Football Features

Southgate’s “most difficult decision” to be Nuno’s new Coady? Winners & losers from Spurs’ manager hire

By Chris Smith

Published: 20:05, 4 July 2021

At long last, Tottenham Hotspur have a new manager.

After rejections and failed talks with the likes of Antonio Conte, Gennaro Gattuso and Erik ten Haag, Spurs finally appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as the man to take them forward.

The Portuguese tactician was by no means the club’s first choice, but heads to White Hart Lane with a solid reputation after guiding Wolves into the Premier League and qualifying for the Europa League.

After barely scraping into the Europa Conference League on the final day of the 2020/21 season and ultimately disappointing over the second half of the campaign, Espirito Santo will know there is plenty of work to be done if he’s to turn the north London club into Champions League contenders again.

So, ahead of a big season for the Lilywhites, who are the big winners and losers of Espirito Santo’s appointment?

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Winner: Matt Doherty

Though he experimented with different systems last season, Espirito Santo is most likely to adopt the 3-4-3 system that brought him so much success at Wolves. That in itself makes Matt Doherty a winner but factor in the point that the Irishman played over 140 games under Espirito Santo before joining Spurs from Wolves last year and you begin to see how he could seriously profit.

Matt has been massive for us,” Espirito Santo said of Doherty during their time together at Wolves, adding: “He never says no to a challenge.”

On the impact Espirito Santo had on his career, Doherty said in 2018: “He’s definitely the best coach that I’ve worked with, 100 per cent.

“He’s out on the training pitch every day. Some managers might just be on the sidelines and let the coaches take the training sessions.

“But he takes every session. With managers that we’ve had here before, the players that didn’t play would train and the manager wouldn’t even go out to watch that session, but he’s there taking it. And that just helps the boys.

“I remember I used to train when I wasn’t playing and if the manager doesn’t come out, it’s hard to get into it – there’s nobody watching who you’re trying to impress. Stuff like that helps a lot. His man-management skills are excellent. He’s just a top, top manager.”

By virtue of Doherty being a winner, Serge Aurier could, therefore, be considered a big loser of this appointment, with his place in the starting XI the one under threat.

That said, Aurier doesn’t exactly seem set on staying at Spurs anyway, so perhaps he won’t lose out that much after all?

“Everyone knows that if I wanted to extend my contract at Tottenham, I’d have already done so,” Aurier told L’Equipe in May.

“I’m not going to do that in six months’ time. I’ve experienced the Premier League and a Champions League final.  I’ve reached the end of a cycle and it’s time to look elsewhere.”

Loser: Tanguy Ndombele

You have to feel for Tanguy Ndombele. He signed to play under Mauricio Pochettino but has had to make do with Jose Mourinho and Ryan Mason. And now Espirto Santo. Who hates this gloriously gifted man? Ndombele is the kind of floaty, flighty playmaking wizard that Christian Eriksen was, but at Wolves, Espirito Santo preferred more industrious midfielders who used the ball further back, like Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho. Now, there’s a good chance Ndombele will be cast aside in favour of harder working but demonstrably less saucy talents.

Winner: Eric Dier

One of the key pieces of Wolves’ five-at-the-back system under Espirito Santo was Conor Coady, a central midfielder converted to a centre-back who could anchor the backline and superbly progress the ball.

Though he’s always been a bit more of a natural centre-back, Eric Dier is a player in a similar mould, often deployed in a defensive midfield role at both club and international level. And while his long-range passing isn’t at Coady’s level, there’s no doubting Dier’s time spent as a midfielder has made him a handy ball player when deployed further back.

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Despite becoming a hero by scoring the winning penalty in England’s shootout victory over Colombia at the 2018 World Cup, Dier’s career has hit a crossroads. The 27-year-old has failed to start more than 28 games in a Premier League season since the World Cup while he’s only been capped 13 times for the Three Lions during that time, missing out on the Euro 2020 squad altogether.

“Eric’s a leader, he enjoys responsibility and he has got the experience of previous tournaments,” wrote Ledley King (who coached Dier at Spurs last season) in his column for Standard Sport of the player’s omission from the England squad.

“I know Gareth Southgate said it was his most difficult decision and, having worked with Eric this season at Tottenham, for the majority he was excellent, especially at the beginning.”

Could Dier’s leadership and ability to slot into both defensive and midfield positions make him an attractive prospect for Espirito Santo to keep around?

Winner: Fabio Paratici

Across 11 years at Juventus, Fabio Paratici’s biggest achievement was arguably bringing Antonio Conte to the club, with the 51-year-old winning the first three of the Old Lady’s nine consecutive Serie A titles between 2012 and 2020.

According to reports, Daniel Levy was much keener on bringing in a manager who would instil an attacking style of football at Spurs but was overruled by Paratici. His hire — Nuno, of course — would restore more solidity and a better work ethic among the Tottenham squad.

That Paratici can exude this much influence over one of European football’s toughest chairman is extremely promising, both for his ability to work effectively and how much freedom he’ll be given. Especially considering the Italian only officially got his feet under the desk on Thursday.

So, does that mean Levy has finally learned to step back and allow the ‘football men’ (excuse the cliche) to make football decisions? It seems a stretch to call Levy a loser so he won’t get his own category here. In fact, if this new approach pays off with success and silverware, it could even make him a winner.

Winner: Young players

During his time at Wolves, Espirito Santo did a wonderful job in developing youngsters like Ruben Neves, Pedro Neto and Diogo Jota into top-class talents. That was reportedly one of the key factors in Paratici pushing for his appointment.

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Since Harry Kane’s emergence, it’s been slim pickings in terms of young players and academy talents making their mark at Spurs. Japhet Tanganga has been in and out of the side, while Ryan Sessegnon and Oliver Skipp have had to go out on loan to get minutes. Even more established stars like Dele Alli and Harry Winks have seen their place in the starting XI threatened as they’ve matured.

But Espirito Santo’s appointment will give the likes of Tanganga and Sessegnon fresh hope that they will be given a chance and can make the grade at White Hart Lane. Especially the latter given his expertise at playing as a wing-back.

Loser: Moussa Sissoko

As mentioned with Ndombele, Espirito Santo prefers more industrious midfielders. So, shouldn’t Moussa Sissoko be one of the biggest winners of his appointment?

Well, when you consider he’s now 31 years old, that emphasis on developing young players really starts to make you wonder how much of a role Sissoko will actually have at Spurs moving forward.

Now, at Wolves Espirito Santo made Moutinho the bedrock of his midfield, so there’s every chance he’ll do the same with Sissoko in the immediate future. But then again, the 25-year-old Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg offers the exact same qualities with much more in possession, too.

Sissoko has been linked with clubs as big as Napoli in recent weeks and given the way the wind is now blowing at Spurs, it might be the right time for him to jump ship to keep his national team prospects alive.