It would be fascinating to know, with the benefit of hindsight and the ignominy of another sacking, whether Daniel Levy would rewrite that letter sent to supporters in May which spoke so definitively of Tottenham Hotspur’s DNA if afforded the opportunity.
The chairman’s words were questioned by mid-June with the appointment of Fabio Paratici as sporting director. They felt entirely hollow by the end of June when Nuno Espirito Santo, whose entire CV screamed conservatism, was appointed after a protracted search in which a half dozen other options could not agree terms or simply turned the role down. And now, with Nuno binned and Antonio Conte set to replace him, they must be considered utterly laughable.
In the letter, which began by saying the club’s hierarchy had lost sight of some priorities and what was truly in its’ DNA, Levy offered a clear vow when it came to the search to find Jose Mourinho’s replacement.
“We are acutely aware of the need to select someone whose values reflect those of our great club,” he wrote, “and return to playing football with the style for which we are known – free-flowing, attacking and entertaining – whilst continuing to embrace our desire to see young players flourish from our academy alongside experienced talent.”
Good luck with that. Ten Premier League games later – with five defeats, the joint-lowest chances created by a squad that was growing stale three years ago and star players appearing to be entirely disinterested – the Nuno era has provided supporters of other clubs with another irresistible chapter in, to borrow Giorgio Chiellini’s phrase, The History of the Tottenham.
It has also placed further scrutiny on a chairman who has made misstep after mistake since refusing to provide Mauricio Pochettino with the signings he desired a year before that improbable, crack-covering run to the 2019 Champions League final. The rot had set in by then and the opportunities to mend have ultimately been screwed up until now.
Yet the reality is that club DNAs, identities or ways are nothing but empty slogans and gestures when it comes to what happens on the pitch. The chairman, other non-football executives and supporters can bang on about their club’s perceived correct style but unless the man in the dugout is, first off, equipped with the right pieces and, secondly, possessing the right mind to enact such a game plan it is meaningless. Nuno had neither and for all his flaws, the lack of attacking imagination chief among them, was set up to fail from the offset.
Those who argue such ways exist would also be of a mind to look at Arsenal and Manchester United, clubs who had clear identities during the long and successful reigns of Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson only for it all to turn to mush once they departed. The Arsenal Way was Wenger’s, Manchester United’s DNA was Ferguson’s.
Another factor is that In the era of supercoaches it is their way or the highway if a club wants to attract the true elite. The very best have all nurtured complex philosophies and invariably are not for changing.
From the latest transfer news to those glorious wins in north London and beyond! There might even be a laugh or two too.
Which brings us to Antonio Conte. He is not the Mourinho-lite figure that critics like to frame him as and, unlike Nuno, possesses a proven record of elite success. The 52-year-old has a track record of getting a tune out of players whose careers had previously been defined by underachievement – ask Romelu Lukaku or Paul Pogba – and there are more than a few in Spurs’ current squad in need of a jolt.
The football will not always be “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” and there will be games where Spurs are, yes, braced to suffer. But more desire and fight will be a given, the team will be rejuvenated despite its lack of quality and depth compared to the big four and, above all, fans can hope and dream of a first trophy in 13 years.
It does not feel a stretch to suggest that this appointment could end up being a coup at the end of two years in which it has felt like every single major decision has been the wrong one. It even has the added kicker of a potential sliding doors moment with Manchester United’s win on Saturday potentially a pyrrhic one should Conte bring success to north London while the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rollercoaster chugs along.
Those are all talking points for the future. In the present it is time for Levy to start righting some wrongs and provide Conte, who will no doubt bring his famously extensive and expensive backroom team with him, with the adequate resources to maximise his chance of integrating a winning formula.
Should he deliver silverware it will be interesting to see how quickly the emphasis on DNA fades into irrelevance. Perhaps as fast as you can say “to dare is to do.”