution. However, over time, I have grown frustrated with the rather slow pace of progress and come to doubt Levy more and more. The longer we have to wait for a trophy, the bigger the evidence that he is not the man to take us to titles.
All the cynicism towards Levy (over his disproportionate wages, for example) probably isn’t productive and certainly doesn’t contribute much to the discussion, I can admit that. But even trying to keep an open mind, I can’t help but feel that the knocks against Levy are counting heavily against him. As far as I’m concerned, the only way he can begin to change that perception and prove that he is indeed the man to build a dynasty at Spurs, is to win things. We’ve had to endure an initial 14 years of stagnation under him, so it’ll probably take about as long, at the current performance levels, to change the perception.
While I, and many other Levy detractors, will readily admit, he’s very good at certain parts of his job. But overall, all things considered, he has failed to profoundly transform us on the pitch so far, if the last 17 years, and the 17 years before ENIC, are anything to go by. We’ve had small windows of contention, but they historically have been short-lived. At the very least, even for Levy supporters, I feel that should be held against him, which rarely seems to be the case.
This being said, I also easily recognise that Levy detractors should be willing to give him more credit for what he has delivered and try to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this really is a new chapter and we will go onwards and upwards from here. While it’s probably not unreasonable to have some doubts about Levy given years past, it’s also not impossible that Levy has had a plan all along and that he was simply waiting for the correct set of circumstances to be in place before acting on it. I suppose we’ll find out very soon –as early as the summer transfer window.
I think that it wouldn’t actually be that hard to reconcile different sections of the Spurs fan base when it comes to Levy. What frustrates Levy detractors the most is to hear the man be praised to the hilt despite the bare trophy cabinet. I would personally be a lot more inclined to see the good in Levy’s actions if I felt most fans held him accountable for his failures too. In contrast, recognising some of the progress we’ve made recently, and praising Levy for it, probably would go a long way in reconciling opposing views.
In conclusion, Levy shouldn’t be like Marmite. Every Spurs fan should actually be on the fence about him. Recognising what he has done well but expecting him to improve in areas where we still fall short. Much like he probably isn’t the uninvolved demon some make him out to be, he is also far from the genius that others praise. The one thing we must do, as Spurs fans, and paying customers, is to continue to have high expectations for projects both on and off the field. The day that fans stop being demanding is the day the club will die.