How Tottenham became the club Villa should’ve been

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With just four weeks remaining until the new season kicks off, Aston Villa’s pre-season training began last week amidst the club still navigating turbulent times. The majority of the squad have decamped to Portugal and the sight of Jack Grealish being involved has given hope to some supporters that he may be staying with the club after all. The harsh reality though is that our most saleable asset is simply on borrowed time until a transfer fee is agreed upon with a buyer, which appears likely to be Tottenham Hotspur.

There is a real sense that despite our loss, at least a move to Tottenham would represent a superb opportunity for Grealish. A progressive and well-run club moving in the right direction, with an abundance of young talent and guided by the impressive Mauricio Pochettino. But the most gutting thing of all for me is that Villa could easily have been their position right now.

If ever there was a team similar to Villa, it is Tottenham. In the grand scheme of things, two clubs of very similar stature. Both have large fan bases and are historically littered with trophies. And also plenty of barren years in between the glory.

As a kid, I began seriously watching football just around the time that the Premier League was introduced. For much of that time, Tottenham was an extremely average mid table team. In the first ten years of Premier League football, we finished above them eight times. And we were a particular bogey team for them; Villa lost just 3 of the first 20 meetings between the clubs. We would routinely head to White Hart Lane and return with three points. And it wasn’t until 2003 that Spurs would come and take a maximum haul away from Villa Park.

Things obviously turned around and we know all about Spurs’ recent successes and our catastrophic downturn. Our early dominance in the fixture was completely reversed and up until our departure from the Premier League, we had won just once in our last 17 league meetings. Unsurprisingly, we hadn’t finished above them since 2009.

So, what has been the difference between the two clubs that have seen one grow and be considered genuine title contenders and the other fall into desperate murky depths and be on the brink of an administration?

Villa Park had better potential than WHLVilla seemed to have certain advantages in order to progress. Not least, a bigger stadium, by a not insignificant 6500 seats, giving the potential for bigger revenue from that source at least. With the inclination to fill in the corner sections to increase capacity if needed rather than having to burden the cost of building a new stadium.

For Tottenham? Well, being a London club certainly helps in attracting certain individuals and they have had their fair share of quality players over the years. Even going back to the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann. True international, world-class stars that Villa has never really been able to attract. However, that alone isn’t the reason Spurs have excelled.

The reason for our very different paths can be traced back to 2001 when Alan Sugar sold his majority stake in the club to the ENIC group. As part of this process, Daniel Levy became chairman of the club. Whilst it hasn’t always been plain sailing, the club has generally prospered under his stewardship.

Levy has garnered himself a fearsome reputation. As a boyhood Spurs fan, his business acumen has no doubt been sharpened by a desire to make his club as successful as possible. Sir Alex Ferguson’s displeasure at having to deal with Levy was well known, with the legendary Manchester United manager famously commenting that negotiating a deal for Dimitar Berbatov was more painful than his hip replacement.

As perhaps the toughest negotiator in the English game, the thought of him up against our rabble in securing a deal for Grealish is almost comical. Levy will pull our pants down, slap us on the backside and make us feel grateful for anything sum of money that we receive. And he will probably wait until it’s ‘Levy Time’; right at the end of the transfer window in order to get the cheapest deal possible.

And that exactly highlights the difference between the two clubs. It all stems from the top. And all the while Levy has patiently been learning and building, we have had one incompetent owner after another.

Three owners during Levy's reign at TottenhamSince Levy has been in control at Tottenham, Villa has had three owners. Doug Ellis, although not incompetent to be fair, was in the last stages of his reign and despite keeping the club on the straight and narrow for many years (something we’d kill for now) there was little ambition to really push on. Randy Lerner seemed the perfect antidote to Deadly Doug and initially bankrolled Martin O’Neill’s tenure which ultimately failed in its bid to crack the top 4 and more importantly, was the very beginning for our monetary problems. And of course, Tony Xia’s spend now/think later policy has left us in total jeopardy.

By contrast, Levy has been consistently building bit by bit. Despite several seasons which were still underwhelming, on the whole Spurs have progressed slowly but surely. They currently boast nine consecutive top 6 league finishes which is a fantastic achievement.

As alluded to earlier, signings have been crucial also. Every club signs a flop here and there. Some more than others. Tottenham is no exception. But over the last ten years, in particular, they have also made some excellent signings which have helped propel them to their current level.

Rafael Van Der Vaart joining for £8 million in 2010 was incredibly important at a time when the club was looking to build on a fourth-placed finish. Hugo Lloris coming in for £11 million has been a steal. The foresight to buy and then persevere with Gareth Bale helped the club make a name for themselves in the Champions League as well as raking in a then-record £85 million transfer fee when he moved on to Real Madrid.

And there is a current crop of England internationals such as Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Eric Dier, all signed for peanuts yet developing into outstanding talents. They have also had good fortune in having a certain Harry Kane come through their ranks also.

If we compare our own signings during the same period who really can we hail as really making a difference? Christian Benteke for sure. We had three great years from him and quadrupled our money on him. But that is it. Our signings have been bang average. And at times farcical.

Bacuna thought he could play in the Champions League.We’ve signed so many players for huge fees who have flopped and had no resale value, losing us millions of pounds (McCormack, N’Zogbia, Makoun). We also continuously buy average players who come in and do a job, but never really improve and either hang around for years or shuffle out of the club quietly (Bacuna, Cissokho). In addition, have a penchant for buying players who are even worse than we currently have and become lost in obscurity (Tonev, Luna, Crespo, Helenius). And we also seem to have a knack of allowing players who do show promise to leave for ridiculously low fees (Amavi, Gueye).

The disparity between the spending of the clubs shows just how badly we’ve been mismanaged over the last several years especially. Since that 2008-09 where we last finished above Spurs, our comparative spending paints the true horrific picture.

In each of the three immediate seasons afterwards, we spent more than our North London friends. Yet whilst they secured two top 4 finishes in that time, we somehow managed to work our way down from 6th to 9th to 16th place.

Perhaps most frightening of all for me is the fact that we outspent Tottenham yet again in our first Championship season. Spurs would finish 2nd in the Premier League that year whilst we languished in 13th place in the division below. If that doesn’t tell the whole story, I’m not sure what does.

Benteke is the only player we made a nice profit with.This is a team who have lost key personnel time and time again. Gareth Bale. Luka Modric. Kyle Walker. Dimitar Berbatov. World class talent in their respective positions. Yet instead of being crippled by these losses, they manage to prosper still year on year. As soon as we lose a key player, and we’ll see it again this summer with Grealish’s imminent departure, we simply do not cope. We replace poorly. Gestede for Benteke? Not even close. N’Zogbia for Young? An absolute joke.

We’ve had the opportunities to get to the same level as where Spurs are operating. The clubs were so similar but now seem a million miles apart. Levy has to take much of the credit for the club’s current highs. Whilst some Spurs supporters may bemoan his tight control of wages, as a Villan in our current predicament, it seems like he’s probably doing the right thing imposing a strict structure. I wish we had someone doing the same for our club.

We’ve got the stadium. We’ve got the fanbase. And we’ve had the money. And we wasted pretty much every single penny of it. The opportunity to be a force in English football was always there for us. We couldn’t have screwed it up more if we’d tried. All the best to Super Jack; at least we know he’ll be looked after.

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I'm Alex Othon. I'm 35, a London based Brummie, and a realistic Villa fan. My first game was at Villa Park in 1992 against Crystal Palace. No one was available to take me except my extremely reluctant older sister. We won 3-0, and they had us hooked from that point onwards. Follow me on Twitter @lovespud83 and thanks for reading my articles and leaving any comments.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Feel for you guys. Most of us in North London do. Even Birmingham won a pot (against the arsenal – lovely) we’ll find the best out of Jack and we’ve got a shiny new stadium. Short trip down the M40 you’ll be welcome to come and see how it might of been for you. Hopefully that tight structure and knitted team will help us provide a decent challenge for the money no object city’s and man utds of this world. All the best. Love spurs. Well written btw way

  2. A well done piece , as a tottenham fan i can agree with all and also grew up watching leyton orient and watch as a club was so badly run when it was on the up to put it totally out of the league .
    I wish villa all the best and hope they come through these tough times

  3. Excellent write up from a real fan. I’m a Spurs fan and old enough to remember those days when Villa were a formidable side with Brian Little, Dennis Mortimer and the like in the clubs ranks.
    I hope other Spurs fans read this because, at times, many do not appreciate what we now have, moaning about ‘lost opportunities’ to win the title, not splashing the cash like other sides etc. The club has punched above it’s weight for years and that is thanks to Levy, no doubt. Sure he has made LOADS of mistakes, had the rank and file demanding that he go, christ, he employed Christian Gross……….
    Poch has changed it all, a manager/coach that has transformed us in every way shape and form. It has allowed Levy to concentrate on the new stadium, our new future. I sincerely hope Villa do claw their way out of trouble, always a good club with good supporters, played the game with passion and skill, they belong in the top flight. I think, irrespective of having to sell players, you need a coach who can galvanise and is not scared to bring youth into the squad and onto the pitch. I don’t think Steve Bruce is that coach tbh. Good luck for the new season and, IF we do get to sign Jack, he will become a better player for sure, Poch will see to it.

    • I think the vast majority of Villa fans aren’t convinced by Bruce. The difference in him to someone like Pochettino is chalk and cheese. It’s a big part of the problems we’ve had; too many poor managerial appointments since O’Neill especially. Bruce isn’t the worst to have in our situation, but it always seems that we go for the ‘safe’ option but it still doesn’t work for us.

  4. I lied, it was Alan Sugar who took Gross on………..anyway, you get the idea, Levy did go through some managers….

  5. Great article: perhaps a little too generous towards Levy who always knows the cost of things but not always their value. As a Spurs supporter who regularly went to the fixture at Villa Park, the prem league needs you back. The supporters deserve top tier footy.

  6. A fascinating read from a Spurs fan perspective (ST holder).

    On balance i am pro Levy but with the caveat that there have been numerous mistakes since2001 in terms of managerial appointments & purchases (& non purchases).

    I still don’t understand how we are financing the new stadium but I am very grateful for it despite the prices (more expensive than the Emirates).

    I look forward to reading the feedback your article receives, both the # LevyOut brigade and the “we have never had it so good” tribe.

    If you add Everton to the debate i think that adds yet another dimension.

    • Yep, Everton can definitely be thrown into the mix also. As for Levy, he certainly hasn’t got it right all of the time, but he’s been ruthless enough to cut the cord when it’s going wrong and seemingly improve with his subsequent choices (by and large) and learn from mistakes. We have made the same mistakes over and over.

  7. Recent articles I’ve read from Villa fans has been refreshing and I have to say full of class particularly where Grealish is concerned. The position your club finds itself in has got to be extremely painful for the ones who suffer and feel it most, the fans. Not so long ago, Spurs were in a very similar position so we know precisely how you Villans are feeling right now and I hope your club gets itself out of this nightmare predicament swiftly. The only disagreement I have with you’re article Alex is this. You most certainly haven’t got a bigger stadium than Spurs, the new stadium currently under construction replacing the old White Hart Lane, will house 62,065 fans at an estimated cost of £850m. Personally I can’t wait to take my seat at our new state of the art stadium to watch our stars perform and hopefully in the not too distant future, welcome the Villa to our place. Historically, you’re club will not be out of place.

    • Oh yeah, I meant capacity at White Hart Lane! Your new stadium looks incredible, hopefully you guys settle into it pretty quickly

  8. As a Spurs fan I must say that was a very nice article. Luck plays a part in all things but Levy has done a great job at Spurs and with Pochettino at the helm in terms of recruitment and on-field strategy we are in a good position, despite not being able to spend like the Manchester clubs. I’m not certain myself that Grealish will come to Tottenham but if he does I’m sure he’ll have a great time – though he’ll have to work hard. I was sad that Villa didn’t managed to return to the PL but hopefully next season you will.

  9. Alex: I am a Tottenham supporter and its the first time I have seen any supporter written an honest article about their team and another team. I read your article and could not agree with you more Mr. Levy to some may not be what they want, but I can remember the day when Tottenham would go out and spend money on below average players paying them lots and getting no where in the league or other trophy. I thank Lord Sugar for intervening when he did that saved Tottenham from extinction. I am looking forward to the coming season to see if we can go to the next level.
    I hope your beloved Villa return to the top flight soon, yes they gave us a few pastings over the early years and just to show you how long I have been around I remember a game at White Heart Lane that finished 5 – 5 with Tony Hatley of Villa scoring 4 against our then (useless) centre half Laurie Brown. we sold him to Arsenal.

    • 5-5 sounds like a great game, if this was Hateley era then Greavsey must’ve been involved also maybe?
      I try and write objectively about us, it’s not always easy but we have to be honest about our place in football’s hierarchy right now and I’ve no problem admiring a club like Spurs. Have done things the right way and fully deserve the good times you’re enjoying right now. Hope it lasts.

  10. Absolutely spot on! Have always seen Spurs and Everton as our peers. Not any more due to these and previous clowns!

  11. tbf,Levy is due a lot of credit for how Spurs have progressed,but to leave out the fact that Alan Sugar saved this club from ruin is doing him a disservice,that apart really enjoyed the read,gutted you didn’t get up (mostly for selfish reasons admittedly,thought we might grab Sessegnon if Fulham stayed down) best of luck next season !

  12. I am a confirmed Spurs supporter since 1960 and your comments about Spurs are much appreciated. You’re right about the club but there are some details missing which should flesh out your analysis. I detected a change in attitude of the board when the decision to build the academy/training facility at a cost of nearly £50 million was greeted with total dismay by a very large number of fans who demanded that the money be spent on buying the latest “flavour of the month” player. That academy has produced Bale, Kane, Winks from schoolboys and improved Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose who came in very young with no first team experience and as you say “for peanuts”. There are more to graduate from there soon.
    I’ve had a soft spot for Villa ever since they won the European Cup and look aghast at your present predicament, which could so easily also have happened to Spurs. Your club has become a “rich man’s toy” rather like a trophy wife.
    I should also mention that Spurs majority shareholder is Joe Lewis, a billionaire who has, like Levy, been a Spud since forever. All Villains know who the club owner is because he regards it as a trophy. I doubt if more than 20% of Spurs fans would recognise Joe Lewis if he walked past them at White Hart Lane … or whatever the new stadium is to be called.
    Oh! I nearly forgot my manners. Thanks for making Kyle Walker into a good footballer; when he returned to us he became a very good footballer. But then, we had a training facility to do that and we (finally) employed a manager who understood the project and could make it work. Villa made Walker good, Pochetino made him great. He’ll do the same for Grealish.

    • Walker looked class for that short time we had him, even back then. You’re right though, Pochettino is a great manager for Grealish to be working with, it’s very much a silver lining for Villa fans that he isn’t going to a Chelsea or Man City to barely get any game time. Spurs are a good fit for him.
      And you’re exactly right about being a rich man’s toy. Our previous owner Randy Lerner got bored quickly enough and whilst maybe our current owner maybe had genuine ambition for us, he wasn’t clued up enough to run a football club.

  13. Excellent article, and so true. Spurs fan here and I really pity the Villa fans given how badly the club have been run. Great club and I hope to see ye back where ye belong in the top 6 soon.

  14. Really sorry for your position right now. I’ve always had a soft spot for Villa since the ’82 Charity Shield. I took my eldest, a six year old, to the game as it was the last chance to see our Spurs boys before we left for Australia. I must confess that in the move I completely forgot to send off copies of photos I took of my boy in his gear with aVilla fella’s girl in her gear. A regret. A Canadian Villain tried the photos on all your sites possible but no joy. All the best for Villa’s future and swift return to the Prem
    Regards, Barry Piggott

    • Sorry to hear there was no joy with the photos, still good memories though I’m sure! All the best Barry.

  15. Hi Alex

    I’m a Tottenham fan and season ticket-holder and am in my 70th year. I read your article with interest as I hate to see famous old English clubs languishing in the lower leagues – we need you to be competitive again for England’s sake also. I’d like to fill-in a bit of information for you if I may.

    In 1981 Spurs opened the new West Stand replacing the famous old wooden structure. This was heavily weighted towards corporate fans introducing ‘boxes’ which provided huge revenues. Our then 36,000 capacity provided more income than Manchester United’s then 44,000 capacity. This was under the stewardship of one Irving Scholar, a businessman with forward looking ideas which were not always popular. He had true vision of what football would become – with one fatal flaw – he didn’t have the ability to match. At one point Southampton and one or two other other clubs HAD to buy their shirts through Tottenham as part of a deal Scholar negotiated. However this and other schemes fell by the wayside as a badly mis-managed Tottenham Hotspur entered financial difficulties as the club won its last FA Cup in 1991 the final where Gazza imploded. We then had to sell him, and Chris Waddle to stave-off bankruptcy. Alan Sugar, who had no real interest in football, bought -out the club and saved it financially. His businessman’s attitudes did not go down well with fans or players and he eventually lost heart and sold out to ENIC as you rightfully observed. As Spurs struggled they lost a brilliant marketing guy to Manchester United who oversaw flogging millions of shirts etc to the far east and making the most of ManU’s 25 years of now Premier League dominance, leaving the once level Spurs way way behind in terms of development and income. So we’ve had a lot of catching up to do as you so accurately outlined. We have always punched below our weight in terms of league performance but we are getting there. The new stadium is incredible and should help us be able to stem the losses of ambitious players who we previously couldn’t keep. The one thing we managed by the skin of our teeth was to keep Premier League status.

    I honestly wish the Villa well but fear it is a long way back.

    • Thanks for this info Frank, really insightful. Just underlines how fine the margins are, perhaps if Scholar had executed his ideas in a more sustainable way, Spurs could’ve been ahead of the game back then. As you say though, the slip-ups are costly and you’re right, it is a long way back. Spurs were fortunate to keep their head above water at least and avoid relegation, and have been able to wade through the bad times at least. We’re sinking and the financial aspects of dropping down a division these days are more biting than ever before.

  16. I would commend you on an excellent analysis with one exception. If you consider the prices Spurs have been charging for tickets, to underpin their financial model, whilst the Villa was proudly driving down the prices of season tickets to the extent of having some of the lowest prices in the Premier League. We Villa fans need to pay more and be realistic about ticket prices if our club is not generating other revenues.

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