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With Antonio Conte officially out, Tottenham’s search for a manager takes on new urgency. The job comes with certain specific requirements, particularly given the club’s string of short-term underachieving gaffers (assuming that can be said about Conte’s year and a half). The coach doesn’t need to play “Spurs style” football but will have difficult obligations.
Requirements for the next Tottenham manager
First, the new trainer will need to be able to win now, utilizing the players available, a challenge made harder with the loss of Emerson Royal and, probably, Ivan Perisic. The coach will also need to be able to start from the current style, win, and – if desired – transition into his own style without losing momentum.
Second, he’ll have to build. Tottenham only has one more year guaranteed with Harry Kane, and Heung-min Son and Hugo Lloris seem to be in decline. The team isn’t fighting out of relegation or anything so dire (despite the most pessimistic thoughts of social media pundits), so a complete overhaul won’t be necessary. Still, the new coach must stay long enough to see a project through.
Antonio Conte did neither of these tasks. He knew the project would take a while, but he traditionally comes into a club, wins quickly, and gets out. He also demonstrated an uncompromising stubbornness to a single way of playing, only occasionally varying formations and rarely tactics, aside from small tweaks here or there. The new manager must be flexible, adapting to changing personnel and challenges (maybe finding space for, say, Richarlison to play).
Several names being linked with Spurs including two big ones
At least two candidates on Tottenham’s shortlist seem to fit this profile. Luis Enrique, Spain’s national team coach most recently, might be the ideal fit. While at Barcelona, he toyed with a 3-4-3, so he’ll have experience coming into the form that Spurs have been using, but likely injecting it with a more attack-minded attitude. His use of the 4-3-3- suggests he’d utilize the current roster well as he moves into his preferred approaches. As the team looks to play wide and fast, Pedro Porro, Dejan, Kulusevski, and Ben Davies (along with Destiny Udogie next year) become the players most likely to benefit from Enrique’s style. He won’t have a Messi-Suarez-Neymar front line, but he’ll have a good one, and he’s demonstrated the ability to utilize three quality attackers at once.
Julian Nagelsmann makes sense, too, if for no other reason than that he feels like an anti-Conte. He played fast, offense-minded football at RB Leipzig and then at Bayern Munich. His sense of counterpressing suits Tottenham perfectly in their current iteration, and his willingness to throw players forward should satisfy the fans (as much as that’s possible or relevant). He focuses on creativity in the attacking third, which could rejuvenate Son and even spark the team. If there’s a criticism to be lobbed at him, it may be that he’s overly tactical – his changes can be tough to keep up with – but that sort of flexibility would be a welcome approach to Tottenham after the previous year of repetitive play. Nagelsmann has also demonstrated an interest in developing young players, which will serve the club well as it transitions into its next era.
These two aren’t the only managers that fit the bill – in fact, someone surprising might be the best option overall – but they make clear sense. The club can’t again hire a serial winner without the patience to win. From a fan’s perspective, chasing someone like Thomas Tuchel – who thankfully is now with Bayern Munich – feels like a repeat of the Conte approach, move novel and less predictable, but similarly focused on precise, defensive soccer rather than free-flowing rowdiness. We likely won’t have to wait long to find out, and in the meantime, Cristian Stellini has things in hand. We can hope the next phase goes better and lasts longer than recent history suggests.
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