Unhappy staff, eye-catching exits and dire football - how Tottenham lost their way

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Unhappy staff, a toxic boardroom and dire football - how Tottenham lost their way - Custom image
Unhappy staff, a toxic boardroom and dire football - how Tottenham lost their way - Custom image

For many of Tottenham Hotspur’s long-standing staff, the final straw came in March last year when, just 30 minutes before a public announcement, an email dropped into their inboxes informing them of the intention to implement 20 per cent pay cuts and furloughing.

The decision was eventually reversed, but the reputational damage was done and employees who grew up and worked with Spurs in their blood no longer recognised a club who are suffering an identity crisis which has taken its toll on and off the pitch.

Nuno Espirito Santo accepted the blame for Tottenham’s third successive Premier League defeat, against Arsenal on Sunday, but a fish rots from the head and only so much responsibility can be put at the door of the club’s latest head coach – however bewildering his team selection and formation had been.

Rather than asking Tottenham’s billionaire owner, Joe Lewis, to help the club through the coronavirus pandemic from his personal fortune, Spurs were prepared to take government money and ask their employees to make a financial sacrifice at a time of great personal uncertainty during a global pandemic.

A week after the first email, a second email landed telling furloughed staff they must no longer check their company email or answer any Tottenham-related telephone calls. Those who were to continue to work were asked to sign a document stating they agreed to the wage cut and the temporary changes to their contracts with no mention of what might happen if they refused.

Chairman Daniel Levy had also given consideration to putting some of the club’s staff who had not been furloughed to work at his Hertfordshire estate, which caused astonishment rather than outrage.

Another week passed before, under intense pressure, Tottenham reversed their decision and only board members took pay cuts, but it was too late to change the ill feeling that continues to resonate through the club. Anybody who thinks star striker Harry Kane is the only unhappy Spurs employee is seriously underestimating the situation.

Tottenham fans hold banners protesting against the board outside the stadium - Reuters
Tottenham fans hold banners protesting against the board outside the stadium - Reuters

Kane can probably count on the fact that if he has to stay, he will at least be offered a new contract and another pay rise. But non-playing members of staff were told in the summer that money remained tight and that pay rises and bonuses were unlikely, despite seeing club executives pull up at the training ground in top-of-the-range cars and Serge Aurier paid off to make room in the squad for new signing Emerson Royal.

The talent drain and staff turnover since Tottenham’s Champions League final appearance two years ago has been remarkable and unparalleled in the club’s recent history.

The departures of Mauricio Pochettino and his coaching staff may have been the most eye-catching exits, along with players such as Christian Eriksen and Kieran Trippier, who have both won league titles since leaving Spurs.

But there have been a number of other non-football changes that have been felt just as keenly inside Tottenham. One of the most unpopular decisions was not to renew the contract of commercial chief Simon Bamber, who sadly died in May.

Bamber was said to be a hugely popular figure who was adored by his team and could be relied upon to give open and honest opinions, despite being present alongside Levy and other board members at key meetings.

Head of marketing Emma Taylor and head of retail Victoria Hawksley left Tottenham, while Selwyn Tash, who worked as a legal consultant for Spurs for well over a decade, is no longer providing his expertise.

Change is necessary inside all big businesses, particularly those who have undertaken such a seismic shift as Tottenham with the move into their £1 billion stadium, but the fabric of the club has undoubtedly been altered.

Over the past two years, Spurs have lost three key members of their communications team, including Simon Felstein, who had been at the club for 15 years. Two talented replacements have been appointed, but Tottenham’s media team remains a person down and smaller than clubs they would count as rivals.

Tottenham now have a situation where the undercurrent of bad feeling over the treatment of certain employees means some staff would prefer not to have to speak to each other and the players are not so cut off that they do not pick up on the bad feeling.

There was genuine shock at the secret plot to form a breakaway European Super League that Spurs were part of. He may not have been one of the drivers of the plan, but, as the only English chairman involved, there was a strong feeling that Levy should have better judged the reaction of the club’s fans.

Tottenham’s Supporters’ Trust called for the immediate resignation of Levy and the club’s executive board, and the lengthy process that eventually resulted in the appointment of Nuno again highlighted the disconnect between the club and the fans.
Fabio Paratici was drafted in as chief football officer midway through the process, even though Spurs already had director of technical performance Steve Hitchen, who had been speaking to candidates with the brief of hiring somebody to deliver attacking and entertaining football.

Fabio Paratici, Sporting Director of Tottenham Hotspur - Getty Images
Fabio Paratici, Sporting Director of Tottenham Hotspur - Getty Images

The brief under Paratici changed and after the Italian had a change of heart over Paulo Fonseca, Gennaro Gattuso was briefly considered. It seems incredible that it took angry fan reaction to alert Spurs to the fact that the appointment of Gattuso would be highly controversial, given some of the statements previously attributed to him.

That plan was quickly ditched and, after being told Brighton coach Graham Potter had no interest in risking his flourishing reputation under Levy, Paratici turned to Nuno – a manager who had previously been discounted for the style of football his Wolverhampton Wanderers team played.

It seemed a remarkable coincidence that as soon as Paratici took charge of the process each and every Tottenham move was documented in the Italian media, and that point was not lost on those who pride themselves on discretion.

As he admitted himself after the Arsenal defeat, Nuno has not entirely helped himself. The statistics behind Tottenham’s results point to a negative approach and his understated style can come across as dour.

But Nuno is also having to try to navigate his way through a mess that has been a long time in the making. Kane’s displeasure and decision to return late for training dates back to last summer, when he first informed Levy that he wanted to leave.

Kane has been forced to stay and Nuno is having to cope, just as he has been trying to coax the best form back out of Dele Alli, who was largely discarded last season.

Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur looks dejected after their side concede a goal scored by Emile Smith Rowe - Getty Images
Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur looks dejected after their side concede a goal scored by Emile Smith Rowe - Getty Images

Alli could have spent last season on loan at Paris St-Germain, where he might have recovered his form and confidence, but Levy would not sanction the move and it is no great surprise that he now looks like a player who has spent longer in the stands than on a football pitch over the past 12 months.

Nuno substituted Alli at half-time at the Emirates, so what now for the 25-year-old? Does he get discarded again or will he be given another chance? Levy is unlikely to want to sell him in January, given Spurs would struggle to get much more than £20 million in the current market.

Tottenham spent money this summer, but none of the new signings have experience of the Premier League, which made it unlikely that they would be able to hit the ground running.

The one player Nuno really wanted, Adama Traore, stayed at Wolves, even though his contract is running down, and Kane is the only senior out-and-out striker at the club because of the failure to sign a partner or a deputy. Spurs could have gazumped Aston Villa’s move for Danny Ings, but decided not to because of the combined cost of his fee and wages.

Nuno still has enough talent at his disposal to steer Tottenham out of their slump, but performances and results must improve quickly. It will, however, take far more than a couple of victories to solve the Spurs identity crisis and stop the rot.

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