The search for Tottenham Hotspur’s 2023 head coach is progressing steadily.
The due diligence stage is complete and they are now preparing interviews with the best candidates. It’s a watershed moment in Spurs’ modern history, and not just because they’re also going through a simultaneous recruitment process to find their next chief executive of football.
Whoever enters will be the club’s fourth permanent manager or head coach (not counting Cristian Stellini or one of Ryan Mason’s two interim terms) since Mauricio Pochettino was sacked in November 2019.
Many Spurs fans wanted to see Pochettino return to his old job for next season but that seems increasingly remote now, with the Argentine the clear favorite to take over at Chelsea. It’s time for fans (and, frankly, the media too) to put aside the possibility of its glorious restoration for a second stint in the blue and white half of North London. Tottenham want to go in a different direction this summer.
But although Pochettino may not return, there is an appeal in finding a candidate who represents something close to what he did when he was signed by fellow Premier League side Southampton nine years ago. .
Because one of the big goals at Tottenham between now and next season is to improve the culture. It’s a word that means different things to different people, but basically culture means a positive work environment, with everyone pulling in the same direction, towards the same shared goals. That’s what Spurs had during the peak years of the Pochettino era, before things turned bad in the end. And that’s something they’ve lost in recent years.
Nothing has been more corrosive to club culture than appointing big-name managers who made Tottenham feel lucky to have them.
Antonio Conte’s constant comments – both in public and in private – that their players, their recruitment policy, their medical staff and the rest were not up to his standards totally destroyed any sense that any everyone at the club was pulling in the same direction.
So after almost four years of trying to find big-name managers, Spurs’ priority now is to once again find the right cultural fit for the whole club.
Fans will recall Daniel Levy’s pledge to return to Tottenham’s ‘DNA’ made in the final week of the 2020-21 season, when he spoke of ‘smooth, attacking and entertaining’ football as well as the promotion of young local club players. . Obviously, that promise was not kept at the time: he appointed Nuno Espirito Santo the following month, then Conte before the end of the calendar year. But this time, it feels like a manager more in line with that philosophy, especially when it comes to young players and building the future, is on the club’s mind.
So the challenge for Tottenham, if they’re not going for Pochettino, or some other big name, is to find someone who has some of those attributes that he had when he came to Spurs.
In that summer of 2014, Pochettino was 42, having started his career with two good jobs: just under four years at Espanyol, the Barcelona club for which he played with such distinction, keeping them safe and stable in La Liga, transforming the game style and bringing young players through. From there, Pochettino spent a season and a half at Southampton, getting to know English football, moving them up the rankings (from 15th to eighth), making their team believe in his ideas and methods.
When Pochettino arrived at White Hart Lane he was in an ideal place for any ambitious manager: young enough to feel fresh, ambitious and keen to impress his vision of the game on the players and the whole football club, but also experienced enough to know himself, and not to represent too much of a risk.
The question for Spurs is if they can find someone in the same sweet spot this summer, someone who can instill the right culture and help bring the whole club together for years to come…
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The youngest of all the nominees (though not considered a top contender at this point), Nagelsmann’s career will always be shaped by his precocious youth. He was just 28 when he took over at German Bundesliga club Hoffenheim in October 2015, after being forced to retire as a player with Augsburg due to injury aged just 20.
It feels like he’s been around forever as he’s held three top positions – Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig and then Bayern Munich – but he’s still only 35 (he’s seven months younger than the Spurs captain). Hugo Lloris). But Nagelsmann has already been around long enough that Tottenham have long been interested in appointing him: they were his admirers in 2019 but he was new to Leipzig by the time they sacked Pochettino in November, then in 2021 he had already signed with the Bayern for the following season when Spurs sacked Jose Mourinho in April.
So Nagelsmann would always come to North London with the freshness of youth – and a very strong commitment to his vision of possession football – as well as serious experience behind him.
If there is any concern about his ability to rebuild Spurs’ culture it would be Nagelsmann’s struggle to really connect with the dressing room during his season and a half at Bayern, the feeling that he was too demanding or overbearing with players, rather than motivating. they play their best.
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Luis Enrique stands out on this list as being older than the other leading contenders. He turns 53 on Monday – two years older than Pochettino – and is already 12 years into his senior management career, having spent three years with Barcelona’s B team before.
He was one of Fabio Paratici’s favorite choices for the job when he was still at the club, but now that Paratici is gone, it remains to be seen if he is still such an attractive candidate. Luis Enrique has an extremely impressive CV: he won the treble with Barcelona in 2014-15, as well as another La Liga title a year later. In 2021, he took Spain to the semi-finals of the European Championship (losing to eventual winners Italy on penalties) and the final of the Nations League.
He has won more than anyone on this list and if Tottenham were to stick with their head coaching recruitment strategy from 2019-21, he would be the obvious choice. But some fans may wonder if Luis Enrique is in fact now in the second half of his career and if his best achievements are all behind him. And if that’s true, if he can be the dynamic, ambitious force the club needs.
Arguably Pochettino’s closest 2014 candidate, De Zerbi will turn 44 in a month and now has just under a full season in Premier League football to go along with his nine years of managerial experience in Italy and Shakhtar. Donetsk in Ukraine before that. He still feels like a man on the rise in his career, with his greatest accomplishments ahead of him, despite having had a big learning curve so far. And what De Zerbi would also bring is a style of possession football at the cutting edge of the modern game.
He built on the foundations of Graham Potter and took Brighton to the next level, not only within a penalty shootout of an FA Cup final, but very likely to a fifth or sixth place in Premier League and Europa League next season (in that sense, his job there is like Pochettino building on the foundations of Nigel Adkins at Southampton, winning back-to-back promotions to reach the top flight in the summer of 2012).
De Zerbi would bring plenty of energy and emotion to the role, and is certainly admired at Spurs, although some might wonder if his touchline antics when Brighton lost to Tottenham last month would count against him.
Another candidate who seems to be in that sweet spot of youth and experience, Amorim is only 38 but has already achieved a lot in his native Portugal. His work at Sporting Lisbon has already marked him out as one of the best young managers in Europe, having ended their 19-year drought in 2020-21 (and winning two league cups).
It hasn’t been an easy task there, with Sporting having to sell their best players every year – notably Pedro Porro to Tottenham in January – but he has reinvigorated the whole club after years of turmoil. Talk to anyone who knows Amorim and they’ll say his success there (and previously with domestic rivals Braga, winning the 2019-20 League Cup during his half-season in charge) is based on his ability to connect and inspire their players.
Maybe it helps, he had a long playing career in Portugal which didn’t end so long ago (he retired in 2017). But if Spurs are looking for someone who can command player buy-in and get everyone pulling in the same direction, Amorim has shown he can do it. (His preferred 3-4-3 style would also use their full-backs battery.)
It wouldn’t be easy to get out of Sporting, given his €20m release clause for non-Portuguese clubs, but if he’s the preferred candidate, he’d be worth paying.
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Slot is only in his second managerial position, but he’s already proven he knows how to rally an entire club behind him and achieve success that hasn’t been seen in years.
Feyenoord reached the Europa League Conference final under him last season, and this weekend can claim their first Eredivisie title since 2016-17 and just their second this century. And Slot did so with a proactive pressing style of play – just as he previously introduced fellow Dutchman AZ Alkmaar – that would lead Spurs back to the football they played under Pochettino.
He is 44 years old but only four years into his senior coaching career, which puts him firmly in the category of managers who still hope to have the major achievements of their career ahead of them.
The least experienced name on the list, Xabi Alonso has less than a full season in senior management, having only taken over at Bayer Leverkusen of the German Bundesliga in October. Before that, he had wet feet with three years in charge of Real Sociedad’s B team from 2019-22.
Some might argue this doesn’t represent the same learning that, say, Amorim or De Zerbi had, or Pochettino before he took over at Spurs, but despite the Spaniard still being young – 41 – if you hear him talk about football, about the need to convince players of your ideas before you can achieve anything else, he sounds like someone who could bring about the cultural change that Tottenham are looking for.
The only question is whether this summer would be a bit too early for him.
It wouldn’t be an end worthy of Hugo Lloris’ loyalty and love to Spurs
(Top photos: Getty Images)