It may be seen as a sign of Antonio Conte’s ruthlessness or an indication of how the mighty have fallen.
Tottenham weren’t in action this weekend but Dele Alli hasn’t really been playing of late: for about 21 months, really. He has had two minutes in the Premier League under Conte and just 14 top-flight starts since March 2020. The news that he will be allowed to leave on loan in January was shocking in one respect, but not another.
Rewind a few years and statistics abounded showing that Alli had more goals than Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard or Paul Scholes had mustered at the same age. He scored 22 times in a season when he turned 21, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award for a second time. It scarcely felt hyperbolic to suggest he could be a £100 million footballer.
Instead, when he exits Tottenham, albeit temporarily, it will be without a transfer fee. If Alli’s decline seems too swift and stark for most to have predicted it, it nevertheless represents a failure of Levynomics: another one. Tottenham did not cash in on their greatest team in decades. A chairman who is often described as the dealmaker extraordinaire failed to strike the right deals. And while keeping their players took them to a Champions League final and the brink of the glory, the reality is that Spurs’ subsequent slide came as some of the same players aged and others lost their way. Their rebuilding has not been funded by sales of Mauricio Pochettino’s side and, unless Harry Kane or Heung-Min Son leave, it won’t be.
Go back a few years and Spurs’ talent and youth suggested they had plenty of equity on the pitch. They were sitting on a windfall. And, while every case has its own differences, Levy priced most of their assets out of the kind of move that would have benefited Spurs’ bank balance. Instead, most ended up going on the cheap.
Arguably the worst thing that happened to Tottenham was receiving £50 million for Kyle Walker. The right-back remains the only one of Pochettino’s talismanic figures to bring in more than £20 million. It encouraged Spurs to play hard ball, believing that was the market value for his team-mates.
They wanted a similar fee for Danny Rose when Chelsea and Manchester City expressed an interest. Had Tottenham compromised – at £30 million, say – they would have made a huge profit on the left-back. Instead, he left for free this summer, with Spurs paying him not to play last season.
And £50 million appeared the price when Jose Mourinho identified Eric Dier and an ageing Toby Alderweireld as potential Manchester United players. United bought the cheaper Nemanja Matic instead of Dier. Arguably, Spurs did well to get £13 million for Alderweireld, an outstanding centre-back in his day, when he eventually left this summer. The same may be said of Mousa Dembele, who brought in £11 million when 31 after Spurs got the best years of his career.
Meanwhile, Christian Eriksen appeared in the Alli bracket, with another case of inflated expectations amid the prospect of a nine-figure sum. Instead, the Dane departed, in the final six months of his contract for just £17 million. Had a more realistic valuation been on his head earlier, Spurs might have brought in more and sold him earlier. Levy wanted £150 million for Kane in the summer, didn’t get it as City’s bid came to £100 million and now has a striker with a solitary league goal to his name this season. Perhaps no one will offer more than £50 million for Kane again.
Go through Pochettino’s team and Jan Vertonghen and Victor Wanyama left for free, Moussa Sissoko for £3 million, Erik Lamela as the makeweight in the move for Bryan Gil, who has been granted just 57 minutes in the Premier League. Harry Winks has the feel of another player Levy priced at £50 million but no one else did, who is out of the team now and whose actual value may be somewhere nearer £10 million.
Perhaps only Levy can document precisely how big some of the bids he has received over the years were and how far they were from his valuations. Clearly, it would not have been in Spurs’ interest to flog off all or accept every offer but perhaps, in trying not to be a selling club, Tottenham failed to sell when the time or price were right. Now Alli could be borrowed instead. If it prompts questions where it went wrong for him, the same may be asked of them.
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Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.