Spurs are interviewing for a manager. It’s hardly a level playing field – not as if the vacancy has been advertised down at the Job Centre. We’ll find out soon enough, next week in all probability but in the meantime we are left to consider the absurdity of the process upon which the short, medium and possibly long-term future of our club depends. The single most significant decision in the life cycle of any football club is based on hearsay, conjecture and rumour. It’s made by people unqualified and ill-equipped to do so who remain at the mercy of forces that have little to do with the matter at hand, leading a disparate group of football players and forming a team challenging at the peak of their sport, the English Premier League.
Years ago I used to work for local authorities in London. In the laudable interests of equal opportunities, job candidates firstly have to respond to a person specification, a series of abilities and attributes that are required to do the job. Demonstrate these and you are shortlisted. Then, each candidate is asked exactly the same set of questions. These responses are scored, winner takes all.
All in the name of fairness, the idea being that you remove any subjectivity or preconceptions on the part of the panel. One council went as far as to prohibit any discussion between panel members until they had given in their scores. In practice it makes it harder to discern the qualities in the best applicants that marks them out as better than the rest. In reality everyone completes the form in the same way, unless they are truly clueless (and it never ceases to amaze me how many experienced professionals don’t get it). Produce what is essentially a list: ‘I have worked with blah blah’, ‘I have experience in the law for blah blah..’ and you’re through.
Not that I’m one to talk. I’m fairly calm, given to careful, thought-out judgements, used to public speaking, but there’s something about an interview that turns us into gibbering wrecks. It’s like an invisible sci-fi operation takes place as you enter the room, removing that part of the brain that allows coherence. I can think of at least three interviews where I left puzzled as to who precisely was present. Certainly wasn’t me. Those things that person was saying, I don’t think that, I think the opposite. I once stumbled over my own name.
The worst was at the end of a good interview. Determined to finish on a high note, I shook the chair’s hand firmly whilst fixing him with a steady grin. Confident, I turned, decisively gripped the door handle and strode straight into the cleaner’s cupboard. The rejection letter arrived the next morning.
My phobias aside, I’d question how effective a method it is of appointing the manager of a Premier League team. You wonder how coaches might fare with some of our standard approaches. “First question, just to settle you down – how do your skills and experience fit this post?”
Scenarios are popular: “You’re a goal down at home to Norwich. They are on top in a game you must win. The opposition manager has outmanoeuvred you, your tactics have failed, the crowd are restless and your striker’s got the hump because he’s discovered the full-back is earning more from his boot contract. What would you do? Use this flip-chart with a football pitch to illustrate your response.”
Not going to happen. Maybe they could try the classic ‘Coffee? OOPS, I seem to have spilt it on your lap, SILLY ME’ ploy designed to take interviewees out of their comfort zone.
Imagine how Roy Keane’s interview at Ipswich went. “Mr Keane performed more poorly than any of the other candidates. His psychometric testing revealed he was self-centred, unable to communicate with those he considered inferior to the point of borderline psychopath. His unfortunate parting shot of screwing up the test paper and shoving down the throat of the psychologist merely confirmed this.”
“Just what we’re looking for! Sign here.”
No way to run a football club, yet it is no more ridiculous than the process Spurs are currently undertaking. Levy and the board are ‘taking meetings’ with and interviewing a few chosen candidates. I say chosen: Levy’s mobile is presumably burnt out with calls from agents touting their man. There was the lovely story on the night Redknapp’s sacking was announced of Rafa Benitez who cancelled his scheduled appearance on 5Live at the last moment because “something had unexpectedly cropped up.” I think we know the answer to that one. Goodness who is calling Levy – if Sam Allardyce can apply for the Inter Milan job, as supposedly was the case a few years ago, then the Welling United reserve team coach must think he’s in with a chance at Spurs.
These interviews: just what can take place at them to make the difference, to give one top quality candidate the edge over another? Tactics? The board is full of businesspeople more comfortable with balance sheets than a coaching manual. Any advice they take will come from whispers, someone else’s opinion. Anyone with Levy’s ear, in fact, and hardly scientific. Football is what counts but it’s entirely subjective.
The new breed of manager like Rodgers and Martinez are fond of talking about their vision for their clubs. This has value for, with all due respect, sides who are less successful but anyone managing Spurs knows what is expected. What are they going to say? “I’m firmly convinced that the way forward is to overhaul the squad and replace them with hard-running hulks who lump the ball upfield at the earliest possible opportunity in the hope of reaching the quarter finals of the Capital One Cup?”
Also, if the chairman has a vision and appoints his man to see it to fruition, it’s as important for the board to stick to it as the manager. Witness Chels where AVB was asked to do a specific job then sacked when he tried to get on with it.
The people taking this momentous decision are perhaps those least equipped to do so. They will go on advice from others re the football side of things, so let’s hope Levy is talking to the right people. They meet and they get on. Or they don’t. Won’t affect their job prospects. You don’t get the impression that Levy cares overmuch about personal working relationships. He want to get the job done. The characters he’s appointed are very different – Jol v Santini, Ramos v Redknapp. Smacks of blowing with the wind, That the interview process is not helping one bit. Good forward planning would suggest you wouldn’t dismiss your man unless you had a fair idea of a replacement.
My person spec would require someone who could use the current squad as the basis for an attractive passing game, played at a high tempo and could bring in a greater degree of organisation than was the case last season. If that means more caution, so be it.
This blog deliberately leaves to others the analysis of hypothetical scenarios regarding players or, in this case, managers who might or might not be joining us – plenty of that elsewhere on the net, plenty of pondering to be done when they arrive. But AVB has been interviewed by Spurs. He meets the spec on many levels- motivated, encourages decent football, plays to a system, massively over-achieved at a club with finite resources. However, there’s other evidence to hand – dismissed after less than a season at Chelsea, rumblings about alienating players, certainly did not get the best from that squad.
There’s a debate to be had about what happened at the Bridge – he was fatally undermined by a combination of the owner and senior players in my view – but that’s a debate for another time. My point here is – we don’t know and neither does Levy. In the end, he’s going to take a calculated risk that’s subjective and not fully based on the evidence. In so doing he’s no different from other chairmen from Dover, Darlington to Donesk. It’s part of the crazy world of football, where astute businesspeople like Levy will stake the club’s future on a leap of faith.