When Daniel Levy fielded questions in the debating chamber of the Cambridge Union last month, it was put to him that Tottenham’s decline started with the book published by Mauricio Pochettino in late 2017.
It was called Brave New World and subtitled Inside Pochettino’s Spurs, entwining details from the previous campaign, when finishing runners-up behind Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, with the Argentine’s personal journey from the backwater of Murphy in Santa Fe to north London.
Levy did not concede it was the source of all ills, but did not appear to have been firmly behind the project. ‘It was his choice to do it,’ he said. ‘Some people said it was a good thing, some people said it was a bad thing. It was his choice and we clearly didn’t stop him.’
Maybe this was the moment when Pochettino took his eye off the ball. Revealing secrets while in situ rarely pans out well because it usually comes with a whiff of believing your own hype and is sure to influence the elusive balance managers spend years trying to capture.
Although the same could be said for others. Perhaps Levy swallowed his own hype after delivering the fantastic Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, overhauling Arsenal to clinch Champions League football, flirting with investors in the USA and inviting Amazon behind the scenes for a documentary series.
Some of the players believed it, too. Conte, who branded them ‘selfish’ and incapable of performing well under pressure, would certainly say so.
Chairman Daniel Levy is responsible for the struggles Tottenham have endured in recent years
Tottenham have wasted significant amounts of money on players such as Tanguy Ndombele
Whatever Spurs had perfectly in tune for a couple of years was lost and allowed to slide.
The Champions League final in 2019 is deceptive. With hindsight, the team was already a fading force and has declined steadily since.
Sunday’s 6-1 capitulation at Newcastle is merely the latest manifestation, albeit an embarrassing extreme at a delicate time when Levy appears to have resisted the temptation to bring back Pochettino, arguably the only managerial candidate capable of placating an angry fanbase sure to get angrier if he turns up at Chelsea and starts knocking their sorry mess back into shape.
All of which leaves Levy firmly under the pump. He can take credit for the good things he has achieved in 23 years at the helm, but with it comes the blame for this sequence of poor managerial appointments, poor football strategy decisions and poor recruitment that have brought progress to a grinding halt.
The team of 2016-17 that finished second in the Premier League with 86 points, and lost only four of 38 games, had a blend of experience and homegrown talent.
Millions have since been wasted on overrated players, some of whom were jettisoned almost as soon as they arrived.
Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Bryan Gil and Sergio Reguilon, who cost about £150million, are all on loan with little prospect of returning.
Last summer they spent £20m on Djed Spence, a wing-back from Middlesbrough who Conte did not want and did not use. In January he sent him on loan to Rennes and struck a £45m deal for Pedro Porro, a wing-back from Sporting who looks unable to defend.
Tottenham spent £20m on wing-back Djed Spence, a player Antonio Conte didn’t want
It appears as though Levy (right) will resist the opportunity to bring back Mauricio Pochettino
You cannot get them all right, but who is driving this churn of recruitment? Assorted chief scouts and sporting director types? The head coaches and managers? Favourite agents? Do they take it in turns? You pick one then I will pick one, because sometimes it looks as though they might. Whoever it is, the responsibility rests with Levy.
It is his club and he should have worked out by now what he means when he talks of Tottenham’s DNA.
You would think he imagines attractive football with energetic players from the academy system. That is the best of Tottenham.
His last three appointments, however, Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and Conte, make it look as if he has muddled these principles with a desperate craving for instant success, be that in the form of Champions League football or a domestic trophy.
Or perhaps they were to convince Harry Kane, the last jewel in the crown, that Tottenham can match his ambition.
Spurs’ hopes of Champions League qualification suffered a blow with a 6-1 loss to Newcastle
Mourinho reached the League Cup final in 2021 only to be sacked days before. Conte led them back to the Champions League, and may have done it again had this not been such a difficult season for him on a personal level.
But the last four years have served mainly to remind Tottenham fans that they prefer football played with flair.
If they are not going to win anything, and it’s going to be difficult when almost everything is won by Manchester City, they might as well have fun trying.
This, Levy must amend with his next appointment. His margin for error is gone if he is to let Pochettino join Chelsea as this post-Conte period unfolds in the same listless fashion of the post-Mourinho period.
In 2021 Ryan Mason assumed interim control and results were hot and cold as the search for the next manager lurched through a series of rejections and came back to Nuno, considered and then dismissed at the very start of the process.
With 62 points, Spurs finished seventh, qualifying for the Europa Conference League and fans turned on Levy in protest.
The Antonio Conte era didn’t work out as hoped and there are now further struggles to face
The main argument for retaining Conte’s trusted assistant Cristian Stellini was to spare Mason, highly regarded within the club, from the ignominy of a repeat.
There were 10 games remaining when Conte left after his astonishing outburst at Southampton and they took just four points from four games under Stellini before his sacking on Monday.
The Italian’s most notable change was to give players the occasional day off. Training and other routines remained identical, no real surprise from a coach so closely allied to Conte operating with the same players.
Scope for drastic tactical change is limited but, at Newcastle, maybe against his better judgment, he abandoned the familiar 3-4-3 shape in favour of a back four, conceded five goals inside 21 minutes and changed back again.
The problems on Tyneside were not limited to the formation. Porro does not look equipped to play right back in a four, but his loan will become a five-year permanent contract in the summer.
It is one of a number of issues the man who replaces Stellini must solve, fast.
The mistakes that have defined the six years since Tottenham’s high watermark of the Levy era, in 2017, are still being made and, for whatever reason, Pochettino is not about to be invited back to recreate the magic.
So much for Tottenham’s brave new world.
Pedro Porro’s struggles are another example of Tottenham’s difficulties with recruitment
Interim boss Cristian Stellini has been axed, leading Tottenham to turn to Ryan Mason again
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Sports Event Casino Handicap Description
|PK||0||It means not giving in to each other, and winning 1 point wins all.|
|0-50||0/0.5||Indicates that when the handicap team is tied with the transferee team, the team betting on the handicap loses 50%.|
|0 loss||0.5||Indicates that when the handicap team is tied with the transferee team, the team betting on the handicap loses.|
|1+50||0.5/1||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap wins 50% and wins all 2 points.|
|1 level||1||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the two teams will tie and win by 2 points.|
|1-50||1/1.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 2 points.|
|1 loss||1.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 1 point, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins by 2 points.|
|2+50||1.5/2||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap wins 50% and wins all 3 points.|
|2 flat||2||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the two teams will tie and win all 3 points.|
|2 losses||2/2.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 3 points.|
|3+50||2.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 2 points, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins all 3 points.|
|3 losses||2.5/3||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap wins 50%, and all 4 points win.|
|3 levels||3||Indicates that when the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the two teams will tie and win all 4 points.|
|3-50||3/3.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap loses 50% and wins all 4 points.|
|3 losses||3.5||When the handicap team wins the handicap team by 3 points, the team betting on the handicap loses all and wins all 4 points.|
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