Julian Nagelsmann was rumoured but then was quickly ruled out. It was the same for Brendan Rodgers. Antonio Conte stories appeared but didn’t stick around. There were closely followed, bizarrely, by Mauricio Pochettino. Then Paulo Fonseca took a look and, by the time Gennaro Gattuso was linked, the Tottenham Hotspur job had become a hot potato almost everyone couldn’t wait to pass. The true power and pull of Harry Kane has been laid bare in front of us all.
Spurs acted with the sort of misplaced self-confidence trademarked by their chairman Daniel Levy when they sacked Jose Mourinho in April, just a week before 29-year-old Ryan Mason, interim manager until the end of the season, was rolled out to face Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley. Mason called it an honour and it must have felt like a dream. With the benefit of hindsight, though, it was like a lamb being forced into slaughter, only Mason was there to deflect from the bemusing timing of Mourinho’s departure.
It wasn’t that it was the wrong decision, the Portuguese’s presence jarred from the off after Levy left Pochettino’s style-centric project high and dry in favour of Mourinho’s win-at-all-costs trophy ‘guarantee’. It backfired spectacularly but the fact he had reached a cup final, games he has built a career on winning, only to be dismissed suggested a fear that success against City would vastly improve Mourinho’s case against being fired.
Talks with Pochettino over a return to the Tottenham Hotspur job were reported earlier this summer, a matter of months into his reign at Paris Saint-Germain. Although they never really progressed past any sort of preliminary stage, they signalled Levy’s search for Mourinho’s successor descending into farce. There were big names and big plans, mooted when the job first became vacant.
Nagelsmann was instilled as first choice despite the fact he was on the home straight to taking over at Bayern Munich. Rodgers was next, a target for the club before he joined Liverpool, and Spurs opted for Andre Villas-Boas in 2012 when he was with Swansea City. Now at Leicester, both before and after their FA Cup win and the news about Kane’s desire to leave, he was told to avoid a move to North London at all costs. His work at the King Power Stadium is far from over and they are building in his image.
Kane’s stance on his future, and the realisation that he may have to leave the club he has been with all his career to fulfil his ambitions, has been a needle to the airbag for Spurs. The quality of managerial targets relies heavily on the England captain staying, or at least the possibility of utilising all of the money recouped to improve the squad. Elite breeds elite, and for Nagelsmann, Rodgers or Conte to even consider the Tottenham Hotspur job and working with Daniel Levy, they would need the right conditions.
Only one of those men actually entered negotiations but, shortly after leaving Inter, Conte didn’t take the job because Spurs couldn’t put plans in place to win immediately. While at Chelsea, the Italian once remarked that Kane would be his dream signing but it seems unlikely that Spurs will be able to keep him if Manchester City return with another bid, having offered £100million this week.
Conte and Levy would surely have created fireworks together, for better or worse and the notion of them working in tandem never made sense. Conte is volatile, Levy is stubborn. But from a football standpoint, he would surely have created a competitive, energetic team with defensive solidity, as he did at Inter, but with Italy, Chelsea and Juventus too. It cannot be denied, failure to get that deal done leaves the outlook for Spurs rather bleak; which in-demand coach is going to want to join them with the gap to the top widening seemingly exponentially, whether they keep Kane or not?
Failure to lure those above has exposed Levy for a severe lack of planning. He comes into the summer with a bad hand after a seventh-placed finish in the Premier League last season, meaning the new man will be faced with Europa Conference League commitments. The initial response to UEFA’s new competition, aimed at promoting opportunities for clubs from less coefficient competitive nations, from English clubs and media has been damning; it is seen as a more pointless distraction than the Europa League. Add the Kane saga into the mix, and it is easy to see why taking the job has become less and less attractive by the week.
Equally, though, he has not conducted his search for someone to take on the Tottenham Hotspur job with anything like the professionalism required. He never got anywhere near his original targets and suddenly began to panic. The initial push for Pochettino shows how irony impaired he is, having denied his former employee the chance of rebuilding the squad he put together in 2019 before disregarding him at the first sight of trouble.
Conte was an opportunistic avenue, as was Fonseca, who had just been replaced by Mourinho at AS Roma. The link with Gattuso, whether true or not, radiated desperation after he departed Fiorentina.
Spurs are on the back foot in relation to their rivals and preparing for next season. The transfer window is open; Liverpool have already signed Ibrahima Konate, Manchester United are hot on the trail of Jadon Sancho and it is only a matter of time before Chelsea and Manchester City land their key targets. In the case of the latter, that would be Kane; a dagger in the heart for Spurs.
From here, Tottenham Hotspur are left with three options for their vacant job; either start from scratch with a younger, fresher coach, repeating their approach with Pochettino in 2014, give somebody who has impressed at a lower level a chance, like Graham Potter or Nuno Espírito Santo, or go for bigger name who is out of work but may be slightly out of time.
One such name is Rafael Benitez, currently in talks with Everton but facing a hefty backlash due to his ties with Liverpool. Former Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde, comfortable and adept at working without much control off the pitch but still implementing a pleasing style, is another.
Levy doesn’t need to panic, but he needs to be quick on his feet. There is a way forward, even if Kane is to go. But he hasn’t accepted how tough and long that road could be. Their summer has been a mess so far, and they’ll need to avoid complacency and cutting corners if they are to maintain a position of force in English, let alone European football.
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