Nuno Espirito Santo has been appointed as the new Tottenham head coach and many are underwhelmed but does the former Wolves boss deserve that reaction? Daniel Levy's comments have not helped prepare the land for his arrival, writes Adam Bate
Thursday 1 July 2021 13:49, UK
"My promise to you, we are going to make you proud," said Nuno Espirito Santo upon being named as the new Tottenham head coach. It was a line that echoed the words of Mauricio Pochettino when he arrived seven summers ago. But the mood is very different now.
There are obvious similarities. Tottenham had just finished sixth back then, not seventh as they did in May. Pochettino had just taken Southampton to eighth, one place below where Nuno twice finished with Wolves, even if the club did dip into the bottom half last season.
But it is the differences that are more striking. Midway through this torturous pursuit of a new head coach, chairman Daniel Levy spoke of being 'acutely aware' of the need for a change of style, a return to the club's values. Free-flowing, attacking and entertaining, he said.
They are words that are likely to be thrown back at Nuno and Levy following every cautious performance given that the Portuguese can hardly claim to have served up too many displays that meet this criteria of late. His was a reactive approach, defending deep.
Nuno came to tire of the comparisons with Jose Mourinho but he can hardly escape them now. The cruellest critics will suggest that Spurs have opted for an inferior version and some of the statistics from last season do bring to mind the worst caricatures of Mourinho.
Some metrics suggest no team pressed less than Wolves last season. Only Newcastle turned the ball over high up the pitch fewer times. Only Newcastle had to start attacks further away from the opposition goal. This could be seen as the opposite of Levy's vision.
Here, it is worth noting some mitigating circumstances. The horrific head injury to Raul Jimenez is oft-mentioned but still relevant. It scuppered Wolves' season given the inadequacy of the replacements. Attempts to change formation were unsuccessful.
That disappointment altered perceptions but supporters were still chanting for Nuno to stay upon their return to Molineux for his final game in charge. This was a club that he reinvigorated, surpassing expectations in each of his first three seasons. He was a folk hero.
This context matters. The image of Nuno that has taken hold of late does not reflect his four years in the job. He was in charge of Wolves for 199 games and after 168 of them - culminating in the win at Arsenal in which Jimenez was injured - his team were sixth.
The underwhelming six months that followed has undoubtedly played its part in the discontent at this appointment, amplified by the #NoToNuno hashtag on social media - a crass campaign given the noble reasons for not wanting Gennaro Gattuso to come.
It should be acknowledged that counter-attacking football can be thrilling. Nuno showed that when winning 3-2 at Tottenham in March of last year - still the last Premier League game played at the club's stadium in front of anything like a full house.
He showed it in beating Spurs at Wembley with an impressive 3-1 victory over Pochettino's men in the previous season. When it works, and it will surely work more often with better players, Nuno's football can be entertaining. It is almost always organised and clear.
Those parallels with Mourinho will be a problem. But Nuno should be seen less as Mourinho light and more as Mourinho without the angst. It is impossible to imagine him criticising players publicly or making self-aggrandizing remarks. Man-management is a strength.
It will be intriguing to see whether he reverts to the 3-4-3 system that he favoured for so long at Wolves and has been dabbled with at Spurs. New managing director of football Fabio Paratici has already been keen to stress that Nuno used many other systems at Porto.
Clearly, it would be absurd to build around Matt Doherty, the man who revelled in his wing-back role at Wolves, but there are others at the club who could benefit too. It would be easy to see Heung-Min Son and Sergio Reguilon thriving, while others will surely adapt.
More difficult will be the prospect of once again losing his star striker, this time as a result of a sale rather than injury, and potentially before a ball has been kicked. Harry Kane's exit would hardly improve the mood. It would also hasten the need for a rebuild.
If Jorge Mendes helps to facilitate it, there will be some unease among supporters. Nuno's relationship with Mendes is longstanding - he was his very first client - and there are those who will question the role this will play in forthcoming recruitment decisions.
It is tricky for Nuno to begin that process armed only with a two-year contract and amid a backdrop that sees some fans regarding him as a mere placeholder, already noting that the end of his contract coincides with the end of Pochettino's deal at Paris Saint-Germain.
But after a fraught summer, a glance elsewhere lends perspective. Nuno's appointment does not merit the opprobrium reserved for Rafa Benitez at Everton, nor does it appear to be a gamble to match the moves for Bruno Lage and Patrick Vieira.
He will bring commitment and competence, quiet charisma too. It is an uncomfortable introduction and there are challenges to overcome if he is to instil the pride of which he speaks. But Nuno is a good coach. When the noise dies down, that fact will remain.