More issues than just a new manager for Spurs

Posted by John Crace

It's hard to call the situation at White Hart Lane a crisis. It's happened far too often in the past for anyone to call it that. Tottenham's sacking of a manager after a period of hype and expectation, followed by disappointment and a string of poor results, has become a familiar -- strangely comforting -- rite of passage.

With Andre Villas-Boas' removal, Tim Sherwood has been appointed interim manager. Daniel Levy and the other directors will be hoping Sherwood can do more than a holding job: Spurs still entertain hopes -- albeit distant -- of a top-four finish, not to mention their ongoing participation in three cup competitions. Sherwood's success would not just keep Spurs in the mix, it would buy the club a bit of time to make a full-time -- no one would dare call it permanent -- appointment. The choice of available managers will inevitably be a lot wider in the summer than January. And the price tag will also be markedly lower.

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There appear to be several front runners for the manager's job. The biggest name in the frame is Fabio Capello, the former England manager who has had a long and close working relationship with Franco Baldini, Spurs' director of football. However, given that Baldini has to bear a lot of the responsibility for bringing in so many of the new players who have underperformed under AVB and that Capello never really took to the English way of life, the Spurs board may have strong reservations about the Italian.

The fans' choice is Glenn Hoddle, who has long been a White Hart Lane legend and managed the club between 2001 and 2003. Hoddle himself has indicated he would give any offer serious consideration. When Hoddle managed the club 10 years ago, his main failure was his inability to form a rapport with his senior players; he couldn't understand why they found things so difficult that were second nature to him. Hoddle is a wiser and better man manager now; the biggest concern about bringing him back to White Hart Lane is that most managerial returns end in tears.

Frank de Boer is unlikely to be tempted away from the Dutch side Ajax, so the other two clear possibilities are Southampton's Mauricio Pochettino and Swansea's Michael Laudrup, both of whom could be tempted by the offer of a bigger job. Neither have won much with their clubs, but given that most of the managers Spurs have brought in haven't won much either, their inexperience may not be so much of a drawback. Not least because Levy may now be wondering if he might have done better by grabbing Roberto Martinez from Wigan after Harry Redknapp's departure.

Choosing a new manager is only half of Spurs' current dilemma. It is also by far the easiest to resolve. The deeper issue is the existential question of what type of club Spurs really is. Is it a big club that has fallen on difficult times? Or is it a medium-sized club with big ideas? The mentality of the chairman and directors is that Spurs are very definitely a big club, yet they behave like the owners of a medium-sized club. Most big clubs don't change their managers and direction every few years, nor do they habitually sell all their best players. Spurs do.

This isn't about Spurs' history; it's about the present. The simple fact is that Spurs are no nearer to achieving their ambition of regular Champions League football, and their sole successes in the 21st century have been two League Cup wins. Time and again Spurs have threatened something more, only to fail. Managers and players have come and gone all too frequently; there has been little of the continuity of the big teams.

The fault isn't entirely the board's. Spurs have had no Russian oligarch or oil sheikh to transform the club's finances. And thank God for that. The club's finances are also in good health. Who knows what will happen to Chelsea when Roman Abramovich finally gets bored of his toy? But if Spurs do want to be a big club, they have to start acting like it.

They need to make a decision about the new stadium. They can't keep fudging the issue indefinitely. More importantly, they have to show the patience of a big club. They have to build a team from the bottom up. Buying more and more players just isn't working, because Spurs can't afford the very best ones who would make a difference and because the very best ones wouldn't come to White Hart Lane. The club also have to show some patience and give a manager some time. Otherwise history will go on repeating itself.

In the short term, there is the Capital One quarterfinal against West Ham on Wednesday night. Not only is this a grudge match against local rivals who humiliated Spurs 3-0 at White Hart Lane earlier in the season, it's a game Tottenham have to win to restore some pride and self-belief. Lose this one and it's not hard to imagine that what little confidence the players currently have will dissipate entirely.

An improved performance from the dismal display against Liverpool at the weekend is inevitable; it's impossible to imagine Spurs could play any worse. Whether the improvement will be sufficient to overcome a West Ham side that is itself short on confidence and goals is the key question. My guess is it will.

The sacking of a manager often has a purgative, cleansing effect that produces a short-term lift. In addition, Sherwood will be under instructions to play a more familiar system, one that the players more easily understand and believe in. Who knows, Spurs might even play 4-4-2 with Emmanuel Adebayor restored to the attack. Adebayor might even be up for the challenge. Stranger things have happened.

Paulinho and Michael Dawson are out through suspensions. A Brazilian colleague tells me Paulinho has a habit of collecting suspensions at Christmas time. Jan Vertonghen is still injured. Various other players -- Danny Rose, Christian Eriksen and Vlad Chiriches in particular -- are only still just coming back from injury and are not yet match-fit. But these are desperate times. Spurs have to win.

On Wednesday, there is no hiding place. Sherwood has to put his best possible team out on the pitch. It's time for the fit, the half-fit and the unfit to show their true colours.


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