The Hard Tackle takes an intimate look at who is responsible for the troubles at Tottenham Hotspur both on and off the field.
“It’s the history of Tottenham. They always create many chances and score so much but, in the end, they miss always something to arrive at the end.”
It has been five years now since Juventus star Giorgio Chiellini called out Tottenham Hotspur for their lack of mental toughness. But little has changed in North London since.
For a club that aims to be counted among the elite in European and world football, Tottenham are incredibly out of touch with pragmatism. Their deep-rooted inability to get a project over the line is more than just poor luck and screams of a lack of long-term vision.
Antonio Conte’s sacking came as little surprise. And the Italian did himself little favour by launching a tirade against the players and the club following their draw against Southampton. More than ruffling a few feathers, the 53-year-old appeared to understand the challenge he was always up against but showed little awareness of the constraints he would be working under.
Several top managers have come and gone at the N-17 in recent years. This included the legendary Jose Mourinho and now Conte. Both left north London without a trophy to show for their efforts, something they have never done before at any other club where they have managed more than 50 games.
Podemos confirmar que o técnico Antonio Conte deixou o clube por mútuo acordo. pic.twitter.com/NH380mFCwf
— Tottenham Hotspur (@Spurs_PT) March 26, 2023
Mourinho has since gone on to win a trophy with AS Roma, and Conte will soon be in charge of another European heavyweight sooner rather than later. But Spurs look destined for another rebuild. And the question remains as to who will be entrusted with it and for how long. The buck at Tottenham does not stop with the manager, and the Hard Tackle looks at the stakeholders, who all share the blame for Spurs’ mess.
As the club’s representatives on the field, the players are closely tied to the team’s fortunes and are in a position to make things happen on the field. While the overall quality of Tottenham’s stars cannot be questioned, the lack of a winning mentality is deep-rooted in the squad.
For all their bluster, Tottenham have won just one trophy this century. Juande Ramos’s class of 2007/08 ended the club’s hoodoo of silverware but failed to push on to bigger and better things. Unfortunately, the League Cup win remains Tottenham’s highlight of the 21st century.
Several managers have since come and gone, but none have managed to put together a winning roster. Mauricio Pochettino came closer than most but never quite got over the line. Perhaps the one game that epitomised it was Tottenham’s 2-2 draw away to Chelsea in 2016.
Needing a win to stay in the title race, Spurs raced to a two-goal lead at Stamford Bridge. But a second-half implosion saw them throw away the lead. More than the performance, it was Tottenham’s attitude on the field that needed to be highlighted. Rather than put their heads down and secure the result they needed, the Spurs stars chose to behave like hooligans and were set off at the smallest inconveniences.
Remembering the infamous Battle Of The Bridge, 2016 🔥🔥🔥
Chelsea 2 – 2 Tottenham#THFC #COYS #TOTCHEpic.twitter.com/A5wWdSLjTy
— Football Confidential 🌐 (@footballconfid1) February 22, 2023
In the end, they had to settle for a mass brawl at full-time while Leicester City celebrated eternal glory. To say that Tottenham collectively lost their heads would be an understatement. This inability to rise to a challenge epitomises why the club has not been able to see out games on the field. In many ways, Luka Doncic’s ‘Everybody acting tough when they up’ swipe at the Phoenix Suns in 2022 could easily have been directed at Tottenham.
Spurs failed to rise to the challenge once again in the 2019 UEFA Champions League final. For all the talk of dominating the game, Liverpool never looked likely to lose since taking the lead in the first minute of the game. To put a perspective on the psyche of the two teams, one can take into account the 4-1 thrashing Tottenham handed to the Reds in 2017.
While Jurgen Klopp and co. chose to learn from the defeat and get stronger, Tottenham chose to rest on their laurels and failed to push on. More so, Liverpool were playing their second Champions League final in two years and appeared keen to avenge the defeat to Real Madrid in Kyiv. Tottenham did not just fall apart after the loss in Madrid but looked like a pale shadow of the team that they promised to be under Pochettino.
Even today, Tottenham have a solid roster with several players possessing top-class pedigree. In fact, they have more World Cup winners in their squad (Hugo Lloris and Cristian Romero) currently than any other side in the English top flight. The likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are world-class strikers and can arguably walk into most top sides in world football.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a solid presence in the middle of the pitch, while Yves Bissouma, Arnaut Danjuma, Dejan Kulusevski, Eric Dier and even Richarlison should be doing better. Even bringing in players with experience of winning silverware like Ivan Perisic and Clement Lenglet has done little to improve the ambition within the squad. In many ways, one could say that the players tend to fall in line with the club’s aura rather than bring about a positive change.
For all the bluster of Harry Kane’s standing in world football, the Englishman has also failed to rise in crunch games when needed. Becoming a Tottenham legend has little to do with winning trophies, an alarming trend that needs to be addressed if the club is to remain ambitious. Challenging is well and good, but then Bayer Leverkusen are today remembered as ‘Neverkusen’ for never having completed a race.
Conte calling out the players post the Southampton draw had some merit to it. Shoulders dropping is not a new sight at Tottenham and is far from a quick fix. Players passing the blame for their lack of accountability does not help matters either.
Perhaps the least culpable of the lot. But Tottenham fans will need to step up if they are keen to be taken seriously. The world is much bigger than merely achieving north London supremacy over Arsenal, and this single-minded approach has largely stunted their ambitions.
In many ways, Tottenham are closer to Everton than Manchester City when it comes to overcoming local rivals. And the odd win that has little significance in the larger scheme of things only tapers over cracks cosmetically.
It can be argued that several fans care more about one-upping Arsenal than perhaps achieving glory, limiting the vision to a tactical one rather than a strategic one. It can also rub off on the players, who will be aware that the bar is low enough for them to get away with it.
‘To dare is to do’ clearly has its takers. But it falls short of even Nike’s ‘Just do it’, let alone more ambitious football clubs. Tottenham have a strong fanbase, many of whom remain loyal to the club despite the regular heartbreaks. But unless they take away the moniker of ‘the journey is more important than the destination’, there is bound to be little call for glory and eventual success.
ENIC have held a controlling stake at Tottenham since 2001 but have failed to build the club into a powerhouse. In their 22 years at the club. Spurs have one League Cup to show for their efforts. To put it into perspective lower league sides such as Wigan Athletic, Swansea City and Portsmouth have won the same number of major trophies in that time.
While the club has admittedly done well financially under their stewardship and also managed to build a state-of-the-art stadium, it means little for fans who are starved of success on the field. One could perhaps argue that the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is more of an event organiser that also accommodates a football club.
ENIC have made some ambitious moves during their tenure. But more often than not, they are focused on achieving short-term success of being about a financial windfall. The lack of a long-term vision is very apparent, and Tottenham are more prone than most to tear up their plans and choose to start again rather than adapt to the situation and improvise.
Building a winning team takes time, and all the stakeholders must be on board for the journey, especially the decision-making executives. FSG have transformed the fortunes of Liverpool, while Arsenal, too, appear to be on the right track under KSE. ENIC only have themselves to blame for throwing away several opportunities where the club has appeared to be on the verge of breaking out.
Daniel Levy has worked with 11 different permanent managers since becoming the club’s chairman in 2001. His inability to strongly back a candidate who can change the club’s fortunes can be questionable. One does not have to look far from how he handled the situation surrounding Mauricio Pochettino’s final years at the club.
The Argentine had put together a stellar side that was not just young but played attractive football. In many ways, the 2018 summer transfer window represented the ideal opportunity for Levy to bring in the right players to supplement Pochettino’s roster.
Levy did not bring in a single player that summer, becoming the first Premier League since the window was started in 2003 to not sign a player. The winter window of 2019 followed a similar trend, and Spurs travelled to the Champions League final that year without reinforcements.
In contrast, their opponents that night, Liverpool, were coming off a summer window that would set them up for not just European glory but also Premier League success. The opportunity was lost, and by the time the 2019 transfer window rolled up, it was too late for Tottenham.
Pochettino had made numerous calls to be backed in the transfer market. And one can only wonder if the Argentine could have done better had his words been taken seriously. The South American tactician would not last long at the job, and Levy once again resorted to short-term fixes rather than long-term plans.
Whether it be his pride or otherwise, Levy has made some rather questionable decisions regarding his hiring and figuring of managers. He famously informed Martin Jol of the sack at half-time in the UEFA Cup clash against Getafe in 2008. The Dutchman clearly must have lost his initiative for an inspirational half-time speech as Spurs fell 2-1 at home, missing out on the top spot in the group.
It makes sense for clubs to sack managers if the right one becomes available. We have seen it recently with Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool, who eventually brought in Klopp. However, despite ending Tottenham’s trophy drought, Ramos would not last long.
The Spaniard would not last a year and was sacked following the poor start to the 2008/09 campaign. Harry Redknapp came in to steady the ship but was unable to once again take Tottenham to the next level.
His successor would be the young Andre Villas-Boas, who looked primed for glory. While the Portuguese tactician’s stint was far from perfect, he managed to achieve a 55% win rate in all competitions at Tottenham. It is still the highest of any Spurs manager in the post-World War II era. Surely, he could have done with more time and resources to improve results.
His replacement Tim Sherwood was woefully out of his depth, and his stint in north London should be considered a social experiment. At least there was light at the end of the tunnel as Tottenham replaced him with Pochettino.
The Argentine was very clear with the task at hand but was not consistently backed in the transfer window to achieve those loft aims. Three years after sacking him, Tottenham have gone backwards. And there is even talk of Pochettino returning for a second stint.
While that might appeal to some, re-signing the man they once fired, only to be proven wrong would be a poor indictment of ENIC’s planning and strategy. Whether Levy and co. have it in them to admit their mistake and taste humble pie is debatable.
More so, Tottenham could also do with a new plan and fresh ideas. Pochettino’s stint at Paris Saint-Germain was underwhelming and showed a lack of innovation in terms of tactics. While a return to Tottenham could give him the chance to redeem himself and work in familiar surroundings, comparisons to his semi-successful first stint could prove to be a heavy cross to bear.
Antonio Conte has won a trophy at every club that he has managed for over 50 games, except one.
Jose Mourinho has won a trophy at every club that he has managed for over 50 games, except one.
When will Tottenham lift a trophy again? 😬 pic.twitter.com/AEKrOiL1Gl
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) March 28, 2023
ENIC’s last three managerial appointments all beget belief. Jose Mourinho was everything Tottenham were not. And even though he managed to put together some excellent results, the club decided to fire him a week before the 2021 League Cup final.
While it is true that Mourinho ran out of allies, he still represented the club’s best opportunity to beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at Wembley. Despite their differences, it is difficult to see how the Spurs boards thought Ryan Mason would give them a better chance than Mourinho of trumping Guardiola.
They then failed to bring in any of their first-choice replacements and settled for Nuno Espirito Santo before sacking him mere months later for Antonio Conte. The Italian’s reasons for exiting Inter Milan were quite clear. And why ENIC felt his stint in north London would not involve confrontation is puzzling.
While Conte is not exactly innocent in the mess, the fact that Tottenham chose to get rid of him rather than address his concerns speaks loudly. How the management is willing to potentially derail a top-four push just to get a manager who calls them out of the club, speaks for itself.
With managing football Fabio Paratici’s suspension now extended worldwide, Tottenham find themselves in yet another mess to untangle. Given that Juventus chose to act in January when allegations were raised and Tottenham chose to adopt a wait-and-watch approach, one would think a club with such poor luck would. To call it a self-inflicted disaster is an understatement.
Spurs state they are “urgently seeking further clarification from FIFA as to the details of the extension and its variance from the FIGC sanction”. #THFC
Tottenham statement on Director Fabio Paratici situation after FIFA position made public earlier today 🚨⚪️👇🏻 pic.twitter.com/Df39vdkzin
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) March 29, 2023
ENIC will want people to believe they have been successful. While it may be true to a degree off the field, on it, their only comparison to other top sides lies in Chelsea, in the aspect of firing managers regularly.
The likes of Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp did their best but could not get Tottenham over the line. Both lacked balance in the squad and were unable to bring in an element of consistency in results.
Mauricio Pochettino was stunted by the lack of transfers but his tactical inflexibility was a major undoing. The exciting brand of football he brought to White Hart Lane had pulses racing. But once opponents found a way around it, there was a lack of plan B.
Bringing in Fernando Llorente gave Spurs a target man who could be used as a battering ram. While it did help them at times, notably in the UEFA Champions League against Manchester City, it was far from a go-to solution.
Jose Mourinho’s conflict-induced style did him nor the club any favours either. The players did not respond kindly to his man management, and the club failed to bring in players who would. With neither side willing to back down and the European Super League mess to boot, a divorce was the ultimate result.
Jose Mourinho's managerial record.
One team sacked him 6 days before a cup final 🤔 pic.twitter.com/hjGCVNcmNP
— EPL Bible (@EPLBible) May 26, 2022
The same can be said of Conte, who is not averse to throwing others under the bus when need be. Perhaps more than any other manager on the list, the Italian enjoyed more backing in the transfer window. However, he chose to stick to the 3-5-2 formation that he prefers even when it failed to work.
Conte holds great responsibility for his sacking. Not all of his accusations were untrue. But he should have got a lot more out of a talented Tottenham roster. Jurgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta and even Roberto De Zerbi have all done so, sometimes with lesser. The constant moaning over new transfers cannot become a trend, and the team giving up on the field largely mirrored their manager off it.
If passing the buck when times get tough is the club’s motto, Conte was clearly the man for the manager’s post. Fans making him a martyr for the cause helps neither them nor the club in any way.
Right now, Tottenham need to come together and ensure they finish in the top four. The fans, management and players all need to be on the same board. And the last thing they need is infighting to derail their season. Missing out on Champions League football could see them not only fail to bring in the right manager and players next summer but also risk losing some of the superstars already at the club.
Daniel Levy and co. will need to use the next few months diligently to ensure the right manager comes in ahead of the summer. Names such as now Bayern Munich-bound Thomas Tuchel, Julian Nagelsmann and even Zinedine Zidane look great on paper and show ambition to the otherwise casual fan.
‼️🇩🇪 Tottenham are set to seek talks with Julian Nagelsmann, whom has developed an 'affinity' for the North London club, reports @Matt_Law_DT. pic.twitter.com/rFqwyyMJ6j
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) March 24, 2023
However, unless the club is ready to give them the resources or time needed to succeed, it is an exercise in futility. Bringing in a forward-thinking boss such as Roberto De Zerbi, who can achieve more with limited resources is the need of the hour. But then, patience also needs to be exercised for him to build something from scratch.
The likes of Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle United will all get stronger next season, making it even more difficult for Tottenham to maintain their spot in the top four. Tottenham are a pivotal summer both on and off the field. And they have nobody but themselves to blame for it.
The north Londoners are a less charming version of groundhog day, and the quicker they can end the loop the better. Bill Murray had to go through the time loop 12,395 times, but some Spurs fans will claim they have been doing it for far longer, and who can argue with that?
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