Perez's 11 'Galacticos'
September 5th, 2013
12:11 PM ET

Daniel Levy: Football's toughest negotiator?

Gareth Bale may have been the big star of Europe's summer transfer window, but behind the scenes it was his former club chairman Daniel Levy who emerged as one of the most formidable characters.

The Tottenham supremo has long been known as one of the toughest negotiators in football, and he cemented that status with the manner in which he handled the Bale sale. Not only did he demand a massive fee  – possibly even a world record – for a player largely untested at the highest level, but he played the European transfer market with all the strategic flair of a chess Grandmaster.

Throughout the summer, I received plenty of messages from fans around the world, telling me that the Welsh winger wasn’t worth anything like the astronomical figures being quoted, and maybe he’s not. But in any market, the value of any commodity  – be it a piece of real estate or a bale of hay  – is only decided by the two negotiators around the table.

If you want it bad enough, you’ll pay what I say.

On Sunday, social media sites were alive with armchair micro-analysis of the trade and much of the comment was commending Levy’s role. With his business acumen he should take over as Britain’s finance minister, the narrative went, or with his negotiating skills he should represent terrorist organizations. Clubs who are struggling in the transfer market should just sign Levy ahead of any new players and – apparently  – he never loses at monopoly, because anyone landing on his properties ends up having to pay three times what they’re worth.

Read: Spanish lessons for Gareth Bale

Bale was by far and away Tottenham’s best player last season, swaggering his way to three individual player awards and scoring 26 goals, none of which were tap-ins – many of which were 30-yard netbusters. Spurs didn’t have to sell their prize asset and nor did they particularly want to, but having just missed out on Champions League qualification for a third year in four, and with Bale already seduced by the idea of a dream move to Spain, the time was now right to make the most of an opportunity.

England’s top three teams changed their managers in the summer, a perfect time for Spurs to strike. Aided and abetted by his new director of football Franco Baldini, Levy identified several key targets early on, quickly sewing up deals for Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Etienne Capoue and Nacer Chadli. While English Premier League rivals Arsenal and Manchester United were idling in the market, Spurs were organized and decisive, breaking their own transfer record – twice.

Levy wasn’t finished. Chelsea may have snatched Willian from under his nose, but he broke the club’s record transfer fee for a third time in just a matter of weeks by landing the Bale-esque Erik Lamela, and he also signed Christian Eriksen and Vlad Chiriches  – all while Bale remained a Tottenham player.

A world record deal was "imminent" for the last fortnight of August, but it didn’t actually go through until the penultimate day of the window.

Naturally Tottenham wanted to have their own targets under contract, but in assessing the landscape around him, Levy was particularly shrewd. He knew that Real would unload several players to accommodate Bale’s arrival, but they couldn’t risk doing so until they knew he was coming for sure.

It just so happens that Arsenal wanted to sign one or both of Real's Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil. By holding on until last Friday it meant they couldn’t get them before the North London derby against Spurs on Sunday, after which the Bale deal was finally confirmed.

Levy knows very well that Arsenal represent arguably the biggest threat to his club's aspirations of a top-four finish. In the end, the Gunners got Ozil on deadline day but we may never know if they could have had more.

I interviewed Levy for World Sport a few years ago; it was a rare chance to speak with the 51-year-old, who prefers to keep a low profile in the media. His record isn’t perfect, but he’s learned from his mistakes. He thoroughly frustrated Madrid when they last went after one of his players, making them pay through the nose for Luka Modric in late August 2012, and he had no hesitation in cutting manager Harry Redknapp adrift when he became too greedy in his contract negotiations.

Levy doesn’t take kindly to anyone who pushes him too hard on a deal. When Real had the arrogance to build a stage upon which they were going to parade Bale, Levy made them take it down – nothing had yet been signed.

Of course it all counts for naught if Spurs again fail to push on up the table before mixing with Europe’s elite in the Champions League. But there is only so much a chairman can do. It’s now up to manager Andre Villas Boas and the men on the field to follow their chairman’s example: don’t take any prisoners and make sure you’re not the first to blink.

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Filed under:  Football
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Mark Lovell

    Valid points Don. I also admire the way in which he disposed of the media darling Redknapp. Most were incredulous – how dare he do that to 'our' Harry?
    It seemed Real Madrid were hell-bent on breaking the transfer record so Levy didn't really have to drive a hard bargain price-wise. Just let Perez's grandiosity take its natural course.
    With all their wheeling-dealing under Levy/AVB/Baldini, Spurs will be after that final Champions League qualifications spot..but will flatter to deceive..5th or 6th for me at best.

    Speak soon.

    September 5, 2013 at 2:59 pm | Reply
    • Ian Melvin

      Have to agree on the 5th or 6th, although I'm thinking more like 5th. Manchester Utd under David Moyes seems to be a concern, so maybe a Championship spot after all?

      September 5, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  2. Ian Melvin

    They certainly "blinked" on Sunday, losing 1-0 to The Arsenal! After spending over 100m quid to strengthen their squad they lost to an injury depleted Arsenal, not exactly a spectacular start. As for the Levy "made them take it down" comment regarding the stage set-up, "made them" really?

    September 5, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  3. Staff

    Reblogged this on SoshiTech.

    September 5, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  4. Sergio Garcia

    Levy certainly is the best negotiator in English football currently, but I feel that when you look at the world stage, there's no one who does it better than Adriano Galliani. He is perfect in assessing all aspects of a deal and does an incredible job of deriving the maximum value out of any transaction. His stellar record of transfer negotiations (Kaka's sale to Real, Ibrahimovic's purchase from Barcelona, Robinho's and Balotelli's transfers from City etc. etc.) speaks volumes about his ability; there's rarely any money left on the table once Galliani's done with his act!

    September 5, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Reply

    Reblogged this on miftahulhuda234.

    September 6, 2013 at 12:04 am | Reply
  6. Jason Shi

    I think the Spur will be the "4th" in the end of season and be qualified for "Champion league".
    Let's see.

    September 6, 2013 at 3:25 am | Reply
  7. mauriciothinks

    Its an insult for world economy to sale a player like Gareth Bale in 91,000,000 million of euros, he hasn't even make Tottenham Spurs Champion not even in the Barclay's premiere league , nor the cup and nor the Champions league

    September 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  8. Cris

    What he is doing is not good for the game aritificiall inflating prices in a time of economic prices of players

    September 7, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  9. messi200

    Reblogged this on sportcity150.

    September 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  10. PhoenicianGooner

    CNN continues to prove they have absolutely horrid standards in regards to reporting. Levy considered a top negotiator? Haha, he might have taken every single penny from Madrid for the world's most expensive (overrated) player; but ultimately, Perez and Arsenal got the last laugh on Spurs. Not only did Arsenal beat Spurs without the help of any new signings; but, they also ended up getting Ozil from Madrid, a player that was highly sought after by Levy. There's nothing tough about him. He was disgraceful for purposely stalling the sale of Gareth Bale to Madrid, and eventually, that's what got Perez mad and eventually, what garnered the transfer of Ozil (a player 100x better than Bale) from Madrid to Arsenal. That and the fact that he tried to break up the sale of Ozil to Arsenal, at the last hour of the transfer deadline, shows what a despicable man he is. Lol, top negotiator...he got well and truly shown up for acting like a detestable little man...

    September 7, 2013 at 11:06 pm | Reply
    • Look at the bigger picture

      You honestly believe you get to the top by not being despicable, no you get there by playing tough and making hard decisions. The fact that real are better than tottenham is not his fault, bale was going anyways, he might as well get the most of it. Whether he stalled the ozil move is debatable, however he put his team in the best position to win, even though they didnt. 1-0 could be 3-0 with ozil. Also what does he care about other people? His only concern is with his team, and making it as strong as possible. I still remember his tough negotiations with manchester united, by only selling carrick and berbatov at very high prices

      November 28, 2013 at 6:24 am | Reply
  11. davis6774

    By selling Bale, Levy allowed Arsenal to sign Ozil, "the best #10 in the world" from Madrid. All of Tottenhsms signings didn't make or will make near the splash Ozil did for Arsenal. Also, everyone from Tottenham is furious with Madrid, for selling one of the best players in the world to their arch rival Arsenal and thus making them title contenders. So this "shrewd" negotiator has made Arsenal stronger while signing mid-tier players. Yes, it's not Levy's fault, it is Madrid's fault. It will take years to clean all the egg off Levy's face

    September 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  12. sandranwadi

    Reblogged this on sandranwadi.

    September 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  13. Sergio

    I hardly think that holding out for a ridiculous sum of money when you've got the latest toy that Florentino Perez wants to play with is a hallmark of a tough negotiator. He simply put a ridiculous figure on the table, figured RM wouldn't bite, but when they showed an interest, he just kept reeling them in. It's not as though Perez is a shrewd negotiator when it comes to buying with other people's money.

    September 22, 2013 at 2:16 am | Reply
  14. Reader

    I thought someone should write the story. I'm glad you did. Arsenal got better value for money for Mesuit Ozil for less than half what Spurs got from Madrid. Levy was shrewd enough to drain the last possible cent for his player through tough negotiation. He could have moved faster, been more reasonable but he held out for the best possible deal. You can argue successfuly that Ozil is better but he was sold for less, faster. Levy drives a hard bargain for the world's most expensive benchwarmers and in hindsight Galliani's Kaka-to-Madrid deal was also impressively over-priced.

    October 20, 2013 at 4:30 am | Reply

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