By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic
Has anyone ever had such a frantic start to a job they haven’t even technically begun?
Fabio Paratici only officially starts life as a Tottenham Hotspur employee today, and yet he must feel as though he’s already been there a lifetime. A few hours into his gig as their managing director/football, he knows his reputation is already on the line after leading the pursuit of Nuno Espirito Santo and Tottenham’s seemingly endless search for a new head coach.
Paratici flew to London on Tuesday to meet Nuno and finalise the recently-departed Wolves manager’s appointment as Jose Mourinho’s successor. A deal had already been agreed in principle after the Spurs hierarchy decided in a meeting earlier in the day that Nuno was their preferred candidate.
Paratici is understood to have been an advocate of Nuno, and assuaged the concerns some of his new colleagues had about the Portuguese’s style of play. In general, Paratici is not wedded to a particular approach, having pushed for the hire of the far more possession-based Maurizio Sarri while at previous club Juventus. He felt that, at this point, Nuno was Tottenham’s best option.
It’s a decision that has not gone down especially well with the club’s fanbase, which has been a recurring theme already for Paratici.
The few weeks since his appointment as, effectively, Spurs’ sporting director have been long enough for some supporters to make their mind up about the 48-year-old Italian: he’s too reliant on his knowledge of Serie A, he’s too willing to employ a Jorge Mendes client (Nuno’s arrival follows the talks Paratici led with another Mendes man, Gennaro Gattuso), he’s a fading force after a bad last year at Juventus.
But is this really fair? Paratici was, after all, instrumental in putting Juventus back on their perch over an 11-year period when they went from sleeping giants back to European heavyweights, picking up 19 trophies along the way. And while the headline signing in that period was Cristiano Ronaldo for almost £100 million three years ago, Paratici’s calling card was signing players for nothing. Paul Pogba, Andrea Pirlo and Kingsley Coman among them. More recently, Bosman pick-ups including Aaron Ramsey have worked out less well, but his spell in Turin was littered with shrewd purchases. As for the Mendes links, these are overstated — Joao Cancelo and Ronaldo were the only Gestifute clients signed by Juve on Paratici’s watch. And while the pragmatic Paratici has good relations with superagents like Mendes, especially since the Ronaldo deal, he is generally strong-willed and not beholden to anyone.
In assessing his time with Juventus, and before that at another major Italian club, Sampdoria, and hearing from former colleagues, we can get a sense of what Tottenham are getting in Paratici, his character, and what it means for how the club is run.
“Workaholic”, “100 per cent dedicated to football”, “no known hobbies”. These are some of the descriptions you hear in relation to Paratici, who is rarely seen not on the phone, wired Apple headphones in place.
Stories of his dedication are legendary. There was the time, while at Sampdoria, that he braved sub-zero temperatures to go to watch two matches in Poland — only to get stuck there for 10 days when heavy snow grounded all flights. Around the same time, he spent 20 hours per day on the internet for pretty much 10 days solid, then realised the hotel he was staying in was charging him for every minute he spent online. On another occasion, he found himself in a downtrodden part of Ecuador’s capital city Quito, to meet a prospective youth signing, before panicking that his crisp Italian suit might make him stand out a little.
You get the idea. Paratici, sharply dressed and lightly stubbled, is not someone to leave things to chance, hating nothing more than being pipped to a deal. Be it megastar Cristiano Ronaldo or an unknown South American kid.
He began to make his name at Sampdoria in the late 2000s, where, alongside chief executive Giuseppe Marotta, Paratici helped transform the Genoa-based club from also-rans to finishing fourth in Serie A in 2009-10 and earning a place in the Champions League qualifying stage.
Marotta is an important part of the Paratici story. At this time, Paratici was inexperienced and in his mid-30s, having retired from football young. As a player, Paratici was a journeyman central midfielder, whose biggest claim to fame was captaining a Piacenza youth side that included Filippo Inzaghi. Both men hail from Piacenza, just south of Milan, and Paratici’s closeness to the Inzaghi family helped fuel rumours earlier this summer that Filippo’s younger brother Simone could be the next Spurs manager. Instead, Simone has left his job as Lazio coach to succeed Antonio Conte at champions Inter Milan.
At Sampdoria, it quickly became clear that Paratici was a more gifted talent-spotter than he had been a player. But he needed someone to help him understand how football administration worked.
Enter Marotta, whose role as the public-facing figure looking after the club’s finances and operations enabled Paratici to travel the world scouting players, meeting agents and gathering information. Marotta and Paratici would work together for the next decade, and there is a view that the latter can’t operate nearly as well without a Marotta-type figure taking care of the finances and daily minutiae. More on that later.Juventus’s former brains trust: Pavel Nedved, Fabio Paratici, Andrea Agnelli and Giuseppe Marotta celebrate Coppa Italia success in 2018 (Photo: Getty Images)
At Sampdoria, two of Paratici’s most successful signings foreshadowed his time at Juventus. On one hand, there was Antonio Cassano — a well-known name but a player everyone else had decided was not worth the hassle. On the other was Mauro Icardi, a youngster at Barcelona B who Paratici laid the groundwork for Sampdoria to sign a few months after he himself had left the club.
Cassano was instrumental in Sampdoria’s resurgence, while Icardi helped them avoid relegation from Serie A a few years later before being sold for a big profit to Inter.
Come the summer of 2010, Juventus wanted to transplant what had worked so well in Genoa to Turin.
Their freshly-anointed president Andrea Agnelli hired the Marotta-Paratici double act to revitalise a stagnant organisation. The damage of the 2006 Calciopoli case still lingered, and after a punitive season spent in the second division, Juventus had returned to the top flight and the Champions League, before slumping to finish seventh in Serie A the season before Paratici’s arrival (incidentally, seventh is also where Spurs finished last season).
This is important, since while we now view Juventus as a superclub where winning trophies is inevitable, this was not the case a decade ago. Then, they were more like what AC Milan have been for most of the intervening period — a decaying institution living off past glories. Juventus had last won Serie A in 2002-03.
Paratici, again with Marotta alongside him as the public-facing overseer, set about bringing in the right people to realise Agnelli’s dream. The attitude and background of anyone Paratici hires is crucial to him. He insists on meeting even prospective youth players to try to understand their attitude and gauge whether they have the necessary ambition.
This is true also of coaches and first-team players, and in his second year at Juventus, Paratici nailed two key appointments: an unproven Conte as head coach and discarded Milan midfielder Pirlo on a free transfer. The pair helped Juventus win the title that season — the first of what turned out to be nine in a row until Inter broke the streak this May. (Sampdoria incidentally were relegated the season after Paratici left.)
Speaking of character, soon after joining Juventus, Paratici also signed centre-back Andrea Barzagli for around £260,000. Barzagli, known as Il Professore, is the signing Paratici is most proud of from all his time in Turin, with the centre-back becoming a defensive titan and leader for the club.
The importance of signing players with the right mentality could be transformative at Tottenham, where for so long they have had to deal with allegations of having a soft underbelly. It was after a Champions League defeat to Paratici’s Juventus in March 2018, after all, that defender Giorgio Chiellini cruelly said of Spurs’ second-half collapse: “It’s the history of Tottenham.”
There are many other elements of Paratici’s time at Juventus that are instructive when looking ahead at the job he inherits at Spurs. Juventus were, of course, a bigger club than Tottenham are now, but they too faced financial difficulties. Having frequently not qualified for the Champions League in the years before he joined, they were having to rely on signing players as free agents or for reduced fees.
Tottenham in 2021 are similarly having to cope with having their revenues slashed by the pandemic and now missing out on Champions League qualification for the second successive season.
Juventus, too, had also lost some of their appeal as a destination. They were snubbed by Robin van Persie in 2012, and instead were defined by signings such as Paul Pogba (signed for less than £1 million that same year, then sold back to Manchester United for around £90 million in 2016), Pirlo and Barzagli, as well as the likes of Arturo Vidal (£9 million), Carlos Tevez (£7.6 million) and Dani Alves (free). These arrivals, some of them admittedly on high wages, helped Juventus reach the Champions League final in 2015, and then again in 2017 — after Paratici successfully rebuilt the team using the Pogba money. Following that sale, Gonzalo Higuain and Miralem Pjanic were brought in for big sums, but such a rebuild is rarely straightforward… as Spurs themselves know following Gareth Bale’s 2013 move to Real Madrid.
Paratici also took a hands-on approach to the signing of young players, including now France international and Champions League final matchwinner Coman, and sees himself as someone who builds for the long-term. This is something that appealed to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and is a quality he must demonstrate at a club where developing younger players is extremely important.
Of course, there were signings that didn’t work out during his time at Juventus — Nicolas Anelka and Nicklas Bendtner spring to mind — but as Paratici puts it: “The best one at this job is not the one who makes no mistakes, but the one who makes the fewest.”
Paratici is, above all, a pragmatist — a dealmaker who is happy negotiating with anyone, as long as he gets the player he is after. This willingness to deal with the likes of Mendes is something that has already irritated sections of the Spurs fanbase, who harbour existing reservations with the Portuguese superagent’s influence at the club from the Mourinho era.
Paratici is not in the mould of Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain, who has a clear vision of how he wants the team to play and then signs players according to that template.
For someone who has attracted so much attention over the last few weeks, it’s interesting to remember that in his early years at Juventus, Paratici was something of a ghost. No one really saw him — they knew who he was and that he came with Marotta, but he tended to always be off in some far-flung corner of the globe, trying to close a deal.
He has always been obsessive, is known for watching dozens of matches in a day, and completely across the detail of his recruitment domain. Former colleagues use the word “aziendalista” to describe him, which roughly translates as managerial. He is a problem solver, someone who likes to get things done — though usually, in his early years at Juventus, in the background.
His profile changed in 2018 with the signing of a 33-year-old Ronaldo from Real Madrid for more than €100 million. This was very much Paratici’s deal — illustrating once again his ability to work with superagents such as Mendes — and it led to Agnelli promoting him above his old mentor Marotta, who opposed the Ronaldo signing and was dismissed.Paratici was a key figure in Juventus signing Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 (Photo: Getty)
Suddenly Paratici, who had always enjoyed autonomy over transfers, had a much bigger role — and it was felt that the Ronaldo deal signalled a move away from his more prudent approach. Matthijs de Ligt, another player represented by a superagent in Mino Raiola, joined the following summer from Ajax for £68 million.
With Marotta gone, it was now Paratici who had to front up and give media interviews. And having previously been largely invisible, he was now a regular at Juventus matches — often failing to hide his emotions. On the day of Ronaldo’s debut, he could be seen thumping his desk as Juventus edged a tight game with Chievo. He has since been fined on multiple occasions for his behaviour, and was lucky to escape sanctions last season when he ran down to the pitch to harangue the referee at half-time during a match away at Udinese.
That incident added to a sense that, without Marotta, things were starting to unravel for Paratici and Juventus. The extent to which Marotta’s absence was a factor is open to debate, but it adds to the argument that Paratici is at his best when supported by a figure who can help with the financials and day-to-day detail. His success at Spurs could hinge on the extent to which he defers to, and is supported by, Levy and the club’s directors, and how much he wants to work autonomously.
Certainly on the football side, Paratici will want a large degree of independence, which plays into one of the most interesting sub-plots about his appointment: Does his arrival mean that Levy will take a step back from the football operations? Those who deal with Spurs are extremely curious to know whether the chairman will remain as involved when it comes to conversations such as contract negotiations and the future of players they represent. There’s also the view that Paratici’s hire will take some of the pressure off Levy, who has become such a lightning rod for criticism.
The success of their partnership may come down to Paratici’s skill at managing upwards, something that his time at Juventus has prepared him well for. He had — and has — a very good relationship with Agnelli, who like Levy is a very hands-on owner with whom Paratici was in constant dialogue.
When it came to managerial hires, for instance, the decision would be made by a committee of Paratici, Agnelli and vice-chairman Pavel Nedved, with the former drawing up a shortlist of names. Paratici, for what it’s worth, pushed for the sacking of Massimiliano Allegri in 2019 and the subsequent appointment of Sarri, but replacing him after one season with Pirlo last summer was more of an Agnelli signing.
During Spurs’ search for a head coach, Paratici has similarly had to absorb Levy’s top-level view and technical performance director Steve Hitchen’s help in day-to-day operations. Though it is Paratici who has led the negotiations, including with Nuno this week. His position was weakened at Juventus after the perceived failure of Sarri, and his standing at Spurs will be similarly linked to how Nuno performs.
The relationship with Hitchen will be another interesting dynamic.
In many ways, Hitchen’s often-invisible recruitment role is the one Paratici once thrived in, and it remains to be seen how the former’s role will be affected by the latter’s arrival. Paratici, for all his ferocious work ethic, is said to be approachable, and he will need to be a skilled operator to understand the rhythms of his new club. It helps that Paratici has known Levy and Hitchen for a number of years and already speaks decent English, having spent various spells in London meeting with player and club representatives.
Paratici will be relishing a new start after a pretty disastrous final season at Juventus. They failed to win Serie A for the first time in a decade and only scraped Champions League qualification on the final day.
Last summer, Paratici had been embarrassed by the club’s failed pursuit of Barcelona’s Luis Suarez, which led to an extraordinary situation where he was subsequently investigated for his role in Juventus’s attempts to help the Uruguayan striker pass his Italian citizenship exams. Juventus have always denied any wrongdoing by Paratici. Suarez subsequently joined Atletico Madrid, who he promptly helped win La Liga, while the legal case cast a shadow over Paratici and the club last season.
It is not thought to have been a reason for Paratici’s departure, but the Suarez incident also sheds light on how the Italian operates. Juventus eventually signed Alvaro Morata on loan, having come close to bringing in both Suarez and Edin Dzeko. Throughout the negotiations, Paratici told all three men that they were his number one choice. This is typical Paratici, who likes to have a number of options on the go in case one or more of them falls through. His style sometimes comes across like a waiter working lots of tables at the same time, and while he would see it as methodical, to others it can come across as a touch chaotic.
Observers of the hunt for the new Tottenham manager might nod their heads knowingly, and Levy himself has been irritated with how it has come across. Over the last few weeks, Conte, Paulo Fonseca and Gattuso have all been set to take the job. Those same observers might also feel that Paratici initially leant too heavily on his intimacy with managers based in Italy, but perhaps that is to be expected given that’s where he has spent the entirety of his working life.
Until now, anyway. Earlier in the summer it was decided that the time was right for Paratici to move on. His critics would point to the Ronaldo signing and its failure to elevate Juventus to Champions League winners as evidence of him losing his touch. The signing of the injury-prone Ramsey in his late 20s on extremely high wages has also been questioned. But even in the last few years, there have still been successful signings — the 22-year-old American Weston McKennie was a revelation at the start of last season, while youngsters including Moise Kean have been sold on for huge profits.
Tottenham are undoubtedly hiring someone with a huge amount of pedigree and experience. His success, though, will come down to the chemistry Paratici enjoys with the club’s hierarchy and how well appointments such as Nuno fare.
For a man who only technically starts his new job today, there is already a monumental amount of pressure and prejudice