Saturday, September 27, 2008

Juande or Another Tottenham Hotspur Will Get it Right...Maybe

Tottenham Hotspur have had their worst start to a league campaign in 34 years. They sit at the bottom of the table. And the only domestic match that Spurs have won this season was against a dismal Newcastle in the Carling Cup on Wednesday.

Surprisingly, the only club in a worse off state than Spurs are Newcastle. And over the last 10 years the clubs have a remarkably similar record...

Both have spent just over the £300M mark in 10 years. And while Newcastle average out at 8th place, Spurs have averaged 10th place. Both clubs have had a long line of managers recently, and both clubs have had problems with their respective Directors of Football.

The difference between the two clubs is that Wise is in a more powerful position at Newcastle than Damian Comolli is at Spurs.

If you think that Juande Ramos' position at Spurs is under threat after a poor start to the season, you'd be wrong. Strangely enough Ramos is actually in a stronger position at the club, because of the bad start.

Damian Comolli was Chief Scout at Arsenal and has a massive reputation for finding young talent throughout Europe. Following Frank Arnesen's defection to Chelsea, Spurs moved swiftly to replace the Dutchman with Comolli.

Pressure created by Comolli began to erode at Martin Jol's position at the club.

When Arnesen left, Jol's link to the Spurs hierarchy was all but removed. And with Comolli in charge of bringing players into the club, Jol didn't get his recommended signings. Pressure began to mount on a beleaguered Jol and following a mess up of Shakespearean proportions, Jol's sacking was announced just before he led Spurs to the field against Getafe in the UEFA Cup.

Comolli had gotten rid of Jol.

But Jol wasn't without supporters on the board. And even though it was an extremely bad run of results that led to his demise, some of the board had apparently listened to his comments about him being undermined by Comolli and his lack of input when it came to transfer policy.

Move on one year and Ramos has had an even worse start than Jol did. This time the pressure from the board to get results is not on Ramos, but on Comolli. In Ramos, Spurs have one of the best managers in Europe. His feats at Sevilla place him as one of the top managers in Spain. So he brings a certain pedigree to the cub.

Spurs was Jol's first job as a manager(he was head coach with both Roda JC and RKC Waalwijk) and when the pressure began to mount the board had no reference point to show that he was a great manager and he was removed from the position.

With Ramos the board have the ability to look back at his past record. And this time they know they have a good manager. So what's going wrong?

Ramos is in a much more powerful position than Jol, and has direct contact with the board. He has spoken of his unhappiness of the clubs transfer policy. And as the old saying goes "give someone enough rope and they'll hang themselves."

Comolli is in charge of transfers in and out of the club. Ramos has been happy with the transfers into the club. He tells Comolli what type of player he wants and Comolli goes out and tries to get one of the recommended players.

This season Spurs have brought in a number of high profile players; Modric, Dos Santos, Gomes, and Bentley all strengthened the team.

But it is the transfers out of the club and the lack of replacements that has brought pressure onto Comolli. Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, and Dimitar Berbatov were all allowed to leave the club without being replaced.

No team in the Premiership could withstand this drain of talent from a club, never mind the fact that all the players were forwards.

Roman Pavulychenko was brought in at the last moment on transfer deadline day but is cup-tied in the UEFA Cup, and is tired after playing since last January in the Russian League.

Ramos was able to point out to the board that if he was in charge of transfer policy these mistakes would not have happened; that as one player left he would have replaced him straight away. Spurs now have only two recognised strikers. One is cup-tied and in need of a rest, while the other isn't rated by the manager.

The board have indicated to Comolli that he has one last chance to prove his worth in the transfer of players. They have also told him to "do something" in the January window or face losing his job.

Some of the performances of Comolli's signings have also brought his ability to select top-flight talent into question. There are Tottenham board members wondering why he signed Gilberto for £2.5M from Hertha Berlin when not only is the player 33-years-old, but he was out of contract six months later.

The signing of Kevin-Prince Boateng has also caused consternation after he was bought for £5M when the nearest rivals for his signature, Sevilla, only offered £2.8M.

The signing of Younnes Kaboul for £8M when Jol wanted Romanian defender Cristian Chivu for £5M has also brought questions to Comolli's door. He has also had to give reasons why he signed off on players like Steed Malbranque, Pascal Chimbonda, and Teemu Tainio all leave the club.

So Ramos has breathing space for this season. He now has a better communication line to the Spurs hierarchy and is on the verge of taking over the transfer policy of the club.

Should Comolli once again perform badly in January it would be the best thing that could happen to Spurs. Ramos, although new to the Premiership, looks like he could be the first "real" manager at the club since Keith Burkinshaw left in 1984.

On arrival last year he steadied a sinking ship. Confidence was at it's lowest ebb and he had plenty of work to do. A steady rise up the league started and culminated with a Carling Cup win in February.

After February, the Spurs season had all but ended and most of the team seemed to "not want to know" during the run in. Only Alan Hutton and Jermaine Jenas impressed during the run in.

But if there are any questions about Ramos, they start here. After the win against Chelsea a new dawn was heralded at Spurs. They would once again be the team to challenge the top four's domination of the league.

It didn't happen, did it.

Ramos allowed the players to go out and "celebrate", and gave them two days off. This relaxation of the rigid lifestyle that footballers usually live under was put to one side. Perhaps Ramos wanted to see how his players would react? Whichever way you look at it pictures of Spurs players in a "tired and emotional" state began to emerge in all of the English dailies over the next week.

Commentators and analysts who a week before had cheered Ramos' name from the roof tops now derided his name and how what he had done had given professionalism a bad name.

But it should be noted that the players who appeared mostly in the papers were Pascal Chimbonda, Steed Malbranque, Robbie Keane, Younnes Kaboul, and Ledley King. Only King remains at the club. But Ramos has made it clear that he wants a top class central defender to partner Jonathan Woodgate.

Ramos is a known disciplinarian and it still remains unclear whether letting the players hit the town was a test. But if you look at his background you could be forgiven for thinking it was.

In a famous incident in Spain while managing Rayo Vallecano, Ramos saw his team winning 1-0 against a poor team. Ramos felt his side were not trying hard enough and were showboating so, with 10 minutes to go, he motioned to the linesman he wanted to make a substitution. But when the player came off he refused to send on a replacement—making his team play out the game with 10 men, to teach them a lesson.

Vallecano held on for the victory.

As a club, Spurs have some of the best facilities in world football. Their ground, White Hart Lane, only has a capacity of 36,000 and Spurs have indicated to the local council that their preferred option would be to expand the stadium to 50,000. However, this is only on the condition that a tube station is built in the vicinity of the ground.

Spurs want the council to pay for this, and that's a major sticking point. Failing this, Spurs have been looking at sites in nearby Enfield and Hairingly where they have indicated that the preferred stadium capacity would be 60-65,000.

In their training facilities Spurs lead the way in England. Tottenham's training facilities at Enfield would be similar to any top flight club. Everything a professional footballer could want is available to them. But what Spurs have over other clubs is that they own the country club beside their training facilities. This country club has a golf course, tennis courts, snooker clubs, and water gyms—and all are available to any Spurs player.

In purchasing this facility Spurs are trying to ensure that players and specifically young players have amenities available to them so they are not tempted by the pitfalls common to footballers.

ENIC may be signed on the dotted line as owners, but they are a subsidiary of Joe Lewis' empire. The Briton has an estimated wealth of £3 billion.

It appears that, for the first time in over 25 years, the setup at Spurs is almost right. The club is on the verge of a new stadium. There is a top class manager in charge, transfer funds are available and the training facilities are top notch. And a director of football that many Spurs fans hope is only temporary.

What's holding them back?

The usual. Signing too many "footballers" when the team is crying out for a decent "water carrier" or two. Being a nursery club for Manchester United doesn't help. And I wouldn't be surprised to see Gomes replace Van Der Sar and Modric replace Scholes too.

But things at Spurs are starting to look right. With Ramos in charge Spurs could actually accomplish something. And maybe, just maybe, break into the top four.