Are Spurs back to square one in manager search?

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June 20, 2021
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    Tottenham's managerial candidatesGennaro Gattuso, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Paulo Fonseca have all been linked with the Spurs job

    Tottenham's managerial search is becoming the long-running saga of the summer – serving up plenty of twists and turns with a seemingly unending list of candidates.

    Gennaro Gattuso was the latest name linked with the vacancy that has existed since Jose Mourinho was sacked on 19 April – but within a day the Italian was no longer being considered.

    Depending on your viewpoint, the process so far has been either tortuous, farcical or both.

    Tottenham's managerial dead end

    It's just over two months since Mourinho's dismissal and just under two months until Spurs open their new Premier League campaign against Manchester City on 14 August and they appear no closer to replacing the Portuguese.

    Spurs could argue that the picture that has been painted around their search is nowhere near as chaotic as it appears from the outside.

    Given the way football negotiations tend to work, they have almost certainly not made an official offer to anyone, and therefore could claim they have not been turned down by anyone either.

    But soundings have been taken. It quickly became apparent that Julian Nagelsmann, who joined Bayern Munich, and Leicester City boss Brendan Rodgers were unattainable.

    And while speculation persists around Erik ten Hag, Ajax's initial response was to trigger a one-year contract option on their manager, which suggests any attempt to take him out of the Amsterdam Arena will either be difficult or costly.

    Really, it is what has happened since where the problems lie.

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    Whatever encouragement Spurs received about what would have been an emotional return for Mauricio Pochettino did not come from Paris St-Germain, who were adamant the Argentine was going nowhere when speculation first surfaced – and never deviated from that.

    After that came Antonio Conte.

    People at Tottenham defended the club's talks with the former Chelsea and Inter Milan boss on the basis he was – evidently – a coach who wins trophies and it would have been negligent to have ignored someone of that calibre who was available after quitting Inter.

    It did, however, take a few meetings before Tottenham decided they could not work with Conte, whose demanding style exceeds even that of Jose Mourinho, according to someone who has worked with both men.

    There was some involvement from the club's new technical director Fabio Paratici in these talks. And Paratici was certainly a central figure in Thursday's dramatic events, having identified Paulo Fonseca as Mourinho's replacement, then dumping him when former Napoli boss Gattuso became available, only for that to collapse as well.

    Fonseca spoke extensively to Paratici last week, about such detail as pre-season training and friendly matches. Although there was a divergence in the styles of play each felt suited the squad – Fonseca' favouring an attacking style, while Paratici wanted a more defensive-minded team – on Thursday morning the former Roma boss thought he had a gentleman's agreement to take over at Tottenham.

    Gattuso's sudden availability, having being ditched after 23 days by Fiorentina amid a row over the involvement of super-agent Jorge Mendes, saw Paratici suddenly change direction, much to Fonseca's bewilderment.

    It only took Tottenham fans a couple of hours to come up with the damning proof of why they did not believe Gattuso should be manager of their club.

    As it started to sink in Gattuso was being lined up, copies of his past interviews, which referenced controversial comments the former Italy midfielder had previously made on subjects such as same-sex marriage and women in football, appeared on social media.

    Some fans moved to create a #NoToGattuso hashtag, which was trending on Twitter.

    Senior Spurs figures were made aware of the fans' sentiment. The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust (THST) – with whom chairman Daniel Levy has a line of communication and has met even since it called for him to go amid the European Super League fiasco – went the direct route.

    "We can and do communicate supporter sentiment to the decision-makers at the club, and have done so very clearly on this occasion," THST tweeted. "We are aware of and acting on your concerns around potential managerial candidates."

    While there was substance to the widespread reports about Gattuso, the fans' actions ensured that there will never be anything official about those talks.

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    What are the options now?

    While it appears Tottenham are back at square one, nothing is quite that simple.

    They do have options. Roberto Martinez's contract with Belgium runs to 2022 but that doesn't appear insurmountable if that was the way Levy wanted to go. Certainly Roberto Mancini would be more of a problem given the former Manchester City boss extended his contract with Italy to 2026 barely a month ago.

    Julen Lopetegui's contract with Sevilla was extended to 2024 in January but he is another name that has been linked with the job in recent days. Ten Hag's has never been completely dismissed. Meanwhile, if compensation was an issue – and Conte wasn't going to be revisited, Nuno Espirito Santo and Eddie Howe are out of work and keen to return.

    The issue is Tottenham do not appear to be working to a grand plan. Conte is at the end of a different managerial spectrum to Pochettino and Gattuso's combustible nature overshadows his improvement as a coach.

    The financial cloud

    In a recent in-house interview, Levy said: "We know where we were two years ago – the Champions League final. Are we satisfied where we are today? Absolutely not. We need to turn it around."

    However, there was something else in that interview that may lie at the heart of the apparent uncertainty at a club.

    For 15 months, the magnificent stadium Tottenham now call home has hardly welcomed a spectator. The chief source of funding for the £1bn project has been lost.

    Levy estimates £200m of non-recoverable revenue has been lost. He said that, of all Premier League clubs, the financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic have been "more severe" for Spurs than anyone else and the timing of it "could not have been worse".

    "We have to be realistic," he said. "We will have to be careful over the next coming years. We have to be prudent. Our duty is to protect the club."

    Clearly, when resources are stretched, compensation for a manager reduces the figure available to spend on wages and transfer fees at a time when a massive question mark remains over the future of star man Harry Kane.

    This issue is not easy to resolve. But until it is, Tottenham will not start to climb out of the mess they have put themselves in.

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    June 20, 2021
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