With the recent news that Spurs supremo Daniel Levy is contemplating an imminent return to the fabled continental structure at White Hart Lane, you could forgive some fans for waking up in something of a cold sweat. Memories of past directors of football in N17 serve up a whole pallet of mixed memories indeed.
But although supporters may have heard this record one time too many, the arrival of a technical director in North London isn’t anything to fear. It’s a shoe that fits for Andre Villas-Boas and providing Levy ensures he brings in the right man for the job, there’s no reason why the appointment can’t have anything but a positive effect for Tottenham Hotspur.
There is however, a really quite undeniable stigma attached to the notion of a continental structure. Spurs had one, invested a lot of time in it to relatively mixed results and then smashed it all back down for the buccaneering British ways of Harry Redknapp. And what’s more, it was unquestionably the right decision.
The dark days of David Pleat and a recruitment plan that encompassed the likes of Gary Doherty and Michael Brown over the years had somewhat scorched Spurs fans’ opinions of the director of football structure. Of course, Pleat has always been something of a long-term fixture at White Hart Lane but there was nothing very European about the way he went about his business. Frank Arnesen’s arrival at the club in 2004 did much to change the perception, albeit in a very short while.
The Dane was only around for 12-months before being poached by Chelsea for a considerably compensated fee, but in his short time, the likes of Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon were recruited under his tenure. He had his misses, but generally, there was a feeling that the Arnesen/Martin Jol combination wasn’t quite such bad business after all. The real polarization of the role came with his eventual successor, the almost infamous Damien Comolli.
The likes of Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Younes Kaboul and Dimitar Berbatov were all attributed to being Comolli signings during his time at the club between 2005-2008. But he also deemed the duo of Alan Hutton and David Bentley to be worth a combined fee of near on £24million.
There is great debate within White Hart Lane about quite how much credit the Frenchman can take for Spurs’ recent legacy and there are some within the club that will tell you that Benoit Assou-Ekotto is the only signature that Comolli can truly take full credit for. Gauging by Arsene Wenger’s disdainful take on the credit Comolli took for the French revolution that went on at Highbury during his time as Arsenal’s chief European scout from 1996-2003, suggests there could be gravitas behind this viewpoint.
But the overwhelming issue for many Spurs fans comes not in the contention of his signings, but the politking and ructions caused with the manager. At times during Martin Jol’s reign as boss, you never felt like he was truly getting the recruitments that the team itself was crying out for. Be it a right-back, forward or centre-half on the Dutchman’s shopping list, he seemingly always ended up with a midfielder. Likewise, when Harry Redknapp took over from the mess created in the wake of Juande Ramos’ reign, he complained of inheriting a ‘mish-mash’ squad with no identity or shape- a team of individuals, as such. And this must be the worry for the future.
But in some respects, Andre Villas-Boas has already been working under something of a faux director of football, in Daniel Levy himself. Of course the Portuguese was consulted about the signings of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen before his arrival, but both were deals that appeared to be well sounded out before he came to White Hart Lane.
But with the axe falling on near on the last of Harry Redknapp’s previous regime, in the exit of chief scout Ian Broomfield and before him Peter Senior, there is a big gap that needs to fill in Spurs’ recruitment powers. As opposed to hiring staff in the guise of the former managerial structure, Levy’s preferred set-up makes sense in that it is one Villas-Boas is used to during his time managing in Portugal.
During his time at both Academica and in particular, FC Porto, Villas-Boas worked under a technical director – a more executively defined director of football role – to great success. A good example of this and one that may ease the fears of some supporters, is in one man tipped to fill the current post at Spurs, Villas-Boas’ old Porto colleague, Antero Henrique.
Even if the touted Franco Baldini does indeed decide to spurs the chance to join the club, there a list of very impressive back-ups indeed, including ex-Barca man Txiki Begiristain who left the Camp Nou in 2010. But Henrique’s CV is unlike many others.
Henrique worked in perfect sync with Villas-Boas, brining in players such as Joao Moutinho, James Rodriguez and Nicolas Otamendi who all more than adequately fulfil the managers needs for fantastic financial value. But it’s his long term record, since stepping into his current role at Porto in August 2005, that really makes for interesting reading. A report in The Telegraph last October estimated that since 2003, Porto have recouped an astounding €400million in transfer fees. The hardline approach of chairman Pinto da Costa and a, shall we say, lax approach to third party ownership, have certainly helped achieve that total. But Henrique’s knowledge of the South American game is legendary and such an appointment would go a long way to developing Levy’s vision of sustainability, too.
But even if Spurs end up appointing Henrique or anyone else for that matter, supporters shouldn’t fear the position. They have a manager who has enjoyed his best moments under such a structure and lessons have been learnt from the mistakes of yesteryear. The club has never been better suited to cater for an appointment of a role such as the technical director; and fans may be pleasantly surprised with what they may see as a result.
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