The Blame Game

My thesis is that Mauricio Pochettino is more to blame for the state of our current first team squad* than Daniel Levy. Hear me out.

I find myself getting irritated reading every thread on Twitter or Reddit or on Spurs forums that blames Daniel Levy and Daniel Levy only for what our squad has become. Of course, Levy placed restrictions on us in terms of our spending. We know that; we are not Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City**. ENIC are an investment company and they operate as such. That is not a point for debate but we could debate (and by god we do, some people even make naff little signs) the merits of having an investment company as our owners. Let’s park that for now — the reality is that we do have an investment company as our owners. And, despite that, we build a top-class squad with a top-class Manager. Mauricio Pochettino is undoubtedly owed a tremendous debt of gratitude.

With Levy’s persona — always lurking in the background at games, rarely communicating to fans, physically looking like a movie villain with his bald head and sharp features, his reputation for being a fearsome negotiator*** — he is a far more convenient figure to blame than lovely, cuddly, handsome, warm, human, front-facing Mauricio Pochettino.

Let it be said that Mauricio Pochettino is, in my opinion, the best Coach that Tottenham Hotspur have had in my lifetime (I was born in 1984). What he achieved with the squad at his disposal was — at times — miraculous. He gave us some of the best attacking football I have ever seen my club play and some of the happiest memories I have as a football fan. I recently wrote an article for this excellent piece of work called ‘A Transformative Tenure’.

But Pochettino was not perfect, and I believe that he was flawed in terms of his role as a Manager and specifically in terms of building/maintaining his squad.

Pochettino was our Manager. He made a big deal about his job title being changed from Head Coach to Manager partway into his tenure because he had felt he was always more than just a Head Coach, that he had always truly had the full remit of a Manager.

Pochettino was also incredibly close to Levy, a point that was reiterated over and again throughout Brave New World****. Levy has at no point tried to “play” Pochettino. This is evidenced by Pochettino regularly briefing the media on our club’s need to operate differently; he was onside, he toed the party line. He was keen to put across the financial confines that he was working within and only late in his Spurs career did he start to lament them. More on that later.

And this is where it gets tricky; some fans will say ‘well Levy should just remove some of those restrictions and back the manager’. I can see the point (I am even halfway to agreeing if I’m honest), but even with all of this in mind — knowing the restrictions in place at the club and being its Manager — Pochettino still had options available to him. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some potential ways of operating given the financial restrictions placed upon him:

  • Develop youth players for the first team – easier said than done, perhaps, but the recent introduction of Japhet Tanganga (and indeed, the success this season of Marcus Edwards in the Primeira Liga*****) arguably shows that the gap between Academy players and first team players is not as wide as perceived, and squad places could be filled by Academy players with the hope that one may turn out to be Harry Kane (or even Harry Winks).
  • Develop youth players to sell and generate funds; by loaning young players and exposing them to first team football, they gain value and can then be sold for large profits which can be used to fund first team signings. Historically we did this with Jake Livermore (£8m), Steven Caulker (£9.25m), Alex Pritchard (£8m), Andros Townsend (£12m), Nabil Bentaleb (£17m) and Ryan Mason (£13m).
  • Use data to unearth under-valued players in other leagues. Arguably this is how we ended up signing Georges-Kévin Nkoudou and Clinton Njié, so this strategy could be said to be ‘risky’; equally, other clubs have unearthed gems for very little money.
  • Sign under-valued players with potential from within the English Football League. Over the past five years we have looked at, and decided not to bid for: Demarai Gray, Ademola Lookman, James Maddison, Ryan Sessegnon (when he was 16 and valued at under £5m), Jack Grealish, Tom Bayliss, Max Aarons, Eberechi Eze. All of these players could have been signed for under £10m each, and well under £10m in some cases. NB: we have recently looked at Jayden Bogle (Derby County), Nathan Ferguson (West Bromwich Albion), and are still monitoring Eze (Queens Park Rangers) who is now said to be worth over £20m.
  • Try to anticipate when first team players may be about to start declining and sell them at their peak value; arguably we attempted this with Kyle Walker.
  • Sell one or two big-name players at peak value and use the money to re-invest, i.e. what Liverpool did with Philippe Coutinho.

With all of this in mind, Pochettino:

  • Dropped £55m (plus huge wages) on Moussa Sissoko and Serge Aurier; he could have signed all of the young, English (with homegrown rules in mind) players that I listed above for less than this amount.
  • Decided to try to patch things up with Danny Rose (after his hatchet job interview with The S#n newspaper) rather than sell him for circa £30m and re-invest that money.
  • Decided to keep Christian Eriksen (with contract running out and no plans to re-sign) and attempt to convince him that he could win something with us.
  • Decided to use a very small, tight-knit squad with limited rotation which put tremendous strain on the bodies of our key players, which has possibly led to long-term damage to the likes of Harry Kane and Harry Winks.
  • Decided to keep our promising young players in-house to develop but not actually play them, leading to many years of stagnation where several of our best ever Academy talents have essentially played no football (at any level).******
  • And, finally, he decided to get rid of Fernando Llorente and not sign or develop a replacement striker. I was no fan of Llorente, but not replacing him now seems very short-sighted.

Latterly Pochettino went to the media saying that we needed a painful re-build, that we had to operate differently. This was his attempt to try to coerce Levy to change his long-established way of operating. This was — in my opinion — largely an attempt to protect himself, protect his ego, because he could see the issues within the squad and was now desperate having not dealt with them over the past two-and-a-half years. But, by then, it was too late; the problems had stacked up over too many transfer windows and were not going to be fixable in one hit. The toxicity of Rose’s situation, of the contract situations of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen had already permeated.

Given what we know about Levy’s negotiations in transfers, some people reading this may say that Pochettino identified reasonably-priced transfer targets, such as Jack Grealish, but that Daniel Levy did not go out and get them. I would answer that in two ways. Firstly, that we should have signed Grealish a year earlier for a lot less money but Pochettino was not convinced at that point. Secondly, that Aston Villa got taken over at just the wrong moment and the new owners pulled the rug from beneath the transfer. If Pochettino really wanted a player, Levy was prepared to back him: £55m on Tanguy Ndombele, £42m on Davinson Sanchez, £25m on Ryan Sessegnon, £12m on an ageing Fernando Llorente, £23m on Serge Aurier, £30m on Moussa Sissoko all speak to that. The net spend is not what you would expect of a top four club, but it’s unfair to say that Pochettino had no backing, and no parameters to work within.

One could argue that Levy backed Pochettino by allowing him to keep Rose when selling seemed the most obvious option, by allowing him to keep Eriksen when we could have sold for £80m+.

I actually think Daniel Levy should have been firmer. He should have insisted that we get rid of Rose and probably Eriksen too. He should have insisted that we revisit the old strategy of signing young, English players and loaning them out to develop (and, just as crucially, build reputation and value). And most importantly he should have put a Director of Football in place to manage all of this. Okay, fine, I think I’ve talked myself round into thinking that Levy’s as much to blame even within the financial constraints because he should have checked Pochettino’s naivety. Okay, as you were.

Ultimately, trying to find someone to blame is fruitless — it’s never as simple or clear-cut as picking your least-liked guy and running with it. There are grey areas and unknowns and constraints. We all moan about senior management at work not having a clue about the realities on the ground — they should have done this and that — but then when you get that exposure at a more senior level you realise that it’s far more complex than you previously thought; you see how focussed they are on a higher, over-arching strategy. As well as having to appease shareholders and managing their own KPIs. Daniel Levy doesn’t look at not paying that extra £5m-10m to sign Jack Grealish as a turning point like some fans do — he looks long-term at the fact that he’s built a world-class Academy base and the best stadium in the world. That he’s delivered years of Champions League football culminating in reaching a final.

Whilst the minutiae will not be lost on him, he is operating at a level where it simply is not so important. We moan about things which, to them, are lower priority than the over arching strategy; they might care and the things we moan about might ultimately feed in but we don’t understand the bigger picture and context they’re working within so our moans are themselves out of context. I am not saying that Levy and ENIC should not be held to account, but we need to appreciate that we don’t have the wider knowledge available to us that they do.

I like to try to end articles on something pertinent, where I wrap up an argument into a cohesive statement, but I don’t think I can here so I will instead offer some hope.

The re-build has started. Christian Eriksen will go this window and with a bit of luck Danny Rose will follow. Toby Alderweireld has signed a contract, and Jan Vertonghen is likely to sign-on for another year as well. We will probably sign Giovani Lo Celso******* permanently, we have a huge, huge talent in Tanguy Ndombele, and Ryan Sessegnon has unlimited potential. We have unearthed a gem in Japhet Tanganga and there are more Academy players who can fill squad places over the coming years (Troy Parrott, Oliver Skipp, Dennis Cirkin, Harvey White, Jneil Bennett, to name a few with many talented younger players hot on their heels). We are two first-team players away from having a very good, cohesive team and five to six players away from having a very good, cohesive squad. This can be fixed across the next three windows. We now have a revenue stream with the new stadium that will allow us to do this at a level where we can punch our weight. It’s going to be okay.

This piece is dedicated to Paul Newman from The Daily Mail.

*A total mess.

**With Financial Fair Play it seems unlikely that we ever could be now. And, frankly, morally I am not sure we would want an owner like any of theirs.

***Which is a good thing to be honest.

****The less said about this god-awful publication the better.

*****Edwards is expected to move to a ‘big’ club in the summer having been one of the stand-out players in the top league in Portgual so far this year for his club Vitória de Guimarães. Spurs have a 50% sell-on clause, but he has a release fee of €15m, so at most we will get €7.5m.

******In some cases, agents and parents of players have literally had to beg the club to let them out on loan in order to get their players exposure. Or they have waited for their contracts to expire and have left or forced moves: Milos Veljkovic, Marcus Edwards, Josh Onomah, Keanan Bennetts, Reo Griffiths. This has a big knock-on effect as parents and agents of younger players clock on. In summer 2018 we lost our best U15 (Omari Forson – Man Utd), and best first-year academy prospect (Noni Madueke – has now made his full debut at 17 for PSV). Other young players will be choosing clubs other than Spurs to go to; it could take us a decade to change the perception of the club.

*******Our Lord and Saviour.

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Join the conversation

  1. Great article, can’t disagree with any of that. As much as I love Poch and what he did at the club, as a trainer I was always concerned with the fitness regime and I think we’re also seeing the effects of that. Major burnout from overtraining.
    1. Nice one, Paolo, thanks for the comment. The burnout is becoming more apparent now, but was a concern from the beginning.
  2. Absolutely nailed on Windy! Very fair and balanced. I'm not a massive fan of Levy and ENIC, but this idea that everything is compeltely black and white - ie, everything is Levy/ENIC's fault, and Poch is a victim of 'the regime' (or, the opposite view, where Poch was useless tactically, won nothing and was terrible in the transfer market, which I have also seen people suggest) - is just totally wrong. It's a combination of many factors, not just one. While this season is horrible and the football we are playing is rubbish (under both managers, not just Jose, as some people seem to be saying), I AM optimistic given the talent of some of the youngsters we have coming through and the likes of Tanguy and GLC, who I beleive could be elite level talents for us. The big issues to solve... on the pitch we need a high-class defensive midfielder to help unleash those two, a rotation striker (clearly Jose thinks Parrott is not yet ready) and the long-term fullback issue needs addressing on both sides, despite the recent upturn in form of Aurier. Off the pitch - we need a 'loan manager' or development head who can make good decisions about those 'tweener' players who are maybe not yet ready for the first team, but are not benefiting from youth/under 23 football. Get those guys out on loan, expose them to football, get their value up and then even if they don;t become first team regulars, they at least have some sell-on value.
    1. I so, so strongly agree about having a loan manager who can develop these players, it's absolutely essential! We're missing out on so much talent/value.
  3. i agree with much of this article but sissoko has been a good buy and a director of football has not been notably successful at united - i would like to see the parameters used by our scouts explained as i have grave doubts about the players that they are identifying
    1. I'd also *love* to see those parameters! On the plus side, Nathan who does the podcast with me says that he knows that we are outsourcing to data sourcing firms.
  4. Why did Lewis buy THFC ? for the love of football or a business opportunity to make a lot of money.Does the average fan care where their owners made their money or live in tax havens ?Does a state of the art stadium and fantastic training facilities plus cheese room with inhouse brewery equate to points on the pitch?.Your article ends with the big issues to solve,these issues have been with us prior to Poch's appointment and have not been solved.All I ask is for Lewis to decide to either invest in the team or sell to some one who will, you have made an enormous profit already.
    1. Just to correct you - Lewis didn't buy THFC - ENIC did. Lewis owns 70% of ENIC, though. But yes, I think as a business opportunity. That's why most owners own their football clubs.
  5. Nobody operates like Man City. They are funded with oil money and as Der Spiegal showed are immune from FFP rules. Everyone else has some sort of financial limits, not just us. Liverpool's net spend in the time Fenway have owned them is a quarter of City's, they too are an investment company and it hasn't done them any harm. Reading some of the comments, Joe Lewis has never withdrawn money from the club so how exactly is he "making money" ? To me Pochettino seemed to lose the plot in his last year with the club. Players had stopped playing for him and he didn't seem to know how to deal with it. Maybe most people can only take the pressure of a premier manager's job for so long. You can argue all day about individual players. Taking Aurier as an example, since Mourinho took over he's been transformed into one of our best players. So was were his earlier performances his fault or down to Pochettino not using him properly ? You are right about loaning players out. Its not ideal, loans are hit and miss. But if the alternative is little or no football its a no brainer. Being ruthless in getting rid of players is fine, the problem is the player doesn't have to leave. We've found that out in the past couple of seasons. Ultimately the player is in control as long as he has a contract and you have to pay him.
    1. Great comment, jod, really interesting comments. And I totally agree about loans being hit and miss by the way.
  6. Whilst i agree its not 100% Levy's fault i think it tilts around 70% to 30% Levy to Poch in my opinion. Players were identified, in that first summer he wanted Mussachio, Schneiderlin and got Fazio and Stambouli In the summer of 2015 he wanted Berrahino, didn't get him and we were a striker light all season (it didn't cost us but could well have done). Summer of 2016 he spoke of the need of a pacy, counter attacking forward, he wanted Mane or Zaha and ended up with Sissoko at 11.58pm 31st August. Poch said after the Leicester 5-4 at the end of 17/18 about a painful rebuild and got nothing, not a single player for 14 months. At the end of every close season he talked about getting in players early and never got it, it was always the last minute scramble. Poch like every manager before him got worn down with it in the end and that had been noticeable for the last 12 months of his tenure. I totally agree on the youth side and Poch carries the can there. Not loaning young players is daft and was always my main beef with Poch There is also no reason we couldn't have carried on buying young lower league players (you left off David Brookes). All in all though i have seen 7 or 8 managers and 3 or 4 directors of football blamed for our transfer dealings over the last 20 years. There has only been one common denominator in that time. Good luck Jose.
    1. Exactly,and I can remember the incident when I lost all respect for Levy and Lewis "half time when Martin Jol found out by radio that he was being sacked ".
      1. That was horrible.
    2. Some really interesting points - I'd forgotten all about Mussachio!
    3. Haha I stopped reading at the point you said Poch wanted Beharino and Schniederlin (to fraudsters imitating footballers) that proves how useless Poch was at identifying decent players
  7. You're spot on. Couldn't argue with everything you wrote.
    1. Nice one, Tommy.
  8. I.M.O Enic are the problem they didnt build the lovely new ground for us they built it for the money they could make i was very happy at W.H.L a nice little ground with great support this new place is just a cash cow for the owners cash less means we dont trust the people we employ to do the job ( big brother is watching you )if you take a bag inside that is not the plastic bag you get from the club then your searched and charged £10 the lies we were told before we went to wembeley that we would be moved e.n block back to the place you came from NOT TRUE i sat in row 14 at W.H.L dead center behind the goal i got row 44 up in the gods looking down on the players heads i now sell my seat back to the club game by game and watch every game home & away via a tv stick for £40 a year so after 60 years of going to W.H.L im done with ENIC still love the Spurs but Levy gets no more cash from me so if you think Levy & Enic are good guys i beg to differ
    1. Exactly. Levy's passion and enthusiasm has been for capital projects which is where the investment company side comes in. They'll make a fortune when they sell because of the builds and land acquisition. If only that forethought and planning had been available on the football side. We just stumble about, either with managers or signing players with no real thought, just opportunistic punts. Where we have done well enough over the last 15 or so years is really down to 3 appointments, Arnesen, Redknapp and especially Pochettino. Great appointments by Levy for differing reasons but is that and 1 league cup enough for 20 years at the helm?
    2. FWIW I would have happily stayed at old WHL too.
    3. Of course, there's validity to the point of the new stadium, it's also completely inconsequential. Regardless of the reasoning behind its development, it leaves *the club* in a better financial position both from a cash-flow perspective and in era of (loosely-enforced) Financial Fair Play. If ENIC keep us, or sell us, the club have a much stronger balance sheet to compete with the elite moving forward. Rather than compare us to Chelsea and Man City, where the acquisitions and owners were completely different beasts, let's compare us to Livepool for a moment. In the 5 years prior to our move to Wembley and, subsequently to the new stadium, our gate revenue was £286M. Liverpool's was £598M. That's more than 2x market-spend from turnstile revenue alone. That's £62M a year more to spend in the transfer market and on salary. Additionally, from commercial revenue, Liverpool earn £84M a year more than we do thanks to the history of the club. So that's £146M *a year* more spending power than we have. A grand total of £730M more revenue in 5 years. Think about that number for a moment, 3/4 of a BILLION pounds more revenue. Yet, in the same period, they've spent just £163M more than we have in the transfer market. From a relative net-investment perspective, we've actually substantially out-invested Liverpool. They've taken risks on players and developed players that have, arguably won them both the CL and the EPL. TAA is a prime example of this. Who the fuck was Andy Robinson? Salah had previously failed in the Prem and was a gamble. I mean, when would we have gone, hmmm, yeah, I'd LOVE Henderson in our team. From that base, they've then spent smartly, the VvD purchase being the missing cog that pushed them on to glory. Yes, there's been that year of no purchases in they eye of the storm when we paid down a huge chunk of the stadium and smartly financed the balance of it. But... to be perfectly frank, we've been both woefully unlucky and incredibly Spursy. Bad-luck: Lasanga Gate, Chelsea winning the CL. Sissoko's arm in the 1st minute in Madrid. Those two CL misses cost us, not only around £25M-£50M in market power, but also had the negative side-effect to the club of player attraction. Spursy: Worse squads have lifted trophies in that time. Obviously Leicster; also Man U, Chelsea & Arsenal have been behind us in ability but managed to lift FA Cups and Europa league trophies between them. Fuck me Palace, Hull, Wigan, Villa and Stoke have made it the final during this time. Coming back to the key point. Nobody is saying they are good guys, but they have certainly progressed the club and set it up to be in world-class financial position moving forward. I still remember pre-ENIC season ticket days celebrating rare home draws against Arsenal as if we'd won the World Cup; or the frenzied celebration of "going on a European tour" when we qualified for Europa not so long ago.
  9. I see financial illiteracy is alive and well. The new ground was financed with borrowed money. The value of the club only increases when the debt is paid off. That will take 35 years. But hey why let boring financial facts get in the way of a good story about ruthless owners making a fortune by selling the club.
    1. Firstly, if you think the value of the stadium is only realised once the entire debt is repaid, then you are indeed correct, financial illiteracy is alive and well. I could elaborate further explaining debt and assets, but it’s likely to fall of deaf ears. That wasn’t the point of the argument. The point was that net-relative to Liverpool’s financial and cash position, we’ve invested more than they have over the 5 years prior to moving into the stadium. So this whole argument about tight fists can be shown in a completely different colour once you factor in the reality of the fiscal position of the club. I’m guessing general illiteracy is alive and well too.
  10. Whilst there were isssues before I think that because Poch did travel back with team from madrid was the end of his relationship with most of the 1st team squad. He should of travelled back and taken the team to Hotspur way spent the night there then had a debrief in the morning before saying enjoy your holidays boys. Then laying the need for new signings on Levy in no uncertain terms, if he didnt believe in Tangana etc!
  11. My take is somply' when ENIC took over the PL was a different animal entirely and harping back to those Glory Days is simply ridiculous ...even the balls different so work up from that basic ...second THFC was a mediocre non entity ' virtually bankrupt less than 10 years earlier' that's 30 years out of my anyone less than 80 years really should question as to why they chose Spurs as their team if choice? I just roll my eyes and sigh when our chairman despite clearly backing his manager get dogs abuse from some of the Ill thought out and nonsense many posts imply...irrespective of being debt free in 30 years ' the debt is managed and the funds although not unlimited are substantial which was clearly evident in the summer but would've been more if Eriksen and Rose would've been moved on? Did Levy and Enic keep the Bale money? No' all was invested back into the team...immediately ( how many records did we break in a week) Arsenals decline as a top top club has been since Dein departed...our climb as a top table team from a very poor mid table side is down to ENIC plain and simple!
  12. Totally agree with the article, but would add vanity, stubbornness, inflexibility and favouritism to your list of Pochettino's qualities. I'd love to see him land a job with a moneybags club to find out once and for all whether he really has what it takes to be ranked alongside the true managerial greats (who include Mourinho, whatever happens at Spurs) - I know what I think, and that's a decided 'no'.
  13. […] **I’ve already had my say on where I personally think the blame rests. […]
  14. […] no doubt that this deteriorated in 2018/19 as Pochettino’s Tottenham started to crumble. As Pochettino started to crumble, in my view. And yet, even then, we saw some of the most miraculous come-backs in football history in our […]


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