Before Daniel Levy dives head first into signing a new manager, whether it be Louis van Gaal, Mauricio Pochettino or someone else, he should stop and consider what he intends to do with Franco Baldini and the Director of Football position at Spurs. Baldini, hired as the team’s DoF, supposedly at AVB’s request, has been widely blamed for the mixed results among the seven players he and Levy signed this summer, spending over 100 million pounds recouped from the Gareth Bale sale. But whether or not he chooses to axe Baldini along with Tim Sherwood, Levy needs to decide what kind of club structure he truly wants.
If he is in fact committed to the DoF system, which builds from the top down and allows the manager to focus on his most important job, coaching, he needs to put his man in place first. In recent off-seasons Levy has worked backwards, first signing several players, like Gylfi Sigurdsson before hiring AVB, then hiring Baldini after his manager was already entrenched. But if he wants the club to have continuity, and a recognizable identity he needs to reverse course.
The first possibility is that Levy retains Baldini and seeks his input in choosing the new manager. Of course, based on this season’s results that idea would raise concerns. It remains to be seen whether Baldini’s signings (if you can actually attribute them solely to the Italian) will pan out in the long term. All seven of the players brought in this summer have struggled with some combination of injuries, the change in manager and the difficulties of adapting to the Premier League. But giving up on them after one miserable season seems short-sighted given the significant investments made and the generally positive reports of the players in the first place. The same sentiment probably applies to Baldini himself. He most likely erred in bringing in so many new players with no Premier League experience at once and expecting them to integrate into the squad in a single season. But with former head scout Ian Broomfield supposedly back in the fold, there is the skeleton of a very impressive scouting/transfer setup. Broomfield is noted for having an excellent eye for talent, Baldini for having an extensive list of contacts and relationships with clubs and agents, and Levy of course for being a voracious negotiator.
The other possibility is that Levy believes Baldini has failed in his remit and chooses to hire someone else as the team’s DoF. One area in which Tim Sherwood has things right is his determination to involve players from the team’s academy in the first-team squad. Again, it’s almost impossible to tell what exactly Baldini believes in regards to using the youth setup versus filling the roster with signings. But the fact remains it was only when Sherwood (who seems to completely disregard Baldini) became manager that we saw players like Nabil Bentaleb make the step up into the first team. If Levy were to look elsewhere for his DoF, a commitment to integrating youth team players into the first team would seemingly be a priority. For the notoriously frugal Chairman, it would be win-win. Youth players are cheap, both in terms of wages and the lack of transfer fees, and by playing they would either help the first-team, or increase their respective values for transfer to other clubs, providing an additional source of income. Also, if the club aligns its playing philosophy across all levels of the setup (youth and first-team), young players stepping up would already be comfortable with the team’s style.
But again, the most important responsibility that a new DoF would face though, is helping Levy to choose a new manager who both reflects the philosophy of the club and is on the same page in terms of the players the club requires to follow that philosophy. The rumblings that emerged after AVB’s sacking that he was not given the players he wanted and did not want the players he was given illustrates the most frequent complaint that pundits and fans have with the DoF system. But that isn’t necessarily a failing of the system itself, rather it’s a failure of the club to align the various levels of its structure with their overall goals. If Levy, Baldini and AVB were ever on the same page is impossible to know, but clearly at some point there was a major breakdown in communication and a failure to adhere to the hierarchy of decision-making. So either Levy needs to integrate Baldini into the process of choosing the next manager, or he needs to hire a new DoF, OR he needs to consider that going with a manager like Louis van Gaal, who demands total control, means scrapping the system altogether.
The key to establishing a structure that creates continuity and establishes an identity at Spurs is to build from the top down. Making sure that the key figures are aligned (Board, Levy, DoF, manager, players) at the beginning will hopefully prevent the type of disconnect that largely cratered the team’s season. In that regard, while it seems obvious that getting a new manager in is Levy’s top priority, it would be wise to first consider the overarching system within which the new coach would be working.