Aug 13, 2023

Why Ange Postecoglou might need to transform Tottenham twice

Tottenham were approaching Nuno territory and part of the problem was that the last time they spent 72 days searching for a manager, they ended up with Nuno Espirito Santo, albeit not for long. As Ange Postecoglou swaps Glasgow's East End for north London, it is the next stage in a unique journey; adding the English title to those in Australia, Japan and Scotland feels far-fetched but there has been little predictable about his career thus far.

And yet it may give Postecoglou something two of his more toxic predecessors lacked: a sense of gratitude. Both Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte gave the impression they thought they were doing Tottenham a favour by deigning to manage them. The most successful appointments of the Daniel Levy era, whether Martin Jol, Harry Redknapp or Mauricio Pochettino, had a more upbeat approach.

Each, in his own way, inherited something of a mess – certainly Redknapp needed few excuses to cite the two points in eight games Spurs procured before his arrival – and so does Postecoglou. He joins a club who snatched eighth place from the jaws of fourth, where only one footballer played genuinely well last season and he could leave, and where the atmosphere is shrouded in negativity. He showed an ability to unite and galvanise a fanbase at Celtic; it will be required again.

His in-tray is overflowing. The most obvious element is Harry Kane's future and even if, due to a combination of Levy's obstinacy, the striker's domestic situation and determination to break Alan Shearer's Premier League goalscoring record and the opportunity to leave with less aggravation on a free transfer next summer, it is likelier the talisman stays for another year, it could mean Postecoglou faces two rebuilding jobs: one with Kane in 2023, one without him 12 months on. Meanwhile, he joins at a point when Spurs have never been more reliant on Kane.

The Australian has the job of clearing up Conte's mess. The Italian's legacy is a dreadful one in various respects. He imposed the tactical straitjacket of the back three, yet an overly rigid team ended up with a disastrous defensive record: only Leeds and Southampton conceded more top-flight goals in 2023 and if Spurs sieved five in 21 minutes at Newcastle when Cristian Stellini's attempt to play a back four was an unmitigated disaster, pragmatism has rarely looked less pragmatic. Postecoglou has to find a formation and a style of play that both brings more solidity and attacking quality from players not named Kane.

Conte's spending spree – which cost far more than the Italian ever seemed to acknowledge – has created problems. Conundrums abound. Richarlison was the £60m forward who got a lone league goal and did not fit into the strongest side. Yves Bissouma and Djed Spence were soon discarded. There is scope for Postecoglou to revive careers. He may also need to reinvent a Conte recruit; the specialist wing-back Pedro Porro married a capacity to score with an inability to defend. Can the Spaniard play as a full-back or, if Spurs use a back four, be converted into a winger?

There is untapped potential but part of the difficulty is that Spurs’ past limits the room for manoeuvre. Postecoglou is bequeathed a bloated squad, because of both poor recruitment and a struggle to sell. The loan army will return; thus far they have represented an indictment. Conte was quick to give up on players. His successor ought to find a use for some of Sergio Reguilon, Harry Winks, Joe Rodon, Bryan Gil and Spence though, given the lack of creativity in the centre of midfield and their cost, Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso remain the most symbolic cases.

And, if they are surplus to requirements, there is a need for a proper clearout. It reflects poorly on both his predecessors and Levy that Spurs have three senior right-backs and, arguably, five left-backs. In various departments of the squad, they have quantity where they need quality. There is also the question of the succession: Postecoglou's reign will probably bring the end of Hugo Lloris’ time in goal, perhaps this summer. In defence, Eric Dier is coming off the back of a hideous season and with questions if he can excel as one of two centre-backs. In attack, Son Heung-min's wretched year may be a one-off but much of the spine of this side is either over 30 or soon will be.

And of the others, the excellent Rodrigo Bentancur will miss the start of Postecoglou's tenure, when he could do with generating a feelgood factor at a club marked by a mix of apathy and anger; the Australian, meanwhile, has to find a way to stop Cristian Romero from behaving idiotically, or at least to ensure he does so less frequently.

Levy claimed Postecoglou would bring back attacking football and an emphasis on youth, ideas Tottenham mislaid in recent years. But factor in the dreadful away form, their poor record against the top teams last season and the lack of a trophy since 2008 and virtually every element of the club requires attention. Postecoglou has a four-year contract but after two, Tottenham could look completely different. They need to.