Rationalising Tottenham’s decision to hire Nuno Espirito Santo

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Tottenham’s long search spanning all seven continents of the Earth and eight planets in our solar system looks finally set to come to an end.

And the lucky successor to Jose Mourinho is…

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…Jose Mourinho’s former backup goalkeeper, Nuno Espirito Santo. Hey, sometimes these narratives just write themselves.

That’s obviously a disservice to Nuno, a coach with plenty of top-level experience and a worthy candidate of taking over the seventh-best team in the Premier League.

But after Spurs were so close to hiring Antonio Conte, linked so heavily with a reunion with Mauricio Pochettino, and promised a coach that would play attacking football and integrate players from the academy, Nuno’s appointment is hardly an inspiring one.

Tottenham are in desperate need of unifying right now, and that is going to have to start with the fanbase getting behind the new head coach. So, what are the positives of hiring Nuno? Step right up, Spurs supporters…

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Nuno led Wolves back into Europe one season after achieving Championship promotion / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images

Nuno guided Wolves to two seventh-place finishes in his three Premier League seasons at Molineux, much to the envy of the other big hopers outside the big six who make the task look so difficult (they even finished above Arsenal in the 2019/20 season). Their hopes of Europa League glory mid-pandemic were only dashed by eventual winners Sevilla, putting up an admirable fight at the back-end of a season where Wolves played 59 games over 383 days. Would you have banked on many other managers to have achieved those feats?

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Conor Coady featured 191 times across four seasons under Nuno / Sam Bagnall – AMA/Getty Images

In Wolves’ first year back in the top flight, Nuno only played 17 players more than 10 times, stretching to 19 the year after and 20 last season. In those same years Spurs deployed 25, 25, and 24 players respectively. Sure, Tottenham were in Europe for more of those campaigns and have greater financial resources than Wolves, but results show Nuno is able to stick with a settled team and use a small squad, which will be vital as the club continue their ‘painful rebuild’.


If Nuno can make Mustafi look good, there’s hope for Spurs yet / JOSE JORDAN/Getty Images

It’s no secret to Premier League followers that Nuno’s Wolves tended to suck the life out of games when necessary, and for most of his tenure, the Portuguese was adamant on playing a three-at-the-back formation – he’d play it against the Under-8s if he could. But when you add on top that Nuno was able to make Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Otamendi look competent enough to earn huge money moves to England, then suddenly you can put faith in him to sort out Spurs’ defensive frailties.


Kane and Son enjoyed tremendous seasons last year / SHAUN BOTTERILL/Getty Images

Okay, getting the best out of two world class players isn’t exactly revolutionary, but Nuno has priors when it comes to squeezing the life out of two star attackers while the rest of the team remains competent – something Mourinho could only half-manage. Wolves’ first two years back in the Premier League were spearheaded by Raul Jimenez and Diogo Jota, two players inferior to but in the same mould as Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. There’s still a winning recipe that Nuno can brew up at Spurs with little disruption (providing they do keep Kane, obviously).

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Nuno knows his way around / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Cor blimey, down to point five and we’re already scraping the bottom of the barrel. Hey, an alternative that was scarily creeping over the horizon was appointing Ryan Mason on a full-time basis, and his main tactics are shouting ‘COME ON YOU SPURS’ from the single-tier stand and tweeting about the need to play ‘the Tottenham way’.

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Paratici is taking over as Sporting Director / Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Spurs fans have hardly warmed to the incoming Fabio Paratici, who is already causing concerns with some of his decisions. But he is the driving force behind Nuno’s appointment, and it shows that chairman Daniel Levy is stepping away from footballing responsibilities – ultimately that’s a good thing, but might not have any major benefit until after Paratici departs.

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Nuno was immensely popular at Wolves / Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Mourinho divided the Spurs fanbase upon arrival and left with his approval rating completely tanked. His actions have set the club back 18 months and the tension between the fans and the inside of Tottenham Hotspur has never been higher. Nuno, who was unanimously the most popular man in Wolverhampton from the start to the end of his reign, is exactly the sort of loveable figure who can bring the club together again. That is a priority.

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Magnificent. / Pool/Getty Images

What, did you expect me to have a legitimate eighth point?

For more from Sean Walsh, follow him on Twitter!

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