The Predictable Shambles of Tottenham’s Managerial Search

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A summer which began with so much hope, has quickly descended into farce. 

A couple of weeks after Tottenham’s season had ended with a lame, tepid whimper, resulting in a place in the much derided Europa Conference League, things suddenly — and rather surprisingly — began to look up for the Lillywhites. Pochettino was sounded out, and the murmurings across various media channels were that the club’s greatest manager of the modern era was keen on a comeback. Of course there was little irony lost on the fact that it was he who Levy fired almost two years ago to begin the current death-spiral Tottenham finds itself in now. Was it too soon for a return? Maybe. But after the chaos and turmoil of the preceding couple of years, fans yearned for the stability and familiarity of the warm, affable Argentine. Then, incredibly, as the Pochettino rumors were still in force, news emerged that another world class coach was in talks to join the club. Antonio Conte, fresh from breaking Inter’s 11 year drought to win the Scudetto, was seemingly close to becoming the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Despite the apparent mismatch — Conte had broken ties with Inter due to transfer disagreements with their ownership — talks had progressed well over a series of days, and multiple outlets, including Conte’s own mouthpiece, Sky Italia, had reported that the appointment was imminent. For a club who finished 7th the previous season, with their star player wanting out, and a squad in major need of a rebuild, Conte represented a significant coup. Here, finally, was a coach ready to stand up to Levy, to demand excellence and eschew mediocrity. No more penny-pinching, no more settling; the standards that had led Conte to 5 titles in his past 7 attempts, were coming to N17. Surely even Levy couldn’t screw things up from here…

In true Tottenham fashion, however, things didn’t quite work out the way fans had hoped, and somehow, right at the death, Daniel Levy and the club’s hierarchy found a way to scupper the deal. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory under ENIC’s tenure appears not to be contained merely to the pitch, and just like Moutinho, Grealish, Dybala, and too many to name here, Antonio Conte was consigned to the pipe dreams of Tottenham’s fanbase; a fleeting remnant of a few days that promised so much, and ultimately delivered so little. 

One has to question what Levy’s motives in engaging with Conte were. Surely he knew of his uncompromising ways prior to entering talks? Surely he was well-briefed on the Italian’s insistence on signing top players instead of scraping the barrel for Europe’s unwanted, as is Levy’s usual custom? And yet, days after stringing fans, media — even the playing squad — along, Levy abruptly broke ties, deciding that, in fact, competing for trophies, and backing a manager fully really wasn’t in the club’s best interests. 

The reality is that we saw was merely a microcosm of the club’s transfer business over the 21 years of ENIC’s reign. “So close, and yet so far” — along with the increasingly self-evident: “To dare is too dear” — should really be emblazoned across the new stadium walls these days.

At this point, one almost has to hand it to the men at the top for continuously managing to feign just enough ambition to keep fans and media interested, before abruptly pulling the plug as soon as actual money is needed to be dispensed with. It is a trick Levy and co. have played with aplomb over the past couple of decades, allowing them to fool vast swaths of not only the Tottenham fanbase, but even the British media. Indeed, Levy bristles when the mere notion of questioning Spurs’ ambition is broached. Lack of ambition? Well we tried for Bruno and Dybala, honest. We tried for Ruben Dias and Milan Skriniar last summer. We even tried for Jack Grealish when he was still in Championship and Villa were cash-strapped! Transfer are just so hard to complete, haven’t you heard…

Alas, after the self-enforced Conte debacle, the club, rather predictably, shifted their attention to less heralded targets. Paulo Fonseca — the man replaced by Mourinho at Roma — was sounded out, and widely reported to have been close to being installed. Then, just as fans were forcing themselves to warm to the idea of Fonseca, that, too fell through, and Gennaro Gattuso became the leading man. If Levy could have picked a man completely antithetical to Tottenham’s DNA, Gattuso would have been the prototype. Yet, here he was, being offered a contract, and seemingly close to joining the club. For a leadership who’s come under increasing fire, and faced more scrutiny than perhaps at any other time, failing to pre-empt the inevitable backlash was incredibly tone-deaf and naive. The circus was now in full flow, and when the move for Gattuso fell through, Spurs were back to square one.

After Nagelsmann, Rodgers, and God knows how many other managers had already declined the job, Tottenham are running out of options. The cat, most surely, is out the bag now; Tottenham Hotspur firmly ensconced as one of — if not the — premier poisoned chalices in European football. Big dreams and lofty targets, but only a shoestring budget. Except when it comes to real estate, of course, in which case money is no object, and the purse strings loose and fluid.

This remarkable, and quite unique dichotomy, has unsurprisingly made Levy’s Tottenham somewhat radioactive. Recent reports suggest that even Graham Potter would not be sufficiently convinced to leave Brighton for Spurs, preferring instead to wait for a genuinely top position to become available. It is a sign of just how far the club has fallen under Daniel Levy’s stewardship, and the almost unfathomable regression since the peak Pochettino era, that even relegation threatened managers are now loathed to join the carnage that is today’s Tottenham Hotspur.

The latest name thrown into the ring: Nuno Espirito Santo. A man dubbed by some as “Mourinho without the trophies;” the Portuguese is about as underwhelming a name as it is nonsensical. A man fired from Wolves, not good enough for a club who only joined the Premier League two years ago, and recently rejected by Crystal Palace, is now suddenly the height of Tottenham’s ambitions? The timing also serves to confirm just how little anyone at Tottenham knows what’s going on, and the degree to which they’re simply making it up as they go along. Nuno was fired almost a month ago. If he really was a prime target, why not just hire him early on, start backing him with the signings he needs, and actually get the club in a position to compete for next season? 

As per usual, Spurs are being left behind…another season started on the back foot, zero deadwood shifted. No new signings. And it’s not just their traditional rivals who are leaving them in the dust. Aston Villa, who outbid and outmatched Spurs for striker Ollie Watkins last year, have already signed Emiliano Buendia. The Argentine would have been as good an Eriksen replacement as any, especially as a relatively low cost, budget option. The question as always, though, is if not Buendia, then who? Fans tend to kid themselves that the reason Spurs don’t go for these players is that they’re beneath a club of our standing; that there are better options lined up. The sad, and increasingly apparent truth, is that there are no alternatives, no one else coming, no backup plans. Indeed, outside of property and planning permission, there are no plans at all.

Once again, Leicester City are making a mockery of Levy’s infamous stance on signings. With Vardy and Iheanacho already at the club, the Foxes are swiftly wrapping up a move for one of Europe’s hottest young strikers, with a move for Patson Daka all but completed. A move for Lille’s Boubakary Soumare — a strong, young, dynamic midfielder Spurs had tracked for years — is also at an advanced stage. No need to shift unwanted players to raise funds, no need to wait til the end of the window, strengthening from a position of strength — it’s the sort of ambition Spurs fans can only dream of. 

Thus, as Levy decries Covid, Brexit, the Cold War, and all manner of excuses, other clubs are moving ahead with their business. Spurs fans are left to ponder just how other teams — even those with vastly inferior resources — can afford to be so audacious as to buy without selling? To venture into the market even during a post-Covid era? All while Levy’s spurs are still stuck in that same vicious cycle of needing to shift unwanted players before venturing in the market, overpricing their worthless assets, and ending up stagnating even further…stuck with an every more stale, unbalanced, and depleted squad.

Of course, the latest narrative goes, Spurs can’t even think about signings because they have no manager…except many will remember a time when the club went 500 plus days with the best manager they’d ever had in the Premier League era — with the team begging for new blood — and signed absolutely no one. Tottenham, perhaps more than any other club in world football, do not back their managers. This is not news. When Pochettino wanted Mane, he was given Nkoudou. When Mourinho wanted Dias, he was given Rodon. If the club were interested in moving the club forward, problem areas — most of which have been glaringly obvious for some time — would have been addressed with or without a manager.

Levy often tries to gaslight fans by talking about “DNA”…. but what exactly is the club’s DNA under ENIC? Bottling key moments? Failing at the last, even before the season has begun? Penny-pinching when top targets become available? These seem to be the only discernible themes based on all receivable evidence.

And what must Harry Kane be making of all this? Tottenham’s talisman, their star player, Levy’s prime asset? Is forcing him to stay even desirable? Or will that negativity seep into the squad, further damaging and poisoning what is already amongst the most toxic and stagnant in English football? It’s a sad situation, both for the club, and of course, for Harry himself.

ENIC’s Tottenham has always been a precarious balancing act; spend and do just enough for Top 4, without ever really caring about titles or glory. Yet today even that lowly remit appears gone; the club utterly disinterested and ambivalent about ever getting back into Europe’s elite competition. It seems they’ve found ample revenue streams to compensate for Champions League money, and the Europa Conference League appears just fine as far as the owners are concerned. 

Once more, the sheer levels of disdain and apathy from Levy and his investment firm in actually building a football team are frightening. As has been patently obvious for the past 20+ years, if it’s not shiny, and doesn’t require planning permission, the club’s hierarchy are simply not interested. And so the ruse continues: decrying poverty for on-field endeavours, while splurging millions upon millions on unwanted real estate projects.

Levy has managed to usurp even Mike Ashley as English football’s most disingenuous and untrustworthy chairman, and people are finally beginning to wake up. Disillusionment with the club is at an all time high, as is antipathy towards the ownership. If things don’t change, the ENIC bowl is likely to become a markedly more fiery and hostile place next season, and not in the ways Levy ever envisaged.

2 thoughts on “The Predictable Shambles of Tottenham’s Managerial Search”

  1. Another great ‘sad but true’ article. Depressing reading of course, especially when I’d vowed to not read or even think about the awful situation our club finds itself in.

    Sadly there are many Spurs fans who don’t see it. The protests have been pretty feeble, with no disrespect to those who turned up who deserve the credit, and many are still dining out on the whole new stadium experience thing.

    You don’t mention Joe Lewis, who of course holds the main purse strings. We have to hope that he tires of this and sells but then, like many of our players, who’d buy at that price? And in the state we’re in?

  2. Even more worrying- what are the long term implications of ENIC’s tenure? For the first time in 100 years we don’t own our own stadium, we now lease it. We are the most in debt club in Europe. We owe £150m to other clubs in staged payments for players.
    And what if they do sell? Is the freehold to be sold with the club? Or will we continue to lease from a mystery offshore company?
    Every land grab is a property deal disguised as training facilities- using our clubs name and stature to buy cheap green belt land and convert it to expensive homes in 20 years.
    Our club is in serious danger.

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