After a months-long managerial search, Tottenham Hotspur landed on Nuno Espírito Santo last week. He promises to meet certain requirements of the role, namely chairman Daniel Levy’s priority to “revert back to our core DNA of playing attacking, entertaining football.” Espírito Santo also has Premier League experience, and led an upward trending project at Wolverhampton Wanderers. It would be unfair to call him unqualified. His hiring, though, teases an almost tepid start to Spurs’ next era.
For a long time, Espírito Santo felt like an imperfect fit for the job. A notable criticism was his style of play at Wolves, which was both unentertaining and ineffective at times last season. More worrying is that Espírito Santo is just one in a series of managers with a connection to agent Jorge Mendes, at times handcuffed to a list of his clients as future signings. These are means to an end, and so is Espírito Santo despite an apparent compromise on style.
The imperfect hire is not the result of an unambitious search. Tottenham started the process with a seemingly reasonable image of an attack-minded, accomplished manager. In actuality, that made for a small list and the club moved through them at quite a rate, slowly loosening its own requirements. In the end, hiring Espírito Santo felt like the move of an exasperated group that was desperate to make a choice as preseason approached.
The frantic urgency came at the cost of a long-term vision, at least temporarily. For the first time in perhaps the entirety of Levy’s tenure as chairman, Tottenham is not obviously signaling progress. The club’s identity for decades has been an uncomplicated desire to get better, and doing so with strategic player signings, hiring some high profile managers, and most clearly with a new stadium. Spurs’ quest to improve has always come with the end goal of being the best, something this version of the club has not accomplished. It is closer than it ever has been, though; the team regularly contends for European spots, and is estimated to be the tenth richest club in the world.
Espírito Santo is also not the rising star-type managers who matches the vision the club has it for itself, either. He is not the only one of his fellow candidates that would represent the same, though, and that has more to do with his new employers than it does with him.
Tottenham’s journey to hiring Espírito Santo was reportedly an unorganized one, and it speaks volumes that the Mendes connection was not troubling. It is a problem that predates Espírito Santo, as the club considered another Mendes manager in Gennaro Gattuso and signed a few Mendes clients while José Mourinho was manager. While Espírito Santo will at least meet the club’s demand for style of play, Mourinho did not and it was unclear if Gattuso would.
In its aim for the top, Tottenham has very clearly hit a plateau. It represents the difficulty of the task; a template does not truly exist, especially so without the funds Spurs’ direct rivals have. Spurs are in a tricky spot right now, though, some of it their own making. As a capable and available manager, Espírito Santo fills a need to get the best out of a talented squad. All things considered, a wide range of outcomes is possible during his spell and a wait-and-see approach is probably the right one. It means that Spurs are at a point of uncertainty unlike one in recent memory, putting a quiet but renewed intensity on the goal to be the best.