Pochettino, Levy and Spurs : Building A Legacy

Image courtesy fmh.kr

Or why Mauricio Pochettino won’t be leaving Spurs for Chelsea, Man United or any other team for at least two years—and possibly much longer…

This is a story about legacy. Some understand it, some don’t. Building a personal brand isn’t about legacy. Legacy is about something bigger than self. It long outlasts the individual and does so by design.

It’s questionable whether Roman Abramovitch understands legacy. José Mourinho surely wanted to build one at Chelsea, but look how that turned out. Arsene Wenger has seemingly created one at Arsenal, with eighteen unbroken years in the Champions League. Yet its questionable whether it’s a legacy that others, including a large section of the fan-base, have really brought into. Bill Shankly was the archetypal legacy-builder, at Liverpool FC. Alex Ferguson certainly understood the principle. By wrapping himself in the cloak of Manchester United’s long-standing legacy, his own prosperity and that of the club became inseparable.

Another man who evidently understands the power of legacy is Tottenham Hotspur FC Chairman, Daniel Levy. So too billionaire, Joe Lewis, who stands squarely, if somewhat invisibly, behind Levy and Spurs. So what kind of legacy is being created at Spurs? To understand the answer requires looking beyond the typical clichés that dominate football and the ubiquitous insistence upon rapid results. A comparison with one of Spurs’ closest rivals will serve to open the discussion.

During the last decade, Tottenham and Chelsea have both hired and fired numerous managers. Yet there the similarity effectively ends. Chelsea’s managerial merry-go-round during this period has resulted in numerous trophies. By comparison, Spurs rotation has resulted in just one, in 2008, as well as a seemingly perpetual rank just outside the Premiership’s coveted top-four, “Champions League” places. So near, yet so far. So what’s going on? It’s simpler than it appears. Whilst Chelsea have gratefully employed Abrahamovitch’s millions to purchase instant success, Levy has been slowly and steadily building a legacy at Tottenham. And for much of the last decade since buying out the last of Alan Sugar’s stake in the club, Daniel Levy been on the lookout for a manager who could co-found that legacy with him. In Mauricio Pochettino, he’s believes he’s found his man.

Close observers of the club are seeing more and more signs. Warm words and relaxed body language repeatedly suggest a good relationship and growing respect between the two men. To almost universal surprise they turned up together, in 2015, to a Supporters Trust meeting, in order to explain latest aspects of the forthcoming Northumberland Development. There is an increasing, albeit quiet confidence surrounding the club’s entire range of activities. Pochettino has been able to establish a back-room staff led by a number of highly-esteemed individuals—including one who recently turned down a gilt-edged opportunity to move to Manchester United. Who would have predicted that just two or three years ago?

It’s true that Pochettino didn’t stay that long at his last club, Southampton. Yet Spurs are a much bigger club. And above all, Pochettino understands the importance of legacy. What he, Levy and Lewis are creating arguably represents one of the most exciting projects in world football. Don’t believe me? Here’s three reasons why it is not an extravagant claim.

1. The legacy of infrastructure

The Northumberland Development of Tottenham Hotspur FC will transform Spurs from a second-tier to a first-tier Premier League club.

Gate receipts will nearly double, with a total capacity 61,000—making it the largest ground capacity in the world’s premier city, London. Naming rights will top-up the income. Growing fan bases, particularly in Asia and America, are set to continue spiralling. Potentially breaking into the top three or four places of the Premier will make Champions League football a regular occurrence and begin to financially repay the massive investment now taking place in the club.

Yet the effect of the Northumberland Development doesn’t extend merely to larger crowds—even if it will create the largest single-tier stand of home supporters in the UK (17,000). The project also incorporates a supermarket, a hotel, residential apartments and homes, a medical centre, the Tottenham University Technical College, public spaces, a sky-walk experience, preservation of listed buildings on the High Road and a museum of the club’s history. And perhaps the most extraordinary innovation of the stadium complex: a traditional, grassed football pitch that can be retracted and exchanged, in a swift, mechanised movement, with a synthetic pitch suitable for NFL games. A franchise for at leat two NFL games per year is already in place for a whole decade to come.

Even so, in certain ways, the Northumberland Project is not the most foundational element of legacy being created at Tottenham Hotspur. It is arguably the “icing” on Spurs footballing “cake.” The ingredients of the cake are actually being formed about 7 miles away, at the 77-acre state-of-the-art Training Centre that is already built, already functioning and already starting to turn footballing heads around the world. What’s so great about it? You’d need to ask manager’s and players to truly understand why it is causing a stir and making such a significant difference, but the covered artificial pitch, world-class player preparation areas, pool and hydrotherapy complex, altitude room, large-scale gymnasium and specialist sports rehabilitation suites are some of the reasons why it is now frequently talked about as one of the best footballing centres in the world.

2. Youth

Pochettino deeply understands the value of youth.

The Training Centre and the underlying youth development philosophy that brought it into being represents one of the major reasons why Mauricio Pochettino identified the potential for a fruitful outcome to his Spurs tenure. One of the reasons why he negotiated a five-year contract. And one of the reasons why Daniel Levy agreed. It wasn’t about making it hard to sack him prematurely, as happened to most of his predecessors. It was because both men saw the potential for something extraordinary to take place and were prepared to commit to making it happen.

Youth development begins with the excellence of the Spurs Academy and finds fulfilment in Pochettino’s commitment to using young players. The fact that the Training Centre houses both the First Team and the Spurs Academy provides a powerful metaphor for the cohesive link between the two. It’s this that has allowed the current Spurs squad to repeatedly set the record for fielding a youngest-ever Premiership team, during the 2015–16 season.

Pochettino employs the enthusiasm and vitality of youth to create a physically intense method of play known as the “high press.” It relies upon an entire team of very fit individuals. As well as being the youngest, Pochettino’s teams—and the recognised leaders amongst his teams, such as Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane—regularly run further than other league sides and players. And they generally keep running right up to the end of the match, while others sides visibly tire. To make this work, his players train hard, twice a day, several times a week. Some commentators claim the system can’t work over a season. It will be too detrimental to individual fitness. Yet Spurs fitness record is practically second to none. Very few players have retired injured so far this season. Compare that to Premier rivals and close neighbours Arsenal, where numerous first-team players have been absent through injury throughout the season.

Pochettino’s commitment to youth was first noticed at Southampton. There he brought a team of mid-table also-rans to one in which half were being regularly selected for England. In fact, around half of the last eighteen capped England players have been managed by Pochettino at the time of their first cap: Callum Chambers, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez, Ricky Lambert, Ryan Mason, Eric Dier, Delli Alli and, of course, Harry Kane. An impressive list. Most of these players were not simply uncapped before Pochettino got hold of them. Some of them hadn’t even played Premiership football. It’s not going too far to suggest there’s a sense of footballing alchemy to the man and those who work closely with him in selecting and then honing young players.

Add to this the fact that Spurs U-21 side is currently competing with Sunderland and Manchester United for the U-21 Premiership and the future looks bright down at North London. Very bright. Which brings us to the final element of the Spurs legacy being put into place.

3. Glory

Audere est Facere. “To dare is to do.”

The Spurs motto and club philosophy.

Another interpretation of the club’s historically adventurous philosophy is currently writ large across the White Hart Lane stadium, Spurs home for the last 116 years. It reads: “THE GAME IS ABOUT GLORY.”

What does this mean? It means that the so-called “beautiful game” is something that calls to its fans, its followers and its actors—the players, managers and staff that make the footballing enterprise tick. That the game represents something greater than the profit and loss by which any and all businesses inevitably rise and fall. Hence, Bill Shankly’s famous words.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

During the difficult decade or so before Pochetinno joined Spurs, when Daniel Levy found himself hiring and firing, on average, a manager a year, some fans began to question whether Levy was actually “a footballing man.” Did Levy really understand football? At least in the kind of way Bill Shankly did? And did they understand Spurs’ history and the expectations of Spurs supporters the way another Bill—Bill Nicholson, the Spurs legend—understood them? Or were Levy and Joe Lewis merely property moguls at work, preparing to sell a footballing icon and its accoutrements to the highest bidder? When American investors began to circle around the club a few years back, the answer seemed inevitable and the lack of recent trophies in the club’s cabinet backed up a growing unease amongst true-blue fans.

It’s possible to argue that the jury is still out. Once the Northumberland Project is completed, particularly with the NFL franchise in place, it’s possible that the club will be worth in excess of a billion pounds and anything could happen if rich investors are determined to take an interest. But to suggest that this is the end-goal for Levy is to miss the obvious.

Tottenham are a club built on certain values. The fans instinctively know this. It’s why we continue to love Spurs even whilst the winning of trophies has been rare during the last quarter-century. We love the traditions embodied in the club and its history:

  • first—and only—non-league side to win the FA Cup (1901);
  • first team to win the FA Cup and League Double(1961);
  • first club to win a European trophy (1963, European Cup Winners’ Cup);
  • first English club to win two trophies in Europe (EUFA 1970, 71);
  • association with some of the most sublime, audacious, efficient, entertaining and simply great footballers to have graced the English game, including Jimmy Greaves, Danny Blanchflower, Martin Chivers, Pat Jennings, Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles, Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne, David Genola, Chris Waddle, Teddy Sheringham, Jurgen Klinsman, Robbie Keane, Rafael Van de Vart, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale…

I believe Levy does understand and shares these values. Yes, he’s a property man and an arch-negotiator, who evidently gets a thrill from high-value wheeling-and-dealing. But I sense he also appreciates what Tottenham Hotspur stands for. Its an icon of North London. It’s part of the history and fabric of the city of London. It’s a club with a rich footballing history of its own. And, thanks to his leadership, it’s a club laying the foundation for a future of further footballing “glory.”

Six weeks ago, if I were a betting man, I would have put a tenner on Spurs for the Premiership. There was a turning point when I sensed it really could happen this year—rather than in the two to three years most Spurs fans would have previously said represented our highest hopes. Even so that outlay would simply have been a punt. Six months ago, just before a final CPO was upheld in a court of law, paving the way for the Northumberland Project, had I been an investor, I would have put at least a grand into shares in Tottenham Hotspur FC. I’m fairly sure that would have represented less of a gamble than the tenner.

To revisit the last time Spurs won the FA Cup, it’s necessary to go back 25 years, to when Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne graced the side that won the 1991 Cup. You have to go back a further ten years to encounter the last time a side consistently won trophies, when the mercurial Glenn Hoddle was the team’s pivotal player. Fast-forwarding the same length of time from today, were such a thing possible, would I suspect reveal a quite different story. The enduring infrastructure, investment in youth and an eye for the glory of the game—the legacy currently being put into place by Levy, Lewis and Pochettino—seems destined to transform Tottenham Hotspur FC into one of the world’s elite football clubs—with an appropriate range of trophies to prove it.

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