It could be argued that the most arresting picture of Ange Postecoglou is not anything taken at the side of a football field with Celtic, not a shot of him celebrating any of the trophies he won in Scotland.
Nothing, really, from his successful days at Yokohama Marinos or Brisbane Roar or the Socceroos or South Melbourne Hellas can hold a candle to the photograph taken of him as a five-year-old holding a card with the number 24 on it.
That was his immigration number when his parents took him out of the military junta regime of Athens, Greece to a safer but uncertain haven of Melbourne in Australia. That’s where it all started. That’s why the photograph has a poignancy.
The little boy is looking down the camera lens with the same kind of stare that many years later, as Australia coach, would regularly burn a hole in the back of the head of his players in training, said former Socceroo Tim Cahill.
His friend, Paul Trimboli, said Postecoglou doesn’t say a lot, he doesn’t make things comfortable for people, and for a lot of folk “that can be unnerving”.
Even at five, you can see some of that in the picture. A steely look.
This was Angelos Postecoglou. Five years later his parents legally changed his name to Angelos Postekos, but he never cared for Postekos.
“It was a fad in those days to shorten your name if you were Greek,” he said years ago. “I never liked it and I never used it. I was proud of my background, but when it came to my first passport and my first driver’s licence, there was nothing I could do about it.”
On Saturday, Postecoglou won his fifth domestic trophy from a possible six since his move to Scotland from Japan in the summer of 2021. On Sunday, it emerged he was about to open talks with Tottenham Hotspur.
A Celtic manager winning lots of titles is nothing new, but there is something different about this.
Postecoglou didn’t inherit a champion team in need of minor tweaks as, say, Brendan Rodgers had done before him. The season before Postecoglou took over, the club lost their bid for 10 league titles in a row by a whopping 25 points and the mood music at Celtic was dismal.
Rangers had knocked them out of the Scottish Cup, Ross County had eliminated them from the League Cup, there were furious protests and banners calling for heads to roll. The atmosphere was toxic. Legions of fans spoke of their disillusionment. They felt they were being taken for granted and ignored.
Manager Neil Lennon was sacked. Peter Lawwell, the long-standing chief executive, signalled his intention to resign. He was replaced by Dominic McKay, who lasted two months and then left for reasons unexplained.
For the longest time, the club wooed Eddie Howe. They waited and waited for him to agree to become their next manager but months down the track, he said no. Cue more supporter thunder.
More than 100 days had passed and still Celtic had no manager. The fans were in thermonuclear mode. A total overhaul of a tired squad was required – and quickly. Celtic needed a brand new team.
Enter Postecoglou with his calm focus and his unerring eye for a player. And very quickly, things started to make sense.
More and more people had been looking at what he’s done before Tottenham came calling – the excellent signings, the attacking style, the relentless nature of his team and his coolness in the maelstrom of Glasgow football – but the really interesting stuff, the soul of the guy, can be found in his back story.
He could win any number of trebles with Celtic but nothing will match the tale of how he got to the club in the first place.
“I just can’t believe what my parents went through,” he once said. “What they would have gone through to take a young family halfway round the world, on a ship that takes us 30 days, to a country where they don’t speak the language, they don’t know a soul, they don’t have a house, they don’t have jobs.
“People say they go to another country for a better life. My parents did not have a better life, they went to Australia to provide opportunities for me to have a better life.”
His sister, Liz, is five years older and recalls the early months in Melbourne. “They arrived here with just suitcases, having to care for two little children,” she recalled in the documentary Age of Ange. “It was difficult for her [Voula, her mother]. I remember many nights hearing her crying.”
Postecoglou’s father – Dimitris, known as Jim – was a hard worker. Up early, home late, no nonsense. Football was his escape and his salvation.
On Sundays, he brought his son to South Melbourne Hellas, a club set up for Greek immigrants. There was church in the morning and football in the afternoon. That was the rhythm of life.
“As a kid, I just wanted to fit in, I didn’t necessarily like the fact I came from another country and had a really long surname that nobody could get their mouth around. For a young boy the best way to fit in was sport,” Postecoglou recalled.
Football wasn’t just a game to play, it was his one opportunity to bond with his father, his hero, as he’s described him.
In that documentary he’s seen thumbing through his old comics and books. “It’s why I keep them. It reminds me what my childhood was like. There was a lot of living in a fantasy football world that didn’t exist here in Australia.”
There’s footage from his football days where he’s called Angelos, Angie and then Ange.
He retired at 27 through injury. He won the Australian national championship (the great Ferenc Puskas was his manager) but always knew in his bones that coaching was where his future lay.
There was a dread, though. And it goes back to his father again. What if he didn’t make it as a coach? What if he failed? That was his conduit to his father. “What would that mean to dad and I? How would we fill the void?”
He needn’t have stressed. He won two national championships as manager of South Melbourne when everybody said he couldn’t.
Jim rarely said it to his face – an old-school man reluctant to show much emotion – but he told his mates how proud his boy made him. Word got back. It was enough.
He coached at national under-age level but it was almost the end of him. He got sacked, had to go to the Greek third tier to find work, and then came back to Australia, to nothing. Those were scary times.
With his wife, Georgia, he moved in with his mother-in-law for six to eight months to get by. You look at him celebrating now with his wife and sons and you know that he went through the mill to get to where he is today.
Brisbane Roar took him on in 2009 and he created what some seasoned observers say is the best club side in the history of the Australian game. Fast and furious, never-stop football. That philosophy didn’t start in Glasgow in 2021.
He won the league in 2011 and 2012, went to Melbourne Victory and then to the Socceroos, saw his team compete at the World Cup in 2014, won the Asian Cup in 2015, rebuilt the side and got them to another World Cup in 2018.
Japan beckoned. Not only did he win the J-League with Yokohama Marinos, he also soaked up all the knowledge in the world about a market that would prove spectacularly helpful in his next job – Celtic.
He has passed away now, but Jim Postecoglou is and will always be the key to his son.
“The root and foundation of who I am is no longer by my side,” he wrote in the Athletes Voice. “Where is the purpose now? His voice is in my head. The flame he lit is still there. I need to keep honouring his sacrifices.”
As interesting as it is to hear his thoughts every week about players and games, Postecoglou is never more compelling than when talking about the things that shaped him.
“I understand what an honest day’s work is about,” he said, not long after he became Celtic manager.
“I understand what sacrifice is about, I understand what being in a privileged position like I am now is about.
“I am not going to take this for granted because I know how hard my mum and dad worked. They sacrificed their whole life for me to be here.
“I don’t feel like I am working every day, I feel like I am living a dream that was founded by other people’s sacrifice, particularly my parents.”
That is deep and it is powerful. Postecoglou’s story now looks like it will continue at Spurs.
Leeds United top scorer Rodrigo has been able to train despite injuring his foot in last weekend’s defeat by West Ham.
Junior Firpo returns from a one-match ban but Patrick Bamford is still a doubt with a hamstring issue.
Leeds will be relegated if they fail to win, or if either Everton or Leicester earn victories.
A draw for the Merseysiders would mean Leeds have to win by a three-goal margin to stay up.
Tottenham defender Cristian Romero has been ruled out after picking up an injury in the loss at Aston Villa. Midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was also injured at Villa Park but has since trained and should be available.
Defender Eric Dier has undergone groin surgery this week and is hopeful of returning for pre-season.
Leeds have lost eight of their past 10 Premier League games against Tottenham, drawing one and winning one.
Spurs have won four of the last five top-flight clashes versus Leeds, with their only defeat coming under Ryan Mason at Elland Road in May 2021.
Leeds United’s last clean sheet against Spurs came in a 1-0 Premier League victory at Elland Road in February 2000.
Leeds United must win to have any hope of staying in the Premier League.
The west Yorkshire side are without a victory in eight league games, drawing two and losing six.
Leeds have conceded a league-high 74 goals this season and shipped 153 top-flight goals since the start of last term, more than any other side across the five top European leagues.
They have failed to win a home match this season against sides currently in the top half of the table, drawing four games and losing five.
Leeds have lost on the final day in just one of their past 15 top-flight seasons (W7, D7), although that 1-0 defeat to Chelsea came when they were last relegated from the Premier League in 2003-04.
Rodrigo is aiming to become the first Leeds player to score home and away league goals against Spurs in a single season since Brian Deane in 1994-95.
Tottenham have won just one of their past seven Premier League matches, drawing one and losing five, including each of the last two.
Spurs are yet to win away against any of the sides currently in the bottom four, losing 4-1 at Leicester and drawing 3-3 with Southampton and 1-1 with Everton.
The Lilywhites have won their final league games in nine of the past 12 seasons (D2, L1), with their only defeat a 5-1 thrashing by already relegated Newcastle United in 2015-16.
Spurs can set a new club record for goals conceded in a 38-game Premier League season, having equalled their previous record of 62 in last weekend’s defeat to Brentford.
Harry Kane has scored on the final day in each of the past five Premier League seasons.
It’ll be two months tomorrow (Friday) since Tottenham Hotspur sacked head coach Antonio Conte, and after today’s news that Arne Slot will be staying at Feyenoord, their wait to name a replacement continues.
Until Thursday morning, Slot appeared to be heading to Spurs. Talks were ongoing between his representatives and the club, while Slot was in discussions with Feyenoord. The sense was that the new Dutch champions were resigned to losing their head coach and it was a matter of negotiating a deal with his Premier League suitors.
Slot then caused a major shock by issuing a statement this morning saying he was in fact going to be staying at Feyenoord. It is understood that he will also sign a new contract with the Rotterdam club.
How did this happen? The Feyenoord perspective is that this was a decision based more on Slot’s desire to continue his great work with them and have a crack at next season’s Champions League. That was certainly the tone of Slot’s statement, in which he said: “Although I am thankful my wish is to stay at Feyenoord and continue working on what we created last year.”
It has been suggested that talks were not as far along as has been reported and one theory is that Slot was leveraging Spurs’ interest to earn a new, improved contract with his current employers.
Naturally though, the desire to ultimately stay at Feyenoord was coupled with Spurs not being enough of a draw and/or it not being possible to reach an agreement with them.
The former aspect, as has been pointed out, would be a sobering thought, given Slot has only been a first-team manager for four seasons and one would have expected the lure of a big Premier League club to be enough to prise a relatively inexperienced head coach away from the far-less-heralded Eredivisie.
Arne Slot won the Eredivisie with Feyenoord this season (Photo: Getty)
This is the second time in three years that Spurs have been involved in a long, drawn-out search for a head coach, and it’s reached a point where many are asking: why can’t they appoint a manager?
Indeed, how can it be that one of the biggest clubs in the richest league in the world game has struggled so badly on successive occasions to appoint a head coach?
The Tottenham job, it should be said, still has a huge amount going for it. An elite stadium and a training ground to match, some great established first-team players with a few exciting youngsters coming through, and regular participation in European competitions to go alongside healthy finances, while based in one of the world’s great cities. It should hold a lot of appeal for prospective managers.
But here, The Athletic explains why, 60 days into their latest search, Spurs remain a long way from replacing Conte following this morning’s developments…
Lack of succession planning
Tottenham have known for months and months that they would need a manager this summer. It was clear since at least the World Cup break in November and December that Antonio Conte would not be signing a new contract and — at best — would leave when his current one expired following Sunday’s season finale against Leeds United. They even put Fabio Paratici, their then-managing director of football, in charge of succession planning before Conte went. Paratici’s job was to draw up a shortlist of possible replacements so that Spurs could have a smooth transfer of power to the next man at the end of this season.
Sadly for Tottenham, events blew this arrangement out of the water.
Conte made his position untenable with that infamous press conference at Southampton on March 18, and he left the club eight days later. Paratici then resigned on April 21, after losing his appeal against his ban from football the day before.
Nothing that has happened since suggests that Tottenham ever did have a robust succession plan in place.
Today is day 60 since Conte left, and they have no replacement for him. As much as Spurs want to avoid the sense that they are repeating the mistakes of summer 2021, that is how many of their fans feel, watching their club stumble around as if they could never possibly have anticipated that they might need a new manager for the 2023-24 season.
A club in flux
Right now, there is so much uncertainty at Tottenham. No director of football, no clarity of whether they’ll be playing in Europe next season with only one game of this one to go, and subsequently no sense of how much money there will be to spend on transfers in the coming window. You can see why all that would make some managers think twice about taking the job, certainly before the season has finished.
Added to that, there is a monumental, and long overdue, rebuild needed at the club — of the playing personnel, of the culture, of what Tottenham Hotspur stand for — that would not be appealing to every possible candidate.
Yes, some would be interested in that sort of project, but others will want more certainty about the kind of structures they’d be working under and the direction the club are moving in. If Tottenham don’t qualify for Europe next season (it’s a straight race with Aston Villa, who entertain Brighton on Sunday while they go to a Leeds side fighting to avoid final-day relegation, for the seventh-place finish that will bring a Conference League spot; if Villa win, Spurs are stuffed), they will really need to thin down a squad that is already massively bloated.
Overall, the project feels like one where steps back will have to be taken for Spurs to move forward. And that can be a tough sell.
Throw in suggestions that there is too much player power at the club and the obvious disconnect between the ownership and the supporters, and it hardly feels like a happy environment to be entering.
Like any industry, people gossip in football, and after the farcical events of this season, Tottenham are viewed as a club who, despite great potential, are currently littered with issues.
Spurs fans have grown increasingly unhappy with the board this season (Photo: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)
Some see the team as unmanageable
During conversations with various sources over the last few weeks, a recurring theme has been the idea that Tottenham are a manager’s graveyard. Spurs fans will have their own, mainly less positive, views on Jose Mourinho and Conte, but they are two of the most respected head coaches/managers in the game. And they failed at the club, having largely succeeded everywhere else in their careers. It’s been suggested that some prospective head coaches have looked at that and been given pause for thought.
Conte himself, admittedly partly self-servingly, made this point in that post-Southampton rant: “The fault is only for the club, or for every manager that stay here? I have seen the managers that Tottenham had on the bench.”
He also said Spurs’ players were essentially unmanageable, and irrespective of the extent to which you agree with him, that is hardly going to help the club when making a case to candidates for his old gig.
Most managers have big egos and would back themselves to be the one who would make things work. But they might also look at the battering Mourinho and Conte took while in charge and consider the job a poisoned chalice. Especially as whoever gets it this time will be the fifth permanent manager Tottenham have had in five summers.
Uncertainty over Kane’s future
Adding to the sense of uncertainty and state of flux is the concern that the team’s talisman and possibly soon-to-be captain Harry Kane will leave this summer, or next year when his contract expires. The latter is more likely, but even that would be a massive blow for any new head coach and makes planning for the future very difficult.
No sooner will they have executed a rebuild for their 2023-24 debut season than they will have to do another one 12 months later.
Kane also wields a huge amount of power at Tottenham and the team relies on him to an unhealthy extent. The reality is that the new head coach will be partially stuck in a holding pattern for their first season knowing that whatever he does will have to be ripped up should Kane decide to leave.
Perhaps counterintuitive, the Spurs job may be more appealing to candidates in summer 2024, when at least there will be clarity about Kane’s future. Even if it is that he has signed for another club.
Harry Kane’s contract at Tottenham expires in 2024 (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Still no director of football…
If you were being charitable to Tottenham, you could argue it is not their fault that they lost their head coach and their managing director of football within a few weeks of each other. But the combined impact of the departures of Conte and Paratici has left them desperately trying to fill the two biggest positions in the club, running two parallel recruitment processes.
There is an acceptance at Spurs that, in an ideal world, they would have a director of football in place first and then appoint a head coach after that. Instead, they are trying to run both processes simultaneously. This has left head coach candidates — such as Julian Nagelsmann — wondering what exactly the structure would look like if they took over, who would they be reporting to, who would be in charge of recruitment and so on. Quite naturally, it has made candidates think twice about a club where so much remains up in the air.
Spurs have been making progress on finding a new director of football, to work underneath new chief football officer Scott Munn this summer and beyond. But many will ask why it is taking them so long. Paratici was initially banned in Italy on January 21, more than four months ago. The club cannot say they were never warned they may need a replacement…
The Nuno dynamic
Taking over at Tottenham in the summer of 2023 is already going to be a very hard job.
You have to lift the players after a season that has destroyed their confidence. You have to establish a new, attractive style of play and encourage the players to buy into it. You have to win over a disaffected fanbase who have turned against the ownership of the club this season, possibly permanently. You have to transition away from the old guard, who have been at Spurs for almost 10 years, and rebuild the first team around the next generation. You have to try to finish in the top four next May, despite being financially outgunned by more rivals than ever.
And on top of all of that, the job is getting harder for whoever does take it with every day that passes of this long search. Because the long shadow of Nuno Espirito Santo hangs heavily over this summer now.
Everyone knows what happened two years ago, when Spurs appointed Nuno after a 72-day search, after so many other candidates had turned down the job. Nuno, fresh from leaving Wolves that summer, had no authority or credibility from the minute he walked through the door. The players knew it, the fans knew it, and he only lasted 10 league games in charge.
There are still good candidates in the frame — including Celtic’s Ange Postecoglou and former Spain coach Luis Enrique — who could drive change at Spurs. But the longer this search goes on, the more people are going to fear the Nuno dynamic will play out again this summer, and then whoever does get the job is taking on something almost impossible.
The good news for Spurs is that time is still on their side.
It was the resumption of pre-season training in late June 2021 that ultimately forced the decision to appoint Nuno. We are still in May, with one game left to play this season. Tottenham do not strictly need a new head coach through the door for a few weeks yet. There is still time to pick the right person for the job, rather than getting bounced into anything.
Spurs have still been speaking to candidates other than Slot, and they include some very good coaches who should be able to give them a sense of direction again.
Postecoglou has a wealth of experience with Celtic and around the world, and has shown in two seasons at Celtic Park that he knows how to bring a team and a fanbase together. Luis Enrique has a dazzling CV having won a treble with Barcelona and coached Spain at a World Cup. Either of these — or a new candidate emerging from nowhere — could yet deliver Tottenham what they need next season and beyond.
The problem for Spurs is that while there are still potentially good outcomes on the table, fans are fast losing any remaining faith in the process…
Arne Slot was already highly-regarded in the Netherlands for a long time. It was only a matter of time – and winning the league with Feyenoord – before the big leagues would notice. Slot wasn’t a great footballer himself, but as soon as he made the step to management, everybody who worked with him was impressed – even when he was ‘just’ an assistant.
He was assistant at rather small clubs like PEC Zwolle (youth coach), SC Cambuur (assistant). He was an assistant at AZ before becoming head coach. Even then, there was some talk that he was de facto head coach.
In his first year as manager at AZ, they almost won the league. Ajax were struggling, but then Covid intervened – and after Ajax won their last match pre-Covid, they were handed first place based on goal difference. They weren’t named champions but did qualify for the Champions League.
No one can say Slot didn’t do a good job at Feyenoord. He was outstanding. Don’t forget: Feyenoord were a shambles when he took over. A real shambles, thanks to Jaap Stam and Dick Advocaat. Even their best player, Steven Berghuis, chose to flee to bitter rivals Ajax. There must have been amateur clubs at the time with better management. He had to start from zero, from scratch, at Feyenoord there was nothing left to build on…
Slot did a good job last year when Feyenoord reached the final of the UEFA Conference League, but what happened after? All the good players left, one by one – Luis Sinisterra, Marcos Senesi, Tyrell Malacia and Fredrik Aursnes.
Thanks to Slot and thus the performance of the team, Feyenoord banked good money for the first time for a long time. Feyenoord aren’t a rich club and they had lots of financial difficulties in the past, but thanks to Slot, they’re now healthy again.
And they had a good summer in the transfer market. Because of the fact a lot of players left, they had to bring in a lot of new players as well. Normally Feyenoord are not so good at this aspect, but last summer they hit the jackpot. Every player they bought, most for not much money, were a hit. Quinten Timber, David Hancko, Igor Paixao, Javairo Dilrosun, Santiago Gimenez, Sebastian Szymanski, Ezequiel Bullaude, Neraysho Kasanwirjo, Marcos Lopez, Mats Wieffer, Danilo and Oussama Idrissi.
But it’s too easy to claim their success is only thanks to the transfer market as players like Justin Bijlow, Lutsharel Geertruida, Quilindschy Hartman and Orkun Kokcu are all homegrown.
New players or homegrown…Slot has made every player better. Without exception. Feyenoord should be so happy to have (had) Slot. Without him, the club would probably still be nowhere. There have been rumours Ajax was in the market for Slot as well, which is the biggest compliment Feyenoord can get.
Normally, Ajax fans laugh at Feyenoord managers, for the first time in half a century they’re jealous…It’s completely the other way around: Ajax had a Feyenoord-like year, Feyenoord had a successful Ajax-like season and won the league.
WHAT IS HIS PREFERRED STYLE AND WHICH TOTTENHAM PLAYERS WOULD SUIT HIS SYSTEM?
The Dutch school of football is built on organised and attacking football. This has been the case for years and years, but it was too much for Feyenoord to deliver. Slot took them to the next level. His football style is Pep Guardiola-inspired, but also thoughtful. He steadied the ship in terms of defence, but Dutch football is synonymous with attacking football. Therefore Slot wants to attack as well. It’s just nature, but as much as he wants to attack….Slot doesn’t forget a solid defence.
You can’t obliviously attack, attack, attack. Dutch managers like Frank de Boer and Peter Bosz were like this – Erik ten Hag wasn’t and Slot isn’t. It’s almost like Dutch coaches matured. Slot is a natural successor to Ten Hag as an exponent of new generation Dutch managers. When you have a steady defence and all players know what to do, you can go on and play attacking football.
Definitely Ajax, possibly PSV and maybe even AZ, have better individual players than Feyenoord, but they can’t deliver as a team. One plus one doesn’t always equal two, but at Feyenoord there’s a team that equals 11 and that has been their real strength this season. If Slot offers Spurs players clarity, a vision and makes them work together again to be better overall, he can achieve quite a lot.
IS IT TRUE HE IS CRAZY ABOUT PEP GUARDIOLA?
It is! It almost feels like Guardiola is Slot’s idol. This isn’t something new. Slot was already a Guardiola follower when he was still a player at PEC Zwolle. He would watch Guardiola’s team play in the league or Champions League and would come back to the training pitch to discuss things that stood out to him. PEC players obviously were nowhere near good enough to feature in any Guardiola team, but Slot and some more experienced players would talk about Guardiola’s new features for ages.
“I got the impression Slot was watching FC Barcelona all day and night”, Bert Konterman said in ‘Algemeen Dagblad’ newspaper. Konterman was technical manager when Slot was playing at PEC. “He was watching the positional play, the way they took on free-kicks. When he arrived at the club the next morning, he was so excited what he had seen!”
Slot gave some insights to ‘Voetbal International’ about similarities between himself and Pep.
“I don’t want to compare myself with Pep at all, but he’s a control freak just like me. If I look at myself, I want to win a match during the week before kick-off. I try to imprint the chosen tactic to my players as much as I can.
“That’s why I can be very frustrated when a referee even makes the slightest mistake to your disadvantage. This can have so much influence while you’re not able to control anything. All preparation can be ruined because of a referee mistake. This can be my biggest frustration!
“Guardiola gives me the ultimate pleasure in football. I’d rather watch Manchester City than any other team in the world, although now I enjoy watching Napoli, Arsenal and Brighton as well. I don’t want to compare Feyenoord with City, but we more or less play football according to the same philosophy: 4-3-3, building up from the back, wanting to put pressure on the opponent rather quickly. There are quite a few similarities of which I think: can I steal some of this? But I always make sure that it fits with my own players.”
WHY WOULD HE RISK GOING TO TOTTENHAM, GIVEN THE CLUB IS IN TURMOIL AND HARRY KANE COULD LEAVE?
It’s the same as Erik ten Hag really when he joined Manchester United. United was in turmoil and it hadn’t really much to do with football. We’re one year in and look at what Ten Hag has achieved. Obviously there were a few transfers here and there, but you can’t clean up the mess in one year. Despite this, Ten Hag managed to win a small cup, is on the hunt for a bigger one and qualified for Champions League football. All within one year! The belief is back at Man Utd and Slot can create a new belief at Spurs.
It does seem it can’t get worse for Spurs, so it would make sense to step in right now. Expectations aren’t sky high, Slot will be given some time to build a new team, even if Kane leaves. And what did Spurs achieve with Kane? Kane scored a lot of goals, Spurs disappointed year after year.
It would have been more difficult for Slot to step in as Mauricio Pochettino’s successor after reaching the Champions League final. And there’s also a risk in staying on at Feyenoord. Slot is a big hero right now, he brought Feyenoord back to the top, but will it last? That’s very difficult to say.
It is doubtful Feyenoord will be able to do much in the Champions League, like Ajax could under Ten Hag. Even after strong good runs in the Conference League and Europa League. The elite level just seems a bit too much for Feyenoord. Back in 2017/2018, when they last featured in the Champions League, Feyenoord only claimed three points.
And will they win the league again next year? Last time Feyenoord was able to double up was… 1961-1962. Things look bright for Feyenoord at the moment, but the tide can turn quickly.
Right-back Matty Cash is available for Aston Villa after an eight-match absence because of a calf injury.
Diego Carlos, Boubacar Kamara and Leon Bailey all made comebacks as substitutes against Wolves last week, while fit-again Philippe Coutinho was also on the bench.
Spurs defender Clement Lenglet suffered a shoulder problem against Crystal Palace but is expected to be fit.
Yves Bissouma was in the matchday squad last week on his return from injury.
Hugo Lloris, Ryan Sessegnon and Rodrigo Bentancur remain out.
Tottenham have won eight consecutive away matches against Aston Villa in all competitions by an aggregate score of 23-3.
Villa’s only home victory in their past 15 competitive home games versus Spurs was by 2-1 in the Premier League on New Year’s Day 2008 (D4, L10).
However, the Villans have won two of the past four meetings and can complete a first league double over Tottenham since 1995-96.
Villa will guarantee a top-10 Premier League finish for the first time in 12 years if they avoid defeat or if Chelsea fail to beat Nottingham Forest.
A 17th top-flight win of the season on Saturday would be the most they have recorded since 2009-10.
Aston Villa have suffered successive 1-0 defeats, directly following a 10-match unbeaten league run.
They have earned five Premier League home wins in a row for the first time in 25 years. Their most recent longer streak spanned seven games from December 1992 to February 1993.
Villa are vying to equal the club league record of six consecutive home clean sheets, set from November 1970 to February 1971 in the third tier.
Unai Emery is unbeaten in all four Premier League meetings with Spurs but his Arsenal side did lose to them in a 2018 League Cup quarter-final.
Ollie Watkins has failed to score in his past four appearances, following a run of 11 goals in 12. He needs one more goal to become the first Villa player to reach 15 in a top-flight season since Christian Benteke a decade ago.
Spurs are winless in eight away games in all competitions since a 3-0 victory at Preston North End in the FA Cup fourth round on 28 January (D2, L6).
They have not had a longer winless away run since a 13-match streak from May to December 2000 – the ninth fixture was a 2-0 league defeat at Aston Villa.
Tottenham have only taken two points from seven league games outside of London since a 3-2 triumph at Bournemouth on 29 October.
The Lilywhites ended a run of four matches without a win by beating Crystal Palace 1-0 last weekend. It was their first clean sheet in 10 league fixtures.
Harry Kane has scored in four successive Premier League away matches and in 23 games in the division this season, one short of the record in a 38-game campaign set by Mo Salah in 2017-18.
Son Heung-min has scored five league goals in just two appearances at Villa Park, including a hat-trick last season. No player has scored six Premier League away goals against Villa.
Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris has been ruled out for the season with a hip injury.
Rodrigo Bentancur, Yves Bissouma, Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon remain long-term absentees.
Crystal Palace have defender Nathaniel Clyne available again after a knee problem.
However, Naouirou Ahamada faces a fitness test and James Tomkins has joined Nathan Ferguson and James McArthur on the sidelines.
Tottenham’s only defeat in their last 15 Premier League meetings with Crystal Palace was a 3-0 loss at Selhurst Park last season.
The Eagles are without a win in 10 top-flight away games at Tottenham since a 1-0 victory in November 1997 and have lost the last seven in a row.
The only goal the Eagles have scored in their last nine Premier League away fixtures at Spurs was by Christian Benteke in a 4-1 loss in March 2021.
Spurs have kept a clean sheet in 52% of their Premier League games against Palace, which is their highest rate against any opponent they have faced more than 20 times.
Tottenham are aiming to avoid recording their fifth top-flight match without a win for the first time since October to November 2019 in what was Mauricio Pochettino’s final five league games in charge.
Spurs have conceded 57 league goals this season, including 15 in their last four games, which is their most in a single campaign since they let in 61 in 2007-08.
They have conceded a league-high 13 goals in the opening 15 minutes of their league matches this term, with more than half of these coming in their last three games against Newcastle (three), Manchester United (one) and Liverpool (three).
Harry Kane has been involved in 10 goals in his last seven league appearances against Crystal Palace (seven goals, three assists), while Son Heung-min has seven in his last seven (five goals, two assists).
A goal for Kane would see him move into outright second place in the Premier League’s all-time top scorers list with 209, moving clear of Wayne Rooney.
He is one short of becoming the first player to score 50 goals in Premier League London derbies.
Crystal Palace have won four of their six league games since Roy Hodgson returned as manager, as many as they had in the 20 matches before that.
Thirteen of the 35 league goals they have scored this season have come in their six matches under Hodgson.
The Palace boss has failed to win any of his 11 Premier League away matches as a manager against Spurs (D3, L8) and has lost all of the last five.
The Eagles have come from behind to win a club record seven Premier League games in the current campaign.
Michael Olise has equalled the club record of nine Premier League assists this season, with only Kevin de Bruyne (16), Bukayo Saka (11) and Leandro Trossard (10) contributing more in the top flight so far this campaign.
Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate is available after missing the win at West Ham United to allow recovery time, while Naby Keita is back in training.
Diogo Jota should feature despite being forced off at London Stadium after sustaining a blow to his back but Roberto Firmino remains out.
Tottenham Hotspur have no new injury concerns for the trip to Anfield.
Captain Hugo Lloris is still sidelined due to the hip problem sustained against Newcastle United.
Liverpool have lost just one of their past 20 Premier League games against Spurs, while they are unbeaten in 10 meetings since a 4-1 loss at Wembley in October 2017.
Spurs have won on just two of their last 35 league visits to Anfield, most recently in May 2011.
Liverpool have earned three straight league wins, despite conceding in each game.
They have conceded four goals in their past two Premier League home matches, as many as they had in their previous nine fixtures at Anfield.
The Reds could let in two or more goals in three consecutive league games at Anfield for the first time since September 2012.
Mohamed Salah has scored seven Premier League goals versus Tottenham since joining Liverpool in 2017 – the highest tally by any player during this period. He scored both goals in Liverpool’s 2-1 win at Spurs in the reverse fixture this season.
Cody Gakpo has been directly involved in 28 goals in 29 league appearances for PSV and Liverpool this season, scoring 15 and assisting 13.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has provided five assists in his past four Premier League appearances, one more than in his previous 40 top-flight matches. All five of his assists have come in April, the most in a single Premier League month by any Liverpool player.
Tottenham are winless in five Premier League away games, losing three – the same tally of defeats as in their previous 16 matches on the road.
Spurs have conceded 31 away league goals this season, their most in a single campaign since letting in 35 in 2008-09. They’ve only kept two league clean sheets outside of London this season, doing so in victories at Nottingham Forest and Brighton & Hove Albion.
Six of Tottenham’s last seven Premier League goals against Liverpool have been scored by either Harry Kane (3) or Son Heung-min (3). Overall, Kane has scored eight times against Liverpool in the division, a figure only surpassed by Andy Cole’s tally of 11.
Harry Kane has scored in each of his last three Premier League away games, with Spurs failing to win all three. The last player to score in four consecutive away appearances without winning was Steven Fletcher between April and September 2012
Sat at a cold, dark Hotspur Way as the rain battered down outside, the symbolism was stark.
A power cut at Tottenham’s training ground meant those waiting to hear from Cristian Stellini (an interim head coach only in charge after the departure of Antonio Conte and three days away from being sacked himself) preview the game at Newcastle (what turned out to be Spurs’ worst Premier League defeat in a decade) and discuss the departed managing director of football Fabio Paratici (a day after he had resigned following a FIFA ban from football) were trying to keep warm and attempting to find phone reception with the wi-fi down.
It was not the picture of a club in great shape and the fact Tottenham’s second managerial sacking in the space of a month was met with such a collective shrug of the shoulders on Monday was instructive. Spurs, who face the real prospect of no European football next season, have been without a permanent head coach for almost a month now and the first game of next season will make it four different managers in 12 games. By then, the club talisman and all-time top scorer Harry Kane will be in the final year of his contract and there is no indication at this point he will sign another one.
Their latest interim head coach Ryan Mason is very well thought-of at the club, but he has managed a total of seven games in his career and, for the second time in three years, is tasked with saving a season that is spiralling out of control.
Ryan Mason has returned (Photo: Getty)
Meanwhile, the women’s team are also without a permanent head coach and could be relegated from the WSL (Women’s Super League), while after Paratici’s departure, there is no managing director of football. At academy level, Spurs’ under-21 side are second bottom of Premier League 2 and are facing relegation — although they have won the under-17 Premier League Cup this month and are in the final of the under-18s event.
Daniel Levy has so many issues to resolve that his to-do list is becoming the football equivalent of US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld’s famous memo 20 years ago where he tasked Doug Feith, the under secretary of defence for policy, with the not insignificant request of sorting out America’s issues with Syria, Libya, Pakistan and Korea.
But beyond the headline challenges facing Spurs, The Athletic has spoken to numerous well-placed sources from across the business — inside and outside the club — to get a proper sense of the picture at Tottenham Hotspur.
It should be said that every business the size of Tottenham has many unhappy members of staff and there are many employees who love working there. Many point to how far Spurs have come in a short space of time — the fact that under Levy, other than Manchester City, they are the only club to have successfully gone from outside the elite group of clubs to inside it.
Spurs were also credited for changes they’ve made to their recruitment operation, bringing in more staff members and significantly enhancing their data analytics offering at substantial expense. Hiring external counsel to survey staff on how the football operations were being run was also praised and cited as being a very unusual and commendable step for a big club. (It was this process that led to the creation of the chief football officer role and the appointment of Scott Munn; the expectation is Spurs will make more changes off the back of it).
Spurs are also rightly proud of the Tottenham Foundation’s excellent work in the local community and the school the club sponsors, which has helped youngsters from underprivileged backgrounds successfully apply to Oxford and Cambridge.
Kane and Ledley King meet Sadiq Khan (Photo: Getty)
But beyond all that, what state is the club really in? The Athletic has spent the past few weeks speaking to a range of well-placed sources to answer that question.
There were positives, as outlined above, but many of those who spoke to The Athletic, mostly anonymously to protect relationships, voiced concerns about the club.
Claims that morale among some members of staff is very low, with a lack of communication and clarity on strategy cited as reasons why. Frustrations date back to the decision to furlough staff in 2020 and the way in which staff were blindsided by the club’s intention to join the European Super League (ESL) a year later. One member of staff wearing Tottenham clothing was confronted by Spurs fans in the street after the ESL plans had been announced
A belief among many employees that the culture of the club has been lost and it’s not clear what it stands for anymore
Tensions among recruitment staff
A feeling that Spurs is too top-heavy with not enough autonomy for more junior members of staff
A number of departures are said to have left Levy with even fewer people to turn to for advice
Question marks over the leadership of chief commercial officer Todd Kline and the fact there has been a string of departures in the commercial department — with multiple employees leaving without other jobs to go to.
A feeling that the academy, such an important part of Spurs’ identity, was neglected by Paratici and Conte, and a suggestion that academy players called up to train with the first team were “just there as cones”
There are different perspectives on many of these points, which will be explored, and an important point to make is that the feel of a football club is so inextricably linked to its performances on the pitch. Were Spurs to start performing better then there would likely be a big improvement in staff morale. And many make the point that Spurs is a very well-run club compared to many in the Premier League, especially when it comes to infrastructure. It’s been said so many times that it’s become a cliche, but the stadium and training ground are the best equipped in the Premier League. And if you don’t think this stuff matters, look at Manchester United with their leaking Old Trafford roof and looming costly rebuild. Or the headache that not having a fit-for-purpose stadium causes Chelsea. Tottenham have none of these issues with their stadium. Hotspur Way is so good — apart from the odd power failure — that Italy trained and stayed there before the Euro 2020 final. It was one of the very few aspects of Spurs that consistently pleased Conte.
But, at the moment, there’s no getting away from how low many at the club feel. A sense of disappointment that an institution they care so much about has become such a target for criticism and ridicule.
For many at the club, the disillusionment started with the club’s decision to furlough 550 members of non-playing staff in March 2020 as part of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. This was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and meant those that were furloughed took a 20 per cent pay cut, while the UK government paid 80 per cent of their wages up to £2,500 per month. Spurs eventually bowed to public pressure and reversed the decision, but it was seen as out of touch by a lot of employees and left a sour taste. In Tottenham’s view they, along with other clubs like Liverpool, were attempting to protect jobs, but it ended up being a bad miscalculation.
A year later, staff were blindsided by Spurs’ plans to join the European Super League. A confidentiality agreement meant Tottenham couldn’t tell staff ahead of time, but in the immediate aftermath of the story breaking, many were stunned by the lack of communication and some were angered by having to answer questions from external parties about an issue they had no knowledge of. One member of staff remembers a colleague wearing Spurs apparel in the street and being harangued about the Super League by angry supporters. It made them cautious of wearing Tottenham gear.
Spurs fans protest (Photo: Getty)
Pochettino’s departure followed by the pandemic so soon after, and all of the associated issues that brought, are said to have had a big impact on the culture of the club. The huge losses that COVID brought meant Spurs had to adapt, but there’s a feeling that in doing so they lost their way and lost sight of what made them different.
Staff speak of the club feeling commodified and going from the upwardly-mobile upstart under Pochettino to not really having a clear story to tell. A feeling that besides the new stadium, which isn’t even that new anymore, what is it that makes Spurs special?
It’s largely a consequence of becoming a bigger and more successful business, but it’s been suggested that Spurs have lost their idiosyncratic qualities and become a “copy and paste” big club, bringing in the experienced managing director of football, the slick chief commercial officer.
One could argue that people can’t have it both ways: wanting Spurs to behave more like a ‘Big Six’ club and then complaining when they do. The sweet spot is to grow but not lose sight of what helped you grow in the first place. The young players coming through, the style of play, the feeling that — for better or worse — Spurs did things a bit differently. Spurs have not yet found that sweet spot. They know this and are mindful they’re on a journey and need to learn lessons along the way.
Generally, the mood at the club improved once the pandemic ended and staff could return to the offices. But a couple of years on and with Spurs lurching from one disaster to another (keeping on Paratici when he was banned from Italian football and the subsequent ban when his ban was then made global went down particularly badly), many issues that never really went away have resurfaced. Spurs’ position on the Paratici ban is that they followed due process throughout.
These issues include a feeling among many that the club feels directionless and has lost its culture and the sense that everyone is pulling in the same direction towards a shared goal.
Spurs, in fairness, have taken steps to address this. In February, they hosted a town hall meeting for their staff, with more than 500 people present, where Levy set out his vision for the club. The first slide was about trophies and how that was what he wanted first and foremost for the club. There was then an open Q&A with the board followed by drinks afterwards.
There’s also a feeling among some that the structure of the club is too top-heavy and that junior staff lack autonomy and that only Levy’s very small group of trusted advisors have much influence.
Levy, though, is credited with attempting to be less micromanaging in style. One well-placed source called the way Spurs operated a couple of years ago “the Daniel show” and the idea that he struggles to delegate is well established (the stadium build is a good example). Levy acknowledges he can be too hands-on, but those who are familiar with the Spurs operation point to his reduced presence at the training ground once Paratici arrived as evidence of him being able to take a step back. Likewise, allowing an external consultant to gather views on the football operation, leading to the hire of Munn, which should allow him to delegate further.
Much of the day-to-day running of the club, meanwhile, is looked after by the respected director of football administration and governance Rebecca Caplehorn. She takes the lead on player contracts for instance — traditionally viewed by outsiders as a major focus of Levy’s — with the chairman only being brought in at the end.
Last summer also saw the arrival of three senior figures in the recruitment department to work into Paratici — Gretar Steinsson, Leonardo Gabbanini and Andy Scoulding (those four men replacing only two: Steve Hitchen and Brian Carey). Hemen Tseayo, formerly of Manchester United, has joined recently as head of strategy and is expected to have Levy’s ear.
Gretar Steinsson (Photo: Getty)
But the past few years have seen some of those who Levy used to use as a sounding board leave the club.
The late former commercial chief Simon Bamber, for example, was someone who gave his honest opinion to Levy having known him for years and the two enjoyed a very good relationship. The decision to let him go in 2021 was a very unpopular one. Bamber had been described as the “heart and soul” of the club’s off-field operation. He was known for having the human touch and his departure is said to have had a major effect on the culture of the club.
Academy head John McDermott, who left in 2020, was another person whose opinion Levy valued. Then there was the director of football operations, Trevor Birch, who left in 2020 after only a few months in the job (though there’s debate, too, about how much influence he actually had) and director of technical performance Steve Hitchen, who went in 2022 and whose influence had waned by then. Paratici’s departure last week, meanwhile, reduced the number of directors at the club from six to five.
Away from the footballing departments, there have been many other departures in the past few years. Selwyn Tash, who provided external legal advice for more than two decades is one, along with senior figures in the marketing, commercial and press office departments, including head of marketing Emma Taylor and head of retail Victoria Hawksley, both of whom had been at the club for 15 years. The departure of long-serving staff who loved Tottenham added to the sense the culture of the place was changing. And although it’s part of football for people to frequently move around, going further back it’s striking how many of those who have departed have excelled in senior roles at respected organisations.
Birch is the CEO of the English Football League, Darren Eales is the CEO of Newcastle United (6-1 winners over Spurs on Sunday), Paul Barber is the CEO of Brighton & Hove Albion, Michael Edwards left Liverpool as sporting director last summer, and Paul Mitchell has been linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs after stepping down as Monaco’s sporting director. The irony is that had these people not left Spurs, they’d be precisely the sort of people they should be going after to add expertise at the top of the club. From Spurs’ perspective, their former employees excelling after leaving is evidence of how much they learned while at the club.
The perceived lack of voices at the top of the club other than Levy’s should be helped by Munn’s arrival as chief football officer in July — a hire that is also designed to improve the overall culture at the club.
There’s also the newly formed Fan Advisory Board (FAB) to consider but, despite the hard work of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust in boosting the FAB’s remit, its members, in line with Tracey Crouch’s recommendations in the fan-led review of football governance, won’t have voting rights on board decisions.
For many, there’s been a feeling that with all the negative stories about Spurs in recent months, the club has been “under siege” and, with Conte in charge, many felt the first-team area at Hotspur Way was a very unwelcoming place with a distinctly cold atmosphere (Conte’s relationship with the medical staff was particularly frosty). Little things Pochettino did, like shaking hands with colleagues and always saying hello and good morning, went a long way.
Changing this culture will be one of Mason’s main tasks because the atmosphere at the training ground has a big effect on players’ morale and performance.
And it is worth remembering how quickly the whole feel of a club can change with a proper figurehead and improved results on the pitch. That figurehead should, of course, be the head coach and you only need to look at how Pochettino transformed the club and brought all aspects of it together to know it is possible to make major changes in a short space of time. Especially as Spurs are a club with excellent structures in place, most notably the stadium and training ground.
One challenge in trying to find their next Pochettino is that the man who was supposed to be leading that head coach search has been banned from football. So it’s Levy who is in charge instead and, as it stands, Spurs have been without a permanent head coach for more than a month and are still yet to make a breakthrough, although they have now narrowed down their targets, with Luis Enrique and Julian Nagelsmann among the remaining candidates. Meanwhile, their loathed rivals Chelsea are on the brink of appointing their former hero Pochettino.
In the background, Tottenham’s recruitment staff are working away looking at potential summer targets on the playing side, getting used to their new way of working after Paratici’s ban in March and subsequent resignation last week.
The absence of a director of football is an issue for Spurs and it’s been suggested that they would ideally appoint one before getting a new head coach so they can have alignment across the football departments. But anyone they would like to bring in would most likely require a period of gardening leave before joining, meaning their chances of bringing in anyone before the summer are essentially gone.
With Munn not starting work until July 1, that leaves Steinsson effectively in charge and there’s a relief that there is at least now clarity about the Paratici situation. Not knowing what was happening there naturally lead to uncertainty within the department.
As technical director, Steinsson has the widest remit, including recruitment, the medical department and the academy. Then there’s Gabbanini, whose focus is player recruitment, working on talent identification with a team reporting into him. Scoulding oversees strategy on youth recruitment and the contract side of things and is the de facto loans manager. Part of his job is to try to bring the first team and academy closer together — a divide that has grown larger since Pochettino and McDermott left the club.
Paratici’s departure has led to a calmer atmosphere in the recruitment department. With him in charge, there was a high-energy, sometimes combative atmosphere that didn’t always suit everyone.
And with so many new arrivals last summer, there were periods of tension and turbulence among the staff, some of whom were keen to make their mark. Gabbanini, a close ally of Paratici, is a determined workaholic who throws everything into the role and is demanding of those around him, which can rub people up the wrong way. Others, though, have suggested this is more of a language and culture issue. Steinsson is also a forthright character and louder than most of his more reserved colleagues.
Fabio Paratici (Photo: Getty)
Spurs’ decision to bring in all three of Steinsson, Gabbanini and Scoulding last summer may have led to some tension about how responsibilities are divided up, but it has meant that, with Paratici leaving, there was still a structure in place and well-connected, experienced operators to step in. And with Munn arriving in July, that’s a big increase in senior personnel at a club often accused of being too streamlined in senior positions. Even with these hires, though, it’s still Levy leading the managerial search.
Nevertheless, Spurs have put a lot of work into structures, processes and culture in the recruitment department, and this, allied to greater investment in data analytics, is to their credit.
The biggest task Spurs face this summer, though, is convincing Kane to renew his contract. Allowing a player to run down their contract has been the doomsday scenario for Levy ever since Sol Campbell did it in 2001, soon after the ENIC takeover. But it looks increasingly likely this will come to pass, with no indications at present that Kane will sign a new deal.
And whereas two years ago Kane was begrudged for agitating for that switch, the general consensus now is that he has earned the right to do as he pleases and that any anger would be directed at the club for not doing enough to create an environment where he can stay and be successful. Former Tottenham defender Danny Rose said on Sunday that he would like to see Kane leave Tottenham and that his former team-mate “deserves better”.
Along with selling players, a key revenue driver for any football club is their commercial activity.
Thanks to Levy’s sound management, Spurs’ financials are in good health.
But, on the commercial side, there have been some disappointments over the past few years. The headline failing has been the lack of a naming-rights partner for the stadium. It will be half a decade next April since the stadium opened, though Tottenham’s position has always been that the partner has to be the right one at the right time.
But for chief commercial officer Kline, securing a naming-rights partner was part of the reason he was brought in two years ago. As the “About Me” section of his LinkedIn page says: “Tottenham have appointed a former NFL executive as the club’s first chief commercial officer to aid the search for a lucrative naming-rights partner for their stadium.”
There have been other commercial disappointments since he took over. Partners like Hugo Boss not renewing their contracts is just what happens sometimes, but the departure of Audi was more contentious. In that case, Audi were unhappy that Spurs had signed up Cinch, who they viewed as a competitor, as their official sleeve partner for more money. There was no renewal when Audi’s four-year deal with Spurs expired last year, with INEOS Grenadier now the club’s car sponsor.
Last January also saw Spurs announce a partnership with Fast as its official one-click payment partner, only for the company to collapse three months later.
Last month, there was embarrassment for Spurs when they breached their licence for the number of gigs they could put on at the stadium in one year. To put on the extra night, which made it seven gigs in total this year, Spurs had to submit another planning application to Haringey Council. The agreement reached was that the extra concert would replace one of Spurs’ other allotted non-football events (they are allowed a total of 16, with six supposed to be concerts).
Concerts at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium are now another key revenue driver for the club (Photo: Getty)
There have been plenty of successes as well — the ongoing relationship with the NFL and other sports that, alongside the concerts, make the stadium close to the 365-days-a-year venue it was designed to be. February also saw Spurs add to their sporting portfolio by signing a 15-year strategic partnership with Formula 1 that includes the world’s first in-stadium electric karting facility and London’s longest indoor track.
Many supporters rolled their eyes when this was announced and feel similarly about other commercial ventures the club have pursued, but the idea, as Levy reiterated in his Cambridge Union interview last month, is that this revenue is then reinvested in the football side.
What’s perhaps more significant about the F1 deal is that it was negotiated almost single-handedly by Levy, supporting the idea that he is spread too thinly as this shouldn’t really be part of his remit. The counter-argument, though, is that a business like Spurs that isn’t bankrolled by a nation-state has to be fleet of foot in the way it brings in revenue and, in this case, the deal came out of Levy’s connections and vision.
The commercial side of the business can feel abstract and things like this have a knock-on effect — there are only so many things even a workaholic can deal with at one moment. And the start of 2023 was hardly a quiet time for Spurs in other areas.
Zooming a bit further in, there have been a lot of changes in the commercial department since Kline’s arrival. The sales team has been boosted but elsewhere a number of staff members have felt the working atmosphere was not a positive one and many have left without jobs to go to.
From Spurs’ perspective, the churn is partly down to the effects of the pandemic and a different working environment, with a new man in charge not being for everyone. Bringing in fresh ideas is of course not necessarily a bad thing and, from Kline and the club’s perspective, is about raising standards.
But a lot of the departures have been senior staff, including senior head of partnerships Cindy Wolf last year (to join the Six Nations) and senior partnership manager Sam Colley at the end of 2021. Head of partnership services Oliver Bethell left last month without a job to go to — as was the case in the past 18 months for a number of his colleagues, including the whole business development department.
Senior staff have also been brought in while Kline has been in charge, but many of those who departed had been at the club for a long time and loved Tottenham.
One of the biggest cultural shifts at Spurs over the past few years has been the distance that has grown between the first team and the academy.
Under Pochettino and the then academy head McDermott, the two areas of the club were very closely aligned. The way youngsters were integrated into the first team was not perfect in this period, but it coincided with the breakthrough of academy players like Kane, Mason and Harry Winks.
But McDermott left to join the FA in 2020, a few months after Pochettino’s departure and, under Paratici and Conte, the distance grew with a feeling and subsequent disappointment that neither man had much interest in the academy.
Conte called young players up to train with the first team, but they were described by one training-ground source as “being like cones”. It’s also been suggested that the first team gave very little consideration to the youngsters’ commitments for the academy sides and being used in 11-v-11 shadow games naturally reduced their training time.
Under Jose Mourinho, a similar thing happened when Alfie Devine and Dane Scarlett trained with the first team, but there were doubts over whether it was the best thing for their coaching and development.
Alfie Devine and Dane Scarlett (Photo: Getty)
One school of thought is that Spurs should try to bridge the gap between the first team and the academy by making more use of youth-team coaches Yaya Toure and Jermain Defoe. Both are Premier League legends — Toure a three-time winner — and there could be value to hearing from them, even if it was just to offer some insights from their careers rather than necessarily coaching. It’s not always an easy dynamic between recently-retired former players and career academy coaches, but some felt it was a missed opportunity when neither were named as part of Mason’s interim staff on Tuesday.
The academy is a big part of what Spurs stands for and relegation for the under-21s would be damaging to the club’s prestige and potentially affect their ability to recruit and hold onto players and staff.
Already in the past year, they have lost emerging talent manager Chris Perkins to Arsenal and the highly rated pair of 16-year-olds Jayden Meghoma and Samuel Amo-Ameyaw to Southampton.
In Spurs’ defence, they do not have the same budget when it comes to their academy as some of their rivals. It’s still considered by many experts to be right up there outside of clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, who spend a lot more.
Tottenham can also point to winning the under-17 Premier League Cup this month and reaching the final of the under-18s event as evidence of the good shape they’re in. Simon Davies, another new hire last year — and, like Munn, a City Football Group alumnus — is said to have raised standards. Munn is expected to do likewise. And Mason’s arrival should help in the short term, with around eight academy players training with the first team currently and expected to be properly involved.
The academy matters not just for providing players for the first team but for the way it shapes how Spurs view themselves. It’s a major part of their identity and culture.
One area Spurs are less established is on the women’s side, where they are facing the reality of becoming the first team to have been promoted to the WSL and then suffer relegation. Though, according to a report last week, Levy is among those pushing for an end to WSL promotion and relegation. The logic is that this would be the best way to build a more competitive, sustainable top flight because clubs would invest more in players and infrastructure without the fear of being relegated. It was said that the threat of relegation — Spurs are just two points clear of the drop zone — did not influence Levy’s thinking.
In any case, Tottenham are still without a permanent head coach after the sacking of Rehanne Skinner in March following a run of nine straight defeats. Skinner’s former assistant, Vicky Jepson, is in temporary charge.
Spurs did invest in new players in the summer and again in January, most notably with the record £250,000 signing of Bethany England. As yet though, the signings have not led to a major improvement in results and, as former Spurs goalkeeper Chloe Morgan put it on The View From The Lane podcast last week: “They’re one of the richest clubs in the world but that’s never really translated into real achievement for them.”
“It’s interesting that when they entered the WSL for the first time, it was the same time as Manchester United and you can see how stark the contrast is. United are into the FA Cup final and in contention for their first WSL title, while Spurs are languishing at the bottom.
“Also, they moved from the Hive to Brisbane Road last summer and I don’t think that venue has ever felt like home. There’s been so much criticism about the way the pitch is and the fact it’s not their home ground. It’s not their space.”
The logic behind moving to the bigger Brisbane Road was that it would improve the infrastructure around the women’s team. Spurs can also point to improved training, medical and nutritional facilities, and the appointment of Andy Rogers as managing director, as evidence of their investment in the women’s team. They are also planning to host two women’s matches at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium before the end of the season.
As yet, though, the women’s team have found success on the pitch elusive. It’s hoped that the arrival of Munn, who oversaw the creation of the all-conquering Melbourne City women’s team, will make a difference.
So, where do Spurs go from here?
There are problems at the club, but so many of them can be resolved if they bring someone in who energises the place again and really makes them believe. Some are more deep-rooted, but some will feel that little less important even if Spurs can pull off a shock against Manchester United tonight.
Tottenham Hotspur is a great institution and everyone at the club is working extremely hard to try to get them back to where they belong.
It is undoubtedly a journey, but it’s one everyone associated with the club is desperate to start properly enjoying again.
There have been many moments over the last four wasted years when it felt as if Tottenham Hotspur were finally, miserably bottoming out.
The defeats to Bayern Munich and Brighton & Hove Albion that showed the Mauricio Pochettino era had come to an end. The 3-0 loss to Dinamo Zagreb, whose manager had just been sent to prison, a month before Jose Mourinho was sacked. Any of Nuno Espirito Santo’s five league defeats, especially 3-1 at Arsenal, or the 3-0 to Manchester United that ended his reign. Burnley away under Antonio Conte, or Leicester City away, or Sheffield United away, when Spurs gave up on this season’s FA Cup. Even Bournemouth last week felt like a new low.
But none of them have anything on this.
Looking back, all of those bad moments, as painful as they were at the time, were just minor hiccups and inconveniences along the road compared to St James’ Park today. If you want to know what a real nadir looks like, just watch back the first 21 minutes of this game.
This first half of the first half, when Newcastle United scored five of their six goals, was arguably the worst extended sequence of football you will ever see from a Premier League side. Not just in relative terms, given that Spurs are nominally chasing a top-four finish, finished fourth last season and have players as good as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. But in absolute terms too: nobody at this level shows up anywhere and plays this badly. Interim manager Cristian Stellini admitted it was the worst performance he had ever seen and no one who was here would disagree.
This was a non-performance from a non-team, perfectly representing a manager-less, direction-less club.
It has been clear for weeks that there is very little holding Tottenham together any more: no spirit, no confidence, no unity, no organisation, no discipline, no character, no passion and no plan. But we have only seen it in ominous glimpses which hinted at a terrifying truth: the last 15 minutes at Southampton just over a month ago, the last 20 minutes at Everton in the following game, longer spells in the next two against Brighton and Bournemouth.
Now here were Stellini’s Spurs, naked in front of the world, looking lonely, lost strangers not only to one another but to the fact they are a football team.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg feels the pain as Newcastle run rampant (Photo: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)
Many fans will point fingers at the players and it is impossible to disagree with them. They could not have made it any easier for Newcastle. They were second to every tackle or loose ball. They ducked out of challenges as if they were trying to avoid injury. (Cristian Romero is still playing as if he is trying to save himself for a forthcoming World Cup, letting Joelinton past him for the first two goals — although he is not the only one.)
Tottenham were tactically brainless, playing a dangerously high line while never putting any pressure on the ball. It was insultingly easy for Newcastle to play through them or to just stick the ball in behind them, run straight onto it and score. Their second and fourth goals were painfully similar and painfully obvious, and yet it never even occurred to Spurs to make it difficult for them. When Jacob Murphy scored Newcastle’s third from 30 yards, after nine minutes, nobody tried to put up any resistance.
Newcastle would have had a harder time playing against training-pitch mannequins.
We could go on all day about what a failure of character this is from a set of players who have grievously let down the football club yet again. Some of the team’s more normally reserved members lost their tempers at half-time in the dressing room but, by that point, the game was already lost.
But there is a bigger picture here too. We could blame Stellini for sending them out in this 4-3-3, with a back four made up of at least three, and possibly four, defenders who are not cut out to play in such a system. Ivan Perisic and Pedro Porro are wingers who have learned to play wing-back, but they are not full-backs. Eric Dier is far more at home in a back three. Romero has played in a four for Argentina but in the Premier League looks like he needs the extra protection.
Stellini insisted afterwards that he did train the players in the back four last week. But it certainly did not look that way as Spurs were cut open time after time. It makes you wonder what sort of commitment to improvement there is on that training ground. It was telling that it took a return to 3-4-3, and the introduction of last weekend’s fall-guy Davinson Sanchez, for them to stop conceding every time Newcastle came forward.
But Stellini is a fall guy himself, so pouring too much of the blame onto him feels like missing the point.
Clearly, the Stellini mini-era is a bust. He looks uncomfortable and out of his depth, unable to deliver either continuity with the Conte era or meaningful change from it. But today he picked a system many fans would have wanted him to. He said afterwards he would take responsibility if the system was to blame but he hinted that there were other issues at work here.
We all know that Stellini has inherited problems that he cannot fix. He took over a group of players whose confidence has been utterly destroyed by the Conte era. Here, he tried to get them to play a different way, to push them into a gear they were unused to, and the engine blew up in his face. These players have forgotten how to play on the front foot, forgotten how to defend high up the pitch, forgotten how to think for themselves. All that is not just on Stellini.
So you could take another step back and say that this disaster lies at the door of Conte. He instituted this rigid style of play, the psychological dependence on 3-4-3 and sitting deep. He made these players so obedient regarding his tactics that they lost the capacity to take responsibility themselves. He then spitefully destroyed their confidence in the end — in a way which will take months to recover. None of that is incorrect and yet even that analysis is only about half of the story.
Because Conte was a man brought in to deliver instant success and then not given all of the tools he is used to. He completed half of the job, with Tottenham finishing fourth last season, but then when performances and confidence started to collapse in this one, he did not look willing or able to fix it. Yes, he deserves blame, but by no means all of it.
Dejan Kulusevski looking in disgust as Spurs fall to bits at St James’ Park (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
Ultimately, to get a full sense of the blame and failures and responsibility you have to take a final step back and look where the real power lies. Everything at Tottenham ultimately comes back to Daniel Levy.
Not just the muddled appointment of Stellini, which has sunk any chance of them new-manager-bouncing their way into the top four. Not just the failed gamble on Conte, the second time in two years Levy got dazzled by the idea of appointing a glamorous big-name manager, forgetting everything that made Tottenham good in the first place. Not just the years of bungled recruitment, failing to sell the players Pochettino wanted to sell, failing to refresh the squad until it was too late, failing to give first Mourinho and then Conte the players they needed to win, eventually putting it in the hands of Fabio Paratici, whose forced resignation this week adds yet another layer of shambles and farce to an increasingly disastrous season.
No, what Levy really needs to answer for is the cavernous absence of anything even remotely resembling a football strategy. It is four years now since that thrilling spring when Spurs opened their new stadium and reached the Champions League final. But since then they have absolutely nothing to show for it.
Every major decision has gone wrong. The only unifying thread has been Levy’s desire for them to behave like a big club — Mourinho, the Super League, Paratici, Conte — rather than thinking seriously about what it takes to succeed. This defeat felt like all of the bad decisions of the last four wasted years coming back to haunt Tottenham simultaneously. None of this was random or unfortunate; it was a price they have long deserved to pay.
And now the only man who has recently made this club successful, Pochettino, is in pole position for the Chelsea job.
Tottenham fans deserve to hear from Levy what the football strategy actually is. They deserve to hear from him directly, not via the YouTube channel of the Cambridge Union but speaking to them, their concerns and their priorities. Because when Spurs host Manchester United on Thursday, the crowd will make their feelings regarding the running of the club abundantly clear.
(Top photo: Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)
Tottenham centre-back Clement Lenglet has started their last eight Premier League matches
Sean Longstaff could return to Newcastle’s starting line-up after only featuring as a substitute against Aston Villa following a bout of tonsillitis.
Fit-again Miguel Almiron is also in contention to start but Allan Saint-Maximin and Emil Krafth remain out.
Tottenham will assess Clement Lenglet, who was forced off against Bournemouth.
If he is unavailable, the centre-back is likely to be replaced by Davinson Sanchez, who was booed by Spurs fans last weekend, or Japhet Tanganga.
Lucas Moura completes a three-game ban, while Emerson Royal, Ryan Sessegnon, Rodrigo Bentancur and Yves Bissouma are still injured.
Ben Davies is back in training after recovering from a hamstring problem but this game will probably come too soon for him.
Newcastle are vying to complete a league double against Tottenham for the first time since the 2015-16 season, in which the Magpies were relegated.
Spurs have won six of their eight most recent top-flight matches at St James’ Park (D1, L1), including a 3-2 victory last season.
The Londoners have scored in each of their past 16 fixtures away to Newcastle in all competitions since a 1-0 FA Cup quarter-final defeat in March 2005.
Newcastle’s tally of 56 points is their highest after 30 games of a top-flight campaign since 2002-03, when they had 58 and went on to finish third.
They are unbeaten in all eight of their league matches on a Sunday this season, winning five of those fixtures.
The Magpies have conceded 24 Premier League goals this term, four fewer than any other team – though they have only kept one clean sheet in their past 10 league matches.
Eddie Howe has lost eight of his 12 Premier League matches as a manager against Tottenham (W2, D2). The only teams he has a worse record against are Manchester City and Liverpool, with 13 and 12 defeats respectively.
Spurs have lost five of six league matches this season against sides currently in the top four, with the exception a 1-0 home win against Manchester City on 5 February.
Tottenham are winless in six away games in all competitions since beating Preston 3-0 in the FA Cup on 28 January (D2, L4). It is their longest such streak since an eight-match run from August to November 2019 at the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure.
Spurs have scored a league-high 65% of their goals this season after half-time, though opponents Newcastle have conceded just 13 second-half Premier League goals, fewer than any other side.
They have not won a league match outside of London since beating Bournemouth 3-2 on 29 October. Since then they have taken two points from a possible 15 outside the capital, conceding 13 goals.
Harry Kane is two goals shy of matching Wayne Rooney’s total of 208 Premier League goals, a figure bettered only by all-time top scorer Alan Shearer (260).
Kane has netted six Premier League goals at St James’ Park – only Rooney, with nine, has a better record among visiting players.
Tottenham remain without Rodrigo Bentancur, Yves Bissouma, Ben Davies, Emerson Royal and Ryan Sessegnon due to injury, while Lucas Moura is banned.
Interim boss Cristian Stellini takes charge of fifth-place Spurs following his sending-off against Brighton.
Bournemouth’s manager Gary O’Neil has Marcos Senesi available again after a hamstring issue.
However, he is still without Ryan Fredericks, Junior Stanislas and Hamed Traore.
Tottenham have won all five of the home matches they have played against Bournemouth by an aggregate scoreline of 16-2.
The Cherries have taken just five points out of a possible 33 in their 11 Premier League matches versus Spurs. Their only win was a 1-0 victory at the Vitality Stadium in 2019.
Tottenham are on a run of five successive league victories at home, having lost four of the previous five before that. They have won more home points since the start of February than any other side.
They have won 10 and drawn one of their last 11 league matches against promoted sides, including all five this season.
Spurs are aiming to win all six of their games against promoted teams in the same season for the fifth time in the Premier League, a tally only Chelsea have achieved.
They could equal the Premier League record of 26 consecutive home games without a draw, set by Manchester City from March 2008 to September 2009.
Harry Kane’s top-flight goals have been worth 22 points to Tottenham this season, the highest of any player in the division.
Only Thierry Henry (46) has scored as many Premier League goals against promoted opposition as Kane’s 43.
Bournemouth secured only their third away league win of the season against Leicester last weekend and are now aiming to secure back-to-back top-flight away victories for the first time since October 2018.
The Cherries have won four of their last eight top-flight games, which is as many as they had in their first 22 this season.
They have won just two points from their eight matches against teams currently in the top five in the table.
Philip Billing’s seven league goals have been worth nine points to Bournemouth this season – only Josh King in 2016-17 (12) has earned the Cherries more points thanks to his goals in a single campaign.
It’s a significant hire that, coupled with Paratici’s appointment in 2021, sees Levy taking much more of a backseat when it comes to Tottenham’s football operations.
For those reading and asking “Scott who?”, you’re not alone in reacting to the appointment with scepticism. Eyebrows were certainly raised by some in high-level football circles on Friday given that the Australian Munn has never worked in Europe and the scale of the job facing him. Spurs currently have no permanent men’s or women’s first-team head coach, their director of football is banned, and their talismanic top-scorer Harry Kane will enter the final year of his contract on Munn’s first day in the job.
On the flipside, those who have worked with Munn — speaking to The Athletic anonymously to protect relationships — have been very complimentary and believe he can make the considerable step up.
This is a look at what his hire means for Spurs and the kind of person and operator they have appointed. A cycling fanatic whose generosity stood out while at Melbourne City, and someone who, as his employment history shows, is not afraid to throw himself in at the deep end. It’s a quality he’ll definitely need when he moves to north London…
As Spurs said when confirming Munn’s hire, this is an appointment that came about in part after “an ongoing review over the past six months of all of our footballing activities”. This review was led by Levy and involved Tottenham bringing in an external consultant to conduct interviews with employees about how all the club’s footballing activities were being run. Hiring someone to oversee the various footballing departments was a consequence of this review. It’s also an illustration that this has been an appointment in the works for months rather than a reaction to the Paratici ban, as some assumed.
Tottenham want to have an elite structure in place, and have looked at Manchester City as one example of best practice — it’s no coincidence then that Munn has almost a decade’s worth of experience working for CFG.
It’s also a reflection of the fact Paratici’s expertise is in the recruitment side of things, but the club also needed someone who could focus on the other footballing departments. The women’s team and the academy are two such important areas in which Munn has a proven track record.
Developing young players was a focus of his time at Melbourne City, where he was the CEO for 10 years (from the club’s foundation as Melbourne Heart in 2009) until moving to China in 2019. Under Munn and after the CFG takeover in 2014, City hoovered up much of the country’s best young talent and dominated youth competitions. In 2016, they signed a teenage Daniel Arzani from the Sydney FC academy; two years later he played all three of Australia’s 2018 World Cup games and was signed by Manchester City. Serious injuries have unfortunately hampered him since then. Aaron Mooy was another success story — rehabilitated at Melbourne City after a run of injuries with St Mirren before joining Manchester City and then being sold to Huddersfield Town for a fee of up to £10million in 2017.
A spell at Munn’s Melbourne City helped kickstart Aaron Mooy’s career (Photo: Getty Images)
On the men’s side, Munn also made some adventurous hires to try and get the team playing exciting attacking football — something that Spurs fans have been crying out for. Most notably by appointing the former Dutch winger John van ‘t Schip as the club’s first ever manager in 2009 and then again four years later. Van ‘t Schip had spent the majority of his career playing or coaching at Ajax and was raised on the Johan Cruyff principles of how to play the game. Bringing him in was a big statement therefore and a significant departure from how football was being played in the rest of the A-League at the time.
The women’s team meanwhile, which Munn oversaw the creation of, achieved massive success. They won the W-League in their first three seasons after being formed in 2015 and have been credited with helping to transform women’s football in Australia. By contrast, Spurs Women are managerless and fourth from bottom of the Women’s Super League.
It is hoped Munn will drive forward these areas of the business at Tottenham, while his commercial background in his previous roles should also be valuable. The commercial side of the business will not be part of his remit, but he was valued highly at CFG for his skill in this area. Especially driving sponsorship deals with companies like Westpac, one of Australia’s big four banks. Signing Tim Cahill in 2016 meanwhile was a deal that was seen as a commercial coup if ultimately a mixed footballing success.
If comparing with City, the way that all the football departments will report into him makes Munn more like CFG’s chief operating officer Omar Berrada, with Paratici — or his replacement depending on how the next couple of months plays out — in the Txiki Begiristain director of football role.
That said, there’s also an expectation that Munn will have more of a CEO role once he officially joins Spurs on July 1 (he’s currently on gardening leave). This was the role he held at Melbourne City and then running CFG’s China operations. Either way, as a board member and in such a prominent role, he will have a voice in the discussions on the new head coach and, if it comes to it, managing director of football. The expectation is that Paratici would be replaced if he were to leave, but Spurs would not want to rush into that appointment, and the hope is that Munn can add another layer of expertise to the search.
Those who have worked with Munn make the point that while the lack of European experience could be an issue, the other way of framing it is that he has a global knowledge and expertise of emerging markets that very few possess. Australia and Asia are already important in a commercial sense — Spurs travelled to South Korea last summer and are heading to Perth in July — and with the potential to increase in a footballing one. One of CFG’s great strengths is how global it is in its outlook, with clubs all over the world, all feeding into a centralised hub that ensures Manchester City at the centre can hoover up the world’s best young talent. South Americans like Julian Alvarez and Gabriel Jesus, signed as youngsters thanks to CFG’s global expertise, exemplify this.
Speaking to those who know how CFG operates, it’s also apparent that Munn, given how senior a role he was in, would have had a lot of exposure to the group’s knowledge base, and the slick operational skill that makes it the envy of most clubs in the world.
As explained in detail here, communication between clubs and centralised CFG staff is constant, with regular meetings and almost daily contact.
Even while in Melbourne, Munn visited the UK a few times a year to have meetings with senior CFG staff, such as Ferran Soriano, Begiristain and managing director of global football Brian Marwood. All major decisions — be that regarding infrastructure, signing players or changing managers — are co-ordinated with Manchester. So the idea that Munn has been working in footballing outposts and has no knowledge of European football might be a little deceptive.
Munn (right) reported to CFG’s managing director of global football Brian Marwood (Photo: Getty Images)
As ever, there is a question mark over how much autonomy Munn will have at Spurs under Levy. Even with Paratici in situ and supposedly in charge of managerial appointments, it was still Levy who drove and executed the hire of Antonio Conte in November 2021. That said, the last couple of years have seen not only Paratici brought in, but also Gretar Steinsson, Andy Scoulding and Leonardo Gabbanini into senior recruitment roles, with Levy less hands-on than previously.
All four will report into Munn, as Tottenham continue their attempts to boost their off-field staff and improve the structure of their football operations.
The feedback Spurs received on Munn was very positive, and his CV speaks of his ambition and willingness to try different things.
He started his career with the Sydney Organising Committee for the 2000 Olympic Games, then switched to the National Rugby League, before becoming the first person employed by Melbourne Heart when the club was formed in 2009. The club had no offices, training ground or infrastructure and Munn essentially had to build it up from nothing.
The CFG takeover in 2014 was transformational, and the rebranded Melbourne City won their first title with the 2016 FFA Cup (now the Australia Cup and the nation’s equivalent of the FA Cup), but they struggled to compete with the already established Melbourne Victory, and averaged attendances of less than 10,000.
Moving to China in 2019 was another big step into the unknown, uprooting his wife and three children to a country where none of them spoke the language. Those who saw Munn operating in China were impressed with his diplomacy and ability to navigate his way through a challenging market, while developing contacts and building relationships. Being entrusted with looking after CFG’s operations in China, where they have a club Sichuan Jiuniu in the second tier, was a sign of the group’s trust in him.
In general, former colleagues and contacts speak of someone who is straightforward, respectful and has a lot of integrity. A small, slight man, Munn is a keen cyclist, and in Melbourne would go on long bike rides with colleagues. In his late teens, he briefly moved to the UK to work in a school assisting the PE staff.
Munn knows there will be doubts about his ability to step up to the role, but that was the case in Melbourne and China. He is said to be a very good listener while confident without being overbearing was one description.
He also left his mark in Melbourne with his generosity. In 2016, he led the initiative that saw Melbourne City donate at least a dollar for every fan attending the derby against Melbourne Victory, as well as hosting a fundraising auction, to raise money for a young man needing lifesaving cancer treatment.
Spurs feel they have hired someone who can drive forward the various footballing departments and with his global outlook help modernise the operation. His low profile may make the appointment feel underwhelming to some, but going for big names has not exactly worked out brilliantly for Spurs in the last few years. And for those who have criticised Levy for being too hands-on when it comes to footballing matters, this is surely another step in the right direction.
Either way, Munn will have an enormous job on his hands when he gets started and begins attacking his dizzying to-do list.
I stopped bellowing at my television, picked up the phone and sent a stream of texts to the boss, who just happens to be a Tottenham Hotspur fan. I weighed in against his rudderless team, about how players should be grasping responsibility even while engulfed by chaos.
Partially, I was having a bit of fun and hoping for a bite, but instead, he messaged back, “Good subject, write a column on it,” and so now I have to take responsibility for this.
There is a valuable lesson for all of us here and specifically for me: taking responsibility is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Watching Spurs labour against Everton irritated me though. Playing against the 10 men of a relegation-threatened team, 1-0 up and being absolutely battered wasn’t a good look. Where were the leaders? Why was nobody taking the sting from the game, doing the cynical things the good teams always do? I’m talking about Manchester City with their constant sly little fouls when they lose possession or players going down ‘injured’ to buy a bit of time.
Tottenham did none of that, Everton hogged the ball and I couldn’t really comprehend what I was seeing. On the face of it, this was Antonio Conte’s argument being made for him, even after he had left the club. It was “selfish players”, who “do not want to help each other” who do not want to play “under pressure”, or “under stress”, the incendiary comments he made after Southampton recovered from 3-1 down to draw 3-3 against them last month.
Lloris is a World Cup winner but wasn’t able to calm his team-mates (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
My boss made the point that some of those players had been worn down by Jose Mourinho and then Conte, two high-maintenance, taskmaster coaches known for their intensity, separated briefly by Nuno Espirito Santo, who lasted for 17 matches. Would it really be a surprise if their minds were frazzled and instincts dulled? And, in any case, isn’t it up to managers to motivate? My initial response to that was, ‘Yeah, but you don’t know footballers like I do’.
Players are masters of excuse-making. A bad game is never their fault. At the highest level, they’re like a protected species in a protected sport, surrounded by people constantly telling them how great they are. It’s funny, you may get the occasional admission of collective guilt — “We weren’t at it”, or “the other lot wanted it more” — but it’s rare for anybody to say “I was awful today”, or “I’ve had a nightmare there”, although the same applies to managers.
I can vividly remember Sir Bobby Robson standing in front of his Newcastle United squad and saying to us, “If I give you my fingers, you’ll take the whole hand, if I give you my hand, you’ll take the wrist and all of a sudden my whole arm is gone.” If anybody was late for training he would say, “If you’re late for a tackle, you’ll cost me my job.” One of his favourites was, “If you’re late for the train, the train won’t wait. Don’t miss the train, son.”
Players look for weakness or any chinks in the armour — always have done, always will. They push all the buttons, seeing how far they can take things. Perhaps there was an echo of that behaviour when I dispatched those dismissive messages to my Spurs-supporting boss and perhaps there was an echo of Bobby in him reminding me who was in charge, but the more I considered his request, the less I trusted my own anger.
Players can be the whingiest whingers in Whingedom — and I whinged with the best of them. At Newcastle, Sir Bobby forced everybody to eat lunch together; nobody could start until he got there and nobody could leave until he finished. It drove me mad. I’d shout “Hurry up!” and bang on the tables. And then when I became manager, I implemented exactly the same policy because deep down I knew it was about forcing us together: to talk, to encourage a spirit.
But back then as a player… Well, there was the school run to be back for, there was shopping to do, there were other pulls on my time. So I was part of a squad, but I was an individual, too, and I suppose this is where I’ve landed in this column. Every football club is a fragile ecosystem, one which has to be nurtured and in balance. As soon as any aspect is out of kilter, the whole structure is at risk of crashing down.
There is a contradiction at the heart of football, at the heart of any team sport, really. Players are part of something bigger than themselves, but they’re also selfish. You want to play every game, or you should do, and when somebody takes your position there’s understandably a bit of envy there, a tinge of jealousy and hurt. Do you want that other person scoring goals if it means keeping you out of the side? Human nature would suggest otherwise.
Conte called the players “selfish”, but what role did he play in that being the case? (Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Newcastle this season are a prime example of what a team can do when everybody is together; “alignment” is a word they use a lot at St James’ Park. But when I interviewed Eddie Howe in September, he spoke about how important their win at Leeds United the previous January had been: a “turning point” moment “that swung everything our way”.
Until then, Eddie had presided over one victory. Newcastle had just come off a dreadful defeat to Cambridge United in the FA Cup and a deflating draw with Watford in the league. By all accounts, the players appreciated his diligence and were enjoying his methods, but positive results had been reluctant. Managers need buy-in; at some point, they have to be able to say “I told you this would work” or “This is the reason I did that”. Without it, there’s no evidence to back up their decisions.
Look at Newcastle now: third in the table and flying. Yes, they’ve spent money, but six of the team that hammered West Ham United 5-1 on Wednesday were at the club before the takeover, when they looked listless and hopeless and destined for relegation. Everybody has raised their standards; the players out of the team know they have to knuckle down and can’t really complain. None of that could have happened without Leeds. Eddie needed it.
Contrast that with Graham Potter — another studious builder — going into Chelsea. Admittedly, it is a different club with a different context and very different demands to Newcastle last year, but you wonder how he was ever expected to control such a bloated, unwieldy dressing room crammed with egos; a long-term appointment judged over the short. Contrast it with Spurs and that ingrained frustration at the ownership and their inability to get over the finish line.
Then turn it back to the players and ask what taking responsibility means in those circumstances. My reaction to Tottenham’s performance at Everton was heat of the moment. I wasn’t being particularly rational or analytical, but I was watching a group of decent players, with a World Cup winner in goal, another at centre-half and with a world-class striker up top, fail to do the basics. Why was nobody putting a foot in?
Reminiscing about Newcastle and Sir Bobby made me think again. Like Spurs now, I was part of a team that wanted to win things, that got to finals and semi-finals and never quite managed it (and, you don’t need to remind me, still haven’t). I was also part of a team that, on occasion, struggled badly. And I am a supporter of a club which, for way too long, had a low glass ceiling, where the whole idea of straining for anything was more or less expendable.
Bobby followed Ruud Gullit as Newcastle manager. Famously, Ruud had dropped me for the small matter of a derby match against Sunderland, but I’d always known he didn’t rate me along with a few others. Tensions simmered, the dressing room festered and it wasn’t a nice environment to be around. I never stopped trying to score or trying to win, but if Ruud had stayed at St James’ I’d have left. There’s very little doubt about that.
My relationship with manager Gullit led to poor form (Photo: Owen Humphreys – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
My first one-to-one conversation with Bobby was pretty simple. He’d noticed I’d become static, that I’d stopped doing some of the things that had always been natural to me. He turned my positioning around, turned me back towards goal and in his first home match as manager we put eight past Sheffield Wednesday and I scored five of them, free of stress or uncertainty, full of confidence and feeling at home again.
Right from the start, Bobby gave me — and us — buy-in. I didn’t stop pushing him, I didn’t stop banging the canteen tables as he dallied over his bloody soup and bread rolls, his main course and his rice pudding, and I didn’t stop feeling aggrieved on the rare occasions he left me out, but Newcastle’s ecosystem had been restored. Part of it was the manager, part was the players and part was the delicate balance you all have when something is working.
Good managers bind everything together, knowing when to sell, knowing who to buy, keeping the atmosphere intact, making everybody better. And then it’s about finding a way to refresh themselves because a few years down the line, players start to switch off when they hear the same voice or are asked to do the same old things. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger were geniuses at it. Jurgen Klopp is wrestling with it now.
Ferguson and Wenger were masters at refreshing and reinventing a once-dominant team — it’s a challenge Klopp is now facing (Photo: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)
Perhaps Spurs at Everton was an extreme example of what happens when it doesn’t work. I still think their performance was unacceptable for a team in fourth, albeit in a season when Liverpool and Chelsea have been uncharacteristically poor. But in retrospect, they were never going to respond like Manchester City because for Manchester City those responses have become instinct: do it and they know they will win.
As a player, you crave certainty. You want to know what your job is, you want the tools to do it and you want to know your team-mates are capable of doing theirs. Spurs don’t have that. In those moments, you would like to think that some innate professionalism would kick in, that you’d find it within yourself, but I also know how weary a lack of confidence can make you, how heavy it makes your legs feel, how the basics can evaporate. The whole edifice creaks.
Next time, my frustration will remain a private matter between my television and me. Next time, the phone will sit beside me and remain untouched. After all these years, I’m still trying to prod the boss’ buttons and just look where it got me.
There’s a huge amount going on at Tottenham Hotspur, with uncertainty surrounding the new head coach, the managing director of football and the general direction of the club.
We asked for your views on Spurs’ most pressing issues, and almost 4,000 of you responded.
It’s a considerable sample size, and highlights that Julian Nagelsmann — rather than Mauricio Pochettino — is your preferred choice as Antonio Conte’s successor, how little trust there is in Daniel Levy when it comes to on-pitch matters (especially when compared to off-pitch ones), and an overwhelming disagreement with the decision not to suspend Fabio Paratici when he was banned in Italy.
These are the results of The Athletic’s Tottenham survey.
Starting with the head coach vacancy, 86 per cent of those surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed with the decision to sack Conte.
Concerningly, the most popular response (41.6 per cent) to the decision to temporarily replace him with Cristian Stellini was indifference, reflecting the apathy that is creeping in at Spurs as they stagger towards the end of the season. At least the next best was a positive response, with 28.3 per cent agreeing with the decision.
As for Conte’s permanent successor, Nagelsmann was the most popular choice (48 per cent), followed by Pochettino (30.4 per cent) and then Brighton & Hove Albion’s Roberto De Zerbi (10.2 per cent). Spurs host Brighton on Saturday, incidentally. Other suggestions for the next Spurs manager included Ted Lasso, Tim Sherwood and View From The Lane host Danny Kelly.
Regarding the ongoing ‘Spurs DNA’ vs ‘win now’ debate, more than half (50.6 per cent) said that style of play was what mattered most when picking a new manager. Above engendering a sense of togetherness (25.9 per cent) and winning trophies (23.5 per cent).
When it comes to how the club is being run, there was broad dissatisfaction in the responses. As many as 82.2 per cent were either unhappy or very unhappy with Levy’s running of the club, and 79.7 per cent were less happy with the running of club than they were a month ago.
An almost unanimous 91.4 per cent said they do not trust Levy with on-field matters, contrasted with 57.5 per cent of respondents saying they trusted Levy with off-field matters.
More than three quarters (75.7 per cent), meanwhile, disagreed with the club keeping Paratici in his role when he had been banned from Italian football by the country’s FA in January.
Fewer than half (42.3 per cent) felt that Spurs were punching above their weight as a club, though a resounding 83.7 per cent either agreed or strongly agreed that Spurs were in a better position now than they were when Levy took over.
One decision that will prove popular is the club announcing that they will freeze season ticket prices for 2023-24. Our poll closed shortly before Wednesday’s announcement and had only 5.9 per cent of respondents saying they would be either understanding or very understanding of a rise in prices.
Clearly, there are issues at the club that need resolving. A good result against Brighton on Saturday would at least lift the mood in the short term.
(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)
With the fanbase growing impatient with the way the club is run, and the Premier League more competitive than ever, this is a decision they need to get right.
With that in mind, The Athletic’s writers have helpfully made some suggestions…
It’s far from a no-brainer, but this feels like an itch Tottenham need to scratch.
Ever since Mauricio Pochettino left Spurs in November 2019, neither party has been able to rediscover the magic of the five years they enjoyed together.
And even taking away the sentimentality of it, Pochettino ticks so many of the boxes when it comes to what Spurs need right now. He’s progressive, is able to build a long-term project, plays attractive, front-footed football and absolutely loves the club — a refreshing change from Antonio Conte’s aloofness.
Pochettino got the best out of Spurs’ youngsters, like Dele Alli, in a way few managers could (Photo: Getty Images)
There’s no guarantee that things would work out as well as they did for those amazing few years when Tottenham punched spectacularly above their weight, but it’s surely worth another go.
Roberto De Zerbi
The attraction of Pochettino is clear but maybe Tottenham should be thinking less about Pochettino himself and about what made him so good.
He was a young manager with clear ideas, a commitment to attacking football, with modern methods and the strength of personality to deliver them. He was in his early 40s, perfectly balanced between hunger and maturity, able to give the whole club that thrilling sense of a fresh start.
If Spurs look at those specific qualities then they should end up with Roberto De Zerbi. His work at Brighton this season has been compelling, building on Graham Potter’s foundations to deliver better results and even better football.
Tottenham need to rediscover the art of playing with the ball in the opposition’s half and creating chances as a team, rather than just relying on two brilliant but ageing strikers. De Zerbi would give them that, would promote young players and would get them playing what someone once called “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining football” once again. You could even call it Tottenham DNA.
In his second season at Wolfsburg, Glasner qualified for the Champions League, notching up the third biggest points tally in the Lower Saxons’ history. A year later, at Eintracht Frankfurt, he won the Europa League. If Tottenham are looking for a manager to achieve results well beyond a team’s natural ceiling, Glasner, an expert tactician — he favours pressing but can also be quite pragmatic — and fine man-manager, would seem the obvious choice. His English is good, too.
The 48-year-old certainly wouldn’t be a ‘yes’ man. At Wolfsburg, he fell out with sporting director Jorg Schmadtke and relations with Frankfurt’s sporting director Markus Krosche have become somewhat strained, too. But the situation isn’t yet irretrievable, especially if Frankfurt recover from a slump of six winless games that has put their chances for a second season in the Champions League in doubt.
Glasner proudly poses with the Europa League trophy in May 2022 (Photo: Getty Images)
Either way, Glasner will think carefully about making his next step. There’ll be plenty of takers beyond N17.
Tactically, Tuchel fits, and Levy does not need to buy him out of a contract, either.
Spurs are more front-loaded. Harry Kane (29) and Son-Heung min (30) are, at best, in their peak years and, at worst, on their way out of them, hence the suggestion of a coach who reached the FA Cup final and won the Champions League within six months of taking over at Chelsea.
At Paris Saint-Germain, Tuchel used a 4-2-3-1 and got them to the Champions League final — his teams have reached the final of Europe’s premier club competition twice (winning once) and only once been knocked out before the quarter-final stage.
Tuchel and Conte had an altercation at Stamford Bridge back in August (Photo: Getty Images)
He speaks English, German, French and Italian, and managed more than 100 games at Borussia Dortmund and PSG, with 100 at Chelsea. His lowest win rate in those jobs was 60 per cent at Chelsea. No Spurs head coach has ever gone over 60 per cent.
Across his career, Bielsa has raised the levels of each squad he manages, he demands the highest standards from his players, and he has a clear high-pressing style of play that could benefit many of Spurs’ current crop.
One sticking point might be Bielsa’s primary use of a 4-3-3 structure. With most of Spurs’ wide defensive options very much wing-backs rather than full-backs, they would be less equipped to shift to a back four with their current personnel. Not to mention Eric Dier’s inability to play within a two-man centre-back partnership.
However, Bielsa has shown a fondness for a 3-3-1-3 formation, with three centre-backs flanked by wing-backs either side, a holding midfielder behind a creative force, and a front three at the top end. This could easily be a more-familiar 3-4-3 — or 5-4-1 out of possession — but it suggests that Spurs and Bielsa could accommodate each other to maximise the players within the current squad.
Luis Enrique should be the top target for Tottenham, or any other top Premier League club looking to fill a vacancy.
He had a tremendous three years on the Camp Nou bench, winning nine of 13 available trophies, including a treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey in his first season in 2014-15.
As Spain coach from 2018, he showed tactical and motivational expertise while leading a pretty average bunch of Spain players to within a penalty kick of the Euro 2020 final.
Luis Enrique and his staff celebrate Barcelona’s Champions League win in 2015 (Photo: Getty)
It all went a bit sideways at last year’s World Cup, and he took the blame for their woeful exit to Morocco in the last 16, a result which did not look quite so bad after the tournament.
He speaks excellent English, and his confidence and charisma could also help Tottenham break the mental barrier which Conte (and some predecessors) have complained about. He should also be itching to have a go at the Premier League. And Paritici has always been a huge admirer.
Cristian Stellini or a Serie A option
He’s the continuity candidate. He’s led Tottenham to wins over Manchester City and Chelsea. He’s ready for his first head coaching role since… Alessandria in Italy’s third division.
All jokes aside, Stellini rides for life with Conte and it seems unlikely Tottenham will go Italian again so soon regardless of who is drawing up the shortlist. As with Chelsea after Conte and Maurizio Sarri, fatigue sets in.
Ignoring that for the purposes of this exercise, let’s review some candidates from Serie A.
Luciano Spalletti unsurprisingly says he’s prepared to stay at Napoli “for eternity” given what he’s got going on at the moment. He is about to be crowned “King” of Naples (according to Sarri).
To appeal to Paratici you generally have to be concrete, aggressive in setup, defensively sound, a winner.
Simone Inzaghi hails from the same neck of the woods as him and is a serial cup winner who could well be available in the summer.
Torino’s Ivan Juric was once an up-and-coming force in Italian football but he makes Conte look meek and mild-mannered and doesn’t have the titles to justify how often he calls out his board.
Vincenzo Italiano of Fiorentina ticks a lot of boxes. He has raised the bar every year of his coaching career and remains one to watch. No young manager in Italy at the moment has the cult following of De Zerbi.
In other news, Rino Gattuso is available again…
If I cast my mind back two years, I was all for Spurs going for Erik ten Hag, Brendan Rodgers, Graham Potter or Eddie Howe rather than Conte.
That is the type of profile they should be looking for — not an A-list coach with a huge trophy collection and an ego to match, but someone who will approach the job with the same kind of serious, level-headed, long-term outlook that Mauricio Pochettino did, or that Mikel Arteta has done at Arsenal.
Amorim has already shown Tottenham fans what he’s capable of in the Champions League, beating them in Lisbon in September and almost pulling off a second victory in London a few weeks later. He also likes to play with a three-man central defence and, while I haven’t enjoyed watching Tottenham use that system over the past couple of years, it hints at a certain compatibility with the rather unbalanced squad Conte seems ready to leave behind.
My concern over Amorim would be that, with relations with Conte now appearing so fraught, Tottenham would ideally be looking for someone to come in now rather than in the summer. That might play into the hands of Pochettino, Tuchel, Luis Enrique — all of whom could fit the bill, in different ways. But Amorim could prove to be worth waiting for.
We are not too far from the second anniversary of Daniel Levy admitting that Tottenham Hotspur had “lost sight of their DNA”, and promising that their next head coach would deliver “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football, as well as promoting young players.
Almost two years on, it has only grown in stature as one of the least-kept promises in the sport’s history.
The question, or one of them, at Tottenham in 2023, as they start the process of finding the successor to Antonio Conte, is whether this will be the year when Levy belatedly makes good on it.
That infamous promise was made by Levy to the fans on May 19 in 2021, during Ryan Mason’s brief period in charge, at the end of a miserable, unsettling season. Spurs lost their final home game of the season 2-1 to Aston Villa that night, and the few fans allowed back into the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to see it amid the ongoing government restrictions on crowds designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 made their feelings towards Levy abundantly clear.
We all know what happened next: Spurs (eventually) appointed Nuno Espirito Santo, a man rejected at the start of the managerial search precisely because his style of play would be so inimical to what the fans wanted. Nuno lasted 10 league games. Antonio Conte came in to replace him on a 20-month deal, he guided Tottenham to fourth place finish last season and may do so again in this one before his contract expires in the summer. After finishing sixth and seventh the previous two seasons, coming fourth twice in a row would be an achievement of sorts.
But nobody who has ever witnessed “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football at any level would apply that tag to what Spurs have played this season. And not even Conte’s most enthusiastic social-media defenders would describe him as an enthusiastic truster of youth.
Part of the reason why the mood has turned so sour — even as Tottenham have remained in contention for one of the four Champions League places — is that so much of their football has been almost unwatchable. Last season, Conte’s Spurs were exciting at times, and they knew how to rack up the goals even with minimal possession. This one has been a long, ugly slog. Even if it ends in the best possible way — fourth place, and an amicable departure for the Italian, everyone saves face — Tottenham DNA it is not.
Levy has made three managerial appointments since sacking Mauricio Pochettino in November 2019 and all three of them have had Spurs playing reactive, cautious, counter-attacking football. Conte is better at doing that than the other two, Jose Mourinho and Nuno, but the principles are not massively different: sit deep, let the opposition have the ball, tempt them forward, rely on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min to kill them on the break.
Nuno Espirito Santo was unable to inspire wantaway striker Harry Kane during his brief time in charge of Spurs (Photo: Getty)
At a club where there is an expectation for entertainment and imagination, the last few years have felt jarring to many Tottenham fans. It has been a long experiment in an approach that the crowd could only reluctantly buy into if it was justified by the results it brought. And the results have not quite been good enough.
Because the corollary from Mourinho and Conte’s style of play is that they are both short-term, ‘win now’ managers. They were hired for their ability to go into a club, win quickly and get out before the shine had worn off the silverware they delivered. In both cases, Tottenham have been the first club since the start of their managerial career where they have not won a trophy.
Appointing these managers represented a strategic pivot from Levy.
Tottenham always used to be about a slow, patient build — you have to be when you are the league’s sixth- or seventh-biggest spenders — but all of that has gone out of the window. Patience has given way to impatience. Clever and careful are no longer the watchwords but rather being famous, or recently famous, and with stardust and a ‘winning mentality’ that could rub off on the club by osmosis. Why lay the foundations for success when you can just go all-in on trying to win today?
We should make clear at this point that there were some good reasons for this.
The first is that Tottenham opened a brilliant new stadium in April 2019 and reached the Champions League final just weeks later.
Back then — it’s almost four years ago now — there was a real sense that they had finally arrived in the big time. The urge to act like they belonged and throw their weight around like any other superclub is at least psychologically understandable. Bringing the Amazon cameras into the club and even signing up to the European Super League is connectable to that same impulse.
The other point is that, over the last few years, Tottenham have been blessed with the peak years of two of their greatest-ever forwards: Kane and Son. Having players this good compels you to try to win. There is an almost moral imperative, a sense that it would be a waste of their talents to spend their best years locked in a rebuild that may bear fruit too late for them. And there is the need to keep the players themselves happy. When Spurs appointed Nuno, Kane tried to force a transfer. When they appointed Conte, he looked happy to knuckle down again.
But right now, it feels like this particular idea — that Spurs should live for today — has run its course.
The stadium has not been a happy place this year, and it feels slightly off that Tottenham would spend £1.2billion ($1.4b) on building such a beautiful new home for themselves before repeatedly appointing managers who fill it with such unstylish football.
The Kane and Son argument feels weaker than before, too. Kane will have one year left on his contract after this season. No one knows what will happen in the summer of 2024. Son turns 31 in July and is currently having a season so bad it is fair to ask whether this is a sharp decline rather than a blip. Spurs cannot rely on these two forever.
Levy and Spurs opted for a more patient approach with Pochettino in 2014 (Photo: Getty)
So it is hard to see the logic in appointing yet another famous manager this summer and hoping he can just click his fingers and teach this group of players how to win things. If it did not work for Mourinho in 2019 and Conte two years later, why would it work for anyone else in 2023 and beyond? But if Spurs end up with Luis Enrique — who Fabio Paratici rates very highly — or Thomas Tuchel then it would feel like they were trying the same course of action, under increasingly difficult circumstances, and expecting different results.
A better course of action might be to draw a line under the last three and a half years.
Levy could plausibly say that it was a well-intentioned experiment that sought to make the most of a unique opportunity and which helped get Spurs back into the Champions League. It did not deliver a trophy but, as we all know by now, that is not the only measure of a football club’s success.
This summer feels like one of those moments — which every club has from time to time — where what they need is a full reset, rather than just the same ideas re-packaged under a different face.
That means hiring a new manager who does not just want to maximise Spurs’ chances over the next year or two but over the next three to five. It means building a style of play that does not just rely on overperformance from Son and Kane to score goals but rather the whole team playing on the front foot. And it means returning to that idea of “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football, because it is easier to create chances when you are not camped in your own half most of the time.
Now, you may think this is all a very scenic route to me making the case for Pochettino to come back. And of course, Pochettino ticks all of the relevant boxes here: a commitment to modern and attacking football, as well as a track record of long-term rebuilds with young players. (The characteristics that Levy described that day in May 2021 sounded at least as much like the qualities of Pochettino’s Spurs as like the traditions of the club itself.)
But the point here is that there is a strong case for a manager like Pochettino, even if that person is not Pochettino himself.
Part of the problem with Tottenham in the last few years is that they have got their managerial policy the wrong way around: appointing an individual first and worrying about the strategy later. This summer, they should think of the type of manager they want and then find the right candidate to fit. That could be Pochettino, or it could be someone else.
It might sound like taking a backwards step, and it may even make Spurs less competitive in 2023-24 or 2024-25. But the lesson of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal (last four seasons: eighth, eighth, fifth, ongoing title challenge) is that sometimes you have to take the long route. Fans can be more forgiving when they sense a brighter future is around the corner. And when you have good young players — such as Rodrigo Bentancur (25), Cristian Romero (24), Pedro Porro (23), Dejan Kulusevski, Oliver Skipp (both 22), and Destiny Udogie (20) — half of the building blocks are already there.
Tottenham have done this before, too — nine years ago. It takes patience and nerve, but there are potential rewards at the end. And after a few years that Spurs fans have actually enjoyed, why not try something different?
Eric Dier is back in contention for Tottenham after serving a European ban.
However, fellow defender Cristian Romero may need to be assessed, having limped off the pitch after being sent off against AC Milan on Wednesday.
Ivan Perisic and Emerson are doubts, while Yves Bissouma, Hugo Lloris, Ryan Sessegnon and Rodrigo Bentancur are still sidelined.
Nottingham Forest will monitor Moussa Niakhate and Cheikhou Kouyate, who are nearing returns from thigh problems.
Forest are without at least six players through injury, though manager Steve Cooper has reported no new fitness concerns.
Tottenham are vying to win a fourth consecutive league game against Nottingham Forest, which they last achieved between August 1963 and December 1964.
Forest have not beaten Spurs since a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane on 1 March 1997, when Dean Saunders scored the only goal, though they have won three of their last four league fixtures away to the north Londoners.
Spurs have failed to score a first-half goal in 20 of their last 25 matches in all competitions.
Tottenham’s record after 26 Premier League games (W14, D3, L9) is the same as at the corresponding stage last season, when they won eight of their final 12 matches to finish fourth.
They are aiming to win four consecutive home league fixtures without conceding for the first time since March 2018.
The north Londoners have won 28 of their last 31 Premier League home games against newly promoted sides, with their only defeat in that run coming against Wolves at Wembley in 2018-19.
Harry Kane has scored three goals in three appearances for Spurs against Nottingham Forest in all competitions, including a brace at the City Ground in the reverse fixture this term.
Kane is two shy of netting 20 Premier League goals in a season for the sixth time, a feat only achieved by Alan Shearer and Sergio Aguero.
Son Heung-min has 98 Premier League career goals but has only scored once from 51 shots in his 21 top-flight starts this season, compared to four goals from five shots in his three substitute appearances.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is set to play his 100th Premier League game for Tottenham.
Forest are winless in their last four league games (D2, L2), though they have only been beaten twice in nine top-flight matches since the turn of the year.
The Reds have scored three Premier League away goals this season, fewer than any other side, and have lost all three of their visits to London this term by an aggregate score of 11-0.
They have been beaten in eight of their last 10 top-flight games in the capital, with their only win during that run coming against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park on 13 March 1999.
Brennan Johnson has five Premier League goals and two assists in 2023 – only Erling Haaland and Marcus Rashford have been directly involved in more top-flight goals this calendar year, with eight each.