Just four short months into his tenure as the Tottenham Hotspur manager, Nuno Espírito Santo’s team had become unusually uninspiring to watch. It was hardly the first team to bore a wide set of viewers, and certainly not the first in the middle of a poor stretch of results. In a span of just 17 matches, though, the team had impressively reached a worst-case scenario and was consistently begging one particular question: What is the point?
The easiest way for one’s team to be the embodiment of an existential question is to lack a clear vision; to Espírito Santo’s credit, that was never his issue. His successful, but brief, start at Spurs was the result of a certainty in how he can win football matches. It was always going to bore some, and can deliver inconsistent results as his time at Wolverhampton Wanderers proved. If anyone has muddied Tottenham’s mission, it is chairman Daniel Levy and managing director of football Fabio Paratici as their first big collaboration ends in failure.
The two failed to anticipate the conflict that was established from the very day Espírito Santo was unveiled as the new Tottenham manager. Levy identified Espírito Santo as the person who would help Spurs “revert back to our core DNA of playing attacking, entertaining football,” though his well-established stylistic strong suit was the opposite. The squad Espírito Santo inherited was closer to Levy’s description than the manager’s preferences, despite more than a year of working with the similarly-minded José Mourinho.
Spurs signed two of the most highly rated young technical midfielders who want a possession-heavy style in summer 2019, then spent all of the time since then playing the opposite of that style. https://t.co/UKl4a6JRCN— Grace Robertson ️⚧️ (@GraceOnFootball) October 23, 2021
It became obvious quite early that Espírito Santo was the wrong man for the job, directly exposing Tottenham’s months-long search for Mourinho’s successor. It adds just another layer to Tottenham’s inconsistent mixture of decisions in recent years, straying from the path to the top it has consistently been on for more than a decade.
The last several years have been full of important decisions for the powers that be at Tottenham, and some key missteps. The squad has arguably been imbalanced since the club squandered a chance to make signings in the summer of 2018, which was worsened by switching between styles of play when Mourinho replaced Mauricio Pochettino in 2019. The club has truly lacked identity since the stylistic change, creating its own obstacles along the way.
A wandering vision has stunted Tottenham’s growth in recent years, blocking the club from joining the top tier of rich clubs it has longed to be grouped with. It remains qualified to join them — Tottenham is estimated to be the tenth richest club in the world, and continues to boast players and facilities of top quality. Spurs share those attributes with clubs richer and more accomplished than them, even with the normalized erratic way those clubs are run. One could accuse Tottenham’s decision makers of also being erratic, but the clubs they are trying to emulate usually avoid descending into chaos by mixing in a few smart decisions.
Tottenham’s qualifications to be the world’s next elite football club are the reason it continues to have a chance at making the leap. It is why Tottenham, with perhaps the most high profile managerial vacancy, can attract Antonio Conte, perhaps the game’s best out of work manager. Despite a series of mismanagement, the club has done enough to afford the downward slope it is on. A course correction is necessary, though, to reverse it.