When the chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing” rang around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last Saturday as the subs’ board signalled for Lucas Moura to leave the pitch in favour of Steven Bergwijn, it was one of those defining moments football serves up.
Nuno Espírito Santo was doomed from that moment, but the ire of fans was not simply a product of discontent with a manager’s decision. The chairman, Daniel Levy, is reported to have been furious after the game. As a Spurs fan, he had every right to be. But was the fury also based on the chants of “We want Levy out” that followed the opprobrium directed at Nuno?
Whatever prompted the decision to sack the 14th manager of Enic’s reign as owner, the club’s board are firmly in the spotlight. Nuno lasted 17 games, an appointment made after a bungled and highly public flick through a Rolodex of managerial names that filled no one – probably not even Nuno – with confidence. It was an appointment that had to be got right, made after the failure of the last appointment that had to be got right. And has led to another appointment that has to be got right.
There is open discussion now about whether the board are able to recognise the mistakes made or know how to put them right. But in the absence of any takers, this is the board we have. So we need them to get it right.
Our role as a Supporters’ Trust is to help ensure the club achieves the best it can and we have to work with what we have to do that. We’ve been criticised by a small section of fans for not organising protests, but we exist to find solutions, not just take an oppositionist stance to please the gallery.
Last Saturday’s expression of anger was all the more powerful for being spontaneous and unorganised. Fans don’t need to be told what to think or given permission to protest. But they would like to know the answers to the questions we’ve put to the board regularly over the past two years and that we set out again last month.
None of those questions are unreasonable, none differ from the type that would be asked of any board or business in similar circumstances. Bland and evasive answers about focusing on success and being a family don’t cut it, especially when the club posts a statement urging everyone to stick together one day and sacks the manager the next.
Antonio Conte needs to be able to assert some leadership, create some direction and identity, and be backed. There’s an air around Spurs that suggests everyone is looking over their shoulder, afraid to make a mistake, focused only on avoiding blame. Anyone who has worked in that kind of environment knows how destructive that is. The need for a change in organisational culture is the most pressing challenge. Without it, we’ll be back discussing another new appointment within 18 months.
Fans are often criticised for wanting too much, for not understanding what the great geniuses who run our game understand. But fans just want to be proud of their club, to know that even if the team don’t succeed they will have given it a good go, to have an identity and some hope, above all to be entertained. And they know the difference between price and value.
Spurs had another glimpse of all that not so long ago, after a sustained period of drift. That shows it can be done. But there needs to be a change of approach from the very top.