The subplot of Hugo Lloris’s restlessness continues to destabilise Andre Villas Boas’s attempts to impose his authority on Tottenham, and the blame for such an unwelcome situation lies entirely at the door of the club chairman David Levy. Just this week Lloris spoke out once again about his unhappiness with the situation at Tottenham, and Villas Boas was again forced to pull off the difficult job of appearing in command whilst being repetitively pestered about when Lloris will get his chance in his Friday press conference.
It is one of the mysteries of the Premier League that Levy’s record at Tottenham has not yet been held up under a spotlight and examined with a clear, objective eye. Yet even a cursory glance will reveal that he has hired wrong managers for wrong reasons, fired right managers at wrong times, attempted to take control of football affairs out of managerial hands to devastating effect, and treated players with a heavy-handed contemptuousness that benefitted neither party. People praise him for holding Dimitar Berbatov back from Manchester United’s clutches for long enough to extract the maximum possible price, without remembering that the consequences of such a protracted saga were Tottenham failing to sufficiently replenish their strike force before the transfer window shut and spending half the season in last place until Harry Redknapp arrived to bail them out. Similarly this year, he chose to play hardball with Luka Modric and Real Madrid and perhaps let his desire to preserve his reputation as a hard negotiator get in the way of the need to ensure that such lengthy negotiations did not deprive him of enough time to replace Modric or Van de Vaart. True enough, Tottenham’s dragging of their feet in the transfer market led them to miss out on a player who would have lent assurance to their faltering performances and provided the creative missing piece to the jigsaw in Joao Moutinho.
Yet to discuss Levy’s failings in the transfer market is to only look at one aspect of his defects as chairman of Tottenham. His rearrangement of the traditional dimensions of the relationship between a chairman and manager, where the manager spells out players he wants based on his football knowledge and the chairman sanctions the acquisitions after rigorous financial checks, has been behind many of Tottenham’s on-pitch woes. It is made worse by the fact that Levy overrides his manager’s better judgement by acting on a peculiar mix of vanity and self-regard that permeates Tottenham’s club culture, rather than from the conviction that his decisions will reap clear footballing benefits. All the peculiar, illogical footballing decisions Tottenham have taken over the last decade can be attributed to Levy’s desire to attract big, exotic names that resonate with his vain image of his club. Jacques Santini and Juande Ramos must have come across as sophisticated foreign managerial imports, and associating the club with Brazilian names such as Sandro and Willian must have carried the same sense of self-gratification. Equally, what footballing logic was there in recruiting Hugo Lloris when Brad Friedel was still performing an admirable job and a goalkeeper was not high on Tottenham’s list of transfer priorities? Villas Boas’s actions in keeping him on the bench seem to suggest he would not have sanctioned the decision, so it is plausible to imagine that a man with as big an ego as Levy might have taken to Lloris – French captain and established European name – because he still yearns to associate his club with the glamour of their bigger rivals.
That decision has now backfired as Villas Boas is forced to confront a challenge to his authority that reappears every week, and has the potential to escalate if results don’t go his way. Yet the man who will be forced to take the fall if such a decision contributes to Tottenham’s season continuing to go off course will not be the one who made it, but the manager. There has been one constant in the fifteen years in which steady and tangible improvement has largely eluded Tottenham, and it has not been any manager but an overweening chairman. Levy is the managing director of ENIC International, who own a controlling stake in Tottenham, but his close business and personal links to ENIC’s majority owner Joe Lewis ought not to give him free rein to arbitrarily rule Tottenham as he pleases. He seems to have forgotten that, unlike an Abramovich who can do what he likes to an entity he fully owns no matter how ill-advised or unhelpful, his decision-making as a chairman can be held accountable to the club’s fans and shareholders. Creating transfer committees that take the recruitment of players out of Villas Boas’s hands and force him to deal with big names he never asked for should be warranting scrutiny from fans right now. Yet Levy carries on unaffected, with most people praising him for suddenly terminating the four-year reign of Harry Redknapp that coincided with the best period of stability Tottenham had seen for a while and already turning against a successor who has been deprived a balanced squad as a result of his chairman’s desire to redirect money to the addition of an unnecessary big name. At the same time, the narrative of closing the gap to Arsenal – a team whose slide from grace means that any comparison will be deceptive – continues unabated and Tottenham’s fans continue to shun the hard, inward-looking questions required to achieve real progress rather than the odd season featuring in the Champions League. The good work that was largely attributable to Harry Redknapp has dried up with his departure and Levy’s subsequent missteps in the transfer market, and if this season does not result in an acceptable shoring up effort, it should be Levy rather than another manager with exotic currency in Villas Boas who will have more questions to answer.