Daniel Levy needs to get this one right.
Ryan Mason remains in caretaker charge at Tottenham following Jose Mourinho's sacking, and now the club has been dealt a further blow with the decision of Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag, odds-on for the role, to sign a new deal with the Dutch club.
Ten Hag has now committed to Ajax, signing a new deal that runs until 2023.
It follows on from early favourite Julian Nageslmann agreeing to join Bayern Munich, and Athletic Bilbao boss Marcelino and Leicester's Brendan Rodgers distancing themselves from the job.
This, though, is a bitter pill to swallow for Levy. Ten Hag was the standout option.
Levy's reputation as Tottenham Hotspur chairman is now hanging by a thread.
It has been badly hit by the club’s involvement in the aborted Super League proposals but also by his last two managerial decisions.
Mourinho’s dismissal confirmed an error most of us saw coming from the outset, while Mauricio Pochettino’s appearance in the Champions League semi-final with Paris Saint-Germain perhaps suggests Levy made a mistake letting him go.
Certainly that is the prevailing feeling among Spurs fans, and after the toxicity and crushing disappointment of the Mourinho era, Levy is reportedly keen to return to the style that Pochettino introduced: namely a warm, encouraging, and youth-focused approach with an attack-minded aesthetic suited to Tottenham’s big-club mentality.
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On top of those who have already ruled themselves out, that kind of brief draws a line through quite a few people currently favoured by the bookies, notably 7/1 Nuno Espirito Santo.
Managers without any notable achievements at a high level seem unlikely to be considered - bad news for 4/1 Scott Parker, 10/1 Graham Potter and 20/1 Eddie Howe.
Levy wants another star manager, but also an aesthete who is willing to put his arm around the shoulders of his players.
Mourinho’s suffocating influence, and the way Spurs shrank with him at the helm, is proof that the psychological side is as important as the tactical.
With that in mind, here are the three best candidates available, starting with the man who now looks destined to stay with his club.
This really feels like the perfect appointment for Spurs, ticking all of the boxes, and the bookies agree, continuing to price Ten Hag as odds-on favourite even after he signed his new deal with Ajax.
He is on the verge of sealing consecutive Eredivisie titles for Ajax with a style of football befitting of Johan Cruyff’s legacy, and after his Champions League semi-final defeat to Spurs in 2019, the 51-year-old is the complete package of famous, respected, and tactically-astute.
His Ajax play a high-energy version of the traditional Dutch total football, but while slick one-touch possession football, a high defensive line, and hard counter-pressing remain key features, ten Hag has also adopted methods from the German school.
Ajax play quick vertical passes through the lines, relying on advanced full-backs to hold the width as playmakers cram into the half-spaces.
In a 4-3-3 formation, ten Hag typically expects one of his midfielders to break beyond the striker, ensuring Ajax have runners in behind as well as the ability to build carefully through the pitch.
The Dutchman is also an up-and-coming name in European football, and with only a year left on his Ajax contract, he would be relatively cheap to prise away.
All of that should sound very familiar to Spurs fans. Dele Alli could flourish as Donny van de Beek did at Ajax, for example, and all over the pitch Tottenham players fond of Pochettino’s methods will find a natural successor to his tactics.
The links with Chelsea might make Tottenham fans a little wary of approaching Maurizio Sarri, especially after what happened when they last took a Roman Abramovich reject.
But unlike Andre Villas-Boas, Sarri has a very good record at multiple clubs, most recently winning Serie A with Juventus after lifting the Europa League with Chelsea.
He certainly fits the bill tactically, playing a brand of stylish possession football at Napoli that made him one of the most sought-after coaches in world football.
‘Sarriball’ is loosely defined by high pressing and quick, line-breaking passes into the final third, where a fluid forward line is expected to move the ball quickly from one flank to the other.
To construct his shapes just right, Sarri tends to stick with a 4-3-3, and within this structure players have set roles from which they rarely deviate.
That presents a problem for Spurs, and not only because it is hard to see who would be Tottenham’s Jorginho. Levy wants a flexible tactician willing to develop young players, whereas Sarri has certain aesthetic demands.
The sharp interchanges and carefully choreographed set moves speak to his brilliant tactical brain – but also his focus on discipline, which has ultimately proved his undoing in recent years.
Levy is said to want a more affectionate head coach, whereas Sarri is more like Mourinho in his cold and aloof way of dealing with players.
Chelsea fans were frustrated by the sluggish tempo of the football under Sarri, and although Spurs fans will be more patient as the club look to rebuild from a low base, it is plausible this will make Levy think twice.
Since Napoli, Sarri hasn’t managed to get star players to follow such rigid instructions while in possession. He is, however, a glamorous name and a free agent, so if ten Hag is unavailable than Sarri is the next best thing.
The best outside bet is Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez, whose reputation has grown significantly during his time in international management following a semi-final appearance at the 2018 World Cup.
Martinez is reportedly looking to get back into the club game after the Euros, and Tottenham is an attractive option for this rather gung-ho attacking manager.
Martinez’s Wigan and Everton sides were defined by their particularly expansive setups; the biggest criticism of his approach is that it is too naïve, porous when faced with a strong counter-attack as Martinez unnecessary stretches high and wide.
On the plus side, he is a flexible manager who thinks deeply about the opponents’ tactics and adapting accordingly, regularly springing surprises with his team selections.
What’s more, his successful stint at Belgium suggests the perceived naivety might be to do with personnel.
Just as Pep Guardiola’s expansive football probably wouldn’t work lower down the pyramid, Martinez’s approach is better suited to a high-quality squad.
However, Spurs fans will be wary about appointing a manager renowned for poor defensive organisation given their historic problems with sloppy mistakes at the back.
It would certainly present a high-risk option for Levy, but if he can wait until July – and if Belgium enjoy a strong tournament – then he might just be tempted.
Currently priced at 25/1, Martinez is certainly an outsider for the job right now, but that may well change over the coming months.
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