It's the continental model that chairman Daniel Levy favours, but if he lets Villas-Boas work with an Arnesen rather than a Comolli (who failed spectacularly at Liverpool); it could see Spurs prosper...
A director of football in English management is relatively unheard of, by today’s standards. Clubs are often apprehensive about bringing one onboard, with managers weary about anyone working above them, even if it is for the good of the club. The debate has once again been re-opened, with Tottenham Hotspur keen to implement a similar system before the year is out.
Ask any Spurs fans of the idea of a director of football and despite approaching the topic with concern; they will hastily admit that chairman Daniel Levy is a fan of the system. Fans just have to cast their thoughts all the way back to 2004 to remember his unease at bringing one on. Arsenal had just come off the back of their ‘Invincible’ season, a Rafa Benitez led Valencia had just picked up their sixth La Liga championship and Napoli were on the verge of being declared bankrupt following their relegation to Serie C1.
Greece had just defeated Portugal in the final of Euro 2004, but it was France that caught the interest of Spurs fans. The 2003/04 season saw Glenn Hoddle sacked early in year following a surprise 3-1 defeat to Southampton at White Hart Lane, with David Pleat instilled as caretaker for the remainder of the campaign. Levy promised a complete overhaul of the current managerial blueprint as the club looked to re-establish themselves as a force in English football.
This is where France come into play. Levy was keen to bring in a big name manager with a bigger reputation to take Spurs to the next level. That manager happened to be Jacques Santini. The then 52-year-old had been agreed to take over the reins at White Hart lane prior to the international tournament and with England coming up against Les Bleus, fans would’ve been optimistic from what they saw of France during the summer.
Granted, they shockingly exited Euro 2004 at the quarter-final stage at the hands of eventual victors Greece, but supporters would’ve seen enough to have become excited about the upcoming campaign. With the appointment of Santini, big player changes quickly followed suit.
Underachieving Sergei Rebrov, Helder Postiga and Stephen Carr led the departures at White Hart Lane and were replaced by the likes of Michael Carrick, Pedro Mendes and Paul Robinson. However, while the name Santini was attracting the interest of the big name players, it was another man that was making the signings.
Former Denmark international Frank Arnesen was brought in by Levy in May 2004, with the aim of making transfers and scouting for new talent. The ex-Valencia, Anderlecht and PSV Eindhoven midfielder was responsible for discovering the likes of Ronaldo, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Arjen Robben.
Arnesen’s track record spoke for itself and it was perceived as a major coup by Spurs at the time. With the then 47-year-old focusing on the transfer dealings, it left Santini and new assistant manager Martin Jol in charge of first-team responsibilities, easing the pressure on the duo to bring in new players and focus primarily on the coaching aspect of the club.
In theory, it’s an ideal situation for any manager to be working in. Santini could outline the weaknesses in his squad and send Arnesen out to make the required acquisitions to improve his team. The Frenchman could then focus his efforts on the domestic campaign, rather than deal with the nitty-gritty aspects of the transfer window.
More often than not, however, any plan that works in theory is going to fail when put to the test. As it was, Santini ended up departing White Hart Lane after just 13 games at helm, citing personal problems , before admitting a year later he had “dug his own grave” by agreeing to succeed Pleat before the end of Euro 2004.
However, reports suggested there was an underlying factor in his departure. The problem with a director of football is the chance of a spectacular falling out is relatively high. Speculation remains rife that the duo suffered a major breakdown in communications and after a series of disagreements, Santini decided to leave.
Jol took over the helm and having both played and managed in Holland during their respective careers; everything was rosy at White Hart Lane between the Dutchman and Arnesen. Less than a year later, however, disaster struck once again. The Dane was suspended by Spurs having been photographed upon Roman Abramovich’s private yacht amidst rumours that Chelsea had made an illegal approach for him.
Ultimately, the Blues stumped up between £5m and £8m for his services, despite the uneasiness then manager Jose Mourinho felt about his appointment and even went as far as blaming Arnesen for the lack of talented youth the club’s ranks. It is another example of how damaging a director of football can be to a club, regardless of stature.
Levy felt his position at Spurs had become untenable and, as result, allowed him to leave for Stamford Bridge, albeit, acrimoniously. His replacement, Damien Comolli, was brought in later that summer, and boasted an impressive repertoire, having worked with St. Etienne, AS Monaco and North London rivals Arsenal.
However, while Arnesen and Jol enjoyed a successful working relationship, the same cannot be said of the Frenchman and the then Spurs manager. The two continuously endured a series of disagreements regarding the squad, with Jol complaining that the 40-year-old regularly went against his wishes to sign players he didn’t want, leaving his team ‘unbalanced’.
Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before Jol found himself out of work following yet another spectacular falling out with Comolli and Levy, with the duo caught out conspiring against the Dutchman to replace him at the helm. His successor came in the form of Juande Ramos, who had seen his Sevilla side rise to prominence following numerous impressive displays in La Liga and across Europe.
The Spaniard brought in his own training methods, which saw the player’s fitness improve significantly, while seeing the north London side pick-up their first piece of silverware since 1999; a Carling Cup 2-1 win over Chelsea in 2008. All appeared well at White Hart Lane, especially the summer that followed.
Ramos set about improving the squad with the help of Comolli, acquiring the likes of Heurelho Gomes, Luka Modric, David Bentley and Giovani Dos Santos and regardless of the departures of Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov; fans were still confident of success under the Spaniard. What followed proved to be a mitigating disaster and the beginning of the ‘two points, eight games’ quip from one Harry Redknapp.
The horrendous start to the season saw Levy sack Ramos and, perhaps more importantly, Comolli as well. A return to the familiar English managerial hierarchy quickly followed, with Redknapp in charge of first team duties and transfers.
A return to the commonly used system again worked for Spurs, as Redknapp in his full three years in charge at White Hart Lane mustered three consecutive top six finishes, the first Spurs manager in 47 years to do so. However, his conduct during the FA’s hunt for a new England manager is what cost him his place at the club.
Spurs were on course to finish third, before Fabio Capello resigned from the national role after John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy without his consent. The North London side’s win percentage dropped to 20% between the time the Italian left his position and Roy Hodgson was named his successor.
His sacking saw Andre Villas-Boas replace him, which brings us nicely up to speed. As we are fully aware, Levy is a fan of the continental model; a head coach working with a director of football. As such, the Spurs chairman is reportedly keen on bringing one in to work with the 34-year-old. During the summer, Tim Sherwood was reported to be the front-runner to be promoted to the role following his work with the youth team, while the 43-year-old was believed to have had a big say in Villas-Boas’ appointment.
However, no deal materialised and it left Levy contemplating who to bring in to support the Portuguese tactician. Franco Baldini, former number two to Capello at England and current general manager at AS Roma, was believed to be the preferred target for Levy, before the Italian ruled himself out of the running.
Former Barcelona director of football Txiki Begiristain is thought to be a target for the Premiership outfit, while FC Porto chief executive Antero Henrique was linked with the role early last week. The latter is reported to be the leading contender for the position, having worked with Villas-Boas during the 2010/11 season, where they Portuguese giants picked up four trophies with Henrique overseeing the arrivals of James Rodriguez, Joao Moutinho and Nicholas Otamendi, to name three.
But are Spurs really in desperate need of a director of football? From an outside perspective, it appears to be a recipe for disaster. Regardless of the aforementioned partnership between Jol and Arnesen, the role appears to cause more harm than good, especially with teams in England.
Premiership sides are accustom to the conventional managerial model, where one man takes charge of first-team duties and transfers. As many are fully aware, Liverpool attempted to adopt the continental model with Kenny Dalglish working alongside Comolli at Anfield, the latter taking care of the transfers which the former requested.
As it was, the Reds massively underachieved, regardless of the Carling Cup win over Cardiff City, while overspending on the likes of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll. An eighth place finish in the Premiership saw Dalglish and Comolli relieved of their duties with the club’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, reverting back to the familiar model, this time with Brendan Rodgers at the helm.
Many had been expected Levy to persist with the similar model at Spurs this campaign, leaving Villas-Boas to deal with all the major aspects of the club. However, the chairman is seemingly keen to revert back to the hierarchy that he appears to favour.
This could well spell trouble for Villas-Boas. Jol has fallen to the harsh realities of an undermining director of football who had the ear of the chairman. The appeal is certainly there for Levy, especially with his sick wife, of whom he tends to regularly, currently residing in America.
It would give the Spurs supremo the chance to leave the day-to-day running, in effect, to the director of football. If this is the case, Henrique would be the better suit for both the club and Villas-Boas. Both have worked well together in the past, if only for just one season.
Understandably, there is every reason to be apprehensive. If this particular system doesn’t work again for Levy, questions will again be asked surrounding his input in the club.
On top of that, if he is to get rid of Villas-Boas as a result of a major disagreement between the 34-year-old and a new director of football, more criticism will be aimed his way, especially with some quarters of the Spurs faithful still reeling over the sacking of Redknapp.
However, there is certainly space in the staff, a need if you will, for someone to work closely with Villas-Boas. Ian Broomfield and Peter Senior, former chief and academy scout, respectively, were recently given the chop by Spurs and it is vital that someone is brought in to ease the burden on the young tactician.
Whether it is Begiristain, Henrique or a spectacular u-turn from Baldini, the position is most certainly available. The risks are there, granted, but they can pay off. Levy must avoid forcing someone upon Villas-Boas, much like Comolli and Jol. If the 34-year-old is given the opportunity to hand pick his new man, the chance of continental model succeeding in England, much like Arnesen and Jol did in the past at White Hart Lane, increases significantly, but only if Levy allows the possible partnership to thrive.