Tottenham's Arnesen happy to learn
Frank Arnesen’s office is neatly arranged. Shelves lining the room display dozens of football reference books and scouting videos.
A map of Great Britain is marked with little red flags denoting the location of each Premiership club.
The Dane charged with restoring greatness to Tottenham has meticulousness in his method. “I try to do football but also in a way where, because I was a football player, without a background at school or anything, I try to get order in my things,” he says. “It’s to protect myself but also to protect the club.”
Though his 30-year career has been spent exclusively in the insular world of football, Arnesen’s decade-long spell as technical director of PSV Eindhoven, owned by the Dutch electronics company Philips, has imbued him with skills more appropriate to high finance than the training ground.
“Every Monday I was in a board meeting with the Philips people,” he says. “They were all people in high, executive roles. So I learned to have these meetings, how to prepare myself, to take minutes, make agendas. So from being only a football player before, I have improved myself in other paths as well and that’s very important for the job.”
On his desk, alongside a small stack of DVDs featuring recent Serie A games, Arnesen’s two cellphones have been placed on top of a file marked “first priority”. Its contents are confidential but it is a fair bet that somewhere among those, last month, were notes on how to stave off Ajax’s advances for the club’s head coach Martin Jol.
Four months after taking over at Spurs following the abrupt departure of Jacques Santini, Holland’s coach of the year in 2001 and 2002 was on the short list to succeed Ronald Koeman at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Jol stood by the North London club and Ajax appointed their former playing hero Danny Blind.
The Ajax overture was a challenge Arnesen would have preferred not to have faced so soon, but he saw off the threat with aplomb. “Whether it is players or coaches or whatever, when they are doing well — and Martin is doing well — they will always be, how I say, attacked from the outside,” says Arnesen. “What I have to do is make them comfortable.”
It is an attractive feature of the “continental” structure Spurs adopted when enlisting Arnesen, Santini and Jol last year that the Dane’s detachment can allow for contingencies.
Arnesen insists Santini’s appointment was a correct one despite his early exit, but the sporting director recognised Jol’s managerial faculties to ensure a smooth transition.
The current talk of approaches for the captain Ledley King, the top scorer Jermain Defoe and the popular Robbie Keane does not concern Arnesen. “My job is to make sure I have a shadow list,” he says. “You are always scouting. If he goes, who do we buy? If something happens to him, where do we look? That is my job and it is one of the jobs that’s most important.”
And Arnesen (48) loves his job.
Allied to his penchant for practicalities is a passion for football that sets his eyes smouldering as he talks enthusiastically about the game. Expounding on the tactical merits of Brazil’s 4-2-2-2 formation as against the 4-3-3 he played at his first club, Ajax, he sports a wide grin while punctuating sentences with the word “fantastic”.
This is the game he loves, the sport that has consumed his life ever since signing that first professional contract as a 19-year-old. After concluding his 52-cap playing career as PSV’s crafty goalscoring midfielder in their three title-winning campaigns from 1986 to 1988 and the 1988 European Cup-winning season, the club were careful to look after him.
Arnesen broke his leg just before the European Cup final but, although he was out of contract, PSV offered him a six-month extension to recuperate. He remained with the club, coaching young players while working part-time as a European pundit for the Danish TV network TV2, and was appointed Bobby Robson’s assistant manager in 1991.
When the Tilburg-based club Willem II offered Arnesen the head coach’s position three years later PSV countered by promoting him to technical director, where he remained until Guus Hiddink absorbed the role into his remit as manager last year.
Arnesen’s own career has made him aware of the value of showing loyalty to players and staff, though he insists the process should be reciprocal. “We have to make them feel happy,” he says. “But also they have to themselves. I have always said the players have to take responsibility — the big players — to help us get into Europe as well. If we have not got the right players, if we are not making investments, they can turn around and say to me, ‘Look, Frank, I am here and I’m doing everything but you’re doing nothing.’
“But the players here can see something happening. I can see we are not sitting still, we are not only talking, we are doing it. And then from that the level of clubs interested in those players will go up. So the category who maybe a year ago would be able to sign them cannot now because they will say ‘no’, something is happening here and I will not leave the club.”
Arnesen does not sit still. Nineteen players have been signed or borrowed on his watch, while a top-six finish and a likely Uefa Cup place — a target Tottenham want to achieve within three years — is still in touching distance. Even a quarterfinal defeat at Newcastle has not dimmed the club’s dreams.
Arnesen admits that, if such progress can be achieved, it would be an important building block in Spurs’ attempts to match their position as Europe’s 14th-richest club with similar transfer-market clout. “You need to play at the highest European level if you want to attract [top] players as well,” he concedes. “I know how it happens: if three clubs come in and two clubs are playing always in the European Cup, and you are the club that is not, then ...
“But if they see something happening, and now here they see it is a club with people who are going forward — that is also how we attract players as well. I have felt it already [in the January transfer window].
“We got top players in when we were in competition with other teams and they said ‘yes’ to us. I am not so afraid but, if you want players who are of the highest level, then you need to play at the highest level.”
When that will be for Tottenham, Arnesen would not say. But he is sure to have it on file somewhere. — Â