On this day 20 years ago, Daniel Levy became the youngest chairman in the Premier League as ENIC bought Tottenham Hotspur from Sir Alan Sugar. In those two decades, Levy has completely changed the way the club is viewed on the international stage, revamped the facilities and transformed the team. It is fair to say, the apprentice has become the master.
Cast your mind back two decades and Tottenham were stuck in the shadow of their north London rivals. Arsenal were fighting for Premier League titles under Arsene Wenger while Spurs were your classic mid-table team, rarely troubling the top half of the table. Even with star names such as Jurgen Klinssmann and David Ginola at the club during the late nineties, there was little progress and certainly no prospect of European football at White Hart Lane.
Talking of White Hart Lane, a brilliant historic football ground, was in a bad way. It was beginning to look dated, needed repairing and with a 36,000 capacity, it simply couldn’t compete with the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, who had expansion plans or new stadiums in the works. Levy got to work with small touches at first. Having come from Rangers, a club with great history and pride, he claimed the White Hart Lane walls looked ‘prison-like’ due to the lack of colour or images on them.
Within a month of taking charge, Levy had already made a managerial change, something he would become more than accustomed to. George Graham, the last man to manage both Spurs and Arsenal, was shown the door and in came club legend Glenn Hoddle. Spurs then had David Pleat, Jacques Santini, Martin Jol, Juande Ramos in charge, the latter being the last man to lift silverware at the club, but despite the recent trophyless drought, the club has remained on an upwards trajectory.
The man who replaced Ramos in the dugout, Harry Redknapp, waxed lyrical about Levy’s contribution in north London. “It’s been massive steps forwards since he arrived,’ he told TalkSport. “People forget, when I was at West Ham we finished above Tottenham three years running [in 1997/98, 98/99 and 99/00]. They may do it again, but you look where Tottenham have gone in the last ten years and whatever, they play Champions League football and are always looking for top four.”
On the field, Spurs have gone from strength to strength. Redknapp himself delivered their first top four finish in 20 years in 2010 and Champions League football to the club, which took them up another level both financially and globally. Levy also has been smart with transfers throughout his time in charge, never spending more than the club could afford and only buying when the price was right.
“He came alive on deadline day. He loved a deal. Buy one, get one free. Buy two, get one free – he loved a deal.” Redknapp explained. “Even Rafael van der Vaart, that day we were trying to loan him and he said we’re struggling to get a loan deal but we can buy him cheap for £8million. He said, ‘what do you think?’ and he pulled off an amazing deal that day.”
In Gareth Bale they boasted the best player in the Premier League and while Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sheerwood both won more than they lost, it was Mauricio Pochettino who helped the club make the next step up, into Premier League and Champions League contenders.
Second in the league and a Champions League final made Tottenham a household name, while in Harry Kane and Hueng-Min Son they now have two truly world class forwards any side in the world would love to have. Perhaps notably, they have now finished above Arsenal in every one of the last four seasons, having failed to do so for the 22 seasons prior to 2017. The power shift has changed in north London on the pitch, but Levy’s legacy will live long thanks to his work off it.
The new Tottenham Stadium, which cost £1bn, is now completed and the envy of almost every other club in Europe. White Hart Lane was a brilliant ground, but the chairman was right, Spurs had outgrown it and now boast the largest club stadium in London and third biggest in the Premier League, packed out with all the mod-cons.
Now they can compete with every other club in the Premier League in terms of revenue, while their first teams and academy products also boast the finest training facilities in the league, thanks to the £45m development of Hotspur Way, which was completed in 2012. It’s so good that the Brazilian national team stayed there as they prepared for the 2014 World Cup. This smart investment by Levy has the club on solid ground heading into the future and is a hell of a turnaround from the dingy old training ground and crumbling White Hart Lane.
“It’s a massive contribution,” Redknapp continued. “He delivered an incredible new stadium – it’s just amazing. The training ground is as good as anything in the country. Daniel has done an amazing job.”
Football managers don’t often talk about chairmen like that, and Spurs fans should count themselves incredibly lucky that they have not only a brilliant businessman, but a lifelong fan with the best interests of the club at heart. They may not have won a trophy in over a decade, but he has transformed them into one of the most modern and forward-thinking clubs in the world and the upward trajectory they have been on since Levy took charge will surely end that wait for silverware sooner rather than later.