Following the sacking of Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho nearly two months ago, Tottenham Hotspur have been without an official manager. Ryan Mason was presented with chance to take over on an interim basis until the end of the season, becoming the youngest manager to manage a Premier League side in its near 30 year history, but this was always meant to be a temporary arrangement.
Spurs have failed on numerous occasions to replace Mourinho, with a variety of reasons undermining the appoinment of his successor. Attempts were believed to have been made for the likes of Julien Naglesmann, Erik Ten Hag, Antonio Conte and, of course, Mauricio Pochettino. It is also thought that Julen Lopetegui also passed at the change to manage the club – in this article, I will talk about how he could have been the perfect replacement for Mourinho.
Lopetegui, manager of Spanish side Sevilla, has had a successful spell at the La Liga side since being appointed in 2019. The Spaniard lifted the Europa League trophy in 2019/2020 – his first season at the club – and he spearheaded Sevilla’s push for La Liga title this season. Though that challenge faded over the closing matches, finishing 4th and qualifying for the Champions League with the highest points total in the club’s history was still a significant achievement. The overwhelming financial might of domestic rivals Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid will always make it difficult to overhaul Spain’s ‘Big Three’.
Julen Lopetegui took over at Sevilla after a disappointing season, with the club finishing 6th in La Liga. However, the Spaniard took full advantage of Europa League qualification, leading ‘Los Nervionenses‘ to a record 6th Europa League title in 2019/20. Sevilla also finished 4th in La Liga – with just goal difference separating them from Atletico Madrid in 3rd – guaranteeing them a place in the following season’s Champions League. Lopetegui achieved another 4th place finish and guided the team out of the Champions League group stages this season, underlining the progress he has made.
Spurs, on the other hand, massively underachieved under Jose Mourinho. Under Mauricio Pochettino, the London club consistently gained Champions League football via a high finish in the Premier League, but are set for another season away from Europe’s elite competition after his sacking.
After years of underinvestment in the squad, Daniel Levy backed Mourinho in last summer’s transfer window, but only Pierre-Emile Højbjerg could be described as an unqualified success. Lopetegui has shown that he can work on a modest budget while getting the best out his players. Jules Koundé, for example, has developed into one of Europe’s most promising young defenders under Lopetegui’s guidance. In short, Lopetegui was backed by Sevilla’s board to bring in the right players to fit his tactics and complement the existing squad and it proved to be successful. He could have had similar success at Tottenham with the help of Fabio Paratici.
Lopetegui’s style of football would also bring welcome relief after a year and a half of Mourinho. A tactically astute, possession based, high energy approach is much more in keeping with Spurs’ set-up under Pochettino, and his use of wing-backs and a false nine would suit players like Sergio Reguilón (who played under Lopetegui at Sevilla) and Harry Kane.
However, the move to bring him to Spurs was ended in another failure. Several sources have reported that the Spaniard rejected Tottenham due to family reasons. Other sources report that he made it clear he wanted to stay at Sevilla as he is settled and would prefer not to relocate. Who would blame him? The project he has built at Sevilla is incredible and what is happening right now at Tottenham is something that most top level managers have shown little desire to become part of.
Paulo Fonseca looks like he will be appointed as the next Spurs manager, and I hope he brings the success we crave, but I can’t help but think that Tottenham will regret not prising Lopetegui away from sunny Spain.