Most football fans in the UK would’ve tucked themselves snuggly into bed last night thinking that the most surprising EPL managerial news of the week was that Roman Abramovich had somehow not managed to find an escape route from appointing Roberto di Matteo as Chelsea’s full-time Head Coach. Abramovich was always going to struggle to justify jettisoning the Italian after his European Champions League exploits last season, but then Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and even Avram Grant would all count themselves as victims of the Russian’s curious approach to club stability.
But as the milkmen were still completing their delivery rounds, the UK woke to the staggering revelation that Spurs had parted company with Harry Redknapp! The initial reaction from the general public and the British media was one of shock, but there had been rumblings of discontent at White Hart Lane ever since Chelsea’s victory over FC Bayern stole their European Champions League place from under their noses.
Harry Redknapp had taken Portsmouth to a shock FA Cup victory in the 2008 Final – and to the brink of bankruptcy in the process mind you – and was appointed Spurs manager in October 2008 to lead the club’s revival after the dismal reign of Juande Ramos. Ramos had opened the 2008/09 EPL season by securing just 2pts from his opening EIGHT fixtures, a record that would have even Kenny Dalglish scrambling for the second volume of his ‘Big Book of Excuses and Conspiracy Theories’! Redknapp’s impact was immediate – 10pts from an available 12pts and a dramatic 4-4 draw with Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium – and that momentum carried Spurs to a League Cup Final and a creditable 8th place finish in the EPL. The following season saw Spurs achieve their best EPL finish to date, a place in the coveted top four and an opportunity to participate in the European Champions League. Spurs debut ECL campaign began with a nervous qualifier against Swiss side Young Boys Berne, but their epic displays against the then-defending Champions Internazionale – most notable for Gareth Bale announcing his arrival on the biggest club stage – and their knockout victory over AC Milan were highlights in a season the Spurs faithful will never forget.
The distraction of ECL competition saw Spurs fail to repeat their 2009 heroics; finishing 5th in the 2010/11 EPL and thus consigning themselves to a year in the less prestigious Europa League. Unperturbed by that setback Redknapp and Spurs refocused their energies on a quick return to the elite competition and, by February 2012 they were involved in an unlikely challenge for the EPL title!
And then the proverbial hit the fan! England Head Coach Fabio Capello saw opportunity within the race scandal beginning to envelop his captain John Terry and, when the English FA rightly saw no option other than to strip Terry of the captaincy, Capello decided to take advantage by jumping ship! Capello knew England had no hope of salvaging his battered reputation in the forthcoming Euro 2012 tournament and wanted out; his misguided hope being that the furore surrounding Terry would mask his hopeless tenure and evoke a degree of sympathy towards him. Suddenly Harry Redknapp – freshly free from tax evasion charges – was the heir-apparent in everyone’s eyes….including his own! A day did not pass by without a cheeky chappie soundbite emerging from an all-too-keen Redknapp, the British media gorging on his media-friendly approach and his willingness to talk all things England. The only slight problem was that he had yet to be appointed England Head Coach, he still had a job to do at Spurs and Harry lost all focus and motivation for that day job!
As Harry consistently refused to dismiss the England rumours – in fact he did everything but appoint himself to the role – the speculation became a frenzy and Spurs managed to choke a 10pt advantage over their hated rivals Arsenal in little more than a month! That it was Arsene Wenger’s team and not Spurs that finished 3rd in the EPL meant that whilst Harry had returned Spurs to the top four, their participation in next season’s ECL would depend on 6th place Chelsea’s performance in the ECL Final against FC Bayern. Didier Drogba’s decisive penalty kick not only secured Chelsea their first ECL trophy but also consigned Spurs to another season in the Europa League.
But is that so bad? Harry’s EPL finishes in his four-year reign have read 8th, 4th, 5th and 4th and, though he failed to win silverware, he also led the club to a League Cup Final. And while Redknapp must surely acknowledge his loss of focus and his personal contribution to the destabilising effect on Spurs throughout his thinly-disguised flirting with the English FA over the England job, is a 4th-place finish considered a failure nowadays? Spurs ruthlessly sacked Martin Jol for the cardinal sin of leading the club to an embarrassing 5th-place; is Daniel Levy now of the opinion that 4th is no longer good enough for Spurs either? If that is the case then Daniel Levy, with his tight financial control of Spurs, is delusional!
So where now for Spurs? Regular contributor to my blog, Jack, believes Spurs need a young, hungry manager with the passion and desire to take the club forward. And it’s hard to disagree with that. But the two outstanding candidates within the EPL, Paul Lambert and Brendan Rogers have already been enticed to new projects at Aston Villa and Liverpool respectively. Roberto Martinez is also touted for yet another interview but, having spurned the advances of Villa and also Liverpool – if Dave Whelan is to be believed – does he have the confidence and belief in his own abilities to challenge himself on a bigger stage? Andre Villas Boas is also linked but, as I said when his name became associated with Anfield, it would be a huge risk for an English club to appoint a guy whose reputation was so brutally ripped to pieces at Chelsea. Frank de Boer reportedly dismissed interest from Liverpool to concentrate his efforts on Ajax Amsterdam; would the scenario at Spurs, unquestionably a club in a better position than Liverpool, persuade him to think again?
My opinion is that there are two outstanding candidates and both have merits that could take Spurs forward. David Moyes has worked wonders at Everton on a shoe-string budget, consistently over-achieving and developing a healthy and progressive youth system. Moyes’ ability to work within financial restraints may appeal to the cautious Levy and, honestly, any budget is bound to be bigger than the one he has to work with at Goodison Park. But I also believe Moyes is on the verge of achieving something special at Everton, with a good spine to his first-team in Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Marouane Fellaini – who Moyes has nurtured into a fine midfield player – and Nikola Jelavic providing a cutting edge. And Moyes can turn to impressive youngsters such as Seamus Coleman, Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley to boost his options. However, Moyes has been at the Goodison helm for 10yrs and surely has ambition to test himself elsewhere. The Man Utd job would likely be his main hope but that would be a poisoned chalice as and when Sir Alex Ferguson finally calls it a day. Might Spurs provide him with the ideal platform to showcase his skills on the bigger stage?
Outgoing French national coach Laurent Blanc would be the other outstanding candidate for me. Blanc encourages an attractive attacking style of play and has a stature within the game to attract players to the club and, of equal importance to Spurs at the moment, to persuade their existing stars to share his vision for the future. His work at Bordeaux was impressive but his impact in stabilising, focusing and uniting the notoriously divided Les Bleus in leading them to a current 22-match unbeaten run has been nothing short of miraculous. Although Blanc has no managerial experience within the EPL I think it would be foolish for Spurs to dismiss his qualities.
A high risk option, though one that would seem to fit in with the EPL’s current fad of appointing young coaches, would be a return to the club for former White Hart Lane favourite Gus Poyet. Poyet has overseen an impressive transformation of Brighton & Hove Albion from virtual obscurity to promotion into the Championship and a creditable debut season in the English second-tier. He would be a long shot of course, and unlikely given his lack of experience, but it would be an interesting move for the club. Another former-Spur, Chris Hughton, has emerged as a highly sought-after coach having enjoyed successful spells at both Newcastle and Birmingham City. Might he be a shock candidate to return to White Hart Lane?
Whatever the outcome, Daniel Levy and Spurs have to act quickly, decisively and shrewdly in making their next appointment. Even with Spurs’ late-season slump I think Harry Redknapp unquestionably leaves the club in a far better position than where it was lanquishing on his arrival, and he will retain the affection of a good many Spurs fans for his work at White Hart Lane. The challenge for his successor is presumably to achieve regular participation in the ECL, a goal that is hardly straight-forward when you consider the financial might available to some of your closest rivals.