Santini suffers in infernal triangle

Tottenham’s build-up to the season has been a maelstrom of bad results and bad news, with Robbie Keane providing the latest blow when he broke down with an ankle ligament injury in the 2-0 defeat at Rangers a week ago.

Just more than a week remains before the televised season opener against Liverpool at White Hart Lane and the Ibrox reverse was Spurs’s third of a seven-match pre-season schedule that has yielded only one win, a narrow 2-1 success, against the Conference side Stevenage.

There have been injuries to Keane and to Simon Davies, while Frederic Kanouté, a second of Spurs’s three senior strikers, is sidelined with illness.
Moreover, there are claims that, a month into the tenure of the new management team, the first cracks had emerged in the relationship between Tottenham’s sporting director Frank Arnesen and the head coach, Jacques Santini.

It was alleged that an argument erupted between Arnesen and Santini following the characterless display against Rangers and that, at half-time, assistant coach Martin Jol had voiced his concerns in a heated dressing-room exchange with Santini. The allegations were denied by Spurs.

Tensions between Arnesen and Santini were likely from the moment the pair took office. Trumpeted by chairperson Daniel Levy as the continental structure needed to revamp the club, the Spurs board claimed it would improve on the manager-director relationship under which Glenn Hoddle and David Pleat had operated.

Arnesen has been charged with overseeing the club’s youth and transfer strategies, with Santini in charge of team affairs. However, there are fundamental flaws for Tottenham, not least surrounding Jol’s role.

The Dutchman was recommended by Arnesen, the former PSV Eindhoven technical director who knew Jol from Holland, where he had been named coach of the year in 2002. Though he has arrived as ‘first assistant to the head coach”, Jol is used to being his own man.

It is rumoured that Levy pressed ahead with the appointment of Santini in the belief that he would be recruiting the Euro 2004-winning coach, a PR coup. However, that was to be shattered when Santini’s France crashed out in the quarterfinals.

Against this backdrop Santini knew he needed good pre-season results to provide a strong foundation for his tenure, a message he tried to extend when he said on his appointment: ‘We must start the season well. We are hoping to pick up many points in August, September and October to give a dynamic élan to the team and the club.”

But the Frenchman has been hampered by his lack of mastery of English, leading to a failure to communicate his tactics to the dressing room. With the giant former Bayern Munich centre-back Jol, whose English was perfected during spells at West Bromwich Albion and Coventry, by his side, Santini has cut a faintly ridiculous figure.

Santini has apparently found it difficult to penetrate the bond between Jol and Arnesen and already a fissure appears to have opened in the head coach’s relationship with the sporting director.

There is talk that Levy has written a probation period into Santini’s contract which, if enforced, could see Jol being promoted to the post of head coach at Santini’s expense.

For the moment the poorly defined relationship between Santini and Jol could lead to problems. This could mean their sharing certain duties. But experts in sports psychology consider any such role-sharing a catalyst for conflict.

‘Generally in the psychology of management teams, wherever you have an uneven number of people involved, there is a potential for conflict,” said Phil Moore, a specialist in sports psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. ‘Cliques and power struggles can develop if you have a lack of clarity as to who is in charge.”

Management teams of supposed equals have rarely been a success in England. In perhaps the most famous example, Roy Evans’s association with the Anfield boot room was not enough to prevent his exit as joint manager after sharing the job for four months in 1998 with Gérard Houllier.

‘The strength of the British football coaching model is that you have only one boss. In any successful company, this is the case, you have one individual who is calling the shots,” Moore added. —

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