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27th Nov 2016

Daniel Levy has built the modern Tottenham Hotspur. Now Mauricio Pochettino must be allowed to implement his vision

Pochettino has a vision and Spurs' next test will be to help him deliver it

Dion Fanning

Tottenham Hotspur may be a side shaped in the image of its maker, even if the maker may not be the manager Mauricio Pochettino, but the club chairman Daniel Levy.

Before their implosion in the title race last season, Spurs were praised for their fitness, their physicality and their relentlessness.

“We’ve got a big squad here and, if you are tired, you’ve got fresh players ready to come in,”  Ben Davies said at that time, before delivering the message that seemed to sum up the Pochettino regime: “In other words, don’t be tired.”

The message was that essentially rest was for the weak. The demands made by Pochettino have been reported in detail: the hustle to win the ball back within three seconds of losing it, the double training sessions, the triple training sessions and the sessions devoted entirely to stretching. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Daniel Levy, Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur looks on during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at White Hart Lane on August 27, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

When they beat Watford last season, Quique Sanches Flores described Tottenham as “animals”. Even when they went down, they went down fighting at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. “Suffer in training so you don’t suffer in the game,” Pochettino said and people felt inspired and enfeebled simultaneously.

Then they collapsed in the title race and it seemed that maybe the fetishisation of fitness and the breathless explanations of Pochettino’s methods had prevented people from seeing some stark fundamentals about the side, fundamentals which could be summed up by the central presence of Eric Dier and the not unrelated absence of true imagination.

Tottenham have won once this season since they beat Manchester City on the first weekend in October. That was a performance which gave a vision of how Pochettino wants his side to play, but the weaknesses have been apparent since then, even if some may have become concerned by Spurs’ summer acquisitions.

When Daniel Levy’s name is mentioned in football, it isn’t long before some talk about him the way others do about a Pochettino training session.

“Daniel likes to squeeze your balls until your eyes start to water,” one Premier League club owner told a newspaper last year, talking about Levy with that strange mix of admiration and revulsion that some men use when talking about another’s toughness.

Maybe Levy sees something of himself in this team, but maybe both are heading for a point where they need to combine their toughness and relentlessness with a little subtlety. 

MONACO - NOVEMBER 22: Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur walks off the pitch after the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Louis II Stadium on November 22, 2016 in Monaco. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

The chairmen of rival clubs have grown used to Levy’s ways, while they are familiar as well to the agents of Tottenham players who have negotiated with him. Those who have played for Tottenham under him speak warmly of a man who is contrasted with the blow-hards they can encounter in those positions at other clubs. Levy works at all times in the interest of Tottenham as he sees them.

Their defeat on Saturday evening at Stamford Bridge seemed inevitable after a week when they were knocked out of the Champions League looking disorganised and clueless. Against Chelsea, there were more encouraging signs, but the message Pochettino delivered last week after the defeat to Monaco is one the club might have to absorb.

Last summer, Pochettino signed a contract extension which, among other things, saw his title change from head coach to manager. Manchester United were said to be interested, but with Spurs making a title challenge – albeit one which slightly undermined all their talk of relentlessness and toughness by fading out pretty pathetically – a lot was expected this season.

Pochettino may well have expected more in the summer as well as they built on last year’s form. Victor Wanyama arrived from Southampton, while an initial interest in Georginio Wijnaldum ended because Newcastle were looking for £27 million, although Tottenham are believed to have offered players as part of the deal who were of little interest to the selling club.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham Hotspur takes on Wendell of Bayer Leverkusen during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Wembley Stadium on November 2, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

In the end, at the very end in typical Levy fashion, Spurs spent £30 million on Moussa Sissoko, but so far all he has demonstrated at Spurs is the truth of the maxim that you can recover from the players you don’t sign a lot easier than you can from the ones you do.

In recent years, Tottenham have had to do a lot of recovering, most notably in the wake of the sale of Gareth Bale when Levy allowed the money for that record sale to be reinvested, albeit less than successfully.

He allowed football people to do what they did, but he is always in control. This has been Levy’s way. He has built the modern Spurs, including a new training ground where promising future generations are developing, and now he will build a modern stadium.

Those who have worked with him say he is a shy man who is on top of every aspect of a club, although he always allows a manager or head coach to manage and coach. Levy doesn’t interfere in a manager’s job, but that doesn’t mean that a manager will always get what he wants.

“Tottenham must be the club that has moved forward most in every respect in the last 15 years in Europe and it’s thanks to him,” Damien Comolli, who worked at the club as director of football, told L’Equipe in September.

Levy has created a club which can compete with Arsenal and finished above Manchester City last season even though their revenue dwarves Tottenham’s.

Levy has done that his way. Players who have ended up at Spurs talk about waiting through several transfer windows to make a move to the club, even though they had expected a deal to happen immediately. Instead Levy delayed a transfer as he waited to secure the best deal for the club, but maybe the best deal for the club turns out to be counter-productive.

In February 2015, Harry Kane signed a contract which was his first substantial deal as a footballer. He had been given a contract the previous August, but this recognised his contribution as a forward who had, by the end of January, already scored 20 goals in the season.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - MAY 24: Mauricio Pochettino manager of Spurs and Harry Kane of Spurs shake hands after the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on May 24, 2015 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

The contract was said to be worth £60,000 a week. There are believed to be substantial bonuses for goals and appearances, but if Kane, now an England international linked with a move to Manchester United, signs an extension as many others have done at the club, it would probably have to recognise that development.

Levy has developed a wage structure for the club which would undoubtedly find favour with the man on the street who believes that footballers are overpaid. But Levy isn’t depending on the man on the street to get Tottenham back into the Champions League or keep them in a title race.

In a world where Jamie Vardy earns more than £100,000 a week at Leicester, Kane may feel he is getting less than the market rate, even if he is said to have no interest in leaving the club where he has grown up.

As they build a stadium which may ultimately cost £700 million, Spurs may not be in a position to be expansive in pursuit of the quality Pochettino craves.

But Levy’s wage structure will be less useful if it leads to the loss of Kane which would also send a message which runs contrary to the desire of Pochettino for the squad to improve.

“We are unbeaten in the Premier League, close to the top but to compete in the Champions League was tough,” Pochettino said after the defeat to Monaco. “Maybe next season, if we are in the Champions League, we need to make some changes. After two and a half years, we have reduced the gap at the top of the Premier League but to be competitive in that and the Champions League, we need to show more”.

That would appear to be a banal observation, but it may also point to the problem for Spurs as they prepare for the future.

Paul Mitchell followed Pochettino from Southampton to become head of recruitment at White Hart Lane, but it was announced at the start of the season that he would leave the club, with reports stating that he had found it difficult to work with Levy.

In the summer, Spurs did not add enough quality to last season’s squad. Wanyama has done well, but Vincent Janssen’s appearance in Monte Carlo summed up his contribution so far. It may be that Sissoko’s addition in the final days of the transfer window were an acknowledgment that Levy can be alarmed too.

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 02: Bernd Leno of Bayer Leverkusen helps an injured Vincent Janssen of Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Wembley Stadium on November 2, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

With Everton providing a plane to fly Sissoko to Liverpool, Spurs pulled off the kind of deal that many described as a Levy speciality.

There are some close to the club who believe Sissoko will deliver. He may benefit him from a Pochettino pre-season which would equip him for the demands of the manager.

But the manager demands more than the relentlessness that he is associated with. Pochettino has a vision and Tottenham’s next test will be to help him deliver it.

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