Spurs’ nightmare 2021 is happening again and Arne Slot’s rejection proves one thing

Tottenham Hotspur's Ivan Perisic appears dejected during the Premier League match at Anfield, Liverpool. Picture date: Sunday April 30, 2023 - PA/Peter Byrne

Tottenham Hotspur are now fewer than two weeks away from equalling the 72 days it took them to hire Nuno Espirito Santo as their head coach after the sacking of Jose Mourinho.

Ryan Mason is in interim charge as he was then, Harry Kane’s future is in doubt – he now has only one year left on his contract instead of three – and the anger of the fans is mutinous. Again.

The only difference from 2021 to 2023 is there is no European Super League debacle and we are further out from the Covid pandemic, but goodness knows what is around the corner. Spurs finished seventh that year and seventh is the height of their ambition as this season ends, although it is more likely that Aston Villa will claim that final European qualification place after Sunday’s last round of Premier League fixtures.

As the baseball catcher Yogi Berra was attributed as saying – he denied it but later took credit for it – “it’s déjà vu all over again”. Berra was apparently reacting to back-to-back home runs being hit by two of his team-mates. Few of those have been struck by Spurs in recent years.

Instead it has been shutout after shutout on the field while the club that chairman Daniel Levy built sit in a best-in-class stadium and training ground but with a squad and a staff that appears to be not fit for purpose.

Nuno was at best, what, seventh choice? Maybe even lower. The danger for Spurs, although they will deny it, is that history is beginning to repeat itself. When they do announce their next manager there will probably be an accompanying statement that he was identified after a thorough recruitment process. But is that thorough or desperate?

The fact that Spurs appear to be thrashing around points to the heart of the matter. Here is a club who lack identity and if they lack identity then how can they identify the right person to sit in the dugout?

Of course Spurs are suggesting, as with Julian Nagelsmann, that they never really wanted Arne Slot and that he – like Vincent Kompany at Burnley – might have tried to play them to get a new contract from Feyenoord, which he has succeeded in doing.

That interpretation of events will raise eyebrows in the football world where the alternative view is that, rather as with Nagelsmann, Spurs have decided pursuing Slot may prove too expensive for their liking.

It is Spurs’s prerogative to try to interpret events in their favour but it rather raises the question that if they walked away from talks with Nagelsmann – which is exactly how they portrayed it but is not widely accepted – and did not want Slot (or Kompany for that matter) then they must have a hell of a coach up their sleeves.

Levy will argue he produced that in hiring Mourinho in the first place, and then getting in Antonio Conte following Nuno’s dismissal, but the alternative view is that they were both opportunistic, risky appointments that again pointed to the lack of direction and identity at the club.

Mourinho and Conte are ‘win-now’ managers and pragmatists – Nuno is also a pragmatist – and that always jarred with not only the resources Spurs have available to them but the values and culture (to use Kane’s recent words) at the club. Undoubtedly that losing of the way can be traced back to the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino and how it will hurt Spurs fans that he is soon expected to pitch up at Chelsea. But post-Pochettino, Levy appears to have behaved recklessly, like a gambler chasing his losses in a casino, by hiring a succession of short-term managers and in the forlorn pursuit of immediate success.

Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur (L) poses with Chairman Daniel Levy after signing a new contract until 2021 - Getty Images
Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur (L) poses with Chairman Daniel Levy after signing a new contract until 2021 - Getty Images

Who would be the obvious solution now? It would be Pochettino, of course. But despite making it clear that he was willing to return, and despite his ready availability, he never received the call from Levy, which smacked of a chairman unwilling to admit to his mistakes and who would have found it uncomfortable to bring the popular Argentine back given the millions of pounds that have been squandered trying to replace him.

What will hurt even more is that Arsenal have bought into Mikel Arteta the way Spurs bought into Pochettino. The clubs have similar-sized stadiums. They have similar budgets and are similar in scale. But that is where the comparison ends.
Arsenal have created a structure around Arteta for him to succeed.

Spurs appear to expect a head coach to create that for them; to give them their identity, which is curious as whoever they hire is usually not empowered in that way. It is even more strange given there are still a few very good players and some extremely competent staff at Spurs – from the boardroom in Rebecca Caplehorn, the director of football administration and governance, to the football department in performance director Gretar Steinsson and not least Mason. But where is the direction?

There is no doubt that an environment has been created at Spurs where they are simply not as attractive a proposition as they should be given their facilities, location and budget or, crucially, they believe they are.

Managers are definitely unsure as to whether they should go there and it has the feel of Manchester United in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years when they were turned down by Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

Both managers were left confused by what United wanted and, importantly, how they wanted to achieve. United at least had the excuse of trying to replace their greatest manager. Pochettino was good but was not that and was also, of course, sacked by Levy.

It goes back to the chairman again. Levy has done some great things at Spurs but has lost his way on the football side of the business. The club need not just a new coach but a complete cultural reboot. They need to find themselves again.

Football is not rocket science. It is about recruitment, recruitment, recruitment. But how can you recruit the right person if you do not know what you want or who you are?

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