MARTIN SAMUEL: This idea that Daniel Levy runs rings around his rivals is utter FANTASY


As the deadline for this column was earlier than 10.58pm and 59 seconds, we cannot entirely know what the state of Tottenham’s squad for the rest of the season will be at the time of going to press.

This is, after all, when Spurs chairman Daniel Levy likes to do his business.

There’s always some poor soul standing in total darkness outside Tottenham’s training ground, a tiny light in the background the supposed evidence that the window’s leading protagonist is about to pull off another sensational coup.

Tottenham chief Daniel Levy’s reputation as the master of transfer negotiation is utter fantasy

And maybe he will. Maybe Levy will complete the loan deal equivalent of persuading Antonio Conte to become his manager.

Yet if Levy is the master of transfer negotiation, as is claimed, how come Tottenham’s two biggest targets in this window signed for other clubs?

How come he was outwitted by Jurgen Klopp over Luis Diaz and used by Adama Traore’s people to flush out a better offer from Barcelona?

How come a semi-professional striker from the seventh tier made Tottenham appear small?

And how come Tottenham could end up spending approaching £50million on players in this window — taking add-ons and converted loans into account —while still feeling as if the squad hasn’t significantly improved?

There is more anticipation around Dele Alli’s potential rebirth under Frank Lampard at Everton than anything Tottenham have done.

Increasingly, it is a myth, Levy as master manipulator. It is based on several colossal transfer fees received, rather than brilliant recruitment.

The money from Gareth Bale was mainly misspent. None of Kieran Trippier’s replacements were half the player he was.

Where is Tottenham’s Mo Salah or Kevin De Bruyne? Who was their last game-changing acquisition?

Son Heung-min? Toby Alderweireld? Summer 2015, the pair of them. More than six years ago.

The Spurs chief failed to land two priority targets in Adama Traore (pictured) and Luis Diaz

The Spurs chief failed to land two priority targets in Adama Traore (pictured) and Luis Diaz

The odd buy since has done a job — think Lucas Moura or Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg — but the idea of Levy running rings around his rival chairmen is utter fantasy. He delayed on Diaz and Liverpool gazumped him.

He waited on Traore, and Barcelona swept in. Yet the deficiencies in Tottenham’s squad were known on January 1. Why, only 30 days later, is Conte finding out his future?

It’s not just Tottenham, of course. The same can be said of a lot of clubs scrambling around as the seconds tick away. Yet Tottenham have secured a brilliant but demanding coach, one who is never scared to make dissatisfaction known.

Wasn’t delivering for him a priority in this window also? Did Levy do that? Diaz is considered suitable for Liverpool.

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte needs to be backed and needs a chairman to trust him

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte needs to be backed and needs a chairman to trust him

Rodrigo Bentancur, the player Tottenham have secured from Juventus instead, was previously linked with Aston Villa.

Tottenham’s announcement of loan signing Dejan Kulusevski trumpeted his 27 games for Juventus this season, while neglecting to mention 20 were as substitute.

The Sweden winger actually started five games in Serie A. Too often, Tottenham seem to grab what’s about rather than what they want, or need.

Conte is a good coach. He should be trusted to turn Tottenham around.

Yet how much clearer his vision could have been with a chairman less in thrall to deadline day drama — or less inclined to believe his own publicity.

BY EK! ARSENAL BEWARE…

Leaving aside the absolute comic delight in over-privileged media tarts Harry and Meghan placing themselves on a creative parallel with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, there is something very revealing about the Spotify anti-vax wars.

It is that Daniel Ek, owner of the streaming service, would rather sacrifice two of the greatest artists of modern times, than lose the revenue generated by Joe Rogan and his whacko conspiracy theories. This is the man with ambitions to own Arsenal.

Be careful what you wish for.

ONLY HONESTY CAN FINISH WHAT RAFIQ STARTED 

Azeem Rafiq opened up the debate around racism in cricket in this country, and if we’re not careful social media will close it. Now the 24-hour hate has subsided, it might be worth considering some of what Middlesex chairman Mike O’Farrell said to the DCMS committee.

It wasn’t a greatly impressive or encouraging performance and he did make generalised statements about communities, many of which lacked nuance. Yet anyone who has spent time around youth sport will recognise his sketch of the promising player, under pressure from home to focus more on his studies. It doesn’t apply to all young Asian cricketers, but it does to some. 

Equally, the sport does lose a great number of teenage participants to football, as O’Farrell claimed. Michael Holding made a similar observation about youth in the West Indies, choosing basketball over cricket. It wasn’t a stereotype; it was reality. Cricket is time-consuming and less appealing to the younger generation. The money is elsewhere, too.

So some, not all, of what O’Farrell said contained truth. This newspaper’s report from Indian Gymkhana, a sports club based in Osterley, Middlesex, found coaches and players who told tales of racism and stalled progression, but also confirmed the focus on education in some British Asian families. Both pictures can be true, and cricket can only progress if it acknowledges these complexities. There is no chance of reform without an honest conversation.

Azeem Rafiq opened up the debate on inclusivity, now honesty can finish what he started

Azeem Rafiq opened up the debate on inclusivity, now honesty can finish what he started

STOP CHANTING, START BRINGING FRIENDS 

It was the weekend when fans demanded equality.

‘No ifs, no buts, we want an equal FA Cup,’ they chanted; 469 of them at Plymouth versus Charlton, 631 at Brighton versus Reading, 596 at Tottenham versus Leicester.

And yes, the prize money on offer for women’s FA Cup matches is poor. The fourth round winners received £2,000, the losers £500. Victory in the equivalent stage in the men’s game pays £90,000. Emma Hayes, manager of Chelsea, was furious — but her team’s visit to Aston Villa then drew 1,093, which is smaller than the average attendances at 21 of 23 National League clubs. On the same day, 8,759 saw Wrexham draw with Maidenhead.

The FA insist they will address the disparity as much as is possible but the idea of an entirely equal FA Cup, given levels of support and therefore commercial revenue, does not make economic sense. Indeed, to significantly take from the men’s prize pool would lessen the FA Cup’s appeal to clubs and further harm a competition that is already ailing. Growing the women’s game cannot just mean money on demand.

There are other forms of progress. Instead of chanting about it, bring a friend.

SPANISH SIDE MAKE BAFFLING COACHING APPOINTMENT 

Carlos Santiso was coaching an age-group team in Madrid when he was recorded discussing motivation for his coaching staff.

‘There are things we still lack, that we still need,’ he said. ‘We need to do something like those from Arandina did. That’s what really brings a staff, a team, together. Look at the Arandina lot: they went straight up.’ 

And what did Arandina, a team from north-western Spain now in the fourth tier, do to create such spirit? Gang rape. 

In 2019, three players were sentenced to a total of 38 years in prison for raping an underage girl in her apartment. Santiso had a better idea. ‘We need to grab a girl, but over-age so we don’t get ourselves into trouble…’ 

Incredibly, this has not prevented his appointment as coach — of Rayo Vallecano’s women’s team, competing in the top division in Spanish football. It is hard to know where to begin with this, but we should all hope to know where it ends. 

With Rayo Vallecano Femenino looking for a new coach, and the club seeking a new president to replace Raul Martin Presa, who remains defiant about Santiso’s appointment and may therefore have lost his mind. 

Carlos Santiso's appointment to Rayo Vallecano's women's team is baffling given his remarks

Carlos Santiso’s appointment to Rayo Vallecano’s women’s team is baffling given his remarks

WHY DOESN’T JONES WANT A MOVE NOW? 

Phil Jones has started one Premier League game for Manchester United since January 22, 2020.

He will turn 30 this month, and injuries have already stolen much of his career. How much time does he have left to play?

Yet he turned down the chance of moving to Bordeaux, who are fourth from bottom and battling to stay in Ligue 1. No, it isn’t perfect. It certainly isn’t Manchester United. But it’s important football at a time when he won’t have too many opportunities.

Who knows where it could lead? Last year, Jones spoke movingly of how the many years of injury had affected him mentally. He sounded the antithesis of a player who was content collecting his wages on the sidelines. What changed?

Manchester United defender Phil Jones has been exiled but still does not want to leave the side

Manchester United defender Phil Jones has been exiled but still does not want to leave the side

PULISIC NEEDS TO EARN PLACE IN PREFERRED POSITION 

Christian Pulisic is the latest Chelsea player to claim to be miserable under Thomas Tuchel’s regime. His complaint is being played out of position, with Tuchel even using him as a wing-back in some games. 

‘It’s tough,’ he said. ‘I have not always been played in the position I want.’ Yes, and there’s a reason for that. Pulisic has been deployed as a winger, and a false nine, and in a variety of forward roles, but hasn’t made any of them his own.

Do that, and the manager gets use where he can. Chelsea certainly didn’t pay £57.6m for an apprentice wing-back. Pulisic became that by falling short of expectations. 

POLICE CHIEF SHOULD FOLLOW HIS OWN ADVICE 

After the London bombings in 2005, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington warned in his newspaper column that there were ‘200 Al-Qaeda operatives at large in Britain’. And as the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, your lordship, whose fault was that? Similarly, consider the response of Mark Roberts, head of football policing, to the recent rise in disorder at football matches.

A headline paraphrased his view: ‘Act now, or this will get out of hand’. Sorry, aren’t you the copper — why don’t you act?

IOC PRESIDENT STILL YET TO APOLOGISE 

Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard used the winter break to fly to Dubai and meet new people, in this case noted anti-Semite and grime artist Wiley, who was performing at a local nightclub. 

Following a misjudged photo opportunity both men apologised and feigned ignorance of outbursts that have seen Wiley banned from many social media platforms for rants against Jews. 

If the United pair are fans of his music, it is hard to imagine how they were unaware of the controversy, bearing in mind it was so great at the time it actually drew comment from the Home Secretary. 

Still, it could have been worse. IOC president and dictators’ lickspittle Thomas Bach has been busy shaking hands with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing. He still hasn’t apologised. 

NOBODY TRUSTS CHINA 

Michael Holz, Snowboarding Germany president, raised the possibility that Covid tests could be manipulated at the Beijing Games in a way that benefits the hosts.

He speculated that a convenient positive could be arranged for a competitor who threatens a Chinese medal-winner. It is a sensational allegation, particularly without evidence.

Yet this does not happen if visiting nations trust the hosts, and nobody trusts China. Athletes are using burner phones to avoid government hacking and surveillance, and photos of the mountain range where the skiing will take place shows no snow unless artificially created. The disdain, the paranoia, the increased risk of injury — machine-generated snow is very different in consistency to real — all of this is on the IOC. It should never have been there. Never.

POGBA U-TURN A SIGN HE IS UNWANTED? 

Paul Pogba has undergone a dramatic change of heart and may now be open to staying at Manchester United. This is all, apparently, the work of interim coach Ralf Rangnick who has greatly impressed Pogba in his brief time at the club. Pogba seems to have impressed Rangnick, too. Maybe that’s because he hasn’t played a game for him yet.

Of course, there might be another reason for the burgeoning romance. Perhaps Pogba’s people have sounded out the major destinations in Europe and been met with a shrug. Suddenly, United’s offer to continue paying wages that Pogba has rarely justified doesn’t seem so bad.

Paul Pogba is linked with making a Man Utd U-turn... perhaps that is because no one wants him

Paul Pogba is linked with making a Man Utd U-turn… perhaps that is because no one wants him

‘LUNATIC’ WINTER STARS ARE SO COURAGEOUS 

Sofia Goggia of Italy, the reigning Olympic champion, would have been the overwhelming favourite to win the women’s downhill skiing event in Beijing. Then, on January 23, she fell at a World Cup super-G event and suffered a partially torn cruciate ligament, a minor fracture of the fibula bone, tendon damage and a sprained left knee.

This weekend, it was announced she would be stepping up rehabilitation and is hopeful of competing to retain her title on February 15. Whatever the wrongs of this Olympics, the bravery of winter sports athletes never ceases to astonish. Lunatics, most of them.

BARCA SHOPPING FOR PREMIER LEAGUE CAST OFFS A SIGN OF THE TIMES 

Barcelona were initially surprised that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang flew to Spain to facilitate his move from Arsenal. 

The bigger surprise, though, is the way a club whose every fancy used to shake the transfer market, is now given to entertaining Premier League cast-offs, while desperately manoeuvring to make ends meet. 

This is why they were so desperate to form a Super League. It was the only way left for them to reassert their power over English football; and to think our six biggest clubs were dumb enough to almost facilitate that. 



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