DESPITE the role being on the situations vacant list for several weeks, the job of Tottenham Hotspur manager should still be one of football’s most attractive destinations for any top coach.
The delay in appointing a new man (or woman) may have taken longer than the club’s fans have been prepared to tolerate, but these are difficult times for the game and there suddenly appears to be a dearth of rising stars in management. The fact that Spurs got down to the likes of Gennaro Gattuso and Paulo Fonseca indicates the club has broadened its search beyond the usual suspects.
Tottenham are not the only club whose stock has fallen in the past couple of years: Arsenal are not a million miles away, either geographically or in actual terms, clubs that have temporarily lost their way. Both are among a cluster of clubs that have problems, either political, financial or structural.
A few years ago, Tottenham looked to have the most promising future among London’s leading names: a team of England internationals, young and hungry; a manager respected by everyone; a wonderful new stadium in the making; and a sensible, cautious approach to financial affairs. Economically, Spurs were some way behind the other members of the Premier League’s top six, but they seemed to have the most coveted set of players in Britain. Trophies eluded Spurs, their last piece of silverware won in the Football League Cup in 2008, but their league form was consistent – from 2009-10 until 2019-20, they never finished out of the top six and in 2016 and 2017, they went close to lifting the Premier title.
Mauricio Pochettino was appointed manager in 2014 and five years later, he took Spurs to the UEFA Champions League final. This was not the start of something, the final in Madrid – disappointingly against Premier rivals Liverpool – was the zenith of the club’s achievements under Pochettino. Perhaps he realised it himself as the mood seemed to change at Tottenham after their defeat at the hands of Jürgen Klopp’s side. In November 2019, after 12 league games, Pochettino was sacked with Spurs in 14th place in the table.
Were Spurs wrong to dispose of the man who had moved Spurs into contention for major prizes? In hindsight, it does appear they regret the move, particularly as they are in a worse state, despite appointing José Mourinho as Pochettino’s replacement. Mourinho never seemed a natural fit for Spurs, but at one point, it looked as though it was working.
If Pochettino or Mourinho had won a trophy, Tottenham would probably not be getting to the end of their address book today. Mourinho is never a long-term appointment, but even by his standards, Spurs was a brief interlude, 515 days and 86 games with a win rate of 51%. Having tried one of the “galactico” managers, Spurs were in a position of not really knowing what to do, or who to hire, next.
Since 2016-17, when they were runners-up to Chelsea, Spurs have fallen a place or two every season and in 2020-21, they dropped out of the top six for the first time since 2009. In their last year at White Hart Lane, Spurs went through their home campaign in the league unbeaten, with a win rate of 89.5%. Two years at Wembley saw their home record decline to 66% with an accompanying fall in goalscoring from 2.47 to 1.97 per game. With players like Harry Kane, Son, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris and Kieran Trippier, Spurs had some of the most vibrant squads around.
Kane, Alli, Trippier and Eric Dier were all regulars in the England squad. Rumours abounded that Spurs would struggle to keep their stars together given their wages were below their chief rivals, but aside Kyle Walker and Trippier, most stayed.
If Spurs peaked in 2019, it could have been a combination of causes that led to the team losing its edge as well as its coach. Moving to Wembley, then back to Tottenham, may have caused some disruption, but the underlying financial commitment of the new stadium could also be a major factor, just as it was for Arsenal. Since taking up residence at arguably the best football ground in Britain, Spurs’ win rate at home is just 59%.
Away from the field of play, Tottenham’s revenues have reached a new high and even though 2019-20 was, predictably, a season of decline by some 15% to £ 392 million, they are still higher than 2018. The wage bill has remained, in relatively terms, at a very manageable level (46% of income), but net debt was a staggering £ 600 million.
The club’s revenues will surely suffer due to their absence from the Champions League for another season. In fact, Spurs are not even in the Europa League, they will participate in the newly-formed Conference League, a third UEFA competition that has limited appeal for a major Premier League club. This may also have become a deterrent for any would-be employee.
It may also be a reason why Kane wants to leave the club. He has already attracted a £ 100 million bid from Manchester City, but Spurs would normally be ill-advised to sell to a rival. But with financial problems ahead of the industry, how can they resist the chance to ease their own problems? Kane remains as important to the modern Tottenham as Jimmy Greaves was to Bill Nicholson’s 1960s teams. The scoring rates of Kane and Greaves in league football are comparable, 0.69 goals per game. Kane, at 27 years of age, has seen his transfer value decline by 20% over the past two years. According to Transfermarkt, he was valued at £ 135 million in 2019, but the latest estimation is £ 108 million. From a personal development perspective, if Kane is to win honours and secure a big move, now is the time, not just for the player but also for Spurs to capitalise on his value.
With no Champions League football, maybe a compromised war chest and the loss of Kane, Tottenham’s appeal has been diminished since their Pochettino peak. Little wonder that Antonio Conte didn’t warm to another London gig and Julian Nagelsmann preferred Munich. The fact they went back to their old manager shows that Spurs have realised the error of their ways, but it may also indicate a lack of creativity. Now they’re talking about Nuno Espirito Santo, the former Wolves manager, who wouldn’t be a bad choice, but he will have options.
Tottenham need to have patience with the next man in charge if they are going to break out of their current malaise. They don’t have the money for short-term spending sprees that can buy instant success in the way Chelsea have operated since Roman rolled into town, and few big name managers seem a strong appetite for the club. When they do finally find their man, Spurs should look to build something as compelling as the best of Pochettino, with one added ingredient – the ability to win when it matters and maybe fill their trophy cabinet.