Levy faces test of true Spurs ambition after doomed dance with Nuno

Farewell then, Nuno. It was, let’s face it, almost entirely doomed from the start, to the extent there is pretty much zero point in analysing the gains, the losses and the legacy of Nuno-era Spurs.

What memories will Tottenham’s 35th permanent managerial appointment leave in north London? A way of standing. An expression of sympathetic bafflement. The sense, above all, of a head coach who seemed at all times to be encrusted with an ancient sadness, a courtly keeper of the grail in someone else’s castle, whose final words, dispatched by the hand of Daniel Levy, will be “He chose … poorly”.

But what did Spurs expect from a manager who plateaued out at Wolverhampton, who lost 17 league games last season, whose football is about control and caution and who they didn’t really want in the first place?

Instead, as the club turns its sights towards next things and the electrifying prospect of Antonio Conte, there are only two points worth taking from the Nuno Espírito Santo interlude. Both of these are familiar territory. Both will speak to whatever it is Conte can expect to achieve in this job.

First, what is a Tottenham manager for? This is a club defined too often by the appearance of progress, by light, noise and drama that exist in their own space, unrelated to any obvious substance.

Consider, for example, the past seven months. Spurs have fired José Mourinho less than a week before a cup final, tried and failed to kickstart a super league, successfully demotivated Harry Kane, hired a fancy director of football, appointed the last man on the long list, sacked the last man on the long list and enacted a dramatic pursuit of the most high-profile unemployed manager in world football.

In that time Spurs have moved from seventh in the Premier League to eighth. What has this cost? What has been the price tag on that mild nudge down the league table? Presumably anything up to £50m in payoffs, wasted wages and the declining value of your chief playing asset. It is, if nothing else, a very dramatic way of not doing very much.

But then this has been the role of the Spurs manager, which involves, in its simple form, a kind of El Tel impresario quality, injecting some kind of life, vibes, energy, into this carefully metered environment.

Nuno was never likely to win much. But he was never going come close to this model, he is a naturally conservative coach with the look on the touchline of a kindly hill farmer concerned by the travails of his favourite sickly heifer at the hands of the local vet.

This is the second point. Is Levy prepared to reach for anything beyond this? To play that game for real? Because Conte is something else entirely. Not just a serious pedigree upgrade but a more profound shift of culture.

This is an appointment that may just amount to a calling of the Levy bluff, a flushing out of that ruthless, strictly-business executive culture. Here is a manager who also doesn’t want a long-term thing. But he will make you win if you’re really serious.

Muck this one up, fail once again to take the leap forward, and it will be entirely on Levy. Conte knows how to do this thing.

There have been some oddly negative noises off in the past few days, a suggestion English football may have reason to be wary of a manager this ruthlessly driven. It is to be taken with a pinch of salt. He may lack the brand-friendly PR chops of a Solskjær. But Conte is a restless, angry, precision-engineered tactician.

This is a manager who began slowly in his first season at Chelsea, went home for an insomniac holiday during the autumn break, came back with a plan and ran way with the league title playing Victor Moses at wing-back and David Luiz in a back three.

It wasn’t all about control. Chelsea scored 85 goals. Conte got another title season out of Eden Hazard. He has five league titles at three clubs. Everything is urgency, fixes, fast-forward planning. He may have the right stuff for Kane, who needs someone bigger than him, some hard coaching and a clarification of what kind of player he wants to be.

You want success? The man who can provide it is already at the door, scowling in through the fanlight, rattling at the locks. But he demands seriousness in return, a total commitment, an absence of flannel.

This is the subtext to every move at Tottenham. This is a club run by a chairman who walks a strange kind of tightrope, balancing the demands of the crowd, the opera of fandom, with both a professional and a proposal eye on profit and loss.

Levy sees the financial absurdities of his profession, errs towards probity and caution, but also seems to have bodged the chance to invest in something more. How much does this club really want success? And what would it look like? Is it simply existing close to the elite, preserving its income, doing the executive dance? Or the cold hard lust for trophies, for the kind of moments supporters crave?

The biggest mistake Spurs made was the failure to back Mauricio Pochettino when times were good. They posted record profits the year they reached the Champions League final. But that squad was allowed to age, Kane to run himself into the ground. The asset was sweated to death when it could have been nourished, made into a team to sustain that level.

If Conte does arrive he will be the fifth occupant of that manager’s office in two and half years since the move to the multi-use mega‑ground. His presence is also a kind of endgame, a calling-out of what the wider ambition really is here. Conte doesn’t care what your excuses are. He has employers waiting elsewhere if you’re going to send him out to battle with a baguette in his hand.

It will, at the very least, be fascinating to watch. Over to you, then, Mr Levy.

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