Nearly a decade ago I watched Gennaro Gattuso, then an AC Milan midfield with an infamous reputation for hard tackles and hot-headedness, square up to Tottenham Hotspur assistant manager Joe Jordan after a 2011 Champions League match at the San Siro. Jordan and Gattuso jawed at each other in Italian (Jordan apparently was fluent) and appeared to head-butt each other. At at one point Gattuso put his hands on Jordan’s neck to choke him before the two were separated.
That was my introduction to Ringhio Gattuso.
Fast forward nearly a decade and Gattuso, if reports are to believed, is set to become the next head coach of Tottenham Hotspur. It’s a shocking move, not only for the abruptness and speed by which Tottenham has made the U-turn from its previous heir-apparent, Paulo Fonseca, but for the choice of Gattuso, a polarizing figure both as a player and manager in world football who has a history of disparaging remarks towards women and the LGBTQIA community, and some particularly disappointing racism-adjacent statements.
It is shocking that Spurs would consider such a move. Gattuso is coming off of a 20-day — and no, that is not a typo — stint as manager of Serie A side Fiorentina that reportedly fell apart after Gattuso demanded that the club purchase a number of expensive players represented by his own agent, Jorge Mendes. (There are even reports that Mendes, one of the most notorious of the so-called “super agents,” had assets on both sides of the dispute and was playing both sides against each other to his own profit.)
This is without even mentioning the apparently shameless manner in which Spurs treated Paulo Fonseca. Not even 24 hours ago he appeared to have the job locked down, with a jittery fanbase if not fully on board at least willing to see what he could do, only to watch the club pull the rug out from under him in order to chase the latest shiny object to come within Managing Director of Football Fabio Paratici’s field of vision.
Tottenham’s managerial search has been an absolute dumpster fire since they sacked Jose Mourinho back in April. There have been plenty of reasons for supporters to be mad at the club for how they have handled this transition and the process that has been used to get to this point. So it is remarkable that I can make the following statement with very little hyperbole:
First, there are the tactical reasons, which in the interest of space and time I will only briefly touch on here. Let’s assume, for a second, that Gattuso’s experience and ability as a top flight manager is equal to that of Fonseca, a point which could be hotly debated. The brief investigation of Gattuso’s tactics at Napoli suggest an approach that is much more defensively oriented than Fonseca. I have heard Gattuso’s tactics described by people much smarter than me as “boring” and “uninspired.” Gattuso has only one feather in his managerial cap — the 2019 Coppa Italia when he was at Napoli.
But there are any number of tactically boring managers Tottenham could appoint. In fact, football is drowning in a sea of boring defensive managers, any one of which would be a bad hire for Spurs (remember the bit about “Tottenham’s DNA”?), but a better appointment than Gattuso. What sets Gattuso apart as a terrible appointment in any context but especially in the context of where Spurs are at the moment, is the enormous amount of baggage he carries.
His temper that he showed so often as a player never really went away. In fact, Gattuso has a long history of not only emotional and physical abuse towards players, match officials, and even his own staff. Just last year he went on an incredible profanity filled rant in several languages after a match official sent off one of his players at Napoli, which “blessed” the world with the phrase “Sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe s—t”. While a manager at Pisa, he once slapped his own assistant coach during a match.
It doesn’t stop there. Gattuso has a history of misogynistic comments as well. In 2013 when Milan president Adriano Galliani was asked to share his responsibility with the daughter of Silvio Berlusconi, Gattuso, who clearly disagreed with the decision, angrily implied that women shouldn’t be a part of football. “For someone like Galliani there should be more respect,” he said. “I can’t really see women in football. I don’t like to say it but that’s how it is.”
While a player in 2013 with FC Sion, Gattuso’s teammates walked off the pitch in protest after racist abuse from the crowd was directed at his teammate Kevin-Prince Boateng. Gattuso himself was unimpressed, saying the following after the match, expressing tepid support for Boateng and the walk-off at best and implying that Boateng’s racist abusers were not true Italians, but rather “foreigners:”
“I’ve lived five kilometres away from Busto Arsizio for years and that area is full of foreigners. There are no racists in Busto. What happened yesterday was the fault of a group of imbeciles.
“How many times have there been boos against white players in the past? It’s happened to me to, but I didn’t give it any importance. Boateng certainly felt he was offended, but I continue to not see it as racism. It just seems to be the latest episode of collective idiocy from a minority.
“But if we are convinced that there is a racism problem then strong decisions need to be made. And yesterday’s stance was strong. I, however, continue to believe that Italy is not a racist country.”
And there’s more. In 2008, Gattuso went on record as a strong defender of “traditional marriage” and expressed some extremely disappointing views on the role of LGBTQIA people in the sport of football.
“In church marriage should be between a man and a woman, even if this is 2008 and everyone can do as they please. I’m someone who has believed in the institution of family since I was a small child and for someone who believes in their religion this (same-sex marriage) is very strange.”
Yes, some of these are from many years ago. However, you don’t have to look far to find this information. In fact, most of these quotes were appearing on social media less than an hour after news broke that he was being considered for the position of Tottenham manager. That they can be easily called forth speaks to his controversial persona and his history of volatile temperament, off-color remarks, and conservative, fringe viewpoints.
This is the person that Tottenham Hotspur wants to lead their team into a new era? Really?
I want to be clear — I am a person who believes in the power of redemption. I do believe people can and should be forgiven, and that a person’s past acts should not necessarily forever define them as a human. People can change, and being willing to allow people to grapple with their past actions and beliefs, and make the changes that they need to become better is an important part of being a well-rounded and forgiving person.
But part of that process is looking for and recognizing that the person has done that hard work of grappling with their past ideas. I have seen no evidence that Gattuso has done any of that. He is still defined by his hot-headedness, his fiery temper, his now-fringe beliefs on what women can and can’t do, on gay people, and on the very existence of racism in football.
What does hiring a person with this kind of racial, misogynist, and borderline homophobic baggage say about Tottenham Hotspur?
Spurs were one of the first clubs to agree to take the knee in support of black lives and against racism when football restarted after the COVID-19 pandemic. The club expressly backed Davinson Sanchez, Ryan Sessegnon, and Son Heung-Min when all were racially abused on social media this past season. What should the club say to its black and BAME players that have suffered the very real consequences of racism in football after hiring Gattuso?
What does the club say to the players on Tottenham Hotspur Women, when the highest profile person at the club casts doubts upon an entire gender’s ability to participate fully in this game? What about to the many, many women supporters who follow the club week in and week out? What message does that send?
What does the club say to the LGBTQIA supporters of Tottenham Hotspur, including members of Proud Lilywhites, an officially sponsored supporters club whose pride flag has a prominent place above one of the tunnels at the new stadium, that Spurs’ likely manager believes that they should not be able to marry the person they love? How is such an appointment even considered, just four years after the transfer of Serge Aurier, which caused real hurt among LGBTQIA Spurs fans?
And finally, what is it about Tottenham’s current leadership that started with a terribly ill-considered and scattershot managerial search process, led them eventually to Fonseca who appeared to be a fine coach and a good person with big upside, only to then abandon him for an unproven manager represented by Jorge Mendes and who is by all accounts a terrible human being?
Tottenham Hotspur are a club whose identity is indelibly linked to support from Jewish fans, another oft-marginalized and historically abused group. That connection has become squishy and problematic in more recent years, but the history of the club suggests part of the club’s DNA, as much as “progressive football” and “developing youth players” is welcoming and embracing marginalized supporters, and a strong belief that football is for everyone.
Hiring Gennaro Gattuso spits in the face of that positive message. I cannot countenance it. I cannot embrace it. And I cannot support the upper leadership of any club that would permit it. It may drive me away from this blog, and possibly from Tottenham altogether.
Spurs are only now emerging from the disastrous tenure of Jose Mourinho, a figure whose poisonous personality clove Tottenham’s fandom straight down the middle into squabbling camps. Gattuso is shockingly similar in many ways, seemingly cut wholly from a fabric of toxic masculinity, reflexive regression, and rage. He is a terrible fit for this club and this league and woe be upon Tottenham’s leadership — Daniel Levy, Fabio Paratici, everyone — if they continue down this path.
At the time this article was written, Gattuso was not officially announced as Tottenham’s next manager. Thanks to a group effort from The Extra Inch podcast, the hashtag #NoToGattuso is now trending on Twitter in the UK. Ironically, the prospects of Gattuso’s appointment has united the fanbase, though not in the way that anyone would’ve guessed.
That means there’s still time for the club to listen to its supporters and make the right choice by backing away from this disastrous hire and deciding to take a different path. As we saw with the backlash to the Super League, there’s nothing that supporters can’t accomplish if they speak with one voice. We have seen at least three potential managers in the past two months come close to an appointment only for things to fall apart. Let’s make it a fourth, and this time for the right reasons.
No to Gattuso.