After another disappointing season, Tottenham, need more than just a new manager, they need a guiding philosophy to build towards the future
Watching Tottenham, it is easy to see that the club as a whole is lacking in identity. There is no family atmosphere but rather a cold and corporate feeling that exists at White Hart Lane on multiple levels. The managerial merry go round has become a perpetual joke, as our attempts to qualify for Champions League football have become the only way to measure a season. This in turn has seen a constant instability permeate around the club, as mangers come and go while the fans hardly recognize the team they grew up loving and are lucky to see players who have come to Spurs in hopes of playing in the Champions League last more than two to three seasons. The foundation for a strong and successful club is there but what is missing is an ethos, a guiding philosophy in which the club as a whole can use to band together. Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao, Dortmund and Arsenal are all clubs that have created a philosophy of not only how the club wants to play but also how the club is structured. Barcelona’s latest season serves as a perfect example, it was one of transition with the hiring of a new Manager and a big signing in Neymar. By the club’s standards the season was extremely poor, as Barcelona walked away without a single trophy, but they immediately fired Gerardo Martino and replaced him with Luis Enrique. The hiring is not a complete surprise as Enrique is a man who completely embodies the club’s philosophy having both played their as a player and previously being involved managing Barcelona B. This demonstrates how much loyalty and faith Barcelona have in their footballing philosophy, an uncompromising dedication that says this is how we will play, win or lose. There will be no revaluation of tactics and strategy, the approach will remain the same, but the key is finding a man who can utilize the Barcelona way to get the most of the players, and for this Barca has chosen Enrique as their man. He will persist with the tradition of Tiki-Taka and utilizing the phenomenal youth structure to promote from within at Camp Nou. And while the strong club culture will continue to grow, Barcelona will continually look to add players they feel can personify the values and style the club was forged on since the days of Johan Cruyff.
Athletic Bilbao, Dortmund and Arsenal are very much the same in that regardless who is in the squad, or regardless of who is fit, you know how they will approach each game. Each of these clubs has a guiding philosophy that gives a bold and apparent message of this is how we play football, which clearly resonates with the players. The tactics will always be relatively similar, with the appropriate adjustments made when needed, but more importantly is that the mentality of the team will always be strong as it is a by product of a well thought out ethos. As a Tottenham fan this is hard to say but there is a reason the Tomas Rosickys of the world are so important to big clubs with an established philosophy. They are the type of players that define the club philosophy, choosing to stay and accept a somewhat lesser role rather than to leave in search of more playing time. These types of players are truly selfless among modern footballers step in and contribute almost always seamlessly, while their professionalism is only bettered by their commitment to their club.
So how does this relate to Tottenham and their current situation? In terms of an ethos, Spurs and their fan base have always subscribed to the idea of the “Tottenham Way”, a free flowing attack minded philosophy that saw the club as being level with any club in Europe on their day. Born from the 50’s and 60’s, the “Tottenham Way” saw the club win two league titles, three FA Cups and an UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup over two decades. The daring and stylish brand of football Tottenham played continued in the ‘70s and’80s, as they won two League Cups, two FA Cups and a UEFA Cup. The ‘90s and ‘00s proved less successful but not fruitless as Tottenham only managed an FA Cup and two League cups, including the club’s last trophy in 2008. These honors and achievements are some of the moments that defined Tottenham and their will to play an attractive and daring brand of football but you would find it undoubtedly hard to find many fans that see the state of the club in the last few years as embodying this tradition.
Most would say any sign of Spurs personifying the ethos that made the club famous left following the sacking of one Harry Redknapp. Spurs under Redknapp were a free flowing attacking team, spearheaded by Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Rafael Van Der Vaart that proved to be not only one of the most attractive football teams in England, but in the entirety of Europe. Redknapp was considered to be tactically simplistic but was never afraid to go head to head with an open attacking brand against any of the big clubs in the Premier League. Following his shock dismissal Levy appointed Andre Villas-Boas following his disappointing and seemingly short tenure as manager of Chelsea the previous season. AVB’s reign was a strenuous one with the fans as many felt his pragmatic and sometimes overly cautious approach was not in line with the history and tradition of the club. The issue here is whether or not the “Tottenham Way” is indeed a viable philosophy in modern football and more directly, in the Premier League. History has shown that to win the premier league, let alone finish in the top four, throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of relentless attacking football does not yield success. Pragmatism is a necessary component to any club looking to qualify for the Champions League, but over the last few years, fans have made it clear they have been accustomed to the “Tottenham Way”. Tottenham must find a way to utilize the belief and history associated with the traditional ethos of the club while subsequently allowing it to evolve and adapt. Results and attractive football are not always possible together, but having a philosophy founded on club values that speaks to player and fan alike is essential in achieving long-term success and stability.
The idea that Levy and ENIC have created of Spurs being a big club is unfortunately just that, an idea. There is no substance or vision that defines the club but rather a false notion that Tottenham somehow deserve Champions League Football, ambitious yes, but hollow at its core. Gareth Bale choosing to leave after promising he would stay emphasizes this, as he saw Spurs had reached a glass ceiling. This is not to say that Bale could not have grown and progressed in his career had he stayed at Tottenham, but rather serves to identify that without achieving the goals which they have set, a football club will never come before the players and their individual aspirations. Tottenham must ensure the mentality within the squad is in unison with the ethos of the club, that whether or not players want to be there is not solely based on participating in the Champions League. Despite his sacking, Tim Sherwood did bring forth some insightful opinions regarding some of the mindsets that currently exist in the squad. Several times Sherwood alluded to the fact that some players felt they were doing the club a favor by playing for Spurs. No one player is ever bigger than the club, so for a healthy ethos to exist, attitudes such as these must go, regardless of the quality of the player. Unfortunately, in their current state, Tottenham do not have any big players of influence that have been with the club for a significant amount of time. So understanding the character of the players that Tottenham target is equally important with their skill and quality.
There is a severe lack of vision at Tottenham and Levy somehow thinks that vision comes with the hiring of the right manager or acquiring star players. This is not entirely wrong, as a manager must indeed have a clear image of the style of play he or she wishes to invoke, while attracting bigger players to the club promotes and strengthens the Tottenham brand. The problem is that the club itself should have a foundation already built on loyalty to an ethos and culture, which in turn allows the manager to compliment the philosophy rather than building one from scratch. This also relates to the players in that they have a guiding philosophy, which the entire squad can buy into. It provides a structure and set of values within which they can operate, without diminishing the individual freedom in their playing style.
Tottenham in the last eight or nine years has always been seen as an ambitious club, the problem though is that Chairman Daniel Levy demands a top four finish as a successful season. When the goal isn’t reached the first one to go is the manager, and this approach does not allow for long-term stability within the club. If Liverpool had operated the same way Brendan Rodgers would have been fired last year having seen Liverpool finish seventh. However, the club showed faith in Rodgers and his ideals and backed him financially in the transfer market which ended in Liverpool finishing second in the Premier League, only two points off of champions Manchester City. Rodgers and Liverpool should serve as an example to Spurs demonstrating that first the foundation of a football philosophy must exist then, as results come, it is tinkered and adjusted accordingly. Another way in which Tottenham could build an ethos would be through any of the three cup competitions they are participating in next season as it gives them a chance to achieve tangible success and help legitimize the club philosophy.
Levy is a shrewd businessman and negotiator, but he chooses to operate on his own, making decisions that have direct ramifications within the club when in reality synergy, patience and faith in the manager and the players is what is so desperately needed. The idea of synergy I am referring to is in regards to working with the manager and director of football Franco Baldini in forming the best possible Spurs squad. Regardless of their opinions of AVB, Spurs fans were unquestionably put off by the notion that of the seven players bought with the Gareth Bale money, there were several that AVB did not want or see in his plans for the squad. This season clearly demonstrated this, as despite many of the players adjusting to a new league, it was obvious that many were bought on reputation rather than how they directly fit into the system within the Tottenham squad. This unfortunately was coupled with the lack of true character players already in the side. Players like Ledley King and Robbie Keane have departed over the last few years while other such as Aaron Lennon, Kyle Walker and club captain Michael Dawson have been unable to cope with taking on a larger role while their new teammates adjust. The constant notion that neither AVB nor his successor Tim Sherwood had a clear idea what was the best Tottenham starting XI has emphasized the clear disconnect that exists throughout the club. If Spurs are to achieve success, manager, chairman and director of football cannot be pulling in different directions but instead each of their individual visions for the club must be aligned. Together they can create a successful football club but if all three people have different ideas on how to take the club forward than the manager will always be working with one arm tied behind his back, making results much more unattainable. Levy must take a more patient approach towards whoever is hired as manager and show his support. This summer Spurs will surely look to add in key areas and ensuring that the transfer targets identified fit into both the club philosophy and the vision of the manager is vital for Spurs to take the next step in club ascendancy.
Whoever the next Manager is at Tottenham, Levy must clearly indicate a vision much greater than just a top four finish. Spurs require an identity again, a revitalisation of the “Tottenham Way” that sees it rebuilt on both style and substance, but in order to do this time and patience has to be given. It must be realized that in the beginning of the new manager’s tenure, philosophy takes precedence over position in the table barring any Juande Ramos reenactments. Spurs as a club need to shake off their current reputation of impatience, which has become a common joke in the Premier League. Faith and a desire to work together must be shown to whoever is hired as manager, first by helping them to obtain the players they have identified as targets and second by giving them the required time to build the squad they envision. Only then will we see the return of Champions League Football at White Hart Lane.
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