Daniel Levy and Fabio Paratici need coherent strategy after wishful thinking with doomed Nuno Espirito Santo appointment

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·4-min read
Daniel Levy and Fabio Paratici need coherent strategy after wishful thinking with doomed Nuno Espirito Santo appointment
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Long before Nuno Espirito Santo was sacked this morning, it was clear that Tottenham had made a mistake in appointing the 47-year-old.

The former Wolves boss was a last resort at the end of a chaotic and increasingly desperate search for a successor to Jose Mourinho, and nothing in his four-month reign suggested the initial reservations about his suitability for the job were unfounded.

Nuno’s authority was limited from day one by virtue of being seventh or eighth choice for the job and being handed just a two-year deal — and his position was further eroded by dismal performances.

It reached the point where supporters openly revolted against the Portuguese, chairman Daniel Levy and even Harry Kane during Saturday’s 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United.

Before the game, which had been dubbed ‘El Sackico’ by fans to reflect the intense pressure on both Nuno and United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Levy was minded to give Nuno time, accepting that the club was starting a new cycle which could take a while to peak.

The fans’ mutiny changed that, and left Levy wary that the ire would quickly turn on him if the situation was allowed to fester.

He and managing director Fabio Paratici now desperately need to get their next appointment right after another decision backfired on the club.

Nuno quickly came to be a manager trapped between the style he knew how to play and the style he was expected to play at Spurs.

Levy was initially unconvinced by Nuno’s credentials when he left Wolves at the end of last season but was persuaded by Paratici that the head coach would be able to adapt his conservative, counter-punching style to a top-heavy squad, with the Italian taking encouragement from his stints at Valencia and Porto.

Paratici played a key role in the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
Paratici played a key role in the appointment of Nuno Espirito Santo (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

“[Nuno] adapts players for his system,” Paratici said in June. “We have to remember that before Wolves, Nuno was at Porto and playing 4-4-2. At Valencia he played 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. This open mind he has about the different players he has is one of the reasons we chose him.”

It was a naive dream to expect a leopard to change his spots, and the result was a playing style completely at odds with Levy’s desire for “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining football”.

Nuno’s Spurs were, quite simply, one of the least creative and exciting sides in the Premier League, ranking in the bottom three of the division for goals, shots and chances created.

The club’s hope that Nuno would, at least, restore discipline and fitness to the squad after Mourinho left a rabble of unfit and demotivated players has also proved wishful thinking. Nuno’s Spurs ranked last in the top flight for distanced covered per game.

His appointment came to feel even more frustrating because Spurs began last summer with a credible list of possible successors for Mourinho, all of whom would have surely been better suited for the challenge than Nuno.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Leicester’s Brendan Rodgers, Ajax manager Erik ten Hag and Brighton’s Graham Potter were all mooted as candidates, but the arrival of Paratici prompted a change of approach, and Spurs considered Antonio Conte, Paulo Fonseca and Gennaro Gattuso, before settling on Nuno. They were this morning attempting to lure Conte back to London for a second time.

In truth, there have been very few positives under Nuno and, like Mourinho before him, his failings ultimately came down to an inability to build a side based on the highly-structured possession which is a staple of success in the elite modern game.

Spurs have continued to resemble an under-coached side, far less than the sum of their parts and some of the squad have found Nuno uncommunicative and his training methods baffling, although he was not universally disliked.

Supporters have naturally been worn down by two years of conservative football under the two Portuguese managers and the question of whether the squad actually possess the quality to challenge for a place in the top five or six is no longer entirely clear.

You wonder, though, what Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola would be able to do with the likes of Steven Bergwijn, Giovani Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele, who have all disappointed for two years, having arrived at Spurs as highly-rated internationals. Spurs need a progressive coach before their squad can truly be judged again.

Ultimately, the club have made a catalogue of poor decisions, going right back to the failure to back Mauricio Pochettino, who wanted to refresh his squad in the summer of 2018.

Many of Spurs’s problems are far bigger than Nuno’s shortcomings as a manager and will not automatically be solved by the appointment of a more progressive or authoritative successor.

As much as a suitable coach, Spurs need from Levy and Paratici a vision, a coherent strategy for the future, one which is based on more than just wishful thinking.

Nuno felt doomed from the start, a dead man walking until he was finally put out of his misery this morning, and Spurs need to ensure the same is not true of his replacement.

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