In the transfer market any club’s aim is to maximize the fee on the sale of a player, and minimize the fee on a purchase, understandable considering the amounts of money involved. Tottenham Hotspur Chairman Daniel Levy has a well-deserved reputation for playing hardball in the transfer market. Perhaps not many could have obtained Rafael van der Vaart for a lowly £8million or negotiated £30.75million for Dimitar Berbatov.
The tough negotiations resulted in the Bulgarian being sold in the last minutes of the transfer window. The timing meant Spurs were left with no opportunity to sign the quality replacement needed, especially with Robbie Keane having been sold earlier that summer. Spurs started that season by taking two points out of a possible 18, leading to the sack for manager Juande Ramos. As Manchester United, Sunderland and Norwich City have shown this summer, clubs prefer transfer activity completed before the start of the season, pre-season if possible, so new players can settle in. Most seasons under Levy there have been transfers in August and September. In 10 years, Spurs have gained 88 out of a possible 207 points in those same months.
Playing hardball may leave a club unable to sign replacements due to uncertainty whether a player will be sold. When they are, it may be too late to buy quality replacements. Consequently, a club can end up paying over the odds for mediocre players as clubs take advantage of the buyer’s desperation. For example, Freddie Kanoute was sold on August 17 2005. His replacement, Gregor Rasiak was signed on the final day of the transfer window and managed only eight Tottenham appearances, without scoring, before moving on.
The completion of transfers may depend on good relationships with other clubs – arguably, Spurs need improvement in this area. In their failed bid for winger Diego Capel, the Sevilla President stated “I
Levy adopts an equally tough stance on the purchase of players. There is a balance though between this and offering a fee that is perceived to be unrealistic – the bids for Phil Neville were described by David Moyes as “insulting and disrespectful.” In the January transfer window Spurs reportedly had bids for eight strikers rejected for being too low. Debatably, the cost by not increasing one bid has been far outweighed by the cost of non-qualification for the Champions League.
The Chairman has made some quality signings but maybe too often his stance has been counterproductive, with too much paid for mediocrity and quality targets missed. Perhaps Levy needs to be more selective about when to play hardball.