Question – why did Nuno not implement the three-at-the-back system he used so effectively at Wolves? Was it because he wanted to prove something? Or could it have been due to his desire, under pressure as the newbie manager, to play with a style and system in keeping with Spurs’ attacking traditions?
Whatever the million and one reasons could have been for his strategic decisions, it would have been immensely difficult, not to mention awkward, for any respectable manager to walk into an alien dressing room – already accustomed to a slew of coaches from the supposedly super to the mediocre waltzing in and out – and command authority when the questionable recruitment process that led to his final, quizzical appointment had already undermined him from the very beginning. And this blame can, and should not be laid squarely on the Ironman chairman’s shifty shoulders.
In short, all and sundry in the all-important dressing room were already privy to the knowledge that Nuno wasn’t the manager that their tough, demanding chairman Daniel Levy wanted. It had already been obvious that the Portuguese impresario from Molineux wasn’t even a strong second choice. In fact, he wasn’t even the fifth choice. He was after all the only candidate who dared take the offer seriously and decided to give it a go.
The snake-in-the-grass fact that Nuno was offered a mere two-year contract was already a clear indication the club lacked full conviction in their appointment. Club owners and the board should never run the risk of underestimating, hence insulting, the mentality of their players. After all, it’s not rocket science that players need to hail from Oxbridge or Ivy-league institutions of tertiary-level learning in order to play excellent football or understand the machinations of club politics. If the Tottenham chairman and board clearly weren’t sure they were appointing the right man, so why should the players be convinced?
With that gotten off the chest, Nuno also hardly did anything right to help his own cause. Accused of being glum to the accompaniment of a funereal dirge surround him around the training ground, his communication, or lack of, with players and staff didn’t exactly contribute towards the building up of a cohesive team with all the best communications vibes adding to their team-building efforts. His conversations were allegedly often unnecessarily short and blunt. Clearly not the ambassador he had been mistaken for in the beginning.
Understandably, the primary reason of consideration for any head coach to be given the sack is the lack of results and certainly not for the shortage of any ambassadorial embellishments nor beguiling charm that could be added to the prerequisite repertoire of football strategies and tactical nous. To this, add the quirky, variable element of time, which – in the case of clubs brandishing the rare breed of owners and chairmen like Daniel Levy and Roman Abramovich – means in no uncertain terms ‘deliver pronto or you’re dead meat’. There are clearly no two ways about it.
Five defeats in 10 league games makes for abysmal reading in any competitive sports scenario, that much is obvious. More damagingly, there seemed to be a consistent lack of progression throughout each of Nuno’s five defeats in charge.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his then not-so-merry entourage arrived at White Hart Lane still gasping and reeling from their abysmal 5-0 demolishing at the hands of Liverpool, with the frazzled supporters of the once austere Manchester club frantically berating their own manager’s future in the days prior.
As the match unfolded, Spurs were down 1-0 following a classic first-half volley from Cristiano Ronaldo when Nuno suddenly decided to hook off Lucas Moura for Steven Bergwijn, which prompted an exasperated crowd to let their feelings known with their ominous chant ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’, that also served as the theme song for stoning of the stupefied manager. The toxicity having spilled so clearly and uncontrollably onto the pitch, the hordes were baying for his blood. The lack of a game plan, fighting spirit and no resolve at all from Tottenham was too clearly obvious for all to see. It was a full-moon orgiastic night with blood-chilling repercussions the following days.
When news of their manager’s sacking was announced just after 9.20am on Monday, there was hardly any surprise among the players. The unravelling was quicker than expected but it was an outcome they had quite likely expected from the moment he was named as Mourinho’s successor in June as the club had already becoming an unholy mess. Yet some still harbored hope that he would indeed be the savior to lead them out of the wilderness.
Sadly, Saturday’s failure to score against a Manchester United team that were totally a shambles in defense provided a harsh insight into an appointment that just wasn’t working.
No top flight team registered fewer shots on goal. More incriminating still was the fact that Saturday was the first time Spurs had failed to have a shot on target in a Premier League home game in an eight-year stretch – very damning evidence especially considering that United had previously been able to keep just one clean sheet in 22 games in all competitions. The only comfort Spurs can cling to is that only bottom-of-the-table Norwich have scored fewer Premier League goals than Tottenham’s nine from ten games this season.
In his own disfavor, Nuno had clearly lost authority not on the touchline, but also in the dressing room and among the fans. As it stood in his final days, the veneer of faith and belief that was vested in him was already exceedingly thin from the very beginning. Where he had been hailed and welcomed as an upgrade at Wolves, being lauded as the man who had led them into the promised Canaan of the Premier League, he ended up being for many at Spurs as a downgrade fast running out of time and losing relevance in a nano world revolving much faster than the one he had been used to at Molineux.
Nuno became the accidental fall guy the club initially turned their snooty noses up at, then was forced to incidentally settle for after they had failed to lure a slew of higher profile targets who felt they had much better options elsewhere. So terminating the Portuguese Mr. Nice Guy’s tenure after just 17 games could even be viewed not as a cold, cruel and premature act. It actually did him a favor and put him out of his misery without prolonging his ordeal of excruciating pain had it been allowed to continue. It was football euthanasia, so to speak.
Sure, Nuno was actually trading blows with heavyweights way above his weight and class but he did give it all his best in the beginning. You can’t really come down too hard on someone who is given a rare chance to punch above his level as there’s always got to be a starting point for everything. It’s called a learning curve.
Nuno could perhaps take comfort and seek solace in the fact that even the great Pep Guardiola himself didn’t begin his managerial career blessed with instant, prodigious football management nous and tactical savvy right after his playing days ended at Barcelona. The evolution from greenhorn coach to super coach came with the passage of time. He was indeed tremendously blessed to be given all the opportunities and time he needed at the Camp Nou, not to mention having indisputably the most talented brood of players at his beck and call. Lionel Messi included.
Those odds would heavily favor any manager punching in any weight category. Not so in Nuno’s unfortunate case, which could perhaps be summed up as being ‘Too Fast, Too Little, Too Soon’.