It’s no secret that there will be a changing of the guard in Tottenham’s dugout this summer.
Geezer-gaffer Tim Sherwood boasts a better win percentage – 58% – than any of his Spurs predecessors and if his side beat Aston Villa on Sunday he’ll also equal the North London outfit’s third-best points total of the Premier League era.
But initially brought in to steady the ship after the abrupt sacking of Andre Villas-Boas back in December, Mirror Football’s labelling of the gillet-throwing 45 year-old as the Premier League equivalent of a supply teacher, regardless of his 18-month contract only issued in January, summarises the current situation at White Hart Lane permanently.
To label Sherwood as ‘lucky’ in his debut management spell would be rather harsh, but he’s not the experienced and inspiring model of manager Daniel Levy is searching for. The Tottenham chairman’s silence over the issue of Sherwood’s future – whilst the Lilywhites are relentlessly linked with Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax’s Frank de Boer – is incredibly telling.
During this afternoon’s press conference, a club representative had to step in to stop questions over where the former midfielder will be next season. For me, that’s enough evidence alone that Sherwood will be collecting his P45, not to mention the fact midfielder Sandro told ESPN Brazil earlier this week that Spurs will have a different manager next season. Everybody knows this will be the case, even if nobody from the Spurs camp has officially announced it.
De Boer and Pochettino are undoubtedly leading the pack. One harking back to the Eredivisie-inspired philosophy and club structure Tottenham enjoyed under Martin Jol, in addition to offering significant experience in the Champions League, the other boasting proven Premier League credentials and a commitment to hard-working, high-velocity football.
But in my opinion, both are huge risks. They’re equally as risky as the hiring of Andre Villas-Boas in summer 2012, which took just 18 months and two poor results against Manchester City and Liverpool for Daniel Levy to talk himself out of. In fact, many of the Tottenham chairman’s appointments have failed to live up to expectations – he’s sacked seven permanent managers since taking over at White Hart Lane in 2001, and Sherwood is set to become his eighth. By no coincidence, the Lilywhites’ best league finishes under Levy’s leadership have come via the two longest serving managers, Martin Jol and Harry Redknapp.
There’s no more room for Hail Mary appointments – if Tottenham’s flirtatious relationship with the Premier League’s top four is ever to become more than that, Levy needs a long-term solution in the dugout that he won’t get cold feet about a couple of transfer windows later.
With that condition in mind, the club’s first choice should undoubtedly be former Liverpool and Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez. Admittedly, the players at his disposal have often been luxurious, but from six seasons at Liverpool the 54 year-old finished just twice outside of the Champions League standings. Likewise, he recorded a third-place finish with the Blues last season and won a Europa League title despite the endless burdening pressures of his ‘interim’ job title. In a nutshell – the current Napoli boss knows exactly what’s required to get into the Premier League’s top four – for Pochettino and de Boer, it will all be educated guess-work.
The Spaniard’s pragmatic approach may not go down too well at White Hart Lane, considering the Lilywhites’ traditional tendency towards fast-paced attacking football. But Liverpool shared that tradition too – through his consistent results and progress in cup competitions, Benitez was able to win over one of the most militant supporter groups in the country.
Likewise, he has experience with big-name foreign players and, in my opinion, that will be the ultimate test of the next Tottenham manager – summer signings Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela, all arriving in North London for record-breaking fees at the start of the season, have to start producing next year, and that responsibility will eventually be buck-passed back to the dugout.
Well acquainted with La Liga and Serie A, on paper at least, Benitez has a better chance of getting Soldado and Lamela to start paying back their price-tags than De Boer or Pochettino do. Southampton is the largest club the Argentine has worked at, and although de Boer has fought finite resources and funding to continually nurture impressive talents from Ajax’s academy, the days of the Dutch side being laden in star quality are far behind them. When it comes to prior history of getting the best out of top players, Benitez is in a different league.
Not only is the Spaniard’s record in the Premier League incredibly consistent, but he’s also a master of the other front Tottenham will be fighting in next season – the Europa League. The Lilywhites have put more emphasis than most English sides on the second-tier tournament over the past two years, but have eventually come up short in its latter stages, knocked out by Basel in the semis last term and Benfica in this season’s quarter finals. They’ve lacked the experience and insight to get them over the line, but Benitez offers both in abundance; he’s twice won the Europa League – including in its previous format with Valencia in 2004 – and famously claimed a Champions League title with Liverpool in 2005.
Not only is Benitez a manager capable of guiding Tottenham into Europe, but he’s furthermore a manager who can make something of it once they get there. They won’t be simply making up the numbers.
Admittedly, whether the former Valencia, Liverpool, Inter Milan and Chelsea boss would be willing to quit Napoli after a single season remains to be seen. Mirror Football claim he’s interested in returning to London after living there for the second half of last season. But the Spaniard’s last three jobs have all been with Champions League clubs – he may view qualifying for Europe against the odds as a challenge he’s mastered enough times before.
Furthermore, although Napoli may have slipped a place in the league standings from last year, the Italian side are impressed with how Benitez has coped with the loss of star striker Edinson Cavani. He’s also finished his first season in Naples by clinching silverware, following his side’s victory in the Coppa Italia final last week. Without further meaning to blow smoke up the 54 year-old’s proverbial, that means he’s won a trophy in each debut season at his last five clubs.
But the Premier League comes with an allure that has enticed Benitez twice before. He must feel he has unfinished business in England too, considering his Liverpool tenure ended in disappointment and his Chelsea stay soon became a complete farce. Furthermore, Benitez is a manager Levy will know he can trust – de Boer and Pochettino have shown great promise but proved nothing concrete yet in their dugout careers, whilst the Spaniard has seven major trophies to his name and is a two-time winner of the UEFA Manager of the Year award.
In my opinion, that’s the most crucial factor – a manager the chairman can put his faith in to provide relative stability, without a sour patch immediately making him think twice. But whether Tottenham’s ambitions and aims appeal enough to convince Benitez to quit Napoli remains to be seen.