Why it all went so wrong for Nuno at Tottenham: Communication issues and a training drill that baffled players

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·4-min read
Why it all went so wrong for Nuno at Tottenham: Communication issues and a training drill that baffled players
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Few at Tottenham are mourning the departure of Nuno Espirito Santo, but there was little rejoicing at the news, either.

Nuno, who was sacked yesterday, was widely considered a decent man and was respected, if not well-liked, by staff, who recognised that he was forced to deal with a number of difficult situations which were not of his own making.

The squad, though, had serious reservations about Nuno’s qualities as manager and it was telling that not a single Spurs player has so far paid tribute to the Portuguese on social media.

Nuno has always preferred working with a small group and there was quickly a sense within the squad that you were either in or out under the 47-year-old.

This sense of favouritism and hierarchy was emphasised by one of Nuno’s biggest mistakes in the job, the decision to leave his entire first XI at home for Europa Conference League trip to Vitesse Arnhem, effectively creating a two-tiered squad. Many of the players were unimpressed, with those in the de facto “second XI” particularly angry and demoralised.

An emotional Harry Winks expressed his frustration and the view of many of his teammates during an honest interview after the game, saying: “We’re meant to be a team. Everybody should be fighting for [a place in the] weekend games. Motivation should be everybody fighting for the same cause.”

Winks paid the price for speaking out and has not been named in a squad since.

Many of the players found Nuno cold, distant and uncommunicative, and even those in his “first XI” reported that they didn’t really know anything about their head coach.

He rarely held team meetings and never entertained players one-on-one in his office, as his predecessors Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino had done.

One established player was stunned when he discovered he had been dropped from the squad for an away game from a teammate rather than the manager, while there was a perception that Nuno was only really willing to speak to a handful of senior players.

His reluctance to communicate extended to the dressing room and he did not want to address the players immediately after matches, particularly defeats, believing emotions were still too raw. This often left the squad’s frustration to boil over in the stadium.

His coaching did not convince all the players either. One drill in which the players were told to play out of position, with the forwards in defence and vice-versa, left some players baffled and others amused.

Nonetheless, there were some, including club captain Hugo Lloris, who respected Nuno and understood what he was trying to do.

Youngster Oliver Skipp, perhaps the biggest winner from Nuno’s reign, spoke recently about appreciating his “concise” instructions on the training ground, demonstrating that Nuno’s sparse way of communicating could sometimes be effective.

Tanguy Ndombele also liked Nuno, and it is telling that the more introverted members of the squad, like the Frenchman and Skipp, seemed to respond best to his methods.

He was not an arm-around-the-shoulder type of boss, which other players found more difficult, particularly after Mourinho's charisma and Pochettino's warmth.

Nuno also struggled to build bonds with supporters, not helped by his view of the media as a necessary evil. He fiercely disliked having to do interviews or press conferences, never shirking his media duties, which were far more wide-ranging than at Wolves, but making it clear to staff that he would rather be on the training pitch.

Those who got to know him best reported that there was a good man under Nuno’s “mask of stone” who could be self-deprecating and insightful.

But he never wanted to reveal that side of him publicly and ultimately few of the players saw it, either.

Some of these Spurs players have now seen off two or even three managers while continuing to underperform, and Nuno’s lack of top-level experience and shortcomings as a coach gave them yet another excuse.

Nuno is not the only one who has disappointed at Spurs this season and the arrival of Antonio Conte will instantly transform the dynamic in the squad and leave the players with nowhere left to hide.

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