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From Rivaldo to Moutinho: How Daniel Levy Redefined Tottenham’s Transfer Policy

A closer look at the shrewd operator holding onto the White Hart Lane purse-strings.

As Daniel Levy reflected on criticism of his failure to sign Joao Moutinho, his thoughts might have turned to a letter from one Rivaldo Vítor Borba Ferreira and the birth of a transfer policy that has rivalled Harry Redknapp for its contribution to the interviews-through-a-car-window industry.

In the summer of 2002, fresh from winning the World Cup and a free agent after his release from Barcelona, Rivaldo was one of the hottest transfer targets in the European game. AC Milan (his eventual employers) and a host of elite clubs jostled for the services of a player that, just a season beforehand, had almost single-handedly guided Barcelona to the Champions League.

At the time, news of an approach from Spurs, who had limped to ninth position the previous season’s Premier League, would have been greeted with the kind of incredulity more commonly reserved for a Michael Owen tweet. But undeterred, Levy jetted to Spain in an attempt to convince the Brazilian that playing alongside Goran Bunjevcevic was preferable to partnering Filippo Inzaghi.

According to the then Spurs manager Glenn Hoddle, the Brazilian was impressed with Levy’s efforts (or at least his sheer gumption). In fact, he was so taken aback that he decided to pen a ‘Dear Daniel’ letter of rejection, which Hoddle proudly referenced before a baying media pack.

Widespread ridicule inevitably followed and whilst this is a far from uncommon position for Tottenham’s hierarchy to find themselves in, it’s not often that the a senior player lends his voice to the criticism. But this excruciating PR gaff marked a turning point in Levy’s transfer policy that would keep Sky Sports News cameras busy for the next decade.

From the end of the 2002/03 season until at least the 2008/2009 campaign (and arguably beyond), he employed a distinct strategy based on three key principles. First and foremost, the long-term economic value of transfer targets became all-important. Whimsical pursuits of world-class, but ageing and expensive, Brazilians were put to bed and attention switched to recruiting cheap, potentially unproven youngsters who, even if unsuccessful, would lower the wage bill and stand a greater chance of preserving their resale value.

The signings of Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon and, to some extent, Michael Carrick provide a good example of Levy’s policy in action. In total, Spurs spent in the region of £5m on three players who not only contributed to the team’s top four challenge in 2006 and (in the case of Huddlestone and Lennon) 2010 and 2011, but who (in the shape of Carrick’s sale) have already returned a profit of around £13m to the club. Huddlestone and Lennon, 19 and 18 at the time of their moves to White Hart Lane, were both signed with only a handful of Premier League appearances to their name but could reasonably expect to collectively fetch £20m if sold.

This pragmatic approach would have carried a substantial risk of undermining Tottenham’s efforts to compete in the Premier League had Levy simply restricted spending. But Levy exploited the lower fees involved in his more youthful recruitment drive to employ the second instrument of his revised transfer model: bulk-buying. Between 2005 and 2009, Tottenham signed 46 players, with only four of those recruited over the age of 30 at the time of their arrival.

The specific emphasis on the age and volume of recruits was initially underpinned by a high turnover of players, the last element of the Spurs chairman’s policy. In 2005 and 2006, the net spend on the 22 signings made by Levy totalled around £13m, due in no small part to the 10 players sold during that period. In 2004, 15 departures were announced during the course of the campaign.

Whilst this may sound like manna-from-heaven to Sky Sports News producers, Tottenham’s reputation for deadline day antics has only been forged over the past couple of seasons, during which time Levy’s policy has undergone a distinct evolution.

Undoubtedly influenced by the club’s genuine and increasingly regular challenge for Champions League football, the former Cambridge graduate has operated a smaller scale, more targeted transfer model since the start of the 2009/10 season. Indeed, before this summer, Levy has signed only 10 first-team players during the previous two seasons. Notably, 50% of the newcomers were over the age of 30 and snatched from Premier League clubs, reflecting the Spurs chairman’s begrudging acceptance that maintaining a position near the top of the table sometimes requires investment in seasoned professionals.

But Levy has not sacrificed the prudence that underpinned his transfer policy from 2002 onwards and this resolve is what has helped to generate MBM coverage of transfer deadline day and Jim White drinking game. In order to pay knockdown prices for sought-after players, Spurs strengthen their negotiating position by waiting until the last possible moment before agreeing a price for a particular player. It’s a game that many Premier League clubs play, but perhaps none with quite the zeal possessed by Levy (as Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas would testify).

Playing off the seller’s increasing desperation for a deal has its drawbacks and it’s tempting to wonder if the money shaved off Scott Parker’s transfer fee last season would have been better spent on securing the midfielder’s services before the start of the season. His presence during the opening two games of the season may well have helped Spurs secure the solitary point they eventually required for automatic Champions League qualification.

However, with UEFA’s impending financial fair play rules a growing concern for topflight teams (despite the funding provided by the Premier League’s new TV rights package), any chairman able to generate a £30m net profit on transfers whilst in charge of a top-four club seems like a fairly shrewd operator. One thing is for sure: the days of ‘Dear Daniel’ letters are over.

Follow John Nassoori on Twitter @johnnassoori


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