Rants and musings from the magazine team
"A disgrace! Levy’s an idiot! Next season, Spurs will be in the bottom half! Daniel Levy - you are a seriously crap club chairman! Levy is up there with Venkys!"
These are the typically unhinged late-night, ‘tired and emotional’ ramblings of Harry Redknapp’s Fleet Street chums, following the generally-much-less-loved-than-they-would-have-you-believe manager’s departure from Tottenham Hotspur. The reality is that it had been coming.
Redknapp's struggles with Tottenham’s no-nonsense chairman Daniel Levy were in all probability shaped three months before his press-pecked posterior had even made contact with the home dugout at White Hart Lane.
The club had spent heavily in the summer of 2008, with the likes of Luka Modric, Giovani dos Santos, Heurelho Gomes, David Bentley, Vedran Corluka and Roman Pavlyuchenko all arriving for a total of over £60 million.
Although much of that expenditure was covered by the sales of Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov – to Liverpool and Manchester United respectively – it quickly became apparent that Spurs had perhaps not re-invested that windfall particularly wisely.
A rot had already set in at the club. Spurs had won just three of their 12 Premier League matches after winning the previous season’s League Cup final, and they picked up where they’d left off once 2008/09 got underway. A truly woeful start saw manager Juande Ramos and director of excuses Damien Comolli sacked, and Sandbanks' favourite son brought in.
When Redknapp arrived at Tottenham late one Saturday night in October, the North London club were sat bottom of the Premier League with just two points from their first eight matches (you may have heard about it). Realistically, with the squad at his disposal and 30 games with which to turn things round, there was only one way the team were heading. It was the distance travelled in that direction that caught everybody by surprise.
Spurs finished the 2008/09 season in eighth place, having flitted in and out of the relegation zone until late January. The following season they finished a hugely impressive fourth, sealing a spot in the Champions League.
But it was at this point that the problems started to come to a head.
Levy, presumably stung by the high-profile, high-price failures of the likes of Bentley and Darren Bent – who had arrived in 2007 for £16 million, before being sold for £10 million two years later – was unwilling to risk splashing huge amounts of cash on either transfer fees or wages for players suddenly interested in the club thanks to their new found Champions League status.
Levy and Redknapp, in happier times...
The Spurs chairman’s policy of not signing players without sell-on value was at odds with the approach Redknapp had adopted at his previous clubs, where ageing players available for minimal transfer fees, but requiring hefty wage packets, were stockpiled while the accountants watched nervously.
A deal for the then Sevilla striker Luis Fabiano, the man Redknapp wanted to spearhead his attack in their debut Champions League season, failed to materialise. While Levy was able to provide his manager with Rafael van der Vaart (a deal Redknapp described as a ‘gift’ from his chairman), free agent William Gallas and Sandro (a player signed largely on the say-so of chief scout Ian Broomfield), the manager didn’t get the shiny new No.9 he had pined for.
This didn’t stop Spurs progressing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League and finishing fifth in the Premier League, a league finish that could and would have been higher had it not been for a frustrating end to the season that saw points dropped at home to West Ham, West Brom and, Blackpool.
The fans, although grateful for their European adventure, grumbled at the way the team had tailed off – complaints which enraged Redknapp, who labelled his critics ‘idiots’ and suggested fifth place and a decent European run was ‘as good as it gets’ for a club like Tottenham, despite the fact they had finished fourth just 12 months previously.
Indeed, they did so again 12 months later, though this time their path to the Champions League was blocked by Chelsea. In this instance Redknapp was a victim of circumstance: few would’ve predicted that a Chelsea side who had performed so woefully for much of the season could or would win the European Cup to nab Tottenham’s place in it the following season. But the truth is, Spurs should have finished third.
On February 11, third-placed Spurs led fourth-placed Arsenal by 10 points with 13 Premier League games remaining. They won just four of those 13 and finished one point behind their North London rivals, their league positions reversed.
The collapse was even more dramatic than that of 2007/08, when it was less noticeable because the team were frankly awful in the first place.
This will have struck a chord with Levy, who will surely have feared another malaise descending on the club, with Redknapp seemingly unable to lift his players for the final three months of the season. He couldn’t risk a start anywhere near as bad as the one which ultimately did for Ramos.
Levy's decision to dispense of the manager’s services will have been made easier by the circumstances which led to the slump in the first place: Redknapp's public courting of the England job; his refusal to commit to a club who had stuck by him during a protracted court case; his inability to manage his squad in a way which would minimise player fatigue; his refusal to acknowledge that deploying Gareth Bale in a more central role was suffocating his other midfield talents.
But as much as anything else, he acted for fear of history repeating itself. Redknapp has generally performed well over his three-and-a-half years at White Hart Lane, but the chairman has to put the club first, and his concerns that Redknapp wasn’t the man to take Spurs onwards are completely understandable.
Up there with the Venkys? Get a grip.
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