Nuno sacked by Spurs

Tottenham fan Dan Carrier explores why Nuno's tenure lasted just four months, and why the club should never have sacked Mauricio Pochettino

Monday, 1st November 2021 — By Dan Carrier


‘The job was too big for Nuno Espirito Santo’

NUNO Espirito Santo spoke about restoring pride to Spurs, but as he clears his desk after just four months in charge, the sad truth is he was nothing but a Pound Shop Pochettino.

Today (Monday) Daniel Levy called time on Nuno’s tenure, ending a miserable and thankfully brief moment in the 139 year history of Tottenham Hotspur.

Nuno was never the first choice, but fans were ready to buy into the project if he somehow managed to make his players turn up.

But by 54 minutes of Saturday’s tie between Tottenham and Manchester United, named “El Sackio” as both managers were under pressure, it was all too obvious that Nuno had not only failed to instil a sense of common cause amongst those in white, but was unable to see the problems staring him in the face and then do something about it.

As the manager instructed the fourth official to hold up the substitute board with Lucas Moura’s number on it, the 60,000 home fans met the sign with a mixture of fury, despair and resignation.

Moura has been a bright filament in a dire season, not just a rare goal threat but also a man who plays with heart – and, of course, a fan favourite for his Amsterdam antics.

That Nuno felt the off colour Steven Bergwijn, the scorer of a grand total of four Premier League goals in his entire Spurs career, might offer something else as Tottenham tried to figure out where the United goal was, showed quite how far detached from reality his in-game tactical choices were.

Regardless of what went on at the training ground – and there are well-known issues within the squad, from players gone so far off the boil that they are closer to Artic-like temperatures, to structural weaknesses – Nuno’s philosophy, if there was one, was built on fantasy, not reality.

The bizarre tactical decisions came thick and fast: against Arsenal, Nuno played Dele Alli wide right and Tanguy Ndombele wide left, positions neither are suited to and neither had played before. It left Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg on his own in the middle of the park, and the Arsenal team had a field day.

It was obvious from the first 10 minutes this system wasn’t working, but instead of saying oops and doing something about it, the manager stood on the touchline frowning with his arms crossed.

Demoralising defeat followed demoralising defeat: Crystal Palace, Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham all laughed at Nuno’s team.

It was also obvious from such performances that there was serious unrest among players.

Alli and Harry Winks were dropped from the Carabao Cup squad last week, and both are clearly unhappy. Winks didn’t even make the match day squad for United.

It was a similar problem with Jose Mourinho. Managers can’t throw flouncy grumpy fits. They need to develop each player, deal with their issues and improve them – not create a sense of antagonism towards pieces of their puzzle.

The same goes for Sergio Reguilon, who was benched for the game against United, with the plodding Ben Davies drafted in – prompting rumours that Reguilon had asked if he could return to Real Madrid.

And as for Harry Kane, one might feel sorry for a world class player who has been asked to drive a Reliant Robin at Le Mans.

On Saturday, the lack of belief was all too obvious. When Spurs went a goal down – a regular occurrence in this disastrous autumn – there was no togetherness to step up and get back at their opponents.

For the first 40 minutes, Spurs had thrown themselves at the visitors, playing uncoordinated harum-scarum football that may have been disjointed but at least was a reaction to the baying of the crowds.

But when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a beauty to give United the lead, you could see the belief drain from every player. Silence reigned on the pitch, heads dropped and there were no fist pumps or cries of “c’mon lads”. The silence was deafening.

The club’s statement announcing his sacking called Nuno a “true gentleman”. For all the criticism, there is no doubt that he is not solely to blame, and one can feel sorry for him.

He was dignified in defeat, but clearly out of his depth. It is obvious Daniel Levy should never have sacked Mauricio Pochettino, and three years down the line, the same problems Pochettino identified have not been dealt with.

That’s not Nuno’s fault, and let us briefly remember that his reign started well – such are the margins in modern football. Three opening victories, the first against Manchester City, gave a sense of hope.

His side pressed City all over the pitch and it seemed like Spurs may be on to something. But being the seventh choice manager hung heavily on Nuno’s shoulders, and the players knew it. It was too much of a burden to bear.

Spurs have been here before. Over the years, we have seen some laughable appointments: Christian Gross, waving his travel card as he arrived at the Lane, claiming he’d taken the tube because he wanted to see what it was like for the fans.

He lasted under a year, and David Pleat took temporary control until Jacques Santini was appointed. He lasted about as long as Nuno – after three months, the former French national team manager scurried off with a severance cheque.

That Nuno was appointed in the first place smacked of desperation – and it was obvious by October that the players were not keen. Rumours from the training ground was Nuno was like Mourinho, minus the CV and charisma – a rather damning verdict from the professionals.

Spurs have a game in the Europa Conference League on Thursday. It remains to be seen if a stopgap interim boss – Ryan Mason perhaps – will be in the dugout as the board flip through their address book again.

Fans want Antonio Conte – a serial winner, who will demand transfer cash to spend. As it stands this afternoon he is favourite to take the job.

Other names in the frame include Graham Potter and Brendan Rodgers, while less inspiring links include Paulo Fonseca, who was considered in the summer but then binned for reasons unknown.

Best of all would be the return of Pochettino, but such a dream scenario is unlikely as he is shackled by a mega-contract at Paris Saint-Germain.

Whoever it is inherits a team with some very good players who need a consoling arm round them, a bit of a talking to and above all leadership.

There are others whose time at Spurs is up and must be waved goodbye, and there is a fan base who are rightfully unforgiving in their criticism who need to be sold the project.

The rollercoaster is off again. At least you can say things are never dull following this football club.

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