The whispers started among Spurs fans a couple of months ago: sack Jose Mourinho and bring in Julian Nagelsmann, that’s the plan. But Tuesday’s confirmation that Nagelsmann will be joining Bayern Munich next season has left Tottenham without a manager and without the chance to sign the coach that many believed was their first-choice replacement.
After that Nagelsmann setback, the news cycle immediately turned to the potential alternatives for the Spurs job. Is Brendan Rodgers interested? Could Maurizio Sarri or Massimiliano Allegri be tempted?
But the real question for Daniel Levy and the Tottenham board to answer is not which big name do the club need, but what sort of manager do they require to make them relevant again.
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Six months before he was sacked by Levy, Mauricio Pochettino spoke of the club’s need for a ‘painful’ rebuild if they wanted to stay competitive at the top level.
“We need to rebuild, it’s going to be painful,” the Argentine said in May 2019. “When you talk about Tottenham, everyone says you have an amazing house, but you need to put in the furniture. If you want to have a lovely house maybe you need better furniture. And it depends on your budget if you are going to spend money. Now it’s about creating another chapter for Tottenham and to have the clear idea of how we are going to build that new project.”
But Levy and Spurs skimped on the ‘furniture’ that summer, not going far enough to rebuild a squad that had grown stagnant after two consecutive transfer windows with zero new additions. The form of the first team collapsed and Pochettino paid the price with his job.
Rather than opting for the painful rebuild, Levy instead turned to Mourinho to eke out as much as he could from the remnants of that Pochettino era. But that experiment failed, and the time for the rebuild is now.
Mauricio Pochettino and Daniel Levy, Tottenham Hotspur
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The current scenario at Spurs feels remarkably similar to 2014, when the toxic Tim Sherwood tenure came to an end and a promising but unproven coach arrived from Southampton. Seven years on and Spurs are operating at a higher level than they were then, largely thanks to the efforts of that unproven coach. But the principle remains the same. For Tottenham to compete on the field against clubs with bigger budgets than them, they need to invest well and find a coach who can get the most out of the squad.
Exactly like Brendan Rodgers has done at Leicester City.
Rodgers this week reaffirmed that he is not interested in leaving the Foxes for Spurs, and – taking that at face value – you can certainly see why he would be reticent to make a move that could be seen as sideways rather than upward.
But, if not Brendan, then a Rodgers-like appointment is what Spurs should be looking for. And the leading candidate with the bookmakers right now fits that description.
Erik Ten Hag’s Ajax are en-route to collect their second Eredivisie title during his time at the club, but it was Ten Hag’s remarkable 2018-19 season that showed his ability to coach a team to the highest level. That Ajax side lit up European football, knocking Real Madrid and Juventus out of the Champions League and only being denied a place in the final by Lucas Moura’s unlikeliest second-half hat-trick in Amsterdam.
If Ten Hag could replicate the style and swagger of that Ajax side at Tottenham, then it would certainly fit the desire of the Spurs supporters. And Levy will certainly not be put off by the role that Ten Hag had in turning two rough diamonds into two of Europe’s most sought-after talents, in Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt.
Ten Hag to Spurs is a partnership that makes sense, and with the Dutchman’s Ajax contract up at the end of the season the stars seem to be aligning.
Erik ten Hag (Ajax Amsterdam)
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Were Spurs to look elsewhere then they could do worse than Brighton’s Graham Potter. The 45-year-old from Solihull might not have the most glamorous of names, but he has the tactical style that could help reinvent Spurs. After his overachievement with Ostersund, Potter has impressed at both Swansea and now Brighton, and there’s a sense that his approach to the game would really suit a squad with higher quality.
Whether Graham Potter is a name that would convince Tottenham’s biggest players (Harry Kane for one) to sign new contracts is another matter, and that is something that may put off Levy, however unfair that may be.
But whichever choice Spurs make, it’s clear that now is the time for Pochettino’s painful rebuild. Tottenham are at a crossroads, and if the club are to remain one of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ then it is imperative that Levy picks a coach who can make that rebuild work.
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