Daniel Levy was a director at Rangers before arriving at Tottenham in 2001, replacing Lord Alan Sugar
On March 11, 2001, two days after his appointment as chairman of Tottenham, a very rare interview with Daniel Levy was published in the Sunday Business.
As he prepares to celebrate 20 years as the head of one of England’s biggest clubs – underscoring his status as by far the longest-serving chairman of the Premier League – it’s remarkable how relevant Levy’s words remain.
He contrasted White Hart Lane with the home of the Glasgow Rangers, where he had not been executive director. You can “smell history” in Ibrox, Levy explained, while pointing out that some corridors in Tottenham “felt like a prison” because they were unpainted and bare.
Levy wouldn’t tell then manager George Graham who to choose, he insisted, but he would be interested in how Tottenham developed youngsters. And while, as a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder, he knew full well that fans wanted Tottenham to be “at the top of the league”, he also warned that there must be a balance between shareholders who want profit and fans who want success on that place”. “Sometimes,” he said, “the two don’t belong together.”
Given the two clear achievements of Levy’s tenure, Tottenham’s great new stadium and training ground can be compared to the best in the world, while the issues he is most criticized for are player-side investment and the lack of trophies couldn’t have been more appropriate.
When talking to people who know Levy well, some important details come up. First, he’s passionate about Tottenham; the club, the fans and the area. Second, he is aware of the financial responsibility that goes into running Spurs.
Sometimes this has the unintended ability to generate negative publicity. After three years of negotiations, Premier League clubs unanimously voted in February 2019 to limit ticket prices to £ 30. The vote was almost 19-1. Levy was the dissident. He felt there was a better way to endorse his club’s travel sponsorship – which would have cost Tottenham more than the policy passed. When it was suggested that his rationale would likely be lost amid general outcry that he had defied the cap, Levy relented.
The same was true of Tottenham’s controversial decision to send non-gambling employees on vacation at the start of the pandemic. The reality is that Levy runs a self-contained business. He believed that using government support was the best way to protect Tottenham and the people who work for it.
The outside world sees Tottenham as a Premier League club that pays its players massive salaries and is owned by billionaire tax exile Joe Lewis. Levy was told the move was going to look awful. After two weeks the decision was reversed.
Despite appearances, his only motivation was to do the best for Tottenham.
Former coach David Pleat, who was football director when Levy became chairman and still has strong ties with the club, was impressed with his first meeting.
“I met Daniel in the Warner Bros offices on Regent Street,” Pleat told BBC Sport. “He moved quickly to sort out the staff who were snaking and taking advantage of the club’s position in football.
“He had an understanding of Tottenham’s motto ‘audere est facere’ – ‘to dare is to be done’. When he had to make changes in management, he did so quickly and effectively, always feeling when there was a downward curve and responding quickly.”
Levy himself remembered the brutal way he replaced Juande Ramos with Harry Redknapp in October 2008. “I made up my mind on Friday morning,” he mused. “Everything was done on Saturday evening.” Likewise, Jose Mourinho was confirmed as boss the day after Mauricio Pochettino was fired. Levy has described the decision to fire Pochettino as the toughest one he has ever faced.
The speed with which Levy acted matches his reputation as a staunch negotiator.
Spurs moved from White Hart Lane to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2019
Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson described dealing with him as “more painful than my hip replacement”. Colleagues have described how they like the “tournament” of dealing with Levy. Others speak heartily of the respect they show him, that although he is a tough businessman, he is also fair and honest.
Former Tottenham midfielder Jermaine Jenas provided a fascinating glimpse into how Levy can be both friend and foe.
“When I came to Spurs [from Newcastle in 2005] I wasn’t as happy as I thought, “he said.
“I didn’t play well and the system didn’t suit me. But after six months Levy said he wanted to offer me two more years of better money. I thought it was a fresh start so I said ‘let’s do it’.
“Then we had this game against West Brom. I didn’t play well and switched to right-back. I said I have to go. I called my agent and said ‘I don’t want Daniel’s deal’. Levy came down He wasn’t good He said, “Are you a man of your word or not?” Then I saw his convincing side, because we both calmed down, had a good chat and he convinced me to sign. “
Levy never made a conscious effort to resist the harsh image, presumably because it can be used to his advantage.
But it has much more to offer.
Former Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore often used Levy as a sounding board, partly because he was well connected and turned on, but also because he could be trusted not to divulge the information.
By nature, it is more comfortable for him to chat with smaller groups than to stand for public consumption, which is why interviews with him are so rare.
“I’ve always found Daniel intelligent, calm, and considerate,” said Pleat. “He never shouted his mouth in public. He never criticized management or supporters. He played a very important and important role in knowing when to speak and when to let things go.”
One can only imagine the amount of time and stress that went into building Tottenham’s training ground, which opened in 2012, and the awesome £ 1.2 billion stadium, as Levy has been described as both a true visionary and a control freak, a man who works 24/7.
None of these central elements in Tottenham history happened by chance.
Pleat considers the training center to be Levy’s greatest legacy. It was built so that parents could plan their child’s progress as they walk through the building. The club sees this as an important asset in convincing young people to join them.
There’s the famous story of Levy attending the grand opening of the Football Association’s St. George’s Park training facility in the Midlands. Levy was there, he said quietly, wanting to see if it was better than his own. He quickly decided it wasn’t.
Club insiders refer to the stadium as a “game changer”. It is unique that the two most popular sports leagues in the world – the Premier League and the NFL – have contracts to play games there.
It’s a status symbol – Levy pushed for the extra seats that make it the largest club space in London – and when conditions allow it becomes a money cow. It has already helped Tottenham earn the highest matchday income in the Premier League.
Levy believes this will be transformative for both the club and the region, although the short-term financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic – it will cost the club around £ 150 million this season – will delay the effects.
There is no doubt that what has been termed “long-term travel” has been positive overall. After failing to score a single Top 6 result in the ten decades prior to Levy’s arrival, Tottenham have done so 13 times in the two decades since then.
The glaring problem is the lack of cutlery since the 2008 League Cup, the only trophy they won during Levy’s time at the helm.
He wants it to happen – ideally when Tottenham plays Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on April 25th.
He knows there are no guarantees then or in the future, but with no outside funding, he has put in place all the components necessary for Tottenham to succeed.
“Daniel is under a lot of pressure, but what he can do is just great,” said Jenas.
“They’re not going away. They aren’t building this to make it go away. There’s no doubt they need trophies, but would you get Mourinho if you didn’t have this stadium? Would you be connected to Julian Nagelsmann, one.” the most aspiring manager in Europe?
“Tottenham is considered the top club in Europe.”