Nuno Espirito Santo has been sacked as Tottenham manager, with the club in eighth place in the Premier League
It says everything about the tangled state Tottenham is in right now Nuno Espírito Santos shorts and the club’s unfortunate reign could have ended even faster than the 17 games it took the ax to fall.
After game 10, I’m sorry North London Derby defeat With an Arsenal team slowly trying to stabilize their own campaign after a disastrous start that made Mikel Arteta the subject of crisis talks, BBC Sport were told that Nuno would fail as a coach and that it was only a matter of time before until his services would be waived.
The reasons cited – style of play and communication – internally within the club and externally with the media – were a bit strange as nothing had happened that would be considered unusual for anyone who worked with Nuno at Wolves.
With his rigid threesome in the back and two holding midfielders, Nuno’s Wolves could never be described as free-flowing. But for three years they were very effective. It wasn’t until last season, when he was trying to change the system and become more expansive, that things started to go wrong for Nuno at Molineux.
Nuno also liked to keep the information tight internally within his coaching team and externally one could best describe it as a challenge. His program notes were often no more than three or four paragraphs, and his face-to-face media conferences were rather joyless, preferring not to talk about individuals or tactics. With the advent of Zoom calls, he actually got better – and even better at talking about things he had a personal bond with, such as the impact of the pandemic.
Essentially, however, with Spurs in eighth place and just two points behind Man Utd in fifth place, Nuno is sacked for delivering Nuno-style football that Tottenham fans don’t like, which seems a bit unnecessary since the Tottenham board knows exactly what they got to do when they were appointed.
But that’s the reactive nature of the Premier League now. A few bad results and your future career could be in jeopardy. Man Utd’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta have already come under heavy pressure this season, while even Aston Villa’s Dean Smith faces growing questions.
Tactical tweaks that didn’t work
When Tottenham opened their season on August 15th with a fabulous win over Manchester City, there was no trace of fan dissatisfaction.
Tottenham fans stayed to greet the players and their new manager after what felt like a great performance and a result that promised an exciting future. The doubts that there had been about Nuno’s appointment as the successor to Jose Mourinho after a lengthy two-month search in which numerous names were named appeared to have been rejected for various reasons.
Even with this success, however, there were some statistics that would have been worrying. Ownership was 32%. Three shots on target. For now, the win was far more than a limited smash and grab – but it certainly came straight out of the Nuno playbook.
By the time they got to the Arsenal game in late September, optimism had given way to a stark reality. Tottenham had a majority in the Emirates Stadium but did very little with it.
The experiment of playing Dele Alli in a deeper midfield role ended when he was replaced by Oliver Skipp at halftime. The search for a formula for success that would include a record £ 53.6million for Harry Kane and Tanguy Ndombele, who both missed the Manchester City game, became more and more desperate.
Alli stopped playing in the Premier League until he was thrown by Manchester United 17 minutes before the end of the game. Harry Winks was completely ignored. Davinson Sanchez, Japhet Tanganga and Sergio Reguilon were all on the bench against United, which meant three-quarters of Tottenham’s defense from the City game had changed.
Nuno’s decision not to bring any of the eleven players who took on the Premier League victory in Newcastle on October 17 to the Netherlands for the Europa Conference League group game against Vitesse Arnhem four days later was for some of them, like Winks, who participated, demotivating the backup group. The move backfired when Tottenham lost to both Vitesse and West Ham the following weekend and storm clouds began to gather over Nuno.
Trouble at the top
Nuno wasn’t the only man Tottenham fans turned on during the United loss. Chairman Daniel Levy also got both barrels.
Earlier this year Levy completed 20 years in the club. Levy has never cared about public perception of him, but now that Tottenham’s amazing new stadium has been added to their state-of-the-art training ground, attention has returned to his decision-making.
It’s hard to understand how Tottenham has wavered from reaching a Champions League final in 2019, to sacking Mauricio Pochettino, to hiring – and sacking – Jose Mourinho, a football director in the highly rated former Juventus supremo Fabio Paratici and then ended up with Nuno. Conversations with Pochettino, Antonio Conte, Paulo Fonseca, Gennaro Gattuso and others were unsuccessful. But maybe it’s a whole different thing that shows how Levy, an undisputed brilliant negotiator and astute businessman, can sometimes overlook the reality of a situation of great concern.
Despite being advised that it was a really bad idea that was going to look terrible to the outside world, given that Tottenham was owned by a billionaire in tax exile at Joe Lewis in April 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic closed football, Levy made the decision to non-gaming staff on vacation. After two weeks of negative headlines, the decision was reversed, with a humiliating regret from Levy.
More recently, Levy has reversed a decision not to meet with the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust to discuss his concerns about the club’s hosting. Levy has met THST regularly over the years – one of the few owners of a “Big Six” club that communicates with fans. This time he even managed to turn it negative.
Kane puzzle and a way out of this mess
Nuno Tottenham ruled only 17 games
No conversation about Tottenham’s future direction can take place without a mention of Harry Kane.
Levy refused to grant the English skipper his wish to leave the club for Manchester City in the summer. After missing the City win on summer break, Kane returned to win at Wolves the following week when he was mocked by Tottenham supporters.
The same fans seem to turn Kane back on with their reaction during Manchester United’s game when the striker failed to score his only Premier League goal this season.
Kane has scored seven goals in all competitions, but five of them in two Europa Conference League games against Pacos Ferreira and NS Mura. His form has generally been poor, with question marks about how many times he sinks deep to affect a game rather than pushing forward like a conventional striker would normally do.
Until the Kane situation is resolved – either by leaving or by rediscovering the spark that attracted Pep Guardiola in the first place – every manager, no matter who replaces Nuno, will have a problem.
However, if Levy can get his next move right – with former Chelsea boss Conte now being his main target – there are reasons for Tottenham to be optimistic.
Despite their patchy form, Tottenham are only five points behind the top 4 and despite all the praise Arsenal are currently receiving, their current streak does not include wins against a side currently ahead of their north London rivals in the Premier League.
Tottenham remain leaders in the Europa Conference League group with two home games outstanding and their EFL Cup campaign now includes a home quarter-finals with West Ham which, if very difficult now, may be different if the game is short takes place before Christmas.
As Nuno discovered at his own expense, circumstances in football are changing very quickly these days. Levy and Tottenham can only hope that this latest brutal call will get them back in the right direction.