Paulo Fonseca interview: My Spurs move was torpedoed by a desire for defensive football

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AS Roma coach Paulo Fonseca before the match. - REUTERS
AS Roma coach Paulo Fonseca before the match. - REUTERS

Paulo Fonseca has revealed he started pre-season plans at Tottenham before his move was torpedoed by managing director Fabio Paratici's demands for more defensive football.

In a wide-ranging interview with Telegraph Sport, Fonseca outlined how close he was to joining Spurs, saying “the agreement was done”, but that the move collapsed due to Paratici wanting a less attack-minded coach.

Nuno Espirito Santo was eventually appointed as Jose Mourinho's successor, with the former Wolves head coach having already been subjected to criticism by supporters for a perceived negative style.

Fonseca insists his attacking instincts - shaped by his time with Shakhtar Donetsk and AS Roma - would have chimed with Tottenham's motto of 'To Dare Is To Do', but admits his move was doomed as soon as Paratici was appointed.

“The agreement was done. We were planning the pre-season and Tottenham wanted an offensive coach. It wasn’t announced but we planned pre-season players. But things changed when the new managing director arrived and we didn’t agree with some ideas and he preferred another coach,” Fonseca said, speaking from his home in Kiev, Ukraine.

“I have some principles. I wanted to be coach of the great teams but I want the right project and a club where the people believe in my ideas, my way to play, and this didn’t happen with the managing director.

“It’s what the chairman and the sporting director (Steve Hitchen) asked for. To build a team who can play attractive and offensive football and I was ready for that. I cannot be a different way. All my teams will have these intentions. In Rome or Shakhtar in the Champions League against the biggest teams, I’m not sending out my teams to defend near their own box.”

Fonseca, 48, has stuck to his attacking principles from when he started as a coach in the Portuguese lower divisions before working his way up and making his name at Paços Ferreira where he reached the Champions League and gave a debut to a slight 17-year-old called Diogo Jota.

Others who have improved under his guidance included Willy Boly, then Fred when the pair worked together at Shakhtar Donetsk.

By the time Fonseca arrived at Roma, Henrikh Mkhitaryan saw a comparison to Thomas Tuchel, who he worked with at Borussia Dortmund. “He is similar,” Mkhitaryan said of Fonseca, “he tries to put the players in the right position, to give them the freedom to enjoy the way they play.” The improvement of players under Fonseca is underpinned by his attacking football.

“All players want to have the ball,” he said. “They want to dominate. They want to participate. They don’t want to run to recover the ball. They don’t want to run without the ball and defend. The best way to defend is to have the ball.

“We have an obligation with supporters to create a spectacle, a good show. That is the obligation of the coach. I want to win every game but just winning is not enough for me. I have to be offensive and dominate the games and have an offensive midfield and show courage in the game. These are things which will die with me.

“It happened so many times when I got home after winning a game and my wife asked ‘why are you unhappy?’ And it is because I didn’t win the way I wanted to. It is not enough. I have to create a good show for the people who pay the tickets and love football. At least I try. I cannot be a coach in another way.”

Shakhtar Donetsk's Portuguese manager Paulo Fonseca (1st-L) greets his opponent Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (2nd-L) prior to the UEFA Champions League group F football match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Manchester City, on December 6, 2017, at the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine. - GETTY IMAGES
Shakhtar Donetsk's Portuguese manager Paulo Fonseca (1st-L) greets his opponent Manchester City's Spanish manager Pep Guardiola (2nd-L) prior to the UEFA Champions League group F football match between Shakhtar Donetsk and Manchester City, on December 6, 2017, at the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv, Eastern Ukraine. - GETTY IMAGES

What is likely to have appealed to Spurs chairman Daniel Levy was Fonseca’s diplomacy at Roma. He worked during a period of uncertainty at the club when the Friedkin Group secured a takeover and he worked without a technical director for a large part of his time in the Italian capital, getting the club to the semi-finals of the Europa League last season.

“It cannot be the coach creating the problems. The coach solves the problems and I believe when you defend the club with your heart, things become easier. It is a question of principles of life. When I am at a club I have to defend them with all my heart and think first about the club and players before myself,” he said.

During the time of the semi-final defeat to Manchester United, Roma had approached Mourinho to take over at the end of the season.

“In some countries maybe it is not normal but it is normal in places like Germany for an announcement six or eight months before when they are working with other clubs. I already knew Tiago Pinto was appointing Jose Mourinho. It was a clear process for me. Jose had a great attitude with me. He called me and spoke and there was no problem,” he said.

When it is suggested to Fonseca that a phone call would have been a chance for Mourinho to recommend the Spurs job, he breaks into laughter. They did not speak about Spurs but it was clear they were suited. Even in that United defeat, they had continued to attack and at 7-4 on aggregate sensed nerves in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team. Eventually it ended 8-5.

He has been close to coming to England before. In 2018 he spoke with Everton when they eventually signed Marco Silva. At the time Fonseca had a contract with Shakhtar. West Ham United were also interested.

“I honestly believe this will happen one day and is one of my ambitions to coach in England one day,” he said. “I haven’t done it yet so cannot say my way of coaching is perfect for England. But there is more open teams, teams trying to win, of course more intensity but also space to develop my game.”

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