In one of the few interviews he has ever given, Daniel Levy revealed that he spent most of his student years at Sidney Sussex – the ancient Cambridge University college of Oliver Cromwell and Alan Bennett – using the phone outside his room to trade shares on the Stock Exchange.
It is not really what student life is supposed to be about, but then the Tottenham Hotspur chairman has always done things his own sweet way. After almost 10 years in control of Spurs, they play Manchester City on Wednesday in a game that will probably decide whether Levy's club at last crack the biggest, most lucrative cabal in English football and reach the Champions League.
Pre-Levy, under whom Spurs have twice finished fifth since 2001, the club's last best finish was third in 1990. They won the Carling Cup in 2008, one of only five of the top domestic trophies won by teams outside the traditional "big four" in the last 11 years. But Levy has never been granted the devotion of the Spurs fans.
This peculiarly dysfunctional relationship between chairman and supporters has at its heart Levy's cack-handed sacking of Martin Jol – clearly not the chairman's finest hour. The revisionist historians at White Hart Lane now regard Jol as a genius, even though his team routinely choked against the "big four". And you could hardly say that the club has fallen apart without him.
Whatever they say about the Jol fiasco, his successor, Juande Ramos, won a trophy. Then, when Ramos ran out of steam, Levy did what all good chairmen must do: he found a man in Harry Redknapp who could rescue the situation.
It is not just the puzzling loyalty to Jol that translates into distrust of Levy. There are the misconceptions about the club's finances and the kind of unrealistic expectations of Spurs fans more suited to the 1960s than the 21st century.
Levy rarely defends himself so here is a controversial notion: he is a good chairman and Spurs fans have a lot to be grateful for. Yes, he has made mistakes but in an era where financial mismanagement is rife, Spurs have generally been run with eminent good sense. You would also back Levy to get Spurs' new stadium built in a fashion that will not cripple the club.
Levy's problem has been his public image. He is naturally shy and there was an empty chair where he should have been at Ramos's introductory press conference. Levy wanted to duck the Jol inquest and was rightly slated for it. Yet his record for backing his managers with money is unanswerable.
In transfer fees, Spurs spent £119.3m in the summer of 2008 – which included the likes of Luka Modric and Heurelho Gomes. Spurs' sales, including that of Dimitar Berbatov – and what a deal that £30.75m now looks – meant Spurs' net spend was £46.8m. When Redknapp needed players last summer, Levy gave him about £30m and then recouped almost 60 per cent on sales.
Spurs have not spent outrageously to achieve Champions League qualification but, through a good manager and astute player trading, they are very close. Despite operating in an antiquated stadium with a 36,240-capacity, they were the only Premier League club apart from Arsenal and Manchester United to post profits of more than £25m in their last accounts.
You can judge the shape Spurs are in by their wage-to-turnover ratio – that crucial indicator of a club's health – relative to their fellow Champions League wannabes. According to their last financial results, Spurs operated at a very decent 52.3 per cent of wages to turnover compared to Aston Villa (76.8 per cent) and Manchester City (a whopping 94.4 per cent).
The anecdotal evidence in football is that Levy is a formidable negotiator. The Spurs wage bill is, according to most agents you speak to, between 15 and 20 per cent lower than it might be if the agents had the upper hand. Levy compensates by renegotiating contracts quickly for players who establish themselves in the first team. Every time he does, he secures them on a longer deal.
Spurs' £45.9m debt is a little unwieldy but it is a quarter of that quoted for Fulham. Spurs shares closed at 68.5p last week putting the market value of the club at £84.6m. Throw in the debt and Spurs have an enterprise value of around £130m.
The future for Spurs? Enic, in which Levy has a 29.4 per cent personal stake, owns 85 per cent of the club. Enic paid relatively high prices when it bought its major stakes in 2000 and 2007 so it will not have made a capital gain, although it has made money through dividends. Its valuation of the club will be a lot higher than £130m and it would be fair to assume that if the Enic stake was up for grabs, the Spurs share price would rise.
The instinct was always that Levy would sell up for a profit. Ten years on, he has built firm foundations and now you wonder if perhaps the hard-nosed student share-trader in him has mellowed into a man who quite enjoys competing with rich rival clubs, building a new stadium and ringing every penny out of transfers. Why walk away?
Spurs have been on the brink of great things many times before. Come Wednesday this might yet prove to be another false dawn. But whatever happens, at least their chairman has not recklessly gambled the house on success.
What now for McClaren the Dutch master?
Having won the Dutch league yesterday, there are big decisions ahead for Steve McClaren. Does he stay at FC Twente and try his hand in the Champions League group stages next season with a club that is likely to sell its three best players this summer? Or does he listen to West Ham's best offer?
Either way, it is not a bad position to be in relative to the despair of November 2007 and England's Euro 2008 failure. McClaren's triumph with Twente is a remarkable achievement, as good as Roy Hodgson's season at Fulham. Going to the Netherlands was a great decision; he will have to think long and hard about his next move too.
Imagine the outcry if Cracknell had been a footballer
For those few who continue to peddle the fantasy that rugby union is a noble, honourable sport that shames its mucky cousin football there has been overwhelming evidence to the contrary in recent years. But, even after the Harlequins blood fiasco, the extraordinary events at Headingley last week are worthy of mention.
In brief, Worcester's Chris Cracknell dragged his team-mate James Collins' father from the stand on to the pitch after a game against Leeds and attacked him. His punishment? A fine. Had Cracknell been a footballer one imagines that the all-round outrage would have knocked even Gillian Duffy off the front pages.Reuse content