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July 2021

Managing expectations is the prime game in football

By Tony Attwood

“The biggest challenge for the next incumbent, however, will be to firmly realign expectations and aims with the cold reality of the Premier League landscape. That reality can be quickly understood with a glance at the balance sheets of the major clubs.”

That quote from the Daily Telegraph is surely one of the truest statements in football this year.

As Arsenal supporters we can see it clearly about Arsenal (we built the stadium, and the money for top line purchases was not there) and Tottenham (no stadium = no champions league = no money = no stadium = …)

Football has never been played out on a level playing field.   Some clubs get big revenue from their grounds, some are in poorer parts of the country, some even with a plush new ground would only get small crowds, some have benefactors.

Put like that it is so obvious that all clubs are not equal, and yet so many find it hard to grasp the point.

The seemingly desperate desire of Tottenham to get into the top four on a regular basis goes hand in hand with their need for a new stadium.  Without either their income is seriously below that of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City – which totals four.   And there are only four slots in the Champs League.

As the Telegraph pointed out, citing Deloitte, “Tottenham’s fiscal firepower is actually closer to that of Aston Villa, Fulham, Everton, Newcastle United and Sunderland than any of the four Premier League clubs who were in the hat on Monday for the Champions League draw.”

But the problem is that this is not common thinking in the places where Tottenham supporters hide out.  And I write that not to get at Tottenham but to make the point that it has for a long time been true at Arsenal too.

What Levy at Tottenham has done is made Tottenham aim high, and that of course is good.  Unfortunately the one man who seemed to be able to deliver on that aim was Arry, and the top bods at Tottenham decided he wasn’t quite the thing for N17.

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If you ever look into the history of football in London you will see that Chelsea, from 1905 had by far the biggest stadium, and could get crowds of 50,000 or more.   But it never brought them success.   Arsenal built Highbury which rivalled Stamford Bridge for numbers, but had to play there for 12 years before they won anything.  Then because they had the right man at the helm, everything happened.
Or consider Manchester United in 1973/4.  They still had Old Trafford, but managed to get relegated from the first division.

No, money helps but there is more.

Consider Levy – the “tough negotiator” as we have been told about one million times in the last week.   But holding on and on for the last few million quid from Real Madrid has a disadvantage because with each day the transfer was not done, there was one day less for the manager to buy not one but lots and lots of players and then integrate them.

Yes you can pick up a gem at the end of the transfer window (Ozil, Arteta, Per Mertesacker) but you can’t pick up lots of players all at once and get it right.  No club has enough manpower to get all the deals sorted in a short space of time or to meld a team with this many newcomers, after the season has already started.  You are bound to get some oddities among the players you buy (Park, Santos are recent examples).

So the endless chatter that Levy has provided “his managers with a spending power in transfer fees that does sometimes outstrip their rivals,” has come at a price.

From what we can gather the Ozil to Arsenal transfer negotiations started in 2010 and it started then because Arsenal had the money.  Tottenham couldn’t do real negotiations until the Bale deal went through and by then some players had decided they didn’t rate Tottenham, while others had already moved elsewhere.

In short it was the Levy toughness, so admired in the press, that actually caused the chaos, not the incompetence of AVB.

So Tottenham have tried to buy their way into the Champions League through bringing on board the best players, in order to buy the stadium that would allow the Champions League status to flourish.   But that is an impossible trick to pull off, unless you have either a benefactor, or a stable regime and a brilliant manager within that regime.

Of course in the sense of success that the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal (the AAA also of late known as the Under 12s supporters club) use, Tottenham have been more successful than Arsenal of late in that they have won the League Cup, although personally I wouldn’t swap our approach for a League Cup.

But few of the Under 12s, really think that the Tottenham model of sacking the manager every year or two is the best way forward.  They imagine that a club can go out and get the best manager, and everyone else will stand by and let it happen.   But it is not like that.  Wenger was nurtured by Arsenal over time, and then came in his own time.  Levy has created a gap at the top through his toughness.  But the choice of new managers is limited.

And the new man will come in with expectations at the Lane even higher, rather than under control.

Yes Arsenal have sacked many managers – Neill, Wright, Swindin, Howe, Graham.   But Arsenal worked hard to keep Chapman even when it was all going wrong in the first five years – and thank goodness they did.  Indeed it is quite right that Arsenal should have a statue of Chapman up at the Ems, because not only did he deliver the first trophies and the team of the 30s, it is a reminder that the club stood by the man in the earlier dark days.

But just sacking the manager is never normally enough.  You either need to appoint the utter genius manager who can instantly bring in one of the greatest players of all time (Vieira) for peanuts (£3.5m) and then deliver success beyond the club’s wildest dreams the following season (the double) or you have to pick your man with great care, wait for him to be ready, and give him time.
At different times, Arsenal have been able to do both, but neither is easy.  Tottenham of late have been unable to do it, and that’s bad enough.  But worse, I think that Tottenham have utterly failed to manage the expectations of supporters properly, so with each new manager and each new season there is major expectation at the Lane and that leads to bitterness and recrimination.
The man who should be the brunt of the recrimination in my view, as an Arsenal supporter looking in from without, is Levy.  Yet he manages the story so he is the last person to be blamed by the fawning media who love his “toughness”.
I believe that the harder he chases that top four slot with his endless roundabout of managers, the harder it will be to achieve it.    What Tottenham needs to do is what Arsenal did.  Find the unknown genius manager and let him do his own thing while managing expectations.  But I don’t think Levy knows how to do that.


34 comments to Managing expectations is the prime game in football

  • WalterBroeckx

    And I sure do hope he never knows how to do it.

  • blacksheep63

    Malky MacKay has just become available…

  • Damilare

    Though it is morally not right to rejoice at the misfortune of others, yet I find spud’s situation comfortably interesting.

    On level playing fields: Arsenal’s defeats recently have been from awkardly tilted playing fields no thanks to injuries and more frequently, officials.

    Slightly off topic, all we need to beat chelski come monday is a level playing field. Thank goodness the pitch at Ems is superb. Im therefore concerned about Pgmol construction Ltd, who have already deploy one of their best structural engineers- Dean, an expert demolitor. Here he comes with his bulldozer. Sorry field.

  • Mike T


    As many may well know I am a Chelsea supporter and in truth whilst I have a soft spot for Arsenal (my grandfather was a supporter in the Woolwich days)I have none whatsoever when it comes to Spurs

    This article is perhaps the best written I have read the situation at Spurs and till they manage expectations starting with the fact that a £100+ million spend on players guarantees nothing

  • Thanks for your comment Mike T and I agree that this is a well constructed piece.

    I would also add that Spurs delusions of grandeur go back way before Levy and ENIC and I guess managing expectations of fans with such a view is very difficult. This makes it even funnier!!

  • Dan T

    That was a really great article. It would be interesting to hear some Spurs supporters views on that.

    Personally I think they should have stuck with AVB. I think I read that AVB had the best points return per game of any Spurs manager for 100 years. I know some of this was luck (dodgy pens to win games), and the players clearly haven’t integrated very well this season but I think quite a bit of blame has to rest with Baldini for this too.

    16 games and effectively no pre-season is simply not enough time to get things running smoothly after a total squad overhaul. You have to wonder, if they weren’t going to give this manager time to work with the team, then why did they bother spending all that money?

    When will clubs learn that the manager merry-go-round is not the long-term solution to success.

  • WalterBroeckx

    Dan T,
    If you look at Manchester City you can see that at the start of their spending money like mad it also didn’t work out immediately. It was only when they gave Mancini enough time that the silverware came to them.
    An exception might be Chelsea but that is mainly down to the fact that when they started spending like mad they were the only ones in that league of spending and so had it easier. Since City started spending like them it hasn’t been that easy anymore.

    I think the best way to win trophies however is to spend big on good relations with referees 😉

    But then again you cannot publish buying a ref in the newspapers 🙂

  • Great piece Tony and for the umpteenth time, let’s hope this gives the u-12s some sense of perspective when they chant their “buy this, buy that” mantra.

    As I wrote during mid-season, I believe that the windfall from the sale of Bale should have been spent on getting work started on their stadium rather than on player acquisition. The latter guarantees nothing, as we are all seeing now but at least with the former, you can see the tangible things that the money has done. Beside, the Bale money was a once-in-a-lifetime profit; it should have been tied unto something fundamentally memorable and long lasting.

    To be honest, I am thrilled that they have chosen to flush the Bale money down the toilet rather start anything tangible with it. I am a Gooner after all.

  • Shakabula Gooner

    A level playing field is impossible to achieve. However, it it necessary to somehow “re-balance” the field once in awhile to avoid a completely skewed field that favors one or two teams, as we have in Spain and, to some extent, Germany.
    It was becoming the case in EPL at some point that the trophy went to either Man U or Arsenal. Then, it became one between Man U and Chelsea. Of late, thanks to new money entrants (Man City) and better focus on efficient use of resources (Liverpool, Everton, Newcastle, Southampton), EPL is more competitive across about 8 or 9 clubs this season. Tottenham is still among such clubs, in my view.
    I believe that in addition to managing expectations, FFP have played some role and can still be pressed to do more for the sake of keen competition across board in EPL. You need such keen competition to sustain local and international interest in the league and improve the quality of English, Scottish Welsh and even Irish players that line up for their respective countries in international competitions.
    If Tottenham can get a good coach, provide stability and manage the expectations, as you opined as as Liverpool found it necessary to do when Brendan Rodgers took over, I believe that they can turn things around in 1 or 2 seasons.
    Though an Arsenal fan, I do wish them luck in this. Much as it may give some pleasure to see them slide very far behind us, I guess we shall miss the fun of the derbies and very keen competition that playing against them is.

  • ARSENAL 13

    Bootoomee is right. 100 (well how much was it) million is not a small amount. And Spurs had the players and manager good enough to survive the construction phase….

    Levy missed the bus big time. And his whip (Baldini) messed up big time too…..Now whose in a downward spiral???….AVB spoke too soon.

  • colario

    Back in Arsenal’s sleeping sixies I ridiculed a Tottenham supporter for is team’s loss of 3-0 or 3-1 up at looserpool.

    He replied, ‘Where are you in Europe this week?’. To which I had no answer.

    David Dean commenting on Arsene’s first full season that had brought the Club’s second double, let slip something not said but there.

    ‘We expected something in 3 years but never this.’ In other words Arsene had three years.

    It hasn’t always been so at Arsenal as Bruce Rioch and Don Howe will confirm. I seem to recall that the cause of Don’s dismissal was the poor football played. (However there are other reasons given as well as this one.)

    As I have said else where my Tottenham friend says the way the team played against looserpool was the problem. Whether or not he was influenced by the media or his own conclusion I don’t know but it would appear that one game can determine the fate of the manager. This cannot be the way to run a football club that wants success.

    For it is not the pathway to success.

  • andy bishop

    Yep! excellent article…long term success needs long term management of the right kind. We’ve got it thankfully.

  • nicky

    I hold no brief for Spurs but to sack the manager so early in the season appears to be the height of folly.
    The departure of Bale was disruptive enough, but not allowing a host of new signings to “bed in” for a season, demonstrates a clear lack of common sense and patience by the club’s Board.

  • Shakabula Gooner,

    You are right about us needing Tottenham, just like Eric Cartman need needs Kyle Brofslovski (any South Park fan here?). I don’t want them to get relegated EVER. I’ll love them to be coming 17th regularly though 🙂

  • bob

    “EPL is more competitive across about 8 or 9 clubs this season.”
    Shakabula Gooner,
    Here’s an alternate guesstimated reading of the situation at hand: I agree on their need to draw in as much local interest to raise hope$ – it’s good commerce and there’s the talent to do so. Other professional leagues have long since understood this (ex: the very multibillions-lucrative National (so-called) Football League in the US, where many teams win, season after season and the fans love it). However, EPL is also captive, imo, to the success of a few (2-3 Brand values) which hurts the league as a whole, but greatly enriches those 2-3 at the aptly-named “business end” of the season. The trick is appearing to be more broadly competitive whilse engineering (via PGMOL) the desired 2-3 team (post-Fungusson) outcome.

  • bob

    p.s. And AFC is not one of the 2-3 most favored Brands (MFB’s) because, perhaps as a commentor has suggested, because we don’t play by certain rules. Perhaps we can tease out some of the unstated (but governing) rules that we don’t play by and how, commercially speaking, these would imperil the 3Brand/PGMOL engineered outcome?

  • Mike T

    What I truly don’t get is what Levy or come to that what the supporters can realistically expect.
    If you look at the EPL Spurs have had just 2 top 4 finishes in the 21 year history of the league so its not as if they have a recent history of dining at the top table.
    The £100 million spend seems to have confused them into thinking they have arrived but I am not too sure that either your club or mine and certainly not either of the 2 Manchester clubs would have targeted many or indeed any of their summer signings so I guess the realistic question is are they a better team following the spend or has losing Bale made them worse

  • Mandy Dodd

    great article. The next Spurs manager will face challenges coming at him from all directions. the way the media back them can help them at times, but also plays a part in raising – maybe falsely raising expectations. My only criticism against this piece – you should have put Spurs or Tottenham in the title – that may have misrepresented the article a bit, but would have attracted their fans here in their droves as it would appear on their news aggregators – having said that, with the honourable exception of a few who could add to the debate, the abuse would maybe deem this proposal as not worthwhile

  • rupert cook

    What Spurs’ predicament highlights is the absolute obsession with the bloated corpse that is the CL. This over-hyped competition has skewed our league so we now have a club that can claim finishing fourth is some achievement when the only real achievement is finishing first. Why bother winning the league at all when all that matters is qualification for a dull competition that only a handful of clubs who have the finances to invest in star players can actually win? Oh yes it swells the coffers but ultimately not enough because the outlay for success in this pantomime is extortionate. Hence our 42 million on Ozil just to pretend we’re not running on the spot. As usual we’ll crumble as a team swollen with expensive talent marches off with the prize.

    I’d rather have won two or three FA Cups than qualify for this farce every year. In fact I wished we’d been relegated to the Europa League, a tournament we might win. Imagine us in the final against Spurs, wouldn’t that have been better than another dispiriting exit at the hands of Bayern, Barca et al in the CL?

    As for AVB, I don’t think he’d have done much at Spurs anyway, even if he’d been given five years. Sadly he’s gone and I suspect the next incumbent will do a better job.

  • Mike T

    Greetings Rupert and Happy Christmas

    First of I will agree re AVB . I tend to think they gave him the job to almost prove that Chelsea were wrong in getting rid whereas both at the time of him leaving us and now some 2 years on I have no doubt that he wasn’t up to the standard.
    Sorry to disagree but I see nothing wrong with the CL as such although I do believe the money should be distributed in a different way and in truth fair dos to the FA for at least they show a little bit of imagination in terms of how FA cup prize money is distributed although having said that they could go a lot further to try and help lower on non league clubs.
    You do though make a valid point about finishing 4th and qualifying and again perhaps the FA could show a little more imagination by giving one CL place to the league winners, one to the runners up and the 3rd automatic place to the FA cup winners with the league cup winners going into the play off.
    I know it wont happen for several reasons but at least it would shake up the mix a little

  • Shakabula Gooner

    Rupert: CL is the more prestigious of the only two European trophies contested for annually. It has been prestigious for a very long time. Just ask Real Madrid, Ajax or Bayen.
    I suspect that your real reason for trying to slate it is to pay homage to your point, well made and already well understood by those of us who have been reading you here for awhile that it wasn’t good or worthy enough to have been the only thing Arsenal had to show for the past 8years. It is unhelpful here though as many will continue to argue back here with equal vehemence and persistence that in light of other things the club had in the fire, it was a worthy and consistent achievement.
    As for why Tottenham had to make it part of the club’s ambition, I guess that is the point of Tony’s piece. It could have been a longer term ambition but in consistently making it a short term ambition and destabilizing its coaching crew over it (read sacking Jol and Redknapp, for example) the management do greater disservice to the club.
    As to why this is the case shall just say that it is a widespread virus and Tottenham’s management is not the only one infected by it.

  • Mandy Dodd

    I would not like us to lose Champions league status at all, it is hugely important for our players to face that sort of competition, it is good for the fans, the clubs prestige and of course financial health.
    I would of course like us to stop finishing second in the group stage, and for once, get just a minute slice of luck in the draw…you know, the sort of thing Utd get…but thats another story.

  • Rupert Cook wrote:

    “As for AVB, I don’t think he’d have done much at Spurs anyway, even if he’d been given five years. Sadly he’s gone and I suspect the next incumbent will do a better job.”

    And I wonder on what premise he based these wild assumptions that he presented with such confidence. Great job Captain Hindsight/Psychic!

    If Arsenal had failed to make the ECL, Rupert Cook, by reputation, would be one of the loudest complainants. He is only treating it as useless now because it is one area where he cannot criticise the club and the manager.

    To be fair to Rupert Cook, he is perhaps the most consistent poster here. Whatever the team excels at is never important or worthy to him. Whatever we fail at becomes the most important yardstick.

    How any fan who claims to love his club and have any knowledge of modern realities football would wish they get relegated to a less glorious level is beyond my comprehension but I guess how some support their team is by hoping they become a big fish in a tiny jar of water.

  • Mike T,

    If the FA takes your suggestion, Wigan would be representing England this season in the EPL after beating the Almighty Man City to win the cup. We keep that going and it won’t be long before we lose 1 or 2 of England’s 4 ECL places. It is for this reason that the FA of other countries will not support the idea because their cup competitions also produce fluke winners.

    The champions’ league has always been about the leagues. If a club cannot be among the top 3 to 4 in their country after a round of about 38 matches against opponents of similar strengths, then their FA/league cup victory must only be a fluke. Again, I give you Wigan. They should play in the Europa cup where they belong.

  • Mike T


    The point is that if the FA cup were to have a CL place then managers would take the competition much more seriously
    For instance look at the team AW started with against Blackburn last season if a CL place was part of the prize would he have started with the team he did? Or would Newcastle have played a second team which they did and indeed lost to Brighton ?
    Irrespective rather than just look at Wigan and take one years winner in isolation look at the FA Cup winners over the last 20 years and in truth bar Wigan and Portsmouth none of the winners would have been out of their depth playing in the CL.
    Having said all that I don’t think the CL place should default to the cup runners up.

  • Mike T,

    I agree with you that winners of the FA cup would normally be high up in the league anyway. Going for the highest ranking league finishers rather than FA cup winners will however, remove the risk of having the occasional Wigans and Porthsmouths representing England in the UCL. Also, playing your strongest team in the cups does not guarantee success. Unlike in the league where a strong team could survive the occasional upsets through better averages in the long run, it is not so in the cups where an error or bad officiating could mean you are out till another year.

  • Tom

    Tony touches up on many important issues in his piece, not the least of which is how directly and indirectly the rules in PL are rigged to the rich clubs’ advantage .

    For example, Chelsea can dip into January transfer market (again)to reinforce their sputtering strike force, buy one or even two top players and send their current strikers out on loan to some mid table team without having to face those players the rest of the way. Meanwhile Arsenal will have to face those players just like we did Lukaku with Everton.
    Does anyone believe Lukaku would “throw” the game if allowed to play against Chelsea? Hell no!
    He would play out of his skin to prove Mou wrong for not rating him. So what is the league trying to protect? Certainly not it’s integrity. They had lost it long time ago.

    Qualifying for champions league is vital for clubs like Arsenal who don’t have a rich benefactor the way Chelsea and Man City do . Where the real argument begins, is how much of those CL funds should a club reinvest in to the squad to be more competitive .

    There is the Dortmund approach , where most of the CL funds plus any money from player transfers are put right back into the squad to keep it as competitive as possible and there is Mr Wenger’s approach , where most of the funds are kept in reserve and the club is trying to unearth the next outstanding talent from within. Ozill’s transfer might represent a sea change in this approach .

    On AVB sacking
    AVB broke two unwritten rules of professional football .
    First – he criticized the home fans for lack of proper support and
    Second – he criticized the media when under pressure ,thus showing his thin skin and inability to deal with adversity.
    There’s never anything to gain from either of those two and if you combine it with AVB not having a coherent tactical plan (based on games I watched) plus the string of a embarrassing results, he was always in danger of getting fired.

    Is Daniel Levy the meanest chairman in the PL ?
    First he fired Redknapp who took Tottenham from the bottom of the league in 2008 to the first CL appearance in 2010. And now AVB who’s got the best winning percentage of any Tottenham managers. What a mess! Who would want that job?

    Coincidently, Harry Redknapp broke the third unwritten rule of professional football . The standard operating answer when confronted with interest from another club or in Arry’s case country , is always ;” I’m am 100 percent happy and committed to my club and not interested in any other job”, until the transfer is completed that is 🙂

  • Mandy Dodd

    Think Avb is a smart guy wonder if he engineered his way out over differences with levy and maybe others at the club? Also wonder if he has something else lined up?

  • Pat

    Good article, Tony. The Daily Telegraph article you quote from is also good and very informative as well as giving opinions. The journalist who wrote the article, Jeremy Wilson, generally has interesting things to say.

  • OMGArsenal

    Actually Rupert has a point about the CL being a rich man’s Royal Ascot where only a priviledged few ever get to really challenge for the trophy.
    It is, I agree, a bloated and rather incestuous competition where one can easily predict the top 4 or 5 clubs who will inevitably (with rare exception) end up reaching the semis. That said, it has much more value (both monetary and PR wise)than the FA Cup or any of our other rather pale imitations.
    Whether the Arsenal have won it 100 times or never (as is the case now), we have achieved considerable success therein, and once we win it, we will have succeeded in being one of the few Clubs to hold multiple records that few others have rivaled. That is the real value in the CL trophy that the EPL trophies don’t hold a candle to.

  • rupert cook

    @Shakubala Gooner, Prestigious really? A competition full of clubs that have not come within ten points of winning their leagues in some cases. No, it’s an overblown Europa League, which it is in fact by any other name. Reinstate the European Cup and restore some pride to our domestic league and demolish the pitiful scenes of fans celebrating finishing fourth. Oh but we daren’t do that because football is enslaved to the great god money.

    I really don’t give a damn about the whole shebang. It’s more of an achievement winning the EPL, so let’s make that our prime objective. Both these interminable European competitions are detrimental to clubs with domestic ambitions, at least those clubs that don’t have a billion pounds worth of players clogging up their dressing rooms.

    @OMG Arsenal, it may indeed have more monetary value than the FA Cup but I’d rather hoped fans cared more about winning a cup than a club’s bank balance. Give me the joy of seeing our players celebrate a cup victory in the FA Cup rather than their misery as they once again trudge off the field defeated by some European giant. And winning the FA Cup, maybe even our league, is financially achievable whereas we’d have to invest another 100 million or so to win the damn CL.

    But I like your confidence regarding the CL, “once we win it”. I’m not sure that’ll ever happen unless we pump obscene money into player investment.

  • rupert cook

    @Bootoome, hardly wild assumptions about AVB. He was a disaster at Chelsea, at least by their standards, you know, where they expect a trophy every season and a flop at Spurs.

    Don’t tell me what I’d complain about. Yes I’d be annoyed we didn’t finish as high as we could in the league but then I’m never satisfied unless we come first. One of the drawbacks of finishing in 2, 3 or 4 is we are then thrown into the misnamed CL.

    I find the whole CL pantomime tedious. We’re not equipped to win it, we had the players to do so ten years ago, we didn’t then and we won’t now. If you’re happy being a sacrificial lamb every season that’s your prerogative.

    We could actually win the Europa League. We might even end up playing Spurs in the final. You’d rather swap that possibility for the almost certain fail in the CL would you?

    And again, don’t tell lies, little fibber. I’ve made several comments on here commending our performances this season so get off your high horse.

  • sukebe


    So, I’m guessing, it will be okay for you if we stop trying to win the epl, because capitol one cup is more realistic target, more achievable, more easier…

    I kinda know you better a little bit now, rupert…