Monday 16 September 2019

Levy 'the biter' can be stung by gambling with Spurs' transfer deals

Michael Duffy (right) scores his second goal for Dundalk against UCD last night at Oriel Park. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Michael Duffy (right) scores his second goal for Dundalk against UCD last night at Oriel Park. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Jason Burt

Football clubs, rather like the stock market, do not like uncertainty. But some traders and, it seems, some football chairmen do.

They thrive on it, which is something that Daniel Levy will be well aware of given he spent a large part of his life as a student using the phone outside his room to trade shares on the Stock Exchange and that, since 2001, he has been chairman of Tottenham Hotspur.

Levy knows that some traders can also exploit the markets better than others, which is an attitude he has taken into football, especially when it comes to transfers. He is one of the few chairmen who will still pick up the phone and call another club to try to negotiate a deal. By any measure, Levy's stewardship of Spurs has been a resounding success.

There is so much to admire in the way he has organically grown the club at a time when nation states, petrodollars and Russian billionaires have come in along with investment from America while Manchester United remain the ultimate cash cow.

New training ground, new stadium, consistent qualification for the Champions League - and reaching last season's final - with a highly coveted manager and squad. They are in remarkably good shape, which is testimony to his stewardship.

But there is an aspect that continues to grate and means the biter in Levy - with that reputation of being a tough, almost impossible to deal with negotiator - can get bitten.

It is no coincidence that Spurs make slow starts when they are often the club with the most volatility around their transfer dealings. They can prosper, as happened this summer when they took the £25 million (€27.5m) signing of Ryan Sessegnon down to the wire, to Fulham's frustration, to get the deal Levy wanted.

That was even though it had been known for more than 18 months that the teenager wanted to join Spurs. And they can suffer, as appears to be happening now with the uncertainty over Christian Eriksen and other players such as Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose.

Frustration

It may be that Levy again exacts the price he wants for Eriksen should Real Madrid become desperate but at what price for Spurs and manager Mauricio Pochettino, who does not attempt to conceal his frustration?

Managers will always complain and it was interesting Pochettino - like Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp - was moaning about the injustice of closing the Premier League transfer window on August 8 while the rest of Europe trades for another three weeks.

Neither manager mentioned, however, that their clubs were not among the five who voted against the measure in September 2017 (they were Manchester United, Manchester City, Watford, Crystal Palace and Swansea City, with Burnley abstaining).

If both had done so, it would not have gone through.

But that is by the by and it may well be that Pochettino simply does not have the leverage with Levy to persuade his chairman to vote otherwise.

More relevant is what is happening behind the scenes at Spurs, which Pochettino alluded to again following the frustrating home defeat by Newcastle United.

"The group is still unsettled," he said. "We need to find solutions. We have one week more to wait and see what happens in the last days (of the transfer window).

"I think this is my sixth season and the most unsettled group we are working with. That is why we are relaxed and calm. Some situations we cannot fix. Nothing to say about that, situations that are going on in the squad."

Unsettled is not a good word to use and Pochettino used it twice. He also said he was relaxed and calm while sounding neither.

Important

Although Spurs will no doubt point to the fact that they can only sell Eriksen - with less than a year left on his contract, like Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, who have also shown no inclination to sign new deals - if an offer is made, they have known for months that he wants out and could have attempted to create a market and force the issue.

It is further compounded by the fact Eriksen is such an important player. He gives Spurs something they do not have in the their squad and it is inexplicable that he has not started two of their first three league games.

There is no suggestion he has caused any problems or trained badly.

Maybe Giovani Lo Celso will provide that play-making guile but while his signing from Real Betis was regarded as a coup, it again followed a tortuous negotiation in which Levy exacted the terms he wanted, initially a loan before paying £55 million (€60.5m). So he arrived on deadline day along with Sessegnon.

It does seem that reaching the Champions League final has unsettled some players at Spurs. Others are asking what direction the club are going in having also moved to the new stadium and finally invested in the transfer market after not trading for two windows.

There is no crisis. Spurs are well managed and heading in the right direction even if the frustrations, from the fans even more so than Pochettino, are clear because there will come a time when they need to be closing that gap between them and the top two. And that time should be now.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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