At the start of the international break, Tottenham Hotspur had a permanent manager in position and an influential director guiding their football operations. By the time they face Everton on Monday, they could have neither.
Over the course of 10 days, Spurs have terminated Antonio Conte’s contract by mutual consent, entrusted Cristian Stellini and Ryan Mason to oversee the final 10 games of the Premier League season and seen their managing director of football Fabio Paratici’s 30-month ban for alleged false accounting while at Juventus extended globally. It’s never dull at Tottenham, at least off the pitch.
Paratici and the 11 other former Juventus directors, including former president and Super League advocate Andrea Agnelli and ex-vice president Pavel Nedved, deny the allegations and have lodged appeals against the bans, while Spurs are yet to comment.
The timing of Fifa’s decision to “extend the sanctions imposed by FIGC [the Italian Football Federation] on several football officials to have worldwide effect” came less than 16 hours after Paratici had sought to reassure Spurs fans – in a video from his living room – that a successful end to a turbulent campaign is possible. Less than a day later and the club has been plunged into further chaos.
The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was built with the aim of providing top-class entertainment from sporting events to music concerts; it is fitting then, that the club that inhabits it has become a soap opera. Once more, Daniel Levy is facing difficult questions over the direction that the club is headed in.
“This news adds further to the extremely concerning situation at the club,” the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust said. “No manager, no director of football and uncertainty around our star player and our end of season finish. Fans deserve to hear a clear statement of strategy from THFC so they can be reassured by the board on their plan to bring success and stability to the club.”
The first is what happens to Paratici. Levy may wish to stick by his man in the hope that the appeal to the Italian Olympic Committee absolves him of any wrongdoing and a decision on that could be reached by mid to late April. The problem with playing the long game is that Spurs are in a hurry: a repeat of the calamitous managerial search from two summers ago must be avoided at all costs, particularly with Harry Kane’s future back in the spotlight.
Paratici was expected to play a key role in appointing Conte’s successor and even though it is unclear whether his ban from conducting any transfer activity extends to managerial decisions, it is difficult to see how he can continue to pull the strings while his hands are gaffer-taped behind his back. Considering Spurs need to start planning for next season as soon as possible, his position is surely untenable.
If Paratici does go, Levy will have to decide whether to persist with a structure that has, to put it charitably, yielded mixed results in the past. The job titles may have varied, but Spurs have entrusted numerous employees to oversee major footballing decisions, with responsibilities ranging from player recruitment to academy strategy, including Frank Arnesen, Damien Comolli, Franco Baldini and Paul Mitchell.
Each made some impressive signings, but ultimately left in acrimony: Arnesen was suspended after expressing a desire to join Chelsea; Comolli was sacked with Spurs languishing in 20th place in the Premier League; Baldini oversaw the unsuccessful “Magnificent Seven” recruitment drive in the aftermath of Gareth Bale’s departure; and Mitchell, who has been linked with both Liverpool and Manchester United recently, resigned after falling out with Levy.
Paratici’s record is equally mixed. Levy hailed Paratici’s “outstanding track record in assembling competitive squads” upon his arrival and given Spurs finished 4th in the Premier League last season and are currently in the same spot, the Italian has done a reasonable job of refreshing a team that slumped to 7th in 2020-21.
Tottenham’s signings under Paratici
- Richarlison – £60m from Everton
- Cristian Romero – £42m from Atalanta
- Pedro Porro – loan from Sporting Lisbon, £40m obligation to buy
- Dejan Kulusevski – £8.3m loan from Juventus, £26m fee to buy
- Emerson Royal – £25.8m from Barcelona
- Yves Bissouma – £25m from Brighton
- Bryan Gil – £21m from Sevilla
- Djed Spence – £20m from Middlesbrough
- Rodrigo Bentancur – £15m from Juventus
- Destiny Udogie – £15m from Udinese
- Pape Matar Sarr – £14.5m from Metz
- Arnaut Danjuma – loan from Villarreal
- Clement Lenglet – loan from Barcelona
- Pierluigi Gollini – loan from Fiorentina
- Fraser Forster – free from Southampton
- Ivan Perisic – free from Inter Milan
Rodrigo Bentancur, Dejan Kulusevski and Cristian Romero are Paratici’s three major transfer success stories, and all three have Juve connections. Bentancur and Kulusevski were pivotal to Spurs’ successful top-four push last season, while Romero played an integral role during Argentina’s World Cup triumph in December. The much-maligned Emerson Royal had been in inspired form too until suffering an injury while on international duty with Brazil.
The jury is still out on expensive purchases Richarlison, Yves Bissouma and Pedro Porro, however, while others such as Destiny Udogie, Djed Spence, Bryan Gil and Pape Matar Sarr, have plenty of potential and may prosper under a coach more inclined to use younger players.
It is difficult to argue that Paratici’s managerial appointments have been anything other than calamitous, though, with Spurs now searching for their third permanent boss during his 21-month spell. The merry-go-round that Spurs found themselves glued to shortly after Paratici arrived has become a case study of how not to acquire a new head coach.
Paratici’s hires have also contributed towards Spurs’ latest identity crisis. Neither Nuno Espirito Santo nor Conte fit Levy’s supposed prototype for a coach “whose values reflect those of our great club and return to playing football with the style for which we are known – free-flowing, attacking and entertaining”. Instead, Jose Mourinho, Nuno and Conte, Spurs have generally been stodgy, defensive and boring.
Spurs fans are desperate for the club’s near-16-year trophy drought to end; most are equally desperate for a style of play that won’t leave them sobbing silently into their Neck Oils.
It is fairly clear what type of manager Spurs need to appoint this summer: a progressive coach with a track record for playing entertaining football and working effectively with young talent and, crucially, actually wants to stick around for the long-term.
But the big question now is who will be making that decision? If not Paratici then another (hastily appointed) sporting director? Or else Levy? A man whose decision-making over the past five years includes firing Mauricio Pochettino, putting non-playing employees on furlough during the pandemic, and signing Spurs up to the despised European Super League.
Spurs have been linked with a variety of managers over the past fortnight, with Julian Nagelsmann, newly available after being dismissed by Bayern Munich, and Pochettino reportedly at the top of the list.
If Levy does take control of the football side of things, even temporarily, maybe a call to Pochettino would appeal to boost his plummeting approval rating. Pochettino surely would have had little interest in returning to Spurs with less power than he had before; Paratici’s inevitable demise could remove that obstacle.
Spurs have frequently found themselves at a crossroads in recent years and routinely taken the wrong path. Every summer transfer window since 2017 has been described as the club’s most important in years; with a manager to appoint, a huge decision to be made over the club’s strategy, and Kane entering the final 12 months of his contract, maybe this one really is the most pivotal.