“Clubs big or small,” the chairman warned in March, “may struggle to exist” after the pandemic.
For Spurs, the timing of the shutdown could hardly have been worse. The club’s £1.2billion stadium was built to propel them into the stratosphere of super-clubs but overnight it became an expensive white elephant – until being put to important, albeit unprofitable, use as a NHS hospital.
The club forecast a £200million loss of revenue and increased their substantial debt by taking a £175m Bank of England loan. Against this backdrop of financial uncertainty, few imagined Spurs would have one of their best-ever transfer windows.
Suggestions that manager Jose Mourinho would have to rebuild his squad on a thin gruel of loans, free agents and swap deals proved unfounded, as Spurs spent over £60m on six new players, efficiently plugging weaknesses in the squad with proven quality and “characters”.
The return of Gareth Bale alone energised the fan base like no other transfer in Tottenham’s modern history and the window could yet improve further if they land Swansea centre-half Joe Rodon before the October 16 domestic deadline .
Spurs spent far less than summer 2019 but their impressive business still felt somewhat uncharacteristic. So, what were the main reasons for Spurs’ success in the transfer window?
For all the lingering questions about his management, Mourinho has lost none of his skill as a master manipulator of the public message, and he remains as effective at squeezing his superiors as any coach in the game.
The 57-year-old struck an effective balance between pressuring Levy and remaining firmly “on message”, particularly in his quest for a new striker. He repeatedly dismissed Heung-min Son as an option up front, even after the South Korean scored four times against Southampton, and so plain was Mourinho’s desire for a centre-forward, failure to deliver would have left Levy and the club on the back foot.
When Carlos Vinicius finally arrived on loan from Benfica, it felt like a personal triumph for Mourinho.
To understand Mourinho’s influence, it is worth comparing him with his predecessor, Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine was genuinely sceptical of new signings and more than once turned down players offered to him by the club, including Marco Asensio and Youri Tielemans.
Levy, in turn, is sceptical of the correlation between success and spending big, and the result was a relationship without enough productive tension to get difficult signings over the line.
By contrast, Levy and Mourinho have found a more fruitful balance, at least for now, with the pragmatic Portuguese more willing than Pochettino to accept suggestions from the club, as he did with Steven Bergwijn in January.
Levy, though, has maintained he would prioritise strengthening the squad once the stadium was finished, so it is fair to assume Pochettino would have eventually been allowed his “painful rebuild”.
This summer’s spending is, in part, simply a consequence of the club’s substantial growth over the past decade, and the completion of their expensive infrastructure projects.
There has also been an element of market opportunism in Spurs’ business. Levy leapt at the chance to sign Bale after being offered the Welshman by cash-strapped Real Madrid while discussing a deal for Sergio Reguilon, who, at around £26m, was a canny piece of business in a market depressed by the pandemic.
Spurs have gambled on buying prudently while the market is flat in the hope it will bounce back to pre-Covid levels in time.
Bale and Carlos Vinicius, meanwhile, are both loan deals with limited risk attached, even if Bale’s wages will cost roughly £10m for the season – Levy successfully knocking off a £1m following the medical when it became clear the 31-year-old would not be fit for a month.
The loan deals, and a two-year deal for Hart, also add an element of Mourinho-proofing to the club’s business, ensuring Spurs are not left with several unwanted players if they are forced to replace the boom-and-bust specialist in the not-so-distant future.
The Everton effect
“It’s not a bad result that makes me change my idea,” Mourinho said after Tottenham’s opening-day defeat to Everton, when it was suggested the result had forced Tottenham’s hand in the transfer market.
The Spurs manager may have denied it but at least one source close to the club says the result galvanised Levy into action. Within days, Spurs were in talks with Real Madrid over both Bale and Reguilon, their biggest double signing since Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa in 1978, and they stepped up their attempts to sign a new centre-forward and centre-half.
The abject display against the Toffees made it seem not only possible but probable that Spurs would miss out on Champions League football for a second consecutive season, delivering another hammer blow to Levy’s careful curated long-term business plan. Suddenly, it became prudent to spend money to ensure Spurs would remain competitive.
After the game, Spurs were deflated but it could prove to be one of the club’s most important results in years.
Super-agent Jorge Mendes has been at the heart of many of the summer’s biggest transfers, including James Rodriguez’s move to Everton, Liverpool’s surprise capture of Diego Jota and Manchester City’s signing of Ruben Dias.
A close confidant of Mourinho, Mendes has also been influential at Spurs. He could hardly have been more central in the signing of Doherty, with Mendes both representing the 28-year-old right-back and advising Wolves’ Chinese owners, who own a stake in his agency, Gestifute. Mendes and Mourinho led the deal, which felt like a bargain for Spurs, and Doherty later admitted the manager had wooed him with text messages and calls before he joined.
Similarly, Mendes was the guiding hand in the loan move for Vinicius, which cost Spurs just £2.3m up front and has been met with dismayed fury by Benfica fans.
As one of the most well-connected, influential and canny agents in the game, Mendes feels like an important ally for Spurs, particularly in such uncertain times.