To nobody’s great surprise, after spending several months boasting about his Premier League win record being better than any of his White Hart Lane predecessors and producing a range of diction that would be better suited to a North London boozer, it was announced last week that Tottenham had dispensed the services of former manager Tim Sherwood.
Equally as unsurprising, the names in the hat for the Lane vacancy are Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino, Ajax’s Frank de Boer and former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, now with Italian Cup winners Napoli. Sherwood had been asked to comment on the candidacies of all three in recent weeks, whilst Daniel Levy remained tellingly silent throughout.
Having burnt through eight permanent managers during his thirteen-year chairmanship in North London, including two this season alone, the ultimate test for the next Tottenham manager will be staying power. It’s no coincidence that the Lilywhites’ strongest Premier League finishes to date have come under Levy’s two longest-serving managers, Harry Redknapp and Martin Jol, whilst the Spurs support begin to fear that their chairman’s regular changes in the dugout, often blurring the line between cut-throat and knee-jerk decision-making, has stifled the club’s potential.
But the Premier League management racket is changing for the worse – the twelve managers to lose their jobs this season is a new record. Rather than any notion of long-term planning, the name of the game is now all about survival; if your first twelve games don’t produce impressive results, or at least signs that they might be just around the corner, then it’s unlikely you’ll last the next twelve without being handed your P45.
At Tottenham, regardless of who the next manager might be, survival will largely depend on the successes and failings of three players – Paulinho, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado.
These are by no means the most important players on the White Hart Lane roster. Rather, the top priority this summer will be convincing Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris to ignore the allure of bigger clubs who can offer Champions League football, whilst if there’s one positive to take from an otherwise wasted Lilywhites campaign, it’s that summer signing Christian Eriksen can be a talismanic entity for the North Londoners in the many seasons to come.
Paulinho, Soldado and Lamela, however, constitute the three most expensive signings in Tottenham’s history, all sourced last summer for £17million, £26million and £30million fees respectively, all breaking Spurs’ record transfer fees accordingly upon their White Hart Lane arrivals.
None of the deals have particularly worked out for Spurs. Paulinho has found six goals from midfield, but the Brazilian is yet to take a game by the scruff of the neck and has hardly had the influence many expected in the Premier League. Likewise, Soldado, despite a prolific reputation at former club Valencia, has found just two goals from open play in his first Premier League season and has looked disturbingly alien to the ferociously physical style of the English top flight.
And most troublingly of all, club record signing Erik Lamela has managed just three Premier League starts since his move from Roma last summer. Injuries have played a significant role, but in truth, the Argentine prodigy has rarely looked interested in a Tottenham jersey.
But if there’s one thing we know for certain about Daniel Levy, it’s that money is often at the heart of his decision-making. Andre Villas-Boas was made to pay the price for not getting the best out of Tottenham’s £110million-worth of summer spending, and by no huge coincidence, Sherwood was axed after essentially ignoring the three biggest signings of Spurs’ history for the second half of the season. Paulinho losing his place in the starting XI to rookie Nabil Bentaleb must have caused the Tottenham chairman cardiac palpitations.
Regardless of who the next Lilywhites manager is, regardless of the fact that he had no influence on Tottenham’s transfer policy from summer 2013, regardless of the stale starts to Paulinho’s, Soldado’s and Lamela’s Premier Leagues career and the possibility that they simply might not suit the style of the English top flight, Levy will expect better performances from all three next season – and that buck will eventually stop in the dugout.
After all, this is £73million-worth of talent on the line at a club that can’t boast the financial benefits of Champions League football. In comparison, Liverpool spent £50million on transfers last summer and finished in second, Everton spent £24million and finished in fifth and Southampton spent £36million to finish in eighth. In terms of cost-effectiveness, with the exception of Manchester United, Spurs’ transfer dealings from summer 2013 leaves them lagging far behind their divisional counterparts.
And although Tottenham’s summer of unprecedented spending power was offset by a number of lucrative departures, most notably Gareth Bale’s £87million move to Real Madrid, the opportunity to invest £110million in an already-strong squad isn’t one the footballing gods will hand to the Lilywhites again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal and although Tottenham’s first season with their costly cast may have gone to waste, there’s still time for Levy and Spurs to receive value-for-money from their huge investment.
That will be the defining test for the next Tottenham manager. Results of course, will be important. But that wasn’t enough to save Sherwood’s job and Levy needs his signings to work – or else, it will be conclusive that Spurs’ audacious summer 2013 window has in fact moved the club further away from its ultimate aim of Champions League football. Should that be the case, then Levy, rather than his managers, will begin to fear his own state of employment.
Bearing in mind the old adage of allowing a year to settle, improving the form of Soldado, Paulinho and Lamela next season may not be as troubling a task as expected. When choosing between Pochettino, de Boer and Benitez this summer however, their plans for the three biggest signings in Tottenham’s history will undoubtedly play on Levy’s mind more than any credentials they offer, because eventually, it will be what the Lilywhites chairman judges them upon.