The Fonseca Files (Part 2)

Firstly, go back and check out Part 1 if you haven’t already. It was my most read blog article in a couple of years, and I appreciate everyone who shared it, as well as the kind words on Reddit. I hope that you enjoy/enjoyed that and that you watched the documentary. The documentarians got tremendous access and it’s very insightful.

When a new coach is appointed I find that the really fun part is to speculate as to which players already at the club would fit the coach’s system, which youth players might get a look-in, and which areas he would need to prioritise in terms of adding new players. It’s nice to look forward, to translate the squad over a coach’s assumed system and to consider how that might go.

Of course, modern coaches tend to be more flexible now and will have more than one way to play, and that is certainly the case with Paulo Fonseca, as it was with Mauricio Pochettino. With Pochettino, whether he played three at the back or four at the back, though, there were over-arching principles that remained, even if the players fulfilling them changed. I.e., even with a back four, it became a three in build-up as one of the pivot players split the centre-backs, five attacking players would generally be spread evenly across the five vertical channels of the pitch and pressing would occur. The same is the case with Fonseca — his principles remain, build from the back, have wide players keeping width extremely high, overload the midfield.

Caveat: it’s only a few days since Fonseca was linked, and I’ve not yet watched as much of his Roma or Shakhtar Donetsk teams as I’d have liked. I’ve focussed so far on highlights and clips from players, as well as the full-match vs AC Milan from October 2020 which I found on footballia.net.

Whilst we know from the documentary I referenced in Part 1 that Fonseca’s intention is to stick to his system and have the players adapt to it, I’ve made a lot of assumptions in this article and, to be honest, it’s pretty speculative stuff. As I say, I’m mainly doing this for fun rather than to make bold predictions.

Goalkeeper

I’ve read and listened to lots that says that Fonseca’s keeper supports playing out from the back, and becomes part of the build-up. However, I’ve watched some clips of Pau López’s distribution for Roma from this past season and it’s not as fancy or radical as I’d expected. He does, however, go short whenever possible and often from deep inside his own box. This is really not a strength for Hugo Lloris. Assuming he’s not going anywhere, I anticipate a few nervy moments where he hangs on to the ball a little late, or gets his pass wrong. We saw plenty of those under Mauricio Pochettino and it’s, I guess, the price we pay with Lloris — his shot-stopping qualities are still there, so will hopefully compensate, but it’s not a great fit. If a goalkeeper that can pass the ball accurately and calmly under pressure is a deal-breaker, we should look at Brentford’s David Raya.

Centre-backs

Fonseca’s centre-backs have to be exceptionally comfortable in possession. They get a decent number of touches and not only pass out from the back, but also carry the ball forward. Juan Foyth would have been so perfect; such a pity that we agreed to that option to buy (and for so cheap – gah!)! Joe Rodon will definitely be a good fit, Japhet Tanganga might be too (though, unfortunately, his injury record is a concern) as his ability to drive forward with the ball (mainly form right-back) was a very pleasant surprise this past season. Toby Alderweireld is great at passing, but not a natural ball carrier, and with Fonseca’s line being far higher than we’ve become accustomed to, I’m not convinced that Alderweireld will be suited, certainly not in the long-term. To be brutally honest, Davinson Sánchez’s on-the-ball ability is inadequate for this system. And Eric Dier on the turn in a high line frightens me. Personally, I think it’s clear we need a quality ball-playing and ball carrying centre-back, and the obvious solution is Ben White, though he would be expensive.

In Fonseca’s system, the two wide centre-backs move out towards the flanks in possession with the wing-backs aggressively push high up the pitch. Ben Davies would, therefore, be quite well-suited to the left-sided centre-back role and, in terms of young players who might come from nowhere and get a look-in, TJ Eyoma is one to keep an eye on over the next season or two. He had an excellent season at Lincoln City, playing as a right-back for the first half of the season and a centre-back for the second. This illustrates, I think, how comfortable he is in possession and he’s a good match for that hybrid role on the right.

Wing-backs

I think this is the most interesting of all of the Fonseca roles. Out of possession, the wing-backs drop in and make-up a back five, with the near-side wing-back pushing out to engage his man and the far-side wing-back dropping into a neat line of four. As soon as they win the ball, the wing-backs are off — they push up incredibly high; you can think of them as traditional wingers in possession.

This is a good example of Roma’s attacking shape. This is from the 3-1 win against Juventus in August 2020 in which Roma played 3-4-3. The two wide players are the wing-backs, the three in-field that are close together are the front three.

Sergio Reguilón and Ryan Sessegnon are absolutely ideally suited to the left wing-back role. They have acceleration to energetically spring forward, are happy to position themselves high, and also have natural recovery pace. We know that on the right we have a problem, with Serge Aurier likely to leave and Matt Doherty so far having struggled to settle, though we need to acknowledge that he had Covid. I’d need some convincing that Doherty has the athleticism to cope with the aggressive transitions, but what we do know about him is that he is excellent at timing a run and has ability to contribute in the final third, often arriving in the box, something that Fonseca likes in his far-side wing-back.

What’s interesting is how much Fonseca has developed Leonardo Spinazzola, who played so well for Italy against Turkey in the Euros opener. He is a right-footed left wing-back who mostly played as a winger (though he did have full-back experience too) before Fonseca got hold of him. He is a terrific ball carrier and really makes that count. However, I don’t think ball carrying is an essential Fonseca wing-back trait as Rick Karsdorp’s carrying numbers are low. Rather, he positions himself high, waits for it to come to him, and delivers crosses, or bursts into the box at the far post if the ball is on the opposite side. That feels very Doherty.

I was surprised that both Roma wing-backs average under 10km per match despite the role being a demanding one. I’d love to see the sprint numbers as I bet they are high as the transitions from defence to attack are pretty intense. But, without that additional context, I think there’s some hope for Doherty. Of course, we absolutely need to sign another right wing-back, because we can’t go through a demanding season with just one, and I’d be all over Tariq Lamptey if that deal were possible. But, in terms of what’s already in the squad, I’d say Jack Clarke is the player with the most potential to fit this role with some close mentoring. Perhaps that will be something to look out for in the Europa Conference League.

Central midfielders

Fonseca’s centre-mids are real all-rounders. They collect the ball from the centre-backs and help break the lines in build-up, they cover in behind the wing-backs on transitions when needed, they get beyond the front three with late runs and arrive in the box. They carry the ball forward where possible, they pull strings, they pass quickly and fluidly, and they find the attacking midfielders often.

A lot is made of Jordan Veretout’s goalscoring exploits, but it must be noted that the majority of his goals were penalties. That said, he is in the 90th percentile for non-penalty goals in the top 5 leagues: very impressive.

Jordan Veretout Scouting Report, fbref.com, generated 12/06/2021

I had a look at all of his Roma goals and they are nice and varied — some from the edge of the box, a third man run, a supporting run on a counter, a couple where he took up nice positions in the box from crosses.

Fonseca’s central midfield at Roma has been made up of two from Veretout, Lorenzo Pellegrini, Gonzalo Villar or Bryan Cristante. Cristante also plays centre-back regularly, and Pellegrini often plays in the attacking midfield band; like us, they have quite a bit of versatility amongst their squad. Villar’s numbers illustrate that, when he plays, he’s playing a more conservative role, but he carries the ball well. His defensive actions are not exactly anything to write home about.

Gordan Villar Scouting Report, fbref.com, generated 12/06/2021

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg seems to be the best Villar equivalent, but Oliver Skipp will surely give him a run for his money, and what Skipp brings that Højbjerg arguably doesn’t is a nimbleness in being able to break forward at speed — not that he did it often at Norwich, as he mostly played at the very base of the midfield in a very conservative role. But he has terrific box-to-box energy. I think either he or Højbjerg could be viable options throughout the season and would expect plenty of rotation. Harry Winks could absolutely do a job in this system — in fact, I think he’d be rather well-suited and it would protect his defensive frailties — but, at this point, I’m expecting him to move on.

Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso are the two players I’ll be desperate to see work in Fonseca’s system, as I believe they’re two of the best players at the club. I really like the idea of Ndombele in the Veretout role, and Lo Celso playing as one of the attacking midfield band… more on that in a moment.

In terms of youngsters for the midfield role (aside from Skipp, mentioned above), that may well be determined by what’s best for their development. Harvey White will surely be out on loan again, Jamie Bowden will hopefully get his first loan too, and that probably leaves Nile John and Alfie Devine as next in line. They are dynamic, versatile, technical players and I’d love to see them both play some Europa Conference League minutes in midfield. Quick shout-out too to Elliot Thorpe, a ball-carrying midfielder. I think he could be a surprise inclusion in pre-season.

Attacking midfielders

The two behind the striker play incredibly narrow in Fonseca’s 3-4-3, forming a pentagon with the striker at the tip and the central midfielders at the base. They make lots of movements towards the (high) wing-backs to create triangles and are constantly probing from those pockets of space. They are very much link players as well as attacking threats themselves, often dropping deep to pick up the ball and carry it forward with the wing-backs running past them on the way, and they help enable the team structure through creating overloads in the middle of the pitch.

Dele is absolutely perfectly suited for this role. His close control, speed of thought, ball carrying and one and two-touch passing would work wonderfully in these pockets of space, as it did under Pochettino when he played as a 10. He also possesses the athleticism and responsibility to drop deeper into midfield when necessary, another characteristic of Fonseca’s style, which can resemble a 5-4-1 in the defensive phase. I think Bergwijn is also a good fit for many of the same reasons as Dele, though he does play it a lot safer. My gut feel, as above, is that Lo Celso fits best on the right of the front three. He has the probing qualities, tenacity in the press, and would enjoy coming in from the flank and playing off others. This role is really not one that provides width, and the idea of Lo Celso being on the ball in the half-space and playing through-balls to a predatory forward is an attractive one.

My initial thought is that I don’t quite see that this role plays to Son’s strengths as we know them right now. We’re used to seeing Son start wide and come inside either in possession, dribbling into space to get a shot away, or out of possession, to get on the end of a long pass and run through on goal. This role sees the opposite – the attacking midfielder starts inside and moves out, sees a lot of the ball, and is expected to create. Son is an elite player, but does he have good enough close control and awareness of those around him to excel in this role?

The one of our youngsters that I think fits this role particularly well is one I’ve already mentioned — Alfie Devine. He’s excellent in the half-spaces and working one-twos with teammates. I can see him fitting this just as well as the central midfield role.

Forward

I watched all of Edin Džeko’s goals from the last two years at Roma and, of those, I recall one where he dropped deep to link play. All of the others involved him being at the sharp end — he’s the spearhead, in the box, attacking crosses with movement, using those poaching instincts. Harry Kane would score bucketloads. I then watched a bunch of his key passes, and the vast majority are one or two-touch lay-offs to players around him or rushing past him.

I wondered if that was just Džeko being Džeko and so I wanted to look at Fonseca’s strikers at his previous clubs. I skipped his first four clubs, so ended up looking at his main strikers for the last nine seasons.

  • Paços de Ferreira (2012/13) – Cícero, 13 goals in 37 matches, 189cm
  • Porto (2013/14) – Jackson Martínez, 29 goals in 51 matches, 185cm
  • Paços de Ferreira (2014/15) – Bruno Moreira, 14 goals in 31 matches, 185cm
  • Braga (2015/16) – Ahmed Hassan, 14 goals in 44 matches, 191cm and Nikola Stojiljkovic, 15 goals in 46 matches, 185cm – they played 4-4-2 in this season.
  • Shakhtar Donetsk (2016/17) – Facundo Ferreyra, 17 goals in 28 matches, 183cm
  • Shakhtar Donetsk (2017/18) – Facundo Ferreyra, 30 goals in 42 matches, 183cm
  • Shakhtar Donetsk (2018/19) – Júnior Moraes, 26 goals in 39 matches, 176cm
  • Roma (2019/20) – Edin Džeko, 19 goals in 43 matches, 193cm
  • Roma (2020/21) – Borja Mayoral, 10 goals in 31 matches, 182cm

I then queued up all of Júnior Moraes’ goals from the 2018/19 season. Yeah, it’s the same again. It’s getting on the end of crosses, it’s back-post tap-ins, it’s opportunistic goals, getting squared the ball on a counter, penalties. Nearly all penalty box stuff.

The striker stays forward. The striker leads the line. He is a platform for interplay, but not integral to it, and the majority of the time can just focus on being aware of what’s going on around him and getting into the box.

I say again: Harry Kane would score a hatful. He’d sure assist a lot less, though. But, if anything, this has made me feel a tiny bit better about the idea of Kane leaving. Which, obviously, would leave a huge hole, a hole impossible to fill with an individual player, but the striker is not the be all and end all in this system… aside from that little thing of putting he ball in the net.

And here’s a plot twist. The reason I included the height of the strikers was because knowing that Džeko played under Fonseca a lot at Roma (until they fell out) I wondered whether he had ‘a type’. I don’t think he necessarily does aside from good predatory movement in the box. So in terms of our squad, and potentially in planning for life after Kane, I’m wondering if we will see a new role for Son Heung-min who, by the way, is 184cm tall. Maybe I’ve got this totally wrong and Son will play the narrow attacking midfield role superbly. Or maybe Fonseca changes things up and goes back to a 4-2-3-1 because Son is a wonderful player and that system suits and accommodates him. But I’m just throwing it out there as a point to consider.

Of our youngsters, Scarlett is the one for this 3-4-3. He is a typical penalty box poacher and is ideal. Our other exciting young striker, Troy Parrott, is a bit like Kane in that he likes to be heavily involved in build-up play. He is a quality player with bags of potential, but not such a natural fit in my view.

Conclusions

I plan to do some more analysis of Fonseca’s teams once the announcement is made and I’m sure I’ll revise some of the points above once I become more familiar with his set-up. But, on what I’ve seen so far, I feel confident about Reguilón, Rodon and Dele fitting, but less confident about Son (unless up front), Sánchez, Alderweireld and Lloris.

This is not my first-choice XI by any stretch but an XI I can see fitting the system using existing players, obviously assuming that Kane is not there. If he is there, I imagine Fonseca would revert to a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate Son. I think this also illustrates the key positions we need to strengthen.

Potential Tottenham Hotspur XI under Fonseca

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments about which players you think fit and which don’t. And also, on whether you think I’ve missed something or misinterpreted something about Fonseca’s system(s).


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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 ‘Paolo’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

Data

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.’

So?

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.

I recently added a Donate button to this site. It’s on the ‘About‘ page. I explain why on there. Cheers!

The Tottenham Hokey Cokey

Let’s be clear, it is perfectly reasonable and perfectly sensible for two parties to end a negotiation because a compromise cannot be reached. If one side or both sides have particular needs, requirements, values on which they will not bend, then walking away is clearly the right decision. But, allowing that to play out in public, particularly on the day of the deadline for season ticket renewals, is pretty shameful. As is allowing negotiations get as far as they appear to have got; what a waste of time and effort.

We know that Spurs can keep a lid on all of this stuff — we know that because, until the Mauricio Pochettino and then Antonio Conte rumours broke, information on who we might or might not be considering had been pretty well protected. No ITK, no ‘leaks’ aside from very generalised reporting in which multiple names were mentioned in regards to a shortlist, the types of names that we, as fans, could have (and did) already come up with. There’s no way that our beloved beat journalist, Alasdair Gold, would tweet his modest equivalent of a ‘here we go!’ unless he’d essentially got the nod from the club that Conte was a goer.

Alasdair’s interpretation of the current state of play is that Spurs and Conte both got deep into talks before Spurs realised that he wouldn’t be all that focussed on young players after all and Conte realised that he wouldn’t have bucketloads of money to spend (my words, not Ally G’s!). This is extraordinary, completely baffling to me, to the extent where I am not completely convinced that it happened this way, because it’s so unbelievably amateurish. These deal-breaker elements of their respective lists of needs and wants would surely be covered at the very beginnings of negotiations?!

Here are the possible options for what happened as I see it:

  1. We, as a club, are not only terrible at communicating to the fans, but terrible at communicating to managerial targets as well. We didn’t map out our expectations to Antonio Conte or, indeed, listen to his own set of expectations. The negotiations subsequently genuinely fell through because we reached an impasse.
  2. We decided that values were not all that important after all, went all-in on Conte and he rejected us. Maybe because he wanted a higher salary, maybe because he wanted to bring more staff than we would allow, maybe because he wanted more assurances over transfer spend or Harry Kane’s future, maybe multiple parts or all of the above.
  3. Daniel Levy got so far along the line with the deal and then had an epiphany — hang on a minute, I wanted free-flowing football and young players.
  4. Spurs played Alasdair and other reporters close to the club and used them to drive up season ticket renewals. It feels rather like a conspiracy theory but, well, it’s Spurs.
  5. Spurs are playing another candidate — Conte never got as far along the track as it seemed from the outside and, instead, we’re using this to try to put pressure on another candidate. Pochettino?
  6. A combination of some of the above — Alasdair seems to think maybe both 2 and 3.

I wasn’t all-in on Antonio Conte myself. He is a brilliantly talented and highly-successful manager, but he didn’t feel the right fit for us based on what Daniel Levy claims to be looking for. Let’s remind ourselves of what that is:

Chairman’s message, May 2021

That’s just not Conte. He plays fairly entertaining football, but it’s certainly not free-flowing — rather, he drills players to within an inch of their lives and creates a series of mechanical automations and rules to get the ball from A to B to C effectively and, as I say, not unattractively. I think the football would have been an undeniable improvement on what we saw last season, we would have built from the back in possession structures, but ‘free-flowing’ is pushing it. He’s also just not a coach who would be focused on using young players; he would expect significant outlay and he would want proven, Premier League-ready quality; he needs near enough immediate success because he only tends to stay around for relatively short spells, as we can see from his managerial record.

Antonio Conte’s managerial record; Wikipedia

And he’s a pretty abrasive character who is often outspoken and both challenging to and demanding of his superiors. Let’s be honest, he’s a bit of a dickhead. I’m sure we’d have accepted him as our dickhead, but a dickhead nonetheless.

So, from the outside at least, we appear to be back to square one, albeit a slightly different square one. Because it does appear that we are about to hire Fabio Paratici as a Director of Football or Sporting Director or whatever title we decide to give him. He’s a man we tried to hire in around 2018 when Pochettino was in charge.

One must assume that Levy has already spoken to Paratici about his own managerial shortlist and wouldn’t have approached Conte were he not on it because, well, that would be insane. So, I guess, now some if not all of the negotiations will be delegated to Paratici and he picks up the baton. Perhaps the club goes back in for Pochettino and pays whatever it takes to prise him away from Paris Saint-Germain. Perhaps they move on to a different target.

It is really important that Spurs get their man sooner rather than later, as we have a very fulsome summer of business ahead of us with a lot of deadwood to flog and some key positions to fill. Perhaps some of that can be done before an appointment is made but it would seem very wrong to start buying and selling players en masse without a coach in place, albeit having a Director of Football makes that slightly more palatable.

As it stands, we appear to be a club that has become very disorganised when it comes to on-pitch matters and that’s exactly why the appointment of a Director of Football is a good decision.


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Released and retained players

The Premier League Released and Retained lists have been published this evening. There are no great surprises for Spurs, but some news:

Elliot Thorpe and Jeremie Mukendie have been offered professional contracts. Reporting suggests that Thorpe is in demand and my view is that he’s ready for a loan next season, so I would hope that we could get him to sign a contract with the commitment that we get him a loan move.

Kallum Cesay, Jeremy Kyezu and Timothee Lo-Tutala have had their scholarships extended into a third year and Kacper Kurylowicz and Rafferty Pedder have now been offered pro contracts after they completed the third year of their scholarships. Lo-Tutala was a slight surprise – I would have expected a pro contract for him, particularly given that he has been linked with other clubs.

In other news, I was on the Wicked Spursy podcast – great people, great show, give it a listen.


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.

I recently added a Donate button to this site. It’s on the ‘About‘ page. I explain why on there. Cheers!

Never go back?

I think the reason they say ‘never go back’ – to an ex, or to the coffee shop that got your order wrong that time is that you’ll likely just revisit the mistakes of your past, replay them and cause pain and hurt to everyone all over again. I ASKED FOR SOY MILK*, IS IT REALLY THAT DIFFICULT?

So, the point is, for it to work this time when it didn’t before, something has to change. And I don’t think that this means that one side concedes that they were wrong and the other continues as before (although it would be nice to at least to get an apology for milk-gate**, ‘the customer is always right’ after all); there needs to be some sort of contrition from both sides and a commitment to changing behaviours in the future.

The problem we have here is that whilst Daniel Levy is one of the smartest football chairmen around, he’s also one of the most stubborn. And, if I’m honest, I don’t think Mauricio Pochettino is too different in that regard.

For each of them, their stubbornness can be a virtue, for sure. For Levy, it has led to him getting some incredible deals done over the years, and his renown for being difficult to deal with is, I’m sure, a badge of honour to him. But, equally, having multiple chairmen wearing t-shirts that say ‘I went to sign a player from Tottenham Hotspur and all I got was this lousy shirt’ is not so great when you’re releasing Danny Rose, a once £50m-rated player, at the end of his contract having played precisely zero minutes the whole of the year. There does, more often than not, need to be compromise.

And, as for Pochettino, well I watched him play a Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko midfield more than 30 times in his last season and a half. Whilst it *appears* to have been a fever dream, I definitely saw this happen with my own eyes, so don’t even try to convince me that it didn’t. It did, and it was horrible every single time and I hated it and then he ruined Dele by trying to get him to drop in and help fix it and… bad bad bad bad bad bad bad. And stubborn, very stubborn.

Both will need to have reflected on the way things ended and what they might have done differently to stop things going that way. They will then need to be self-aware enough to change their behaviours to stop history repeating. I would say, though, that I see Pochettino coming in and starting pretty much from scratch again rather than picking up where he left off, and I think that’s a good thing. Sure, he’ll have a lot of preset connections with people around the club and the way that it operates. He’ll also have a lot of coaching to undo, a lot of latent fitness to build and a new system to implement. And, whether it feels like it or not, the squad has actually moved on quite a bit since he was last in post. Not just in terms of new signings, but in terms of players who are now more established/integrated as well as those who have stepped up from the Academy. And we are hopeful that there will be several leaving this summer…

The reporting this morning suggests that Pochettino wants ‘full control over key decisions’. I cannot see a way that this could happen under Levy, the man who literally follows his employees into the canteen to poke his nose into their day-to-day work. But, besides that, I’m not entirely sure I’d want it to. I think, as Head Coach, Pochettino should have complete control of his remit. Anything on-pitch (including the training ground) is his domain. I also think Levy needs to finally give in and re-appoint a Director of Football/Sporting Director to conduct the non-coaching football business, including transfers and including working with the Academy Manager, Dean Rastrick. Hopefully Ryan Mason will want to continue as Head of Player Development, Under-17 to Under-23 to enable the management of players post-academy; this was a major critique of mine of Pochettino the first time around.

I am very hopeful that we will re-appoint Mauricio Pochettino. I see him as, objectively, the best coach we could appoint for what needs to be achieved and for delivering on the values that Daniel Levy outlined in his latest Chairman’s Message. But I hope that if this comes to pass, but parties have learnt to compromise. If that happens, I am convinced that it’s a winning formula. The good news is that, in appointing him, Levy would be making a big step in the right direction.

And to any baristas reading, I apologise. I appreciate you and I appreciate your memory skills. Please don’t spit in my drink.

*Soy boys unite.

**This is entirely fabricated, I am disgusting and drink cows milk.


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.

I recently added a Donate button to this site. It’s on the ‘About‘ page. I explain why on there. Cheers!