Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy must feel like he has been tossed from the frying pan directly into the fire last week. The divisive executive kicked off the week by coming to terms with manager Antonio Conte on his departure. Levy may have even allowed himself a sigh of satisfaction that, after days of speculation in the wake of Conte’s vitriolic press conference, the matter was finally resolved.
But that short-lived relief will quickly have turned to blood-chilling horror. Managing director of football Fabio Paratici had his 30-month Italian ban extended to cover the worldwide sport on Wednesday night. In a stunning demonstration of how unprepared Spurs were for this turn of events, at the time of FIFA’s announcement a statement from Paratici about the club’s future without Conte was the latest post on their official Twitter account.
In less than a week, Tottenham’s litany of problems have been laid bare. Put simply, this is a football club not being run very well. Many at ENIC, the firm that owns Spurs, would protest that statement. After all, Tottenham have become a semi-regular Champions League participant since they bought the club in 2001.
There has been a dearth of trophies, with just a single Football League Cup secured in 2008, but there has been a European final and some brief title challenges. However, to neglect putting at least some form of plan in place should Paratici’s ban carry over is shortsighted in the extreme. Couple this with the club parting ways with a manager who had just publicly berated the entire organisation and the optics simply aren’t good.
Paratici’s alleged offences, broadly described in documentation as “false accounting”, took place during his time at Juventus. Within Tottenham, this fact was expected to ring-fence them from any blowback. Looking back it was a lax position to take at best and a downright negligent one at worst. FIFA were never likely to cast a favourable eye over Paratici’s alleged impropriety. It is also hard for a world governing body to justify a mere countrywide ban when someone charged with an offence is still working in the game abroad.
The fact that an executive as experienced as Levy, nor anyone on his team, could foresee that this was almost inevitable is worrying. But Spurs have not exactly been a model for joined-up thinking recently. Any ENIC protests on that score can be answered by the disparate selection of head coaches they have employed.
Mauricio Pochettino to Jose Mourinho to Nuno Espirito Santo to Antonio Conte. There is no clear thread between the men who have held Tottenham’s managerial post over the last decade. Differing ideologies, differing approaches, differing styles. Clubs like Brighton & Hove Albion have overachieved by developing an overarching ethos. Manchester City meticulously laid the table for Pep Guardiola to dominate. Arsenal kept the faith after Mikel Arteta’s early difficulties. There are many routes to success in the modern game. None of them involve closing your eyes and throwing a dart at a board of managers then appointing the one it lands on.
Obviously that’s not what Spurs actually did, but given how much they’ve strayed from the path Pochettino laid for them, they might as well have done. The Argentine’s influence had waned, which is a natural thing in football. But the style wasn’t broken, rather those administering it had grown weary and the players needed fresh men at the helm to reignite their efforts. But instead of acknowledging this and hiring a continuity candidate, someone to continue Pochettino’s fine work, they employed the polar opposite. In came Mourinho, the shop-worn ‘serial winner’ who couldn’t find a way to win in north London. It was the start of an identity crisis that endures to this day.
The full-circle irony here is that the person heading up Tottenham’s search for a new manager was Paratici himself. To have kept someone in a high-ranking position with the imminent threat of a lengthy ban is one thing. To entrust that person with making arguably the most important appointment at the club is mind-boggling.
There are lessons to be learned in adversity. Levy and ENIC’s job is blatantly obvious now. Entrust footballing operations to someone who isn’t currently under investigation for serious offences by FIFA. Appoint a head coach that actually fits your desired playing style for the squad, not just someone who has won some cups in another era or at a completely different type of club. Tottenham are a mess, but it can be fixed. It’ll just take the sort of joined-up thinking this club often lacks.
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