The Fonseca Files (Part 1)

“Paulo Fonseca”, I thought to myself, “what do I know about him?”. Not a great deal. So I thought I’d better do some digging before I formed an opinion. I’ve done this via a number of methods, and I’ll take you through my process step-by-step and then, at the end, we can have a think together about how we feel about his apparently-imminent appointment. Here’s where I started:

  1. His history
  2. His style
  3. Data
  4. Fan opinion

His history

I logged onto his Wikipedia and had a look at his win percentage, which is a bit up and down to say the least. But, of course, you need to dig deeper and work out where he’s taken each club from and where they’ve ended up.

When he joined Paços de Ferreira they had finished 10th. He stayed a season in which they finished third and qualified for the Champions League for the first time. The season after he left they finished fifteenth. He went back a year later and they finished eight. Between those two stints he went to Porto, where he took the previous season’s league winners to third. However, it’s worth noting that that summer they sold João Moutinho and James Rodríguez to AS Monaco for a combined fee of around €70 million.

After his second spell at Paços he went to Braga, where he delivered their first cup win since the sixties, finished fourth (same as the previous season) and took them to the UEFA Europa League quarter-final.

He then went to Shakhtar Donetsk, where he stayed for three years. After two years of finishing second prior to his arrival, he had them top three years on the trot (by 13 points, 2 points and 11 points). They were then top the year after he left too, before dropping to second this year just gone. He won the Cup three times and the Super Cup once. That’s seven trophies in three years (and nine in his career to date). In 2017/18, he was recognised as Ukraine’s best manager. Let’s be clear, it’s very much a two-team league, but he got to the Champions League Round of 16 in his first and third seasons.

He moved to Roma in June 2019. In his first season they finished 5th, four points and one position ahead of their previous season’s finish under Claudio Ranieri. They also made the Europa League Round of 16. This season they finished 7th but they did make the Semi-Finals of the Europa League.

His style

Tifo made a great video on Fonseca’s Roma.

This was made in March of this year and things seemed pretty bright then, as you can tell from the tone of the video. He plays an attacking style — the criticism is that, if anything, it is a bit too attacking. His teams tend to play a pressing style with intensity and positivity and they like to possess the ball, building from the back. They overload the midfield with wingers that come into the middle of the pitch and central midfielders that break forward at opportune moments. He has played a mixture of 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1 across his managerial career, including a mid-season change from one to the other.

Critics suggest that he is very adaptable from match to match but less so within matches, and that this is a weakness, along with his use of substitutions, which critics say come too late.

My friend Tiago Estêvão tweeted this great clip which shows Fonseca’s Shakhtar at their possession-based best.

And I learnt a tonne about him from this video. I would urge you to watch it but I’ve made some notes below.

A fantastic documentary about Fonseca at Shakhtar
  • The players say he improved their games and taught them to understand their roles better.
  • He spoke about changing the tactics in a league match (regrouping rather than counter-pressing) to prepare for the forthcoming match against Man City in the Champions League.
  • He has a very strong focus on opposition preparation. He shows how Shakhtar prepared specific automations for the Man City game in which they created overloads in midfield and played with their wingers high to create a difficult decision for City’s markers. They subsequently scored from two pre-researched, pre-defined, pre-trained situations.
  • He was focussed on forcing City out wide as much as possible.
  • He defines his Shakhtar team’s playing style as ‘obsession with ball possession, the obsession with wanting to play in the offensive half of the field … the obsession of taking the initiative during the match.’
  • He was asked about whether he adapts to the players at his disposal in a squad or vice versa and he answered: ‘I have my game style and try to adapt the players to it’.
  • ‘You’ll hardly see a team of mine defending in a low block’. Music to my ears.
  • His assistant coach says ‘Paulo’s leadership allows us to actively intervene to supplement and support his work’. His coaching team seems incredibly close-knit, obsessed by detail, and truly collaborative.
  • He uses a video analyst who calls down to the bench during matches and then works with an editor to prepare clips to use at half-time to illustrate tactical points.
  • He says of Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri: ‘They’re coaches who believe that there’s more to soccer than winning. And I totally believe that that makes them win more than others.’
  • And one last thing…
A snapshot of Fonseca in the documentary about him


I thought I’d look into what went wrong at Roma prior to him leaving (note: he was not sacked, but his contract was not renewed). What’s really interesting is that up until 1 March 2021, he had Roma performing well.

2020/21 Serie A league table up until 1 March 2021, sorted by xPTS, Understat

On expected points they were third, only a couple of points behind Inter out in first. They were actually 5th in the table, having conceded 7.53 goals more than expected and scored 3.37 fewer – a near eleven goal swing against them. It seems they were pretty unlucky to be where they were and yet doing fine-ish, so no wonder the Tifo video was so positive! So what went wrong? Well, it seems that the injury to Jordan Veretout, which led to him missing eight of the last 13 was a real problem. He was a key component, a midfielder that regularly made late runs into the box to get on the end of things. Likewise, Leonardo Spinazzola missed 8 of the last 9 and Nicolò Zaniolo missed the entire season.

In the previous season he had his team performing the fourth best in the league and only around six expected points off the best performing team, Atalanta. Their problem was that whilst they were slightly underperforming expected goals, the top three teams were over-performing them.

2019/20 Serie A league table, sorted by xPTS, Understat

And it’s really worth checking this out too…

Fan Opinion

Finally, it’s always a good idea to see what fans of a coach’s previous club have to say about him, and I think there’s a lot to glean from this article. Firstly, the four guys rate his reign: C+, C-, C+, B-. Not great, but not the abject failure that this spell has been presented as. They talk about how he created a team that swatted the teams it should swat, but struggled against stronger teams. That’s a little bit Pochettino… They talk about how he developed wing-backs marvellously. That’s a little bit Pochettino… They talk about how they had faith they would win even when behind. That’s a little bit Pochettino! They also reference his development of players; Pochettino. On the downside, they talk to running players into the ground, his struggles against bigger teams and late subs – again, a bit Pochettino.

They seem optimistic about his future, post-Roma, and one of the guys ends with this: ‘He’s Luis Enrique 2.0, plain and simple. A manager who just didn’t find success in Rome, but not because of anything particularly related to him or his tactics. I definitely think Paulo will end up in the Prem, and with the right moves, I could see him winning a title with a post-Harry Kane Tottenham.’


This link caused a fiery meltdown amongst Spurs fans on social media. Based on my research so far, I am definitely not melting down. Fonseca might not be the big name that many fans crave, but he seems to match the ideals that Daniel Levy has outlined. He’s a progressive coach who works with players to develop them into his system, plays attacking football and has a record of winning trophies. Any manager appointment comes with a degree of risk, but I think the starting point has to be: does he fit the profile? And I think I can say that he does fit the profile.

There’s also the point that this is a Fabio Paratici pick. I’ve yapped on about us needing a Director Of Football/Sporting Director/General Manager for a long time, so when we appoint one turning my nose up at his first manager appointment seems foolish. If we’re going with this guy, let’s let him appoint who he thinks is best.

I think there’s plenty there to allow you to squint and imagine Fonseca doing a good job at Spurs. Any appointment comes with risk, but this would be a fairly low-cost risk which we can move on from easily if necessary. I cannot see him burning bridges in the squad or leaving a trail of destruction behind him — quite the opposite.

I would add that, based on what I’ve researched and watched, I like Fonseca as a person. He’s warm, he’s charismatic, he’s decent. Whether that makes a difference to you or not, *shrug*, but it does to me.

If there’s a demand for it, I’ll be back at some point for Part 2, where I’ll think about how he might work with our squad. I’ll also share any other learnings on Fonseca, as I’m sure plenty more information and resources will emerge in the coming days.

I am the host of The Extra Inch; a Spurs podcast that delves into the analytical side of Tottenham games. Check us out! If you already follow the podcast, consider becoming an xSub for additional content.

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Join the conversation

  1. Chris - as a part-time Roma follower, I say Spurs are my lovely wife, Roma my thrilling mistress - I don't think you can underplay the loss of Nicolo Zaniolo - not one but two anterior cruciate injuries deprived Fonseca of one of the most exciting young talents in Italy and Europe for most of his time. I am quite sanguine about his appointment, more concerned about our DOF getting rid of players, like my beloved Coco 😢😉...
  2. Great article Chris and I have shared it! Too many negative people not willing to think laterally! Cheers Oz
  3. Please do part 2 Windy! Great part 1.
  4. Great article and nice to get some balance. Please do part 2.
  5. Part 2 yes please.
  6. That's made me feel a bit better about his impending appointment, thanks Chris.
  7. As always Windy, you're the voice of reason when all around us people are losing their heads. It's not easy to coach a team that never plays at home and with so much travel in between games. In fonseca's pre match talks and coaching sessions he clearly has a "philosophy" and he understands the game. His tactical analyst clearly has a deep understanding of what needs to happen and is a brilliant addition to his coaching team. The video was a fantastic insight into what makes a difference. From what I've seen his peers rate him and that definitely means something to a follower of our beautiful game. Time will tell with the Fonseca appointment but personally he ticks a lot of boxes for me, and if we can start playing well and beating our rivals then we're on the road to being the team i'd like us to be. I've always appreciated your analysis, keep it up my good man.
  8. Great article. Still a little underwhelmed I must be honest, it’s the struggle against the bigger sides that’s the worry. Absolutely nothing against the fella and I hope as much as anyone that he does the biz but I worry for us whilst Levy is in charge, I’m not convinced the bloke is too fussed about success on the field more the cash generated off it. Conte called his bluff and this is why we are where we are, if Levy was serious, he would have had Conte in the bag. COYS Keep up the extremely good work Windy
    1. Yes, that is a concern but I’m much happier than before I read the article.
  9. Great article Chris; part 2 sounds dreamy!
  10. Fantastic. I'm hooked
  11. Thanks for this Windy. I'm a bit sheep. So if you give me some facts I can be easily persuaded. Wasn't massively excited yesterday, but your portrayal makes him seem a plausible candidate. Thought Plotter would have been excellent, was very happy to get a manager to work with our exceptional youth squad and bring some of them through... But hey ho. We'll see. I'm sure there'll be some twists and turns before the season starts and a manager is actually appointed. I do think Kane needs to be sold though. Love him, but he'll be disgruntled if he stays. But, Levy won't sell cheap, so that'll run till the window closes no doubt. It's a fucking ball-ache being a Yid, but rarely dull, other than in the 90's & 00's, which were kinda dull, most of the itme :)
  12. Great post. Feeling positive now. Maybe a 3-4-3 gets best out Doherty and Reguilón or Sess. Winks as a CB?
  13. Thanks for the article. Reason arise! 😁
  14. I don’t always agree with you windy And I’m still so disappointed that felt you had to leave Twitter due to so many A Holes But this article is quality. It’s refreshing and using facts as much as possible I did some simple maths about Fonseca…. Using his win and draw % at Roma would have got him 4th in last seasons Prem… most fans would have taken that Keep it up please, it’s appreciated
  15. Hi Windy, really sensible and calm take on Fonseca. I’d love to read a part 2 as well. I’d be grateful if you could consider: His ability in repurposing players (like he did with Cristante from a CM to CB at Roma) using the current Spurs squad. I’m thinking wingback Lucas Moura level shenanigans. His ability in truly bringing young players through into the Spurs team. I’m talking about having Troy Parrott as your guaranteed back up striker levels Thanks man
  16. So he has the potential to be Pochetinno lite. Triffic!
  17. Thanks mate. Brilliant synopsis. I must admit, I was a spoilt brat when I read the news last night and threw the head up without knowing a great deal about Fonseca. I'm hoping what the new DOF will make a big difference too. Forza Fonzi
  18. Great article. And great to see a researched, balanced piece of thinking about the potential appnt, rather than the rash toxicity on Twitter. Refreshing! And I agree- Paratici could be a game changer appnt given his experience, but he has to be backed and getting his 1st choice pick for manager is a good start. Let’s get behind them.poking forward to part 2.
  19. I loved Poch, he felt like family, but he had his favourites and there’d be a danger of falling backwards. I don’t think Conte was right for Spurs. Ten Hag has the Ajax pedigree and appeal but the Premier League is a tougher deal. If Fonseca can get the best out of a squad who seem a tad lost, maybe in a 3-4-3 system, then perhaps it won’t be so bad. If it all goes nipples upwards Poch and Ten Hag will be nearer the ends of their contracts in 12-18 months and we can start again. Good article though.
  20. Great article Windy! Definitely gives me more hope for Spurs under Fonseca. Part 2 would be wonderful.
  21. Thanks for this analysis Chris. At the risk of being the balloon-popper, Fonseca’s appointment is completely underwhelming. The ambition of the club simply doesn’t match the ambition of the fans. It’s a cliche but there’s a reason why it’s a cliche. We’ve appointed someone whose USP is winning a two-team league and beating Man City. That’s the sum total of our ambition. From regular top four finishes and a CL final to this. No wonder fans are angry. We’re right to be. We’re being fleeced. This smacks of a second-rare AVB. We’ve seen that even with a shit-show of a season we generally finish around 6th-8th. So, I can see us finishing the same at the end of next year with him being sacked partway thru and underwhelming second season.
  22. I like to use my Dad as the barometer of the average Spurs fan. He loved it when we signed AVB and especially Mourinho. He’s pretty underwhelmed by Fonseca. But he was pretty underwhelmed when we lost Santini and his unknown Dutch assistant took over. He was very underwhelmed when we dumped Ramos and West Ham’s dodgy Redknapp took over. He was also very annoyed when Levy opted for the Southampton manager he’d never heard of (remembering him calling him “Poch-e-tinko” for ages). Every single ‘big name’ manager that the average fan has got excited about has failed because we’re not that club. There will never been a bright dawn when we’re finally a Super League club. Conte would have been a disaster and we all know it. I’m very excited about Spurs (Levy) actually sticking to a plan and doing what we have all called out for. Fonseca is precisely the manager we have asked for, at a price we can afford.
  23. Daniel Levy's reasons for Fonseca: 1. He's cheap 2. He'll play some pretty football, occasionally putting relegation fodder to the sword in swashbuckling style (but falling short when it counts). That'll get the fans off my back 3. He's available 4. He's used to working with no money 5. It makes sure that I can get cash for Harry, as he's likely to be unconvinced by a manager Roma thought was inferior to Mourinho. I can take the position of not wanting to sell, thus switching all of the blame on to Harry Kane when the inevitable happens 6. He's cheap 7. He can develop assets (or as the fans call them, players) into more saleable assets 8. He's actually desperate enough to take the job 9. Appointing a Director of Football means I can blame him when it all goes pear shaped.......
  24. Please make a part two oh and the athletic did a similar article based on the dashboard about best managers spurs could hire and it had a section based on brendon rodgers and in that dashboard it says that one of the coaches most similar to rodgers was fonseca.So he's basically the serial version of rodgers
  25. Good article windy and helps make it feel more optimistic However, I do feel the optics about this have been terrible, to have gone so long without an appointment (still not confirmed) when he was available for ages, and hes the manager that his ex club let go to appoint our unwanted manager. And then after strong links to ten hag, poch and conte it seems not on the same level, particularly when our star player appears to want to go due to our lack of progress And of course the high season ticket prices, the marketing of the stadium being the best, nfl links etc, it doesnt fit in The board really need to put some positive messages out
  26. Hi Windy, great article and good to read up on Fonceca, as you said he seems like a decent man, attention to detail and has a philisophy of playing good football. I do worry if the pace and strength of the Prem will blow his tactics but would rather him then Conte.
  27. It’s a good write up, positive and I appreciated the 30+ min vid on him. However, Daniel could have taken Conte, or pushed harder for Poch. Both would have taken more money. Both would then require more money. But it’s money Dan doesn’t have right now. It looks like the reality, right? So, we’re the new Goon ( all the stadium, no actual players). But now, here we are, with a Ukranian league and cup winner from Portugal, whose stats are floaty, and who’s never batted in the Prem, or any English league. This has disaster written all over. We’ve been here before…and among the turds, only Martin Jol turned us in the right direction. And how many years has that been? Potter or Nuno any day of the week over Fonseca. Perhaps I’m wrong ( and I hope I am), but history has a nasty habit. History repeating, like a broken record, Groundhog Day etc. I like your article, though all this is fanciful and hopeful. In the truest of Tottenhamisms, here we are, dreaming he might work out, but we all know where we’re really headed…
    1. I come from the land of P-Levy..
  28. Great analysis. Well-written, as always. I'm about to read to part 2. -JAC
  29. Dear Sir, Might you be tempted in your follow up to comment on his back up team? We all fixate on the Head Coach as I assume Mr Fonseca will be titled, but the players will see more of the assistant manager, and other first team coaches. The rumour mill has it that Ryan Mason and Lesley King will continue to play key roles but neither has much experience and they don’t bring new energy. Does Mr Fonseca see himself as just coaching the first team squad or will he care about all our professionals? If the player facing team is weak as I think it was under the last manager, we won’t improve.
  30. Came here to have my mind put to rest about Fonseca & am now actually a little excited by him. As always a really easy & pleasurable read. Cheers, Chris

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