Genius Move Or Grave Error?Posted: June 16, 2012
The quite frankly embarrassing hyperbole and hurt feelings of a number of British tabloid journalist caused by Daniel Levy sacking Harry Redknapp has meant that genuine conclusions about what his sacking means for Tottenham have been lost, in a certain area of the press, amid the fury of the jilted journalists. Redknapp himself claimed that had he remained in charge, Spurs would have just two years to wait for their first league title since 1961. By reading some writers, you would think ‘Arry had just won the Champions League, rather than fail to make it – or does having criticised him for his role in their collapse mean I have ‘lost the privilege’ of calling him by his first name?
Daniel Levy has received a lot of criticism from these corners, but he had a very difficult call to make, and action was most definitely of the essence. In the past few weeks, Manchester United have confirmed a deal for Shinji Kagawa; Chelsea for Hulk, Marko Marin and Eden Hazard, while Arsenal have added Lukas Podolski and all-but signed Olivier Giroud, with much talk surrounding a potential move for Yann M’Vila. And as if Manchester City’s league-winning squad was not good enough, one can be sure they will aim to improve it. In short, their rivals are strengthening. Meanwhile Jan Vertonghen is stalling on signing with them, Rafael van der Vaart is in negotiations with Schalke about a possible return to the Bundesliga, Luka Modric – if Vedran Corluka’s comments are anything to go by – is reviewing his options and Garreth Bale’s agent seems to be touting him to the highest bidder. And today a story emerged that many players are trying to claim their Champions League bonuses on account of the fact that they finished fourth, ignoring the mitigating circumstances meaning they will not be playing in the competition. Quite aside from the stupidity of it – where do they think the money for those bonuses would have come from? – it reflects the current mood at the club: short of mutinous, but very far from Valhalla.
So clearly, something had to change. Attracting new players without the promise of the Champions League would be difficult. After they were 13 points clear in third place, Redknapp was a key figure in their monumental (and hilarious) collapse (my views on Spurs’ collapse and its causes) and Levy clearly felt that while he “rescued them from relegation” 8 games into the season, he was not the man to take them forward. A fair judgement, based on his actions and failings when his team were on the cusp of some sort of contextual success. With their rivals for the top four steaming off into the distance, Levy acted decisively, because he felt he needed to close the gap that was emerging. A perfectly logical decision, with that mindset.
But Redknapp did have the team playing an enjoyable brand of football and had them higher in the league table than they had been for some time. Perhaps, in aiming to look to the long term, Levy was in fact being short-sighted. He was a popular figure with the players; is it possible his departure will trigger those aforementioned players, and others, to force moves with more veracity than they otherwise would have. He had much of that squad bought for him but they were, as the old cliché goes, ‘playing for him’ as much as themselves. Would the squad be as motivated to play for a new manager?
The question of what he brought to Spurs has to be raised, if it is such a bad decision to let him go. Redknapp never brought any physical success, in trophy form. Though he did manage to get them to the Champions League and from there, the quarter finals of the competition. He finished 4th, 5th and 4th in his three full seasons, fighting against the oil-rich Manchester City in his first two seasons and Chelsea in the third. They had the sixth highest wage bill in the league by the time he left at around £130,000,000, almost double what it was when he arrived in 2008, but still significantly lower than the three above them, Chelsea and Liverpool. Considering his adoration for transfers, his net spend was surprisingly low, at roughly £12,500,000. By January 2012 they were comfortably in third place; adored by the media: they were fun, new and different; not the plaything of an Oligarch or a Sheikh (just an English billionaire based in the Bahamas, a tax exile, in Joe Lewis) and this was all seen as fantastic work by Redknapp. But really, with many of those players having been either there when he arrived and his tactical ignorance, it is arguable that he did not have a great effect beyond his motivating the team. Michael Dawson, Ledley King, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Sandro, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart were either already at the club upon his arrival or bought for him.
He did well to achieve what he did with relatively limited resources, but a lot of it was not his work. Indeed, the good form at the start of the 11/12 season which is attributed to him from many corners was, in fact, undone by him. They witnessed a manager descend into panic, almost single-handedly taking them down from their great flight which, to a degree, shows that he was unable to lead them to greater things. While he got them to the top four in 09/10, he was unable to keep them there. Despite Redknapp’s claims to the contrary, Champions League football is monumentally important for attracting players, retaining players and the generated revenue. His failure to keep them among the elite was the reason for his sacking, so by proxy, the new man in charge must be able to do so.
This will define the answer to the headline question. Currently, Spurs are in a curiously precarious position. The futures of their star players remain unknown and as their opponents improve and they struggle to follow suit, their own chances of returning to the Champions League grow more distant with each passing day. However, at this point they have lost no key players and whoever the new manager will be shall have a healthy amount of money to attempt to improve the side. The most popular names connected with the post have been David Moyes, Roberto Martinez and Andre Villas-Boas.
Moyes has been working on an extremely tight budget for many years now, at Everton, achieving far more than others net spend would. He has shown that he is well capable of taking a team from mid-table to the top six, but is unproven beyond that. He managed to take Everton to 4th in the 04/05 season but they met eventual semi-finalists Villarreal in the qualifying round and were knocked out. With the chase on which Spurs must embark, his suitability must be questioned, but it is the next logical step up for him and would be a good appointment for them. If it is the next step up for Moyes, it would be a good three or four steps for Martinez and would come too soon for him. He has managed to salvage Premier League survival for rather poor Wigan sides for three years, but they have not made any real progress. They are fighting relegation and surviving by a whisker, just as they were when he arrived. He is a manager with excellent potential, but his next move should either be to solidify Wigan’s position in the league, or to move to a mid-table club. Villas-Boas is, of the bookmakers’ favoured three, the possibly best option. He was unable to implement his style on an ageing Chelsea team who held little respect for him, but the Spurs team’s attributes are far more similar to those of his old Porto side. They are younger and most notably, quicker; used to playing a less rigid, more flowing style. With time and backing, he could build something beyond what Redknapp has for Spurs. But Portuguese media have staunchly denied that Villas-Boas will make the move to North-East London, in spite of his odds’ tumbling.
Levy, above all, will need to be patient. The old top four monopoly looks as if it is returning, only with Manchester City taking the place of Liverpool. If it follows its predecessor, it will be extraordinarily difficult to usurp the position of any of the clubs within it. Their current situation is less-than-satisfactory, but it has the potential to improve with the stability of players’ futures; or alternatively, those players may jump at their chance to play Champions League football, or indeed for more money at bigger clubs. Levy must ensure that he plans for the latter with who he appointment, while hoping for the former. A terrible summer could be ahead for Tottenham, but the potentially numerous blows could be softened with the right man in charge.