Small-town success aims big

To widespread applause, Martin Jol thumped his chest after delivering a rousing address to Tottenham’s shareholders. He had hit the right notes. Evoking the spirit of the recently deceased Bill Nicholson was always going to go down well, even though the Dutchman once referred to the first double-winning manager of the modern era as ‘Jim Nicholson”.

The Spurs supporters have weighty expectations and Jol knows it well.
He is wise enough to appreciate that he would not have been the appointment of those in the room who had asked the board why names such as Giovanni Trapattoni and Martin O’Neill had not been attracted to their club.

‘I might be a strange figure to most of you, [but] I have a good reputation in Holland,” he pleaded. ‘I know about the history of Tottenham; when I was 11 years old Spurs were the biggest club in Europe. [When I was asked to manage the club] I said after 30 seconds I would do it. I want to be a part of the history of this club.”

That history is proud but Tottenham’s position as one of the self-appointed ‘big five” has been eroded by years of underachievement and profligacy in the transfer market.

That process has run so deep that Jol has been recommended for his ability to transform RKC Waalwijk from relegation-threatened minnows into European contenders.

‘When he arrived, Waalwijk were bottom of the Dutch first division,” said Wilber Hack, who spent five-and-a-half years covering Jol’s team for the daily Brabants Dagblad.

‘They have only £3-million a year to spend and he performed very well in the competition. For three or four years they had the chance to compete in European football.

‘Frank Arnesen will like him because of his technical skill. He has it in his fingers to affect players the right way. Players almost all got better with him in his time of working with them and very often when they left his club they were never the same.”

One such player was Rik Hoogendorp, who started out under Jol as a 19-year-old forward with Den Haag and returned from an abortive loan spell at Celta Vigo to become a key player for the coach.

‘He’s a good coach and a good tactician,” said Hoogendorp. ‘He has a personal relationship with his players. He talks with the players, he knows football very well and he knows what players are thinking.

‘I have known him for 14 or 15 years and he is a good man. He was good for me. I have played football at a high level because he trained a lot with me even on my days off.

‘I scored 75 goals for him in five years, every year 10 or 15 goals. He is fair and honest as a coach and that is the most important thing.”

Though Jol was twice named Dutch coach of the year, this is his first taste of the big time. But the testimony of those who know him well suggests that he would have had that chance with PSV Eindhoven.

It is said that Jol was offered the PSV job by the Spurs sporting director Frank Arnesen — then technical director at PSV — only for Guus Hiddink to be handed the job after he steered South Korea to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.

Arnesen would publicly deny that, insistent that he only knew Jol from a ‘distance”; however, he knew the Dutchman’s work intimately enough to persuade instant and unanimous support from the board in his decision to appoint Jol head coach at White Hart Lane.

It is expected that Jol will receive similar standing in the dressing room.

‘He played at the top, with Bayern Munich, with two clubs in England and he has the respect of the players. Everyone knows he was a very good player in Holland,” added Hoogendorp.

Aware that his club has too often been a hostage to fortune, the chairperson Daniel Levy refused to set targets for Jol. The three-times capped former Holland midfielder would only set modest markers.

‘We want to be in the top half of the table and then we will build on that,” said Jol. ‘It is not only about structures or confidence or spirit, but sometimes you need to be lucky. We have to make the supporters happy and after four or five games they have not been happy. We have to entertain, [with] the style that suits Tottenham.”

Even Nicholson might have applauded that. —

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