Why seemingly no one wants to be Tottenham manager

Tottenham Hotspur are a massive – and hugely successful – football club. 

That might be a statement that draws both ire and titters from fans of other Premier League teams, and I can already feel several of you going to the comments to post “I stopped listening when he said Spurs were a big club cry-laugh emoji, cry-laugh emoji, cry-laugh emoji”, but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s true.

They’ve been a permanent presence in the top-flight of English football since the late 1970s, and haven’t finished outside the top half of the Premier League since 2008. They’ve qualified for the Champions League in five out of the last seven seasons, and only once in that run failed to get into the knockout rounds. In fact, in the last decade only 10 different teams have played in the Champions League final, and Spurs are one them.

They’ve got the spending power to match the division’s top clubs, a brand new state-of-the-art stadium, an enormous global fanbase, and should be one of the most attractive projects for any ambitious manager. Yet, somehow, they’ve been without one for well over three months.

This is why nobody wants to manage Tottenham Hotspur: Daniel Levy.

The appointment of Mauricho Pocchetino at Chelsea was perhaps as significant for Tottenham as it was for their London rivals. Not because Spurs were ever considering a reunion with their former manager – those reports have long-since been rubbished – but because even a club as dysfunctional and directionless as Chelsea had been able to go and get a top manager.

A cursory glance at the league table would imply that the problems at Stamford Bridge are considerably worse than those at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, but the truth is that behind the scenes at Sprus, there is more confusion, more disarray, and more uncertainty. And it’s thus an environment managerial candidates are, thus far, finding repellant.

Julian Nagelsmann looks omn during Bayern Munich's defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in March 2023.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Early talks with Julian Nagelsmann broke down, only for the club to then begin immediately briefing that they weren’t actually interested in him. A curious claim, given they had already approached him twice before this. First, before bringing in Jose Mourninho, and secondly when he turned the job down to move to Bayern. Precisely who ended these talks we’ll likely never know, but the club’s transparent attempt to get ahead of the story certainly implies it wasn’t wholly their decision.

Then there was Arne Slot. The Feyenoord manager was publicly courted by the club in a very “look at us go, this is who we really want, watch us get him” PR-move, only to then see him, equally publicly, sign a new deal with Feyenoord and announce how committed he was to that project. Reports emerged subsequently that he may even have entertained Tottenham’s interest purely to strengthen his negotiating power for a new contract.

A club the stature of Tottenham should have managers knocking their door down for this job but, right now, they can’t even seem to get a text back. Why?

On March 26 2023, Antonio Conte was relieved of his duties as Spurs’ head coach, following his comments made in the wake of a simply staggering late collapse at bottom-of-the-table Southampton. 

"The club has the responsibility for the transfer market, every coach that stayed here has the responsibility. And the players? The players? Where are the players? Twenty years there is the owner and they never won something but why? The fault is only for the club, or for every manager that stay here?”. 

The point he was making in a roundabout way was that after two transfer windows, he still didn’t have the players he wanted. Conte likes his teams to play with a pragmatism and a directness that requires a very particular profile of footballer. Tottenham were neither blessed with that kind of player when he arrived, nor was Levy willing to alter his recruitment strategy to bring more of them in.

Tottenham manager Antonio Conte gestures during Tottenham's 3-3 draw at Southampton.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Pedro Porro and Yves Bissouma were loose fits for Conte’s system, but their biggest acquisition of the summer, the £50m-plus spent on bringing Richarlison over from Everton, could not have been more counterproductive if it had tried. The Brazilian started a meagre seven league games under the Italian without scoring a single goal.

His was a transfer, like so many in the past, that seemed to be directly at odds with either the stylistic or philosophical approaches of the man ultimately tasked with managing them. 

Sergio Regulion and Bryan Gil, for example, were signed during Nuno Espirito Santo’s short tenure, but were both identified by the club’s former director of football months prior to his arrival. They’re now, tellingly, both being loaned back to La Liga sides.

Conte literally referred to Djed Spence as a “club signing” when asked why he wasn’t getting a game.

While the Southampton outburst made his position entirely untenable, it merely hastened the exit that was no doubt coming when his contract expired this summer. In short, the club knew that they would be looking for a new manager right now and yet, have somehow been caught out… looking for a new manager. It’s a situation that speaks not only to a lack of preparation, but to how unresolved major issues are at the club.

Take for example the Director of Football situation. Fabio Paratici was forced to resign from the club in April, after his appeal to have his eight-month ban overturned – all relating to his time at Juventus and the alleged 'financial mismanagement' that went on there – was rejected. This, again, wasn’t a huge shock to the club, and yet well over a month later no replacement appointment has been made. 

Asking any manager to come in to a club with this structure, while the identity of their direct superior remains a mystery, is a big ask. Scott Munn was appointed as Chief Football Officer to mitigate this change and partially restructure things, but a new DoF is being sought. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Eintracht Frankfurt sporting director Markus Krösche was the latest in a line of candidates to be approached before turning the role down.

But it’s on-the-field uncertainty that’s no doubt playing a part in this situation as well. Spurs were staggeringly dependant on Harry Kane this past season, with their captain contributing 37 goals across the campaign, and nearly half of all their goals in the league. 

While ‘Harry Kane Is Good At Goals’ isn’t anything new, the fact that he needed to overperform his xG by nearly 10 illustrates that this was a frankly superhuman season, and had a mere mortal been on the receiving end of those chances, Tottenham could have finished significantly lower than the already disappointing eighth. 

At 29, there’s every chance he can continue to be that lethal next season, but his contract situation is an enormous worry. It expires in 12 short months, and with no renewal on the horizon Tottenham face an era-defining decision of whether to sell him now while he still commands a substantial transfer fee, or allow him to leave for nothing. There’s an entire video in this on its own, but as far as it relates to this one it’s just another seismic question mark hanging over a club, that any new manager would want resolved.

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring against Manchester City, a goal which sees him become Tottenham's all-time record scorer with 267 goals for the club.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

And then there’s the rest of the squad.

Son Hueng-min is now the wrong side of the 30 and clearly struggled this season, so while any new manager will want to retain him, they’ll also know that they’ll need work to hard to rediscover his best form. Both Hugo Lloris and Fraser Forster are the wrong side of 35 and no longer impressing, meaning that a new goalkeeper is likely an expensive necessity.

Dejan Kulisevski is currently still only on loan from Juventus, and Spurs failure to finish in the top four voided his mandatory purchase option. When asked about staying at the club, the player said “I don't know honestly… we will see”, and while reports are Spurs will renegotiate the fee required to keep him, that’s potentially £20m or £30m down the drain just to keep a player you already have.

Likewise Pedro Porro – who it’s believed Spurs are obligated to buy this summer – will drain them of another estimated £35-40million. That’s something like £70m out of any transfer budget before a new manager has even adjusted his office chair, before you’ve even considered throwing Clement Lenglet into this equation; he’ll be returning to Barcelona this summer unless a fee can be agreed.

On the other side of this coin, Sergio Reguilón, Harry Winks, Giovani Lo Celso, Joe Rodon, Bryan Gil, Tanguy Ndombele, and the aforementioned Djed Spence are all potential first-team players who return from loan this summer with their future’s completely up in the air. Uncertainly on a frankly staggering scale, and the worst possible scenario for a club in desperate need of a rebuild. How can a new manager plan an overhaul, when the status of nearly 10 senior players is currently in flux.

And then, finally, there is the scale of the job. 

No vacancy in football usually comes about because things at that club are going well, but even by the usual measure of problems turning things around at Spurs is daunting in the extreme. 

You need to get the side back into Europe, despite being financially dwarfed by your nearest rivals. You need to quickly instill a cohesive and effective brand of football, despite having no idea what your squad will look like. You need to attract players of an improved quality, despite not being able to offer them European football. You need to tame an allegedly dysfunctional dressing room, despite the enormous personalities of Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte not being enough to do so. And, worst of all, you need to command the respect of a board, a squad, and a fan base, despite the very public rejections of other candidates immediately marking you out as nobody’s first choice. 

If that last one doesn’t sound as significant, keep in mind it’s precisely what happened to Nuno Espirito Santo just two short summers ago. 

The fact that we can point to that glaring example in the club’s own very-recent history though does show that all of these problems pale into insignificance next to their root cause. Glaring mismanagement and a shocking lack of forward planning from the very top down. Ultimately teams play badly, managers get sacked, players lose form and move away, these are all things that impact every club in the world, but the real measure is how well they’re anticipated, and how effectively they’re addressed. 

Spurs, despite the incredible resources at their disposal, have spent their last few years doing neither. And until they address that themselves there won’t be a single manager worth appointing who’ll be willing to come in and clean up their mess for them. In short, nobody wants to manage Tottenham Hostpur, because those at the very top have made them unmanageable. 

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Adam Clery

Adam published his first article for FourFourTwo in 2015, but didn’t publish his second until seven years later in 2022. A figure that would put him near the top end of any ranking for Longest Time Between Appearances For One Club. In the time between he plied his trade as both a writer and presenter on YouTube, earning the dubious distinction of being “The James Milner of WhatCulture”. Be that because he was capable of playing any role, or just because it felt like he’d been around forever, depends on who you ask. And yes, that is him from the Football Manager documentary and, no, he doesn’t want to talk about it.