Football moves in cycles. Despite how concrete some things seems, nothing is forever. In my youth, it seemed that Manchester United’s grip on the Premier League was as permanent as death and taxes.
Fast-forward a few years and Chelsea, injected to bursting with Abramovich’s billions looked to be dining at the summit for the rest of time.
More recently, it is hard to see how Manchester City will be chiselled off the top of the league table any time soon (especially with Pep at the helm).
So it is with my own team, Tottenham Hotspur. We talk about the ‘Tottenham way’ and equate it with being free-flowing and attacking football, but I feel this is too simplistic and quite at odds with my lived Tottenham experience.
Indeed, the ‘Tottenham way’ I have grown up with is actually about interspersing attack minded coaches with defence minded managers and it is such for several generations of supporters.
Sadly, I never saw Arthur Rowe’s ‘push and run’ side of the fifties – nor the football played by Rowe’s acolyte Bill Nicholson. Nor did I witness the flair sides of Burkinshaw, Pleat and Venables (despite knowing all about them thanks to Chas and Dave).
Indeed, I have to admit to being in the crowd, mournfully lamenting ‘We want our Tottenham back! We want our Tottenham back! We want our Tottenham back!” under the turgid reign of George Graham.
Conversely, I was there gleefully chorusing “We’ve got our Tottenham back!” during one of the more hopeful periods in Glenn Hoddle’s time as Spurs manager. Being a Tottenham supporter has felt like a neverending cycle of hope and despair.
Once I looked at the list of managers in my lifetime – it actually is a bizarre pattern of defensive to attacking managers – from the sublime to ridiculous if you will. The reckless abandon of Ossie Ardiles, followed by the more pragmatic, and beautifully mulleted, Gerry Francis.
As mentioned prior, George Graham was followed by Hoddle. Then Jol from Santini and Redknapp from Juande Ramos. After Villas-Boas and the ‘one-man Bale team’ came Poch. In true Tottenham fashion, in 2023 Ange has followed in the steps of Messrs Jose, Nuno and Antonio.
So what can we learn from this? Firstly, that possibly there is no inherent ‘Tottenham DNA’ that is a continuous thread running through the history of the club.
In an era when people love to use buzzwords such as ‘vision’ and ‘culture’ the appointments seem erratic and driven by the individual and not looking to maintain a club ‘brand’. Indeed, the leap from certain managers, who appear to be polar opposites seems incongruous.
Not only that, but the money the club must have haemorrhaged signing specific players for managers whose methods quickly become obsolete is frightening.
But I still inherently believe that if Scott Munn is reading this, and I assume he is. One of his most pressing jobs is to establish what the club is and align it with our deeper history and expectations.
In this moment, we have the most clarity about ‘who we are’ that we have had in years – arguably since 2018. Some may be frowning at that date, but my argument is that by 2019, the team was patched up, threadbare and so stale that they weren’t recognisable as the team that twice went close to the title.
This moment in time is emblematic of where the club need to be better. Just because today is sunny, you don’t sit back with a beer and your feet up and ignore the potential potholes down the road.
If Scott Munn is proficient in his job, he will be creating a profile of what a Tottenham manager ‘looks like’ and already be looking at succession planning.
The old adage is correct ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ – this may as well have been the motto inscribed over the boardroom door of Tottenham in the last few decades. They should be looking after the club, not just in the here and now, but in two or three managers’ time – years down the road.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not just a Tottenham issue. A lot of clubs lurch from one manager to another, hoping to stumble upon the magical formula. Look at the continuing hilarity of what is happening at Manchester United.
At the moment, people will point to clubs like Brighton. An approach was instilled by Potter and now De Zerbi is carrying on and developing that project. They are not the only club to do so, Leeds after appointing Bielsa opted for Jesse Marsch and then Javi Gracia – completely ‘on brand’.
The quandary they found themselves in was when they were looking down the barrel of a gun and facing relegation. Instead of sticking to their principles, they abandoned their DNA and sent up the flare to summon ‘Big Sam’.
Despite the best efforts of Weston McKennie’s hopefully launched long throws into the box, Leeds got relegated; parted ways with Allardyce and returned to their ‘brand’ in Daniel Farke. An entirely predictable debacle.
Therefore, my point is this. If Angeball fails, and it may well do – football is a fickle mistress – let us not oscillate to someone who can bolt the gate once the horse is bolted. We have attacking and possession-based football and the players who can implement it. Stick to our guns.
The poster boy club for this way of working is Swansea City. Since 2007, the managers they have appointed have all played in the same way and maintained the ‘culture of the club’, with varying degrees of success. We all remember Bob Bradley.
Some may churn out the riposte ‘but now they’re in the Championship’, but the truth of the matter is that in football there is no such thing as a certainty, despite how much research is done. Swansea massively overachieved and their scouting hit a hot streak that was the envy of many.
Is Daniel Levy what Tottenham Hotspur need?
So where does our old friend ‘COYS Daniel’ fit into all this?
For many, no matter what he does now, it will not be enough and it will not be good enough. They are entitled to their opinion, but the truth of the matter is that Daniel Levy will be chairman for as long as he wants to be.
Despite the onfield disappointments, he is too good at the ‘other stuff’ to be dispensed of. So what can he do to ingratiate himself or even redeem himself in the eyes of some? To me, there is one word. Legacy.
If Munn and Lange (with Don Fabio still in the background) have been employed on the strength of their CVs, their expertise and their skillset – then allow them to operate in the role they are appointed too.
Almost everyone is united in that we do not want Levy involved with the day-to-day of the club – the minutiae so to speak. If those beneath him want to lean on his experience of seeking his opinion then fair enough, but he cannot be like the ghost at the feast, looming over everyone like a sinister spectre as they go about their work.
He needs to trust his employees and give them a mandate about what the club is and what parameters need to be adhered to the ensure the ‘Tottenham way’ is not a mythological concept but is indeed the foundation upon which this club is built.
There is a possibility that in fifteen years’ time, Daniel Levy will leave the club having learned from his mistakes and I can genuinely say “‘The Tottenham Way’ I know what that is”.
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