When Did Popular Perception of Rooney Change?

Rooney’s unveiling to the press at Pride Park got me thinking as to whether or not the popular perception of him as a footballer has somehow altered during his professional career.

Yesterday, Wayne Rooney joined Derby County on an 18-month player-coach deal which will begin in January 2020.

The move, seeing England’s record goal scorer leave MLS side DC United, progressed rapidly after Derby manager Phillip Cocu declined to deny the rumours. This in the immediate aftermath of the new boss’ first game in charge, as the Rams claimed a 2-1 victory at Huddersfield in their Monday night Championship opener.

Rooney has somewhat rediscovered himself in Washington, scoring 25 goals in 45 appearances in total, albeit in a largely inferior league, however much the MLS and its endorsers may postulate its undeniable growth.

A deal kept impeccably under wraps by Derby owner Mel Morris, we’ve scarcely had time to reflect on neither the rumour nor completion of transfer, as Monday’s noises were subsequently validated and soon after confirmed: first as Rooney arrived at Heathrow early Tuesday, then when announced as a Derby County player-coach in the early afternoon.

Rooney’s unveiling to the press at Pride Park however got me thinking as to whether or not the popular perception of him as a footballer has somehow altered during his professional career, 17 years and counting.
Indeed, this consideration was evoked by the following question from a journalist during the press conference:
“You have won 16 major trophies, England’s all-time leading goal scorer and yet here you are talking about the appetite to play in England’s second tier. Where do you still get that desire from?”
To which Rooney replied:
“That is football. It is what I have done my whole life, it is what I love and until my body says that you cannot do it no more, I will keep doing it.”

Whether, traditionally, described as a ‘street footballer’, a ‘working-class lad living his dream’ or something else of a similar distinction, the Wayne Rooney of 2002-2010 (a period incorporating his Everton breakthrough and foremost spell of Manchester United success) was roundly perceived to possess the ultimate hunger for the game. Epitomised within 2015 documentary Rooney: The Man Behind the Goals, which reveals that the Everton hero, “too young to celebrate with his teammates” (narration by Gary Lineker) after scoring the winner and his first professional goal against Arsenal, “went back to Croxteth for his second game that day”.

My main question, therefore, is do we still look at Rooney as that same young man who, above all (bar of course family commitments), wants to be out on concrete, grass or glass kicking a ball? Or has something changed? To the point that somebody may question, for whatever reason, why, having achieved what he has in the game, his enthusiasm to grace the field remains undiminished. And if so, when did the shift begin?

Money
An uncomfortable reality within the modern game, yet one we’re pretty comfortable discussing. Speculating about it too, and the ways in which astronomical figures modify the priorities of today’s footballer (as, dually, a generalised conception and human commodity).

In regard to Rooney, it was in the Autumn of 2010 when contractually concerned reports first began to taint his conventional identity. This beginning in the August, when he told Man United chiefs that he would not be renewing his deal with the club. According to Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography, the striker’s rationale for refusing to commit was insufficient ambition, though Ferguson proceeds to insinuate that “he’d been programmed [by agent Paul Stretford] in what he was trying to say”, during a meeting over the matter with Fergie. The narrative of the greedy agent and questionably represented footballer is one at the very forefront of the current transfer sphere (rearing countlessly this summer, namely surrounding Gareth Bale, agent Jonathan Barnett and the Welshman’s Chinese transfer saga). Rooney eventually signed on for five years in October 2010, with the deal netting him £180,000 a week.

The affair did not sit well with many, mostly for reasons concerning money. Not only due to his extraordinary new wage (later plunged into perspective by the extension signed in 2014), but also his rather unfounded assertions about the club’s inadequate ambition, despite three Premier League titles in four years, two Champions League finals (victorious in 2008) in three and a League Cup that year. United’s neighbours Manchester City, then two years into their Abu Dhabi financial splurge, therefore acted as leverage for Stretford, who, knowing he could cite them as potentially improved suitors for Rooney (particularly following Carlos Tevez’ move across town the previous summer), rather forced the Old Trafford side’s hand in caving to player and (perhaps more pertinently) agent demands. All whilst, on the pitch, City had yet to end their 34-year trophy drought or qualify for the Champions League. Somewhat justifying scattered belief that football had become a secondary concern of the England strikers’.

Rooney’s next contract extension, signed in February 2014 to earn him up to £300,000 a week, left people similarly unsettled. Indeed, having been embroiled in another transfer saga (this time with Chelsea being the most profoundly uttered destination) from Ferguson’s exit to the beginning of the 2013/14 season, the end result was again a hugely improved monetary package. Staying a United player allowed him to break Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time goalscoring record, entrenching the football-loving lad from humble beginnings’ place in English football folklore. But perhaps it’s the various transfer bluffs, which could have compromised the aforementioned achievement, that have caused people to propose a slip in footballing hunger.

Personal Life, Lifestyle and Ronaldo
Be it tabloid revelations of infidelity, or the recurrent idea that his lifestyle has been far from conducive to optimal performance and longevity (admittedly supported, intermittently, by seemingly below-par outward physical condition), public respect for Rooney has at times been hindered by some of his conduct. Bluntly, nobody likes a ‘cheat’, whilst many harbour frustrations as to how much better he could have been with such prodigious talent, had he simply looked after himself better. At which point, the inevitable Cristiano Ronaldo comparisons emerge. Unfairly in my view.

Returning to the journalist to player exchange at Pride Park yesterday, any indirect implication that Rooney’s “appetite” or “desire” might have waned can be attributed to the divergent career trajectories of himself and Ronaldo. Arguably on a parallel straight in the era before and immediately after the 2006 World Cup, Rooney, whilst advancing to become a superb player, undeniably became the inferior one out of the duo:Rooney vs Ronaldo

Credited for an unequivocal eagerness to play, willingness to line-up out of position for tactical reasons (often filling in out wide in Champions League ties) and even a tendency to ‘play angry’ (a trait numerously landing him in petulant bother early on in his career, though recognised as a sometimes regrettable by-product of Rooney’s positively fervent nature), the original conception of the forward depicts a young man who, as reiterated by himself yesterday, has spent his life playing football and intends to do so for as long as physically possible. In which case, could Ronaldo’s unwavering exploits be a factor for the perception change?

For all the recurring cliché’s uttered above about Rooney, one which rarely, if ever, features is the old stays behind after training notion. The phrase effectively follows players noted for exceptional work ethic and constant desire to better themselves. Where Ronaldo famously does not drink alcohol (one major reason being substance abuse suffered by his late Father), is fabled to tirelessly nurture his technique and (clearly) looks after his body both nutritionally and practically, Rooney could certainly have made some more bodily enhancing choices

Much, therefore, makes him a victim of once being on a par with Ronaldo. Alas, regardless of subjective judgements on levels of natural talent, nobody can indisputably argue that Rooney could ever have either genetically or applicably (via extreme, Ronaldo-esque dedication) sustain his counterpart’s achievements. Thus, at 33 (one-year Ronaldo’s junior) he finds himself, for a multitude of physiological explanations beyond his control, a world away from the Portuguese legend’s renewed Champions League and league title winning triumphs.

The bottom line here, a change of perception born out of an unfortunately premature decline as a top top-level footballer.

Beckham: A Culmination of Both the Above
As a final cross-section of the central question surrounding Rooney, David Beckham is evocative of much previously outlined in this article.

Contrastingly to Rooney’s narrative of exceptional natural ability, Beckham has been traditionally labelled as a lad just as hungry to play, but supplemented by a work ethic comparable to that of Ronaldo. Yes, the aforementioned training ground adage has indeed stuck to him. Be it crossing, set-pieces, long-range passing or maximisation of limited pace, Beckham has been noted, from stories of drills with his Father in Ridgeway Park to many additional hours spent at Carrington, to have optimised his ability through utter perseverance towards his childhood dream.

But like Rooney, intensification of fame and money appeared to conceive a myth that he had lost his edge in regard to the game. Admittedly, Sir Alex Ferguson’s substantially believable account of Beckham’s latter United years conveys diminishment of footballing focus, as he, like Rooney, has filled many tabloid columns over the years. Plus the various sponsorships stacked on top of sizable professional footballers’ wages.

Beckham, as Rooney did, won it all at Old Trafford, yet fell victim to the same change in perception, advanced, to a fair degree, by the same factors. Again unjustly, considering he played until the age of 38, tested himself in four top European leagues (as well as in the MLS) and never retired from International football. He’s also arguably, like Ronaldo, at a genetic advantage to Rooney, who, though ready to enter an extremely demanding league just a tier below the Premier League, has a lot of work to do to achieve another five years in the higher reaches as a player. Hence, perhaps the player-coach angle, due possibly, if his Derby contract is seen out, to see him bow out as a player at the age of 35.


Tuesday’s development is nothing less than enthralling, piling another layer of intrigue onto the Championship.

The question posed to Rooney at Pride Park, I must stress, was absolutely apt and very evocative. Everybody of course is different, and the enormous sums of footballing honours and economic rewards swept by Rooney over 17 years may indeed adversely affect some footballers’ appetite for the game. It was simply, however, a shock, remembering the orthodox perception of Wayne Rooney, to entertain the possibility that he would ever lose that explosive desire. I suppose as much as it has been, over the last 6 years or so, for many to watch his game slow down to the extent that it has.

*Podcast* The Year Ends in 1: Episode 1 Part 1

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-year-ends-in-1/id1474531217?i=1000445487738

Recorded Saturday 13th July 2019:

Chaired by a Tottenham supporter Ian Wallis, 5 fellow Spurs fans (Casper Wallis, 11, Simeon Wright, 21, Rikki Swarbrick, 41, Rob White, son of Spurs legend John White and co-author of The Ghost: In Search of My Father the Football Legend, and Peter Wright, 61, discuss a broad agenda of matters concerning Tottenham Hotspur.
Spanning several generations, the inaugrual edition delves into why we came to support the club (and what subsequently hooked us), our differential expectations, appraisals of the club’s current position (for example, whether or not 2 trophies in 28 years is acceptable).

Part 2 assesses each individual’s favourite era of watching Spurs, best and worst moments and projections as to what the future holds for Spurs.

Our 61-year-old participant symbolises Tottenham’s last league title success (1961😱), whilst our 11-year-old supporter was born in 2008 (the year of our very last trophy).
Furthermore, the 1-year-old son of another participant represents the many promising years ahead for the club.

Tielemans: The Ace Fox in Leicester’s Skulk

Leicester City have broken their transfer record for the second time in less than a week to complete the signing of 22-year-old Belgium international midfielder Youri Tielemans, for a reported £40m.

Having spent spent the second-half of last season on loan at the King Power Stadium, the Foxes were successful in chasing off apparent interest from the likes of Manchester United to finalise a permanent deal for the exciting young playmaker (widely regarded as one the brightest talents in European football), enhancing the air of optimism around the city, as the new Premier League season draws closer.

The move follows the £30m acquisition of Ayoze Perez from Newcastle on Thursday, and speaking today about the capture, Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers has expressed his delight: “I’m delighted that Youri has chosen to be part of Leicester City’s journey. It’s an incredibly exciting time for this football club and to be able to bring players of Youri’s quality here is an indication of the hunger for success we have”.

A player at the right end of his 20s, with experience in the World Cup, Champions League and three top-flight European leagues, Leicester have secured a player who could, without doubt, play for any side in the Premier League. That said, the 2016 champions, at £40m, have perhaps paid a fee substantially beneath that which Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and even Spurs (in light of their £63m paid to another French club [Lyon] for a similarly touted midfield starlet [Tanguy Ndombele, also 22]) would’ve been charged for Tielemans’ services.

Indeed, the fairy tale of three years ago may have reverberated around football world, but without forthcoming involvement in European competition, opportunistic recognition from other clubs of any such desperation to fix their squad (much like Leicester themselves’ rather extortionate demands to ‘crisis-ridden’ United for Harry Maguire) or any frivolous examples of Leicester waving wads of cash around, they’ve sealed a bargain deal for somebody whose value will almost certainly increase; and swiftly too.

Moreover, in expansion to the factor of no European football at the King Power, Rodgers’ young, liberated regime has the ideal mix of realistic league ambition (that being to, at least, challenge the monopoly of the top 6), a fresh feel-good factor and a clear footballing philosophy; without the derailing proposition of the Europa League.

The addition of Tielemans may well prove to be the most influential of any made by Leicester this summer, as he is perfect for a plethora of in-game scenarios: likely to excel again (this time to an even greater degree) as the more advanced midfield force alongside the ever-maturing tenacious pair of Wilfred Ndidi and Hamza Choudhury, the Belgian has the ability to orchestrate a front-footed possession game, as well as utilise that same technical adeptness in the form of ball retention to conserve results and also serve the ever-green explosiveness of Jamie Vardy during matches suiting a counter-attacking approach.

In light of Tielemans’ permanent arrival, a signature of such pedigree both justifies the excitement ahead of Rodgers’ first full season and emphasises the statement and view to progression required to convince the likes of Ben Chilwell and much sought-after Harry Maguire to remain part of the venture. Tielemans’ performances towards the back end of the season, notably an authoritative display in the 3-0 victory over Arsenal in April, were certainly worthy of other potential suitors. However, his readiness to return to the East Midlands, with such a way still to go in the window, epitomises the infectious spirit and anticipation surrounding the club, spanning the gateway period from May to imminent August.

Having scored 3 times in his 13 Premier League appearances last term, Tielemans also has 23 caps and a single international goal to his name. Goals are certainly a commodity he’ll be looking to add more regularly to his game, though it’s something he’s in a fantastic position to do, playing for attack-minded club and international [Roberto Martínez] coaches; whilst training and lining up, several times a year, alongside one of the world’s foremost goalscoring midfield players: Kevin De Bruyne. Of course, there’s much more too for him to learn from the Man City star.

Furthermore, though he scored just once for Monaco in 2017/18, struggling also with the team during the first-half of their chaotic 2018/19 campaign, an excellent tally of 18 goals from midfield during his final season at Anderlecht (before moving to France for €25m in May 2017) reminds us that that particular trait is there.

In the name of team development, the buy represents the continuation of a project at Leicester which is very much in its infancy. Initially loaned back in January by Frenchman Claude Puel to fit into his patient and retentive style of play, it took a month for Tielemans to hit his capable stride, amid turmoil and swelling toxicity surrounding the aforementioned manager. Though in the weeks following Puel’s February sacking, he would become instrumental in a run of 5 wins (and just 2 losses) from the Foxes’ final 9 league fixtures; much accreditable to Rodgers’ more emancipated incarnation of the Frenchman’s possession-based football. The Belgian started every game of the run-in, impressing too as Leicester held Man City for 70 minutes at the Etihad in May, frustrating the free-scoring (eventual) champions until Vincent Kompany’s iconic piledriver.

All in all, Leicester have pulled off a major coup. The Foxes face 5 of last season’s the top 7 in their opening 8 league games, including a trip to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea on matchday 2. Indeed, with such a tricky start, optimism could quickly turn to pressure, so it will be interesting to see how Tielemans, as promising and classy as he is, may react to an adverse run of results. Particularly in light of his involvement in Monaco’s capitulation from last season’s outset. That said, he and this dangerous, yet foundationally robust (allowing the likes of the Belgian to express himself) Leicester side will no doubt revel in the prospect of quieting what will be a euphoric Stamford Bridge during Lampard’s homecoming.

So all things considered, this is how Leicester, by virtue of their squad today, may line-up against Wolves on 11th August:

Leicester lineup

On the Move Like Jaga: Sheff Utd re-sign Jagielka

On Thursday, defender Phil Jagielka re-signed with Sheffield United on a one-year contract, following his release by Everton.

Premier League stalwart (see Premier League 2019/20 STALWART XI) Jagielka, 36, who cut short a seven-year association with United (his first professional club) on 4th July 2007, returned exactly twelve years on from the day he departed.

Having previously made 254 league appearances between 2000 and 2007, including ever-presence in United’s 2006/07 Premiership campaign, the (then) 24-year-old had mustered both rounded professional experience within the English game and an impressive reputation, by virtue of invariable participation in every Blades league fixture during his final three seasons there, as a highly accomplished, reliable and versatile defensive asset. A combination of attributes which attracted the interest of the day’s Everton boss David Moyes, whose sides had been known for their resilience, awkwardness to defeat and, above all, effectiveness in attaining strong sums of league points season-on-season.

Last Time Around

Over the years, a handful of clubs have graced the Premier League for just a season or two, yet have managed to make their mark and, subsequently, stick in the memory. For instance, Ian Holloway’s all-out-attacking Blackpool were unforgettable participants of the 2010/11 campaign, whilst Bradford City’s unlikely survival in 1999/2000 (though only to go down the next year) saw them memorably escape by beating Liverpool at Valley Parade in the season finale. Similarly, Sheffield United’s contribution to 2006/07 has sustained recollection; and Jagielka, coupled with manager Neil Warnock, was a leading character during the brief stint.

Indeed, he was at the forefront of each success (though limited of course by eventual relegation) enjoyed by the team. Regularly standing in for club captain Chris Morgan at times of absence, Jagielka put in star showings all across the park: kicking off the season in front of the back four, before dropping into a more natural centre-half birth shortly after; yet still occasionally resurfacing in the higher echelons of the pitch, notably to hit a corker on the half-volley to claim a late first victory of the season against Middlesbrough. Whilst he also converted 2/2 penalties (a skill he’d later utilise in blue to send Everton to the 2010 FA Cup Final) and even kept a goalkeeping clean sheet, having been forced to replace the injured Paddy Kenny between the sticks on the hour-mark against Arsenal. A game which they won 1-0, with Jagielka justifying Warnock’s decision not to name a goalkeeper on his five-man bench.

After moving on to Everton for a bargain £4m fee, following the disappointing outcome of his inaugural top-flight year, Jagielka went on to play 322 times for the Toffees in the Premier League; early on as a sitting midfielder or right-back, but soon as the second component of a robust centre-half unit alongside Joleon Lescott. Jagielka also represented his country 40 times, emerging as a particular favourite of Roy Hodgson’s in the middle of the England boss’ defence.

An international defender and stalwart of two big English football clubs, yet a tier below the elite players of his generation, he has been a perfect fit into club and international sides whose approach to matches, league campaigns and tournaments have not been bound by overwhelming expectancy of dominant success; managed often, too, by ‘old-fashioned’ British managers, who have commonly valued a firm base, natural leaders and unwavering commitment to historic shirts and ardent fans. All qualities which Jagielka has classically invoked. Though he, of course, must also be given credit for his proficiency on the ball, allowing him to make the aforementioned appearances in midfield, as well as remain a trustee within Roberto Martínez’ regime of possession-based football at Everton.

So as Jagielka strolls back down Bramall Lane (seemingly at will), there’s little to no uncertainty, both internally and externally, as to the nature and vast experience of the man that Sheffield United are reattaining; though sentiment, due to a definite (if expected) decline in his recent performances, has been murmured as a principal and, perhaps, irrational vehicle for the transfer. Though, for sure, he and United have unfinished business together, and if you’re looking for a dark horse for a potential game or atmospheric occasion of the season, then look no further than West Ham’s visit to Bramall Lane.

Indeed, the Blades’ relegation in May 2007 was certainly among the unluckiest in Premier League history, falling victim to some extremely poor refereeing decisions within games involving both themselves and fellow strugglers West Ham: Notably, a dubious penalty awarded to Liverpool by Rob Styles on the opening day, when Blades captain Chris Morgan mildly caught Steven Gerrard; and arguably one of the worst decisions ever seen in the league, as West Ham’s Bobby Zamora was accredited the winning goal at Blackburn, despite Carlos Tevez not only blocking the ball in front of the goal line, but also doing so in an explicitly offside position.

Speaking to Sky Sports immediately after relegation, having just been beaten by usurpers to 17th Wigan on the final day, Warnock alluded to both exemplified game changing calls, with direct reference to “Mr [Jim] Devine” (the linesman on the day at Blackburn’s Ewood Park) evoking both his aggravation towards the Liverpool penalty ruling and (though coincidently and by no means Warnock’s intention) the near divine intervention of the Hammers’ Argentine during the back end of that season, having arrived at West Ham alongside Javier Mascherano under ‘shady’ circumstances.

The Hammers, crucially, avoided a points deduction for their purchase of the pair, who had been the subjects of third-party ownership; contrary to Premier League rules. Indeed, it was Tevez’ goals, including the winner at Old Trafford on matchday 38, which are largely recognised to have kept his side up, sending the Yorkshire club the other way in the process. They had yet to return until promotion last season.

Sheff Utd relegated

In light of these controversies, Jagielka and Blades supporters alike will be all the more determined to survive this time around, as well as get one (or two) over on the East Londoners to boot. West Ham visit Bramall Lane 11th January 2020, and with ‘one of their own’ returning to play for ‘one of their own’ [Chris Wilder], motivation within the dressing room is unlikely to be a problem.

Finally, aged 36, the one-year deal signed by Jagielka gives him the chance to join the eleven below in continuing, in spite of senior age and significant miles on the clock, to pull on Premier League jerseys:

Premier League 2019/20 STALWART XI

GK- Joe Hart, Burnley, 32:
340 appearances
Debut- October 2006 (Man City vs Sheff Utd)

RB- Phil Bardsley, Burnley, 34:
278 appearances
Debut- September 2005 (Man United vs Blackburn)

CB- Phil Jagielka, Sheff Utd, 36:
360 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Sheff Utd vs Liverpool)

CB- Adrian Mariappa, Watford, 32:
143 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Everton vs Watford

LB- Leighton Baines, Everton, 34:
412 appearances
Debut- August 2005 (Wigan vs Chelsea)

RM- Aaron Lennon, Burnley, 32:
372 appearances
Debut- August 2003 (Tottenham vs Leeds)

CM- James Milner, Liverpool, 33:
516 appearances
Debut- November 2002 (West Ham vs Leeds)

CM- Mark Noble, West Ham, 32:
349 appearances
Debut- August 2005 (West Ham vs Blackburn)

LM- Ashley Young, Man United, 33:
357 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Everton vs Watford)

ST- Theo Walcott, Everton, 30:
321 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Arsenal vs Aston Villa)

ST- Shane Long, Southampton, 32:
271 appearances
Debut- August 2006 (Aston Villa vs Reading)

Hillsborough Disaster: Conflicting News Sources

Within UK society, an ongoing narrative is competition between differential news organisations to shape public opinion and define the world locally, nationally and, increasingly so, internationally. Technology and the mass media are major vehicles advancing these battles, having been so from the lengthy era of the traditional printing press to use of newer platforms like social media. Sharing the plethora of platforms, rival news sources work to project their ideas and values. Though the playing field is far from level. Indeed, various factors affect the fortunes of sources, irrespective of their integrity, in defining the news agenda.

A particularly poignant and tragic case study demonstrating media-management struggles, clashing groups of news sources and contentious influence on news is the Hillsborough disaster, as a series of political, civil and media conflicts led to a paradigm of victim blaming, causing wholehearted endeavours for unequivocal truth and subsequent justice to continue over 25 years on from the event.
On 15th April 1989, 96 supporters of Liverpool Football Club lost their lives during a fatal crush at Hillsborough Stadium during the semi-final of the FA Cup. In the aftermath, an unsavoury narrative rumbled, whereby fans were blamed and negligent individuals and institutions were not held to account, an unacceptable state of affairs symptomatic of the inequalities in the industry of media-management, as well as the civic state of Britain at the time. Notable news sources relevant to the controversy include a particular leading national newspaper, some overall less influential local publications and a selection of questionable public service reports.

Powerful Sources and Hillsborough’s Dominant Frame
News sources are the variety of mass media organisations which uncover, publish and circulate news to the public. These range from superficial forms like hard newspaper copies to less transparent information forces like news agencies. Though similarly to how divergent political organisations project alternate ideologies and values, rival news sources often frame events and affairs contrastingly in order to push their preferential agenda. A major determining factor as to the influence of a source is the extent of its “power to speak publicly” (Franklin and Carlson, 2011), a liberty most readily available to larger publications, thus allowing them to “define the world”. In the case of Hillsborough, national newspaper The Sun set the most powerful and harmful agenda.

Purchased in 1969 by Rupert Murdoch’s News International (Cashfloat, 2016), the tabloid is notorious for audacious opinions, outrageous stories and fickle political allegiances; yet envied for its ability to assert definitive ‘truths’. In regard to Hillsborough, all aforementioned elements were present in forefront media accounts of the tragedy. Indeed, as a top national periodical, The Sun is optimally prominent in regard to the “mixture of voices that regularly appear” (Franklin and Carlson), meaning a wider scope to exert far greater influence on the news. In congruence with its might in the newsprint market, even recently remaining (as it was in the 1990s) the most circulated UK newspaper (Agility PR Solutions, 2017), parent company News Corp (formerly News International) boasts notable control of both the superficial and more covert levels of the citizenry information streams. The latter in the form of news agencies. Therefore, the result surrounding the disaster saw accounts of the event instantly led by an infamous article, published on 19th April 1989, headlined: “THE TRUTH”. In it read unfounded reports that drunken fans pickpocketed the dead, urinated on and assaulted police officers and, ultimately, were to blame for allegedly forcing their way into the stadium without tickets. Overt vilification of Liverpudlian people, not for the first time in the late 20th century (political context to be later explored), which would barricade justice for over a quarter of a century.

The Liverpool Echo: Fighting for its Community
Meanwhile, local publication the Liverpool Echo, though admittedly partial too, is and was an example of a more supplementary voice competing in the fierce media-management sphere. Quick to sympathise with its immediate community, the newspaper sought to defend Liverpool supporters amid “baseless accusations” (Bradbury, 2013) within nationwide reports. In paradox to The Sun’s copies the same day, it led with the headline: “SPEAKING UP FOR MERSEYSIDE”, proceeding to “challenge London papers and Sheffield police” to “PRODUCE EVIDENCE”. However, influence on the news at large from such a source is inherently compromised (geographically to name but one factor), epitomised by the Echo’s rather reactionary and backfooted tones of coverage. Its articles from the time, resurfaced by Bradbury, were published as mere responses. For example, mimicking of The Sun’s account with its own release entitled “THE REAL Truth”, mockingly channelling its ideological competitor’s structural delivery right down to its statement of the ‘facts’ in bullet point form. Finally, Bradbury’s penultimate archive (“THE PROOF”, 21st April 1989) depicts illustrations and subsequent explanations of evidence that the Reds’ fans were blameless. Alas, what is regretful about this is that the Echo’s desperate scramble for validation is ultimately indicative of major news sources’ defaulted pole position in public interest storytelling, regardless of the evidence they do or do not present.

A Lack of Interest in the Truth
Digital advancements in regard to the media have presented yet more challenges to the journalistic profession. Namely, the relentless need to produce material and the public’s growing reluctance to pay for news. However, as supported by the case study (occurring during a roaring period for the press), such pressures on reporters and journalists aren’t entirely new phenomena. Indeed, even when print media was arguably the leading player in the news industry, the most powerful sources still dominated society’s interpretations of stories. In light of this, it’s conceivable to suggest that many professionals in fact roll-over regarding media-management struggles, rather conforming to principal narratives supplied by elite sources. Gandy (1982), for example, alludes to utilisation of “information subsidies”, causing the more investigative virtues of journalism to be restrained by comfortable and often passive reliance on mainstream sources. An unhealthy passivity highlighted by Davies (2008) in specific connection to the deployment of “PR to serve some political or commercial interest”. Both journalists and citizens here are consequently affected. As such common practice, a dangerous product of the convention is effectively a sanctioning of consent for “news sources to shape the news agenda” (Berkowitz and Adams, 1990). Furthermore, broad circulation of such information, akin to Hillsborough’s press-led victim blaming paradigm, inevitably means that the people are bombarded with one-sided news testimonies, as the dominant sources are inherently “more readily accessible to the public” (Robinson). In addition, there’s also an increased likelihood that the empowered subsidies will trickle down into regional newsrooms. Examples of this relating to Hillsborough to be pinpointed later.

A Lack of Interest in the Truth: The Police and Government Agenda
The ideological standpoint of news sources and the effect of news events on particular organisations’ public image has much to do with how they may spin narratives. Thus, as previously identified, the political context of Britain at the time of the tragedy is extremely applicable to such actions. Moreover, it may be in the interest of an institution to frame an event for reasons born out of self-defence; for example, following occupational malpractice resulting in disastrous consequences. In scenarios of the like, organisations attempt to get “the media to ‘play along’, convincing them that a spin story is correct” (Maltese, 1994). In specific reference to Hillsborough, the latter state of affairs befits cover-up efforts and subsequent legal exoneration (until only recently) of inept public services, both on the scene and in the aftermath.

Following on, reaction to Hillsborough from high-profile sectors of the media ran parallel with rife social unrest and disconnects in society. To look, as a comparative instance, at a US-based political communications study, Walters, Walters and Gray (1996), paraphrased by Robinson, suggest that subjecting citizens to partial information subsidies and consequent media coverage help to “legitimise campaign messages”. The research examines public relations (PR) ploys (specifically strategic press releases) during the 1992 presidential election, though resonates regarding Hillsborough in that UK prime minister of the day Margaret Thatcher, “primary definers” (Hall et al., 1978) of crime (including various public service organisations and professions) and the mainstream media all had various agenda to sustain alignment with. To expand on Hall, the assertion within his work that “police, Home Office and courts form a near-monopoly as sources of crime news in the media” is extremely significant in that competent scrutiny of those in positions of power, a traditional role of the media (namely the “press”) as “the public sphere’s pre-eminent institution” (Habermas, 1962), is compromised. As a result, when major incidents like the disaster occur, already difficult and sensitive circumstances are liable to be exacerbated by miscarriages of justice, with society not systematically set up to effectively “hold the police to account” (Mawby, 2010). With Hillsborough, though “Lord Justice Peter Taylor’s interim report” depicts an early suggestion of negligence and subsequent responsibility on the part of “South Yorkshire Police” (The Week UK), the initial inquest (concluded 28th March 1991) ruled accidental death, clearing all institutions and persons of any criminality. Additionally, the evidential substance behind the aforementioned verdict exemplifies further corruption, born out of the primary definition monopoly. Indeed, Dr Stefan Popper’s (South Yorkshire coroner) report did not only disregard factors arising after 3:15pm (including emergency service reaction), but Popper has also been accused of allowing “police to deluge his inquest with stories of drunkenness and misbehaviour” (Conn, 2016) on the part of fans. Ultimately, with the inquest confirming a completion of the death toll by 3:15pm that day, coupled with dismissal of any police culpability, neither the emergency services, any law enforcement offices nor even the coroner’s actions would be brought to thorough questioning. Hence the paradigm of supporter blaming, which, following the aforementioned official judicial hearing, would be durably consolidated as a fact of legal record.

To finally explore directly the socio-political context surrounding the events in 1989, the role of The Sun must again be foregrounded. Contrast.org recalls a “historical media framework that already labelled Liverpool rebellious and anarchistic”, advanced dually by both prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. The latter politician’s feud with the city was in connection to Militant group’s control of Liverpool City Council (vocalised by Kinnock’s fellow party member Derek Hatton). The group led its campaign in the spotlight of the media with the controversial and rather normless slogan “better to break the law than to break the poor”. In expansion, the council’s establishment of an illegal budget in 1985 unfortunately proved to be damaging PR for Liverpool as a whole. Militant also actively challenged the Conservative government’s poll tax policy in 1989 (November, though the same year as Hillsborough), notably setting up the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation. Consequently, blame for the tragedy was laid at the door of matchday supporters, which no doubt corresponded as a suitable outcome for some of Parliament’s bigwigs. Whilst as a side note, the Toxteth riots of 1981 (which followed London’s Brixton riots the same year) was indicative of the social struggles between police and some citizens. In this isolated case, violent strains between Liverpool’s black community and Merseyside police, which visually infiltrated national news, thus painting the city (like in regard to Militant) in anarchic fashion. A significant response within the walls of Parliament was ministerial endorsements laid at Thatcher’s door to send Liverpool (and Merseyside’s “stony grounds”) into a state of “managed decline” (BBC, 2011). Meanwhile, lowly reputed Liverpudlians fell further victim to their predisposed media perception; one which The Sun, as emphasised prior, emphatically utilised in framing Hillsborough.

Other Nationwide Accounts
The immediate efforts of the Liverpool Echo to counter the harmful, unsympathetic and unproven nationwide event narratives proved relatively futile, as ‘elite’ sources swarmed both newsrooms and the print media. Indeed, considering the scholarly suggestion that “media organisations” have taken to “reducing their news gathering resources at local level” (Mawby), strained further by the same author’s assertion of strengthening police PR positions (“forces are committing greater resources to their communications functions”), the potential for any information circulator to succumb to truths out of coercion from broader society may be heightened. Regarding the police, PR activities which saw the media “drip fed” their “sound bites” (Contrast.org) reflects the matter. So much so that one notable employee of the Liverpool Daily Post, almost unbelievably, followed both national periodicals and other regional press in condemning fan behaviour; citizens of the newspaper’s own locality. Remarkably, Liverpool-based journalist John Williams urged readers to “blame the yobs”. The shocking attack on the “Scousers” however was none dissimilar to nor originating from unique sources to those influencing other regionals. Namely, the Sheffield Star, the Yorkshire Post and the Manchester Evening News. To boot, as far as discourse is concerned, reports in all three of their reports stand out for notably ‘military’ lexicon. Indeed, reference to fans as the “Anfield Army” (Manchester Evening News) embarking on a “fatal charge” (Sheffield Star) attires the Liverpool contingent in a fashion connoting a conflictual entity on a mission to violently descend upon a football match.

Contrastingly however, a critical discourse analysis’ compilation of survivors’ accounts has portrayed Scousers in a more philosophical light. Indeed, as a closing sentiment, Cocking and Drury’s (2014) work examines fascinatingly, drawing on a plethora of scholars, the linguistic phenomenon whereby a term (“panic”) can possess “widespread popular currency” (Quarantelli, 2001). Aware of the potential of the word “panic” to imply “uncontrolled emotion” and “selfish behaviour”, the researchers thoughtfully consider its “62”-time utterance by participants (survivors) to describe the raw scenes. Seeming admittance of actions amounting to panic in the interviews would often feed the narrative that fans (though, interestingly, arguably the police as well) neglected rationality and order. However, Cocking and Drury account for their participants who “provided evidence contradicting the notion that ‘mass panic’ occurred”; concluding with Quarantelli’s assertion that it may be beneficial for “the concept of panic within collective social behaviour” to “disappear as a technical term”. The bottom line being that many news sources lazily generalised Liverpudlians in the way that society avidly portrayed them, much like the power of language.


In final reflection, as supported by the case study, particular news sources certainly possess an advantage in regard to influence on news. Funding is obviously a major aid, as the sense of reliability (rightly or wrongly) that such sources develop (as a result of their backing) ultimately contributes to any degree of monopoly held. For example, direct financial support from News Corp, ensures a consistent stream of information for journalists of top periodicals. Moreover, public services like the UK’s numerous police forces have been shown to be able to resist scrutiny (be it for actions or queries surrounding official reports) for extended periods. Of course, with the mass media continuing to expand with concepts like citizen journalism (social media arguably at the forefront of this), more modest news sources, perhaps operating on a local level, provide relative competition for established organisations and institutions; whilst possibly even heightening any pre-existing scepticism of news via a phenomenon of ‘saturation’ and subsequent public distrust of a ‘dumbed down’ profession (journalism). However, Hillsborough still epitomises the durable suffering which can arise from wars upon the battlefield of media-management. Suffering which may eventually be at least partially cushioned, as justice slowly prevails.

References
Agility PR Solutions, 2017 Top U.K Newspapers by Circulation https://www.agilitypr.com/resources/top-media-outlets/top-10-uk-newspapers-by-circulation/

BBC, 2011 Thatcher urged ‘let Liverpool decline’ after 1981 riots https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16361170

Berkowitz, D and Adams, D.B. 1990 Information Subsidy and Agenda-Building in Local Television News

Bradbury, S 2013 Hillsborough disaster: How the Liverpool ECHO reported the tragedy in 1989 https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/hillsborough-disaster-how-liverpool-echo-3334610

Cashfloat, 2016 A History of The Sun Newspaper https://www.cashfloat.co.uk/blog/technology-innovation/sun-newspaper/

Cocking, C. and Drury, J 2014 Talking about Hillsborough: ‘Panic’ as Discourse in Survivors’ Accounts of the 1989 Football Stadium Disaster https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260532576_Talking_about_Hillsborough_’Panic’_as_Discourse_in_Survivors’_Accounts_of_the_1989_Football_Stadium_Disaster

Conn, D, The Guardian 2016 The other villain of the Hillsborough saga: legal system that left families in torment https://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/apr/29/hillsborough-inquest-legal-system-key-part-establishment-failed-families-years

Contrast.org Hillsborough FOOTBALL DISASTER http://www.contrast.org/hillsborough/history/media.shtm

Davies, N, The Guardian 2008 Our media have become mass producers of distortion https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2008/feb/04/comment.pressandpublishing

Franklin, B. and Carlson, M. 2011 Journalism, Sources and Credibility: New Perspectives

Gandy, O 1982 Beyond Agenda Setting: Information Subsidies and Public Policy

Habermas, J 1962 The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society

Hall et al. 1978 Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order

Maltese, J 1994 Spin Control: The White House Office of Communications and the Management of Presidential News

Mawby, R. C. 2010 Police corporate communications, crime reporting and the shaping of policing news

Quarantelli, E. L. 2011 The Sociology of Panic

Robinson, K Information Subsidies and Social Media https://instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/Robinson-research-paper.pdf

Walters, T.N. Walters, L.M. and Gray, R 1996 Agenda building in the 1992 presidential campaign

Week UK, The 2018 Hillsborough: timeline of the disaster’s aftermath

Levy at Spurs: A Critical Assessment

Volume 1: 2001-2007

The ownership of Tottenham Hotspur is something most English football supporters can claim reasonable understanding of. Though whether or not one is familiar with Joe Lewis’ ENIC Group, its ENIC International subordination (registered in the Bahamas) and the company’s other worldwide footballing portfolio (including significant stakes in Slavia Prague and Rangers), the average fan is healthily aware and likely armed with a popular preconception of Tottenham’s figurehead: Chairman Daniel Levy.

Due to dominant discourse surrounding him, admittedly framed by the club’s 21st century tendencies, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Tottenham fan fearing financial turmoil for the club. Contrastingly however, post-millennial temptation to ride the wave of the Premiership’s (rebranded Premier League in 2007) increasing riches proved all too alluring for some of English football’s most recognisable outfits. Though much like, to their credit, Levy and Spurs’ pragmatic approach to the club’s wonderful new 62,000 seater home (taking inspiration from established builds whilst avoiding improvable aspects of other stadium moves), the chairman’s desire to steadily trail behind (yet keep pace with) English football’s cash parade has meant that, whilst several giants have cramped and fallen, Tottenham Hotspur has remained in touch of the proverbial pacemaker; readying itself to eventually lead the way. In light of Spurs’ monumental current position, boasting establishment as a Champions League club alongside one of the world’s most enviable new stadiums, this comprehensive journal article reviews the topsy-turvy 18-year journey there, assessing Levy’s undeniably laudable work, though also recognising his many mistakes and the limitations of his backing.

Ambitions: 2001-2019, and beyond…
To briefly sum up Levy’s reign, it’s fair to say that a lot has changed; yet congruently, nothing has changed. Indeed, upon ENIC’s takeover of the Premiership ever-present, it was a club in need of fanbase reunification amid discontent during the final Alan Sugar years; much deriving from supporters’ reluctance to get behind manager and Arsenal icon George Graham. This embodied by a chant from the time which sang: “man in the raincoat’s blue and white army”.

Though what’s most explicitly unmodified is the Spurs board’s disinclination to compete financially (transfer fee and wage wise) with the rest of the upper top flight sides, much accreditable to Levy’s status as a lifelong fan of the club, as well as the volatility of a business subject to irrational player price inflation and the jeopardy of relegation down the English football pyramid. Compellingly, the infamous demise of Leeds United, yet to return to the Premier League since finishing 19th in 2004, illustrates the divergent fate, this millennium, of a club who recklessly aspired to mix it with Manchester United and Arsenal, the undisputable dominators of the Premiership’s opening decade. Leeds essentially were unwilling to settle for the top half (at best) mediocrity Spurs wreaked of at the time of ENIC’s 2001 purchase, ultimately investing in Champions League football, hooked by their run to the semi-finals in the aforementioned year, yet falling short too many times (finishing an inadequate 4th in 2001 and 5th in 2002).

Revisiting Levy’s Spurs fandom, the man commendably will not mortgage the club’s future. Whilst, to combat some of the prior highlighted disillusionment ENIC walked into, the appointment of Glenn Hoddle within a month of the new regime certainly displayed fan-like thought to bring back a true Tottenham hero, as well as drawing favourable PR to endear the new chairman, the board and the team to its fanbase. Actions more recently mirrored by current Liverpool owner John W. Henry, who reverted very early in his reign to Kenny Dalglish when seeking a replacement for Roy Hodgson (2011). It can only be speculated as to what Levy foresaw between then and now, though my guess is foresight as to the league’s increasing revenue and, at best, an initially unfledged openness to renovating the charming and charismatic yet lagging White Hart Lane. Now up and running, the glorious Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is his legacy and elevates Levy to what will eventually be legendary status. However, I’m sceptical as to whether or not he arrived with the project pre-conceived. One reason for this being an identifiable trait whereby he pragmatically (and often effectively too) observes the operations of footballing competitors, mimicking certain practices where appropriate. For example, where Man United addressed stadium upgrades via ad-hoc expansion of Old Trafford, Levy made a calculated decision (whilst considering the former approach for the Lane) to instead follow Arsenal’s lead regarding a brand-new build. Arguably, opting to redevelop in the same spot as the old Lane incorporates elements of both methods. Additionally, the London club’s slow growth, exemplified by steadily improved league positions and the new stadium, has elevated it to what is now a monumental resale proposition; encapsulating the very premise of an investment company, which ENIC is. Thus, while it’s debatable as to whether or not the Spurs chairman/fan entered with the intention of revolutionising the paradigm of sporting stadia or indeed he and ENIC aspire to sell their lucrative asset (Tottenham Hotspur Football Club), one thing fans can rest assured of is that he would only resell to a buyer enshrining the club’s very best interests.

A club in the midst of mediocrity
Expanding upon the dynamic Levy first graced, from a footballing angle the playing squad was one with a British and Irish core (rather epitomised by long serving former player turned-coach Chris Hughton), plying its trade in front of a rousing 36,000-seater White Hart Lane. In regard to the Lane, its influence in preserving Tottenham’s satisfactory on-pitch success mustn’t be underestimated. Indeed, as the ‘Spursy’ notion began to gather pace amid the club’s fading cup tradition and increasingly accentuating gap between competitive rivals (namely United, Arsenal and Chelsea, who all began to consistently outperform them in the league, as well as usurp Tottenham’s record of 8 FA Cups), the ground, so close, atmospheric and demanding ensured that every addition to the playing staff (both British and foreign) invariably bought into the expectation of attacking football, yielding the required results for safe final league positions. Contrastingly however, away form remained markedly poor, hugely restraining significant progress up the table:

Season Final league position Home wins Home losses Away wins Away losses
1996/97 10th 8 7 5 11
1997/98 14th 7 4 4 12
1998/99 11th 7 5 4 8
1999/00 10th 10 6 5 9
2000/01 12th 11 2 2 13

Taking over a club firmly established in the top flight, the difficult part would be bridging the gap between them and the consistent challengers for European football (notably Leeds, Chelsea, Liverpool and Newcastle United, aside from token champions United, Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers). Particularly considering the glaring truth that ENIC would not simply throw money at this. Thus, Levy’s observant trial, error and improvement process would begin in the recruitment department. His strategy would however, for over 10 years, lack both contingency and coherence; exposed in volumes 1and 3 of this journal article.

Initial recruitment strategy: The British model
A feature of the boss’ transfer propensity is an obvious scepticism of the British market. Looking longingly up the Premiership, Arsenal had largely trailblazed a European recruitment strategy, whereby lesser-known players had been identified and subsequently secured for fees denoting exceptional value. Famously, Patrick Vieira (£3.5m from Milan, 1996), Nicolas Anelka (£500k from PSG, 1997), Emmanuel Petit (£2.5m from Monaco, 1997), Freddie Ljungberg (£3m from Halmstad, 1998) and Robert Pires (£6m from Marseille, 2000). In fact, during this period of market imperiousness from the Gunners, the domestic signing of Francis Jeffers from Everton (£8m, 2001) exemplifies a rare blemish, justifying the need to tread carefully within an inflated British seller’s market. To contextualise further, Liverpool’s divergent Premiership success (in comparison to Arsenal’s) saw them never nearer than 7 points to a league title (2001/02) between 1996/97 (Arsene Wenger’s arrival season) and 2003/04 (Wenger’s final championship). Much attributable to inferiority regarding transfer business, polarised by a domestic player preference. Examples feature Emile Heskey (£11m record signing from Leicester, 2000; funnily equalling Thierry Henry’s switch to Arsenal from Juventus, 1999), Dietmar Hamann (£8m from Newcastle, 1999), Nick Barmby (£6m from Everton, 2000) and Christian Ziege (£5.5m from Middlesbrough, 2000). Briefly revisiting John W. Henry, the £35m signing of Andy Carroll in his inaugural transfer window (January 2011) embodies an early error from him regarding submission to the British player premium; one which has somewhat triggered a more measured and, today, fruitful approach to market activity from the Reds.

Returning to Spurs exclusively, Levy’s recognition that the club must be savvy in terms of recruitment, in light of what would be a modest budget, gave shape to what’s been a confusing structural identity. Indeed, with the club having been substantially burnt by the £11m signing of Serhii Rebrov in the pre-ENIC summer of 2000 (potentially the Sugar regime’s attempt at employing a European recruitment strategy), Levy originally, in addition to defaulting to Hoddle, eased in via what this article labels the British model:
Manager largely in control of ins and outs, development of British talent and some academy emphasis with the bulk of signings having prior domestic experience.
Signifying this: the sizeable £8m purchase of the late Dean Richards from Hoddle’s former side Southampton (2001) and the capture of ageing stars Gus Poyet (£2m from Chelsea) and Teddy Sheringham (returning on a free from Man United). All being activities from Levy’s first summer at the helm, those incomings depict a mediocre window, compounded by the feeless loss of Sol Campbell across North London, whose move illustrates Tottenham’s naivety at the time: one, in trusting that he’d sign on with what the player had described as ‘his club’ and, two, underestimating Campbell’s ambition ahead of Spurs’ underwhelming immediate objectives. And as previously alluded to, Tottenham Hotspur’s renowned identity as a ‘cup team’ (most significantly by virtue of 8 FA Cup and 2 UEFA Cup successes) was too becoming a thing of the past, and could no longer assure its captain of medals.

Clearly operating a tier or two below the elite, the club’s endeavours within the British model found most success around circumstance, which would ultimately kickstart a steady rise up the table. Indeed, Spurs capitalised on relegations, rivals’ financial plights and the division below in the pursuit of better value in the domestic market. Beginning with the £7m signing of proven Premiership marksman Robbie Keane (2002), recruited along with England goalkeeper Paul Robinson (£1.5m, 2004) and, later, England starlet Aaron Lennon (£1m, 2005) amid Leeds United’s fire-sale, following monetary anguish and consequent relegation (2004). Congruently, West Ham’s shock drop to the First Division in 2003 (compounded by subsequent failure to return until 2005) allowed for bargain acquisitions of Freddie Kanouté (£3.5m, 2003), Jermain Defoe (£6m, 2004) and Michael Carrick (£3.5m, 2004). Finally, arrivals of Michael Dawson and Andy Reid (both from Nottingham Forest for a combined £8m, January 2005) following Michael Brown’s £500k move the previous winter from Sheffield United further bolstered the young British core taking shape at White Hart Lane. The highlighted players predominantly initiated Tottenham’s improved league finishes (9th in 2004/05 and 5th in 2005/06), though at boardroom and staffing level, things were becoming slightly more complex…

2003-2004: First attempt at European model
Perhaps still in admiration of Arsenal’s recent transfer vindications, Levy began to morph recruitment into the European model:
Director of Football often in place and cost-effective (when executed) in comparison to British model’s British/domestic-based player premia.
Trailblazing this shift at the club, advanced further by Hoddle’s dismissal in September 2003, the £6.25m signing of Helder Postiga from Porto earlier that summer explicitly exemplified a type of buy which would become customary. Though following the dual summer 2004 appointments of, first, former Denmark international Frank Arnesen as the club’s Director of Football and, later, recently departed (following Euro 2004) France manager Jacques Santini as head coach, Levy’s sharp modification of the club’s direction had now been truly initiated. Joining Santini’s coaching team, Dutchman Martin Jol. Hughton also remained.

As previously highlighted, many circumstantial domestic-based footballers had arrived since ENIC’s takeover between 2001 and 2004, though activity in the latter year’s pre-season window underlined a shift in transfer policy, as the Lane welcomed £2.5m Porto man Pedro Mendes (sending Postiga back the other way), Basel’s Timothée Atouba (£4m), Noé Pamarot (£2m from Nice) and Erik Edman (Heerenveen, £2m); none of whom remained in favour for more than a season. Nor Santini, who had resigned by November. In the aftermath, amid rumours of strain from the outset between the Frenchman and Arnesen, the director’s addressal of reassurance to the White Hart Lane faithful regarding the situation behind the scenes at Tottenham perhaps, in itself, illustrated a lack of understanding from both Levy and Arnesen as to the role the latter was playing. Classically a more anonymous job than that performed by the Dane, such prominence is hardly conducive from a manager/head coach’s point of view. Resultantly, the European revolution had failed, seeing the club perform the first of many flips back and forth between the two structural set-ups. Though fortunately, the foundations were more soundly in place than many would’ve thought for Spurs’ long-awaited return to the upper reaches of the league.

2005-2006: Reversion to British Model
Having effectively pulled up turning too quickly, Spurs had been left with several inadequate players and no manager; none too dissimilar to the Bale-AVB-Baldini debacle explored in Volume 3. Arnesen remained to proceed with his recruitment duties, whilst Jol stepped into Santini’s shoes as head coach. Though with a competent core of young British talent, the backing of White Hart Lane and Hughton’s calming continuity, gradually improving results in early 2005 saw Jol mould his team into one of the Premiership’s most exciting outfits; quickly dissipating the air of turmoil surrounding Tottenham’s direction. Indeed, even the emergence of Dean Marney as a prospective academy wonderkid strengthened the case for a full default back to a more familiar system. Though ultimately, despite the undisputable upturn in the club’s trajectory from this point onwards, the lack of contingency regarding recruitment and, more broadly, club composition (displayed by these two sharp swerves) would become a theme of Levy’s next decade or so of decision-making.

Having guided the team to a respectable 9th at the end of his first partial season, solidifying Michael Carrick’s (unfancied by Santini) place in the team and introducing January signing Dawson into an impressive partnership with Ledley King, Jol had quickly begun to build a side adequate for a serious top-four challenge. Perhaps aided, in terms of his autonomy, by Chelsea’s poaching of Arnesen as their new youth co-ordinator; an acrimonious saga which eventually saw Chelsea ordered to pay Tottenham up to £10m in compensation. To briefly expand upon this, Levy’s fury amid the affair, combined with his status as a Spurs fan, consequently christened a modern paradigm whereby the two clubs (inherently mutually fractious) simply do not do business with each other: exemplified years later in 2011 when Tottenham, despite intense pressure from the player, categorically would not entertain Chelsea’s relentless pursuit of Luka Modric; even prompting a rare verbal statement from the chairman, who asserted to Sky Sports cameras that “this is not about money, we’re not selling our best players” and that a bid increase would “make no difference”. This despite a historically backed readiness to sell up North. Damagingly in regard to the strength of the team, in the form of Keane to Liverpool (£19m, 2008), Carrick and Berbatov to United (£18m and £30.75m respectively, 2006 and 2008) and, more recently, Kyle Walker to Manchester City (£50m, 2017).

I digress. Jol, an honorary son of English football, continued his preference for domestic players prior to 2005/06 with the additions of Jermaine Jenas, Aaron Lennon and Tom Huddlestone. There were also useful overseas arrivals (namely Teemu Tainio, Paul Stalteri and Yeong-Pyo Lee), none more impressive though than Jol’s masterstroke in recruiting Dutch compatriot and European football icon Edgar Davids. Conceivably utilising his limited time before a new sporting director would arrive, the signings not only added to Tottenham’s growing portfolio of young England (and Ireland, in the shape of Keane and Stephen Kelly) internationals, but also saw the manager smartly revert to circumstantial dealings. Indeed, Jenas (only 22 yet vastly experienced in the Premiership) had grown unhappy at Newcastle since Sir Bobby Robson’s sacking in 2004, whilst Lennon and Huddlestone (£4.2m for the latter, Derby) were savvy Championship purchases. Additionally, though ineffective at Spurs, Premier League journeyman (then wonderkid) Wayne Routledge’s switch from relegated Crystal Palace further underpinned the philosophy. Thus, to Levy’s credit, the manager had been awarded a considerable degree of control to construct the side in his image; almost paying ultimate dividends as Spurs unforgettably missed out on the 2006/07 Champions League by virtue of 2 points and the infamous food poisoning scandal. The club was however in Europe for the first time during the ENIC era, the realistic zenith at the beginning of the season.

The feat of UEFA Cup qualification in 2006 was one which would be repeated the following season, as Tottenham established itself as a consistent participant of European competitions. By no means perfect, though certainly moving forward, Jol’s team had risen fans’ and board’s expectations; and having successfully utilised the British model to return to Europe, the next step was the Champions League. However, from the outset of the journey under the Dutchman, the same complexities surrounding the club’s long-term organisation lingered, embedding themselves as early as September 2005, when Arnesen was replaced by Damien Comolli…

2006-2007: Jol, Comolli and Hybridity
As alluded to earlier, Martin Jol connoted a head coach akin to a Brit. Once of West Brom and Coventry, his commitment to attacking football and development of British talent, alongside an unfortunate lack of gamesmanship (exemplified by his stiff upper lipped approaches to both the Pedro Mendes incident at Old Trafford [whereby a goal was not awarded despite the ball being explicitly over the line] and the food poisoning situation) and inability to close games out. Most principally in light of the latter deficiency, the goals against tally of 54 during the 2006/07 league campaign. In spite of a second consecutive 5th place finish, the gap had again widened between Spurs and 4th placed arch-rivals Arsenal from 2 points to 8. Ledley King’s extensive absence significantly weakened the team, as did the sale of Michael Carrick to Manchester United (£18m). On the other hand however, Dimitar Berbatov arrived for £11m from Bayer Leverkusen to hit the ground running. A Comolli addition, Berbatov, among other ins and outs, illustrated that Levy still preferred to pursue the European model, setting about the shift in (this time) a more gradual fashion. But, for better or worse, Jol’s autonomy was to be invariably compromised.

Summer 2006 saw a more hybrid recruitment strategy, as well as an inaugural demonstration of a frequently attempted and rather high-risk squad reinforcement approach, whereby a combination of manager and director of football set about replacing a significantly cashed-in player with numerous others. The player flogged: Michael Carrick, whose vision, industry and overall class in the midfield was not sufficiently replaced until Luka Modric’s entrance two summers later. The strategy would be exercised time and again over the next decade, most notably in the case of Gareth Bale (Volume 3). But quite simply, though not horrific, Didier Zokora (£8m from Saint-Étienne) did not cut it as Carrick-calibre replacement. Meanwhile, supplementing Berbatov, Mido (finally purchased permanently from Roma, £6m), Benoît Assou-Ekotto (£3.5m from Lens) and the forgettable Ricardo Rocha (£3m from Benfica, January 2007) (buys aligned with the European model), hybridity of philosophy was apparent as Jol introduced the Premiership experience of Fulham’s Steed Malbranque (£2m) and Wigan’s Pascal Chimbonda (£4.5m) into the group; two solid footballers whose relationship with the White Hart Lane faithful would be warmer than Chimbonda’s ubiquitously gloved hands, both playing central roles in the immediate future, including within Juande Ramos’ League Cup success in February 2008. The extent to which the highlighted strategy works is debatable, as, perhaps by law of averages, investing in bulks of players who’ve shown at least some worthy promise is likely to breed some success. Though what maximises most the possibilities is Levy’s logical refinements, in that players recruited must be young and capable of being resold. High turnover at the club may thus be attributable to a ‘trialistic’ term, whereby players quite obviously not settling are moved on as quickly as possible before their value is too greatly diminished. This is also, for obvious reasons, expanded upon most extensively in Volume 3. The model is therefore conducive to minimal monetary loss. Apparent too, arguably increased success as the process was repeated. The other side of the coin however, from a club stature point of view, is entrenchment of the footballing food chain, clear to see (both from a domestic and continental point of view) below:Spurs sell-buy model

By the summer of 2007, ensuing the back-to-back 5th place finishes, there was a feeling among supporters, as well as within the club and the media, that Spurs were ready to push for the top 4; as, in addition to the flourishment of the Keane-Berbatov partnership of the season just gone (yielding 55 goals between them in all competitions), enhanced club stature (in light of progression to the UEFA Cup quarter-final, plus a later feel of growth as the first new stadium plans were discussed in November) and a relative transfer splurge during the summer in question (one too in which key assets, most notably Berbatov [amid aggressive Man United pursuit] were kept), Arsenal’s (the previous two years’ 4th place side) switch to the Emirates Stadium was beginning to run parallel with glaring season-by-season cuts to their playing staff. Having lost the best left-back in the world (Ashley Cole) to Chelsea in August 2006, the planet’s foremost striker (Thierry Henry) now had departed for Barcelona…henry-eduardo-tweet-1-e1562075854798.png

Adored by the fans, Jol had earned Levy’s trust, which would extend substantially into the summer’s transfer window. As displayed below (instantiated players shortly to be named), the hierarchy allowed summer 2007’s transfer policy to veer (reluctantly) slightly more towards the British model, Jol’s preferred strategy (having consistently drawn good performances out of domestically-recruited players):British vs. Euro model

However, dormant disconnects between board and manager were always likely to arise as soon as footballing results took a decline, due to the underlying influence of Comolli, largely incompatible with the degree of control Jol (backed by the White Hart Lane faithful) had believed his work had merited. In that, it’s my belief that, whilst backing a predominantly British approach to this pre-season’s business (augmented by the odd Comolli addition [namely Younès Kaboul, £8m from Auxerre, and Kevin-Prince Boateng, £5.5m from Hertha Berlin]), Levy was poised to pounce on the first sign of difficulty. Indeed, having greenlighted a £10m move for Southampton left-back Gareth Bale (the rest, emphatically so, very much being history), it was most profoundly the major move of the window (Darren Bent’s record £16.5m move from recently relegated Charlton), unfortunately for the manager, which would prove to be a relative undoing of himself. Indeed, a slow start for Bent of just 2 goals (1 in the league, 1 in the UEFA Cup) during Jol’s three-month portion of the season embodied a consequential excuse for the chairman to wield the axe. Meanwhile, Bale exhibited promise, though was way too raw to be burdened with any such responsibility to instil the organisational stability required for the Dutchman to salvage his job. Alas, the defence (incredibly containing Bale himself) remained the same shambles it was the previous season, and after an unacceptable 7 points (and just 1 win) from the first 10 Premier League games, the popular gaffer found himself out the door; and not quietly or gracefully (on the part of Levy and Co.) either. Instead, in an embarrassingly acrimonious manner…

Tottenham 1-2 Getafe (25th October 2007): “Stand up for Martin Jol!”
The date will go down as a dark day in Tottenham Hotspur and Daniel Levy’s respective histories. A sequence of events whereby an unrecognisable lack of class was displayed, demonstrating hierarchical activity more attributable to Chelsea’s historically questionable treatment of high-achieving, fan-revered managers than that expected of Spurs. With reports rife, after an admittedly poor start to the campaign, that Tottenham had approached Sevilla boss Juande Ramos prior to Jol’s farewell game (with a 4½ year contract widely understood to have been agreed), the Dutchman (of course still in post) proceeded to take charge of the fixture. During the game, as the team relinquished a 1-0 lead to fall 2-1 behind, an almost surreal atmosphere began to percolate White Hart Lane, with it becoming increasingly clear, moment-by-moment, that Jol was to be fired immediately after the final whistle. By method of a near Chinese whispers effect, the Lane’s proximity worked spectacularly against Levy, Comolli and the Spurs hierarchy, as the ultimate executive decision penetrated all four corners of the ground; Jol seemingly one of the last of whom to receive the final memo. To apply a positive spin, he was at least able to wave a sincere goodbye to his adoring faithful, who paid tribute with encoring verses of “Stand up for Martin Jol” throughout the course of the second-half. However, the departure was undoubtably undignified, subsequently exhibiting a real absence of class.

Martin Jol since, in my regretful opinion, been unfairly written out of Tottenham’s steady rise. But as the first Spurs manager in my memory (despite my first game being Santini’s opener against Liverpool in August 2004 [I was only 6]), I’ll never forget or depreciate the man’s impact upon reinstating the club as one of English football’s principal competitors. And until Harry Redknapp arrived, sustained the exciting football on the pitch and, success-wise, went one better in delivering Champions League football to White Hart Lane, I genuinely rued the loss of a, personally, iconic member of Tottenham Hotspur’s personal fabric.


End of Volume 1

Forthcoming Journal Article- Levy at Spurs: A Critical Assessment

The journal article consists of 3 volumes:

  • Volume 1: 2001-2007
  • Volume 2: 2008-2012
  • Volume 3: 2013-2019

*Volume 1: 2001-2007 is now fully published (https://simrjwright.com/2019/06/16/levy-at-spurs-a-critical-assessment)*

A heavily researched, highly detailed and unhurried opinion piece, my forthcoming journal article critcally assesses the entirety of Daniel Levy’s reign as Tottenham Hotspur chairman. A fitting inaugrual WordPress entry for myself, the piece takes both me and other Spurs fanatics down memory lane, particularly regarding playing staff. Indeed, a principal hope is that it’ll invoke sentiments along the lines of: what a player he was; as well as the odd: oh f**k I remember him, he was absolute trash!

Whilst on a more analytical level, I review his long-term ambitions, various successes and failures and, most extensively, the historic lack of contingency in regard to Levy’s managerial and player recruitment strategies. The latter a topsy-turvy journey which, since Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment in 2014 (10 years on from the true beginning of the turbulence), has stabilised markedly.