Sunday, November 18, 2007

From Hero to Zero in 50 Weeks

[first posted on]

Martin Jol took charge of Spurs on 5th November, 2004 following the unexpected departure of Jacques Santini and two years later on 5th November, 2006 his team recorded the most impressive victory of his time as manager and raised expectations around White Hart Lane.

In his first full season in charge Martin Jol’s Spurs had finished fifth and only missed out on fourth place and the Champions League on the final day of the season when ‘Lasagnegate’ struck down many of the players before their game against West Ham at Upton Park. In reality, if Spurs had managed to resolve a persistent problem through the season of conceding injury time goals they would have been comfortable in the Champions League spot, ahead of Arsenal, well before the final game of the season.

However, throughout Jol’s time at White Hart Lane while his team had made steady progress they were unable to make an impression on the ‘top 4’ sides. Their best efforts had always fallen short – a draw or undeserving single goal defeat being the best they could achieve for all their endeavours.

So, their victory over Chelsea at White Hart Lane on 5th November, 2006 was so satisfying and a worthy reward for all the effort and the previous missed opportunities. It was taken as an indication that they had finally broken the Chelsea and ‘top 4’ hoodoo and would be a challenge to the top sides in the major competitions. Coming from a goal down, the win had been achieved with Spurs young ‘for the future’ players playing a prominent part – Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon scoring the important goals. The tension throughout the final minutes was unbearable as Spurs held on to record victory and ‘Martin Jol’s Blue and White Army’ reverberated from all sides of the ground. The players and manager were being lauded as heroes and optimism was high among many supporters that finally Spurs had found a manager who could take the club on to greater things and follow in the footsteps of Bill Nicholson and Keith Burkinshaw.

It was looking good for Jol and Spurs – he had a good array of international players and the team were starting to play more attractive football with Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane developing an understanding as strikers while the English strength in the team was prominent – Robinson, King, Dawson, Jenas, Lennon and Defoe. Following on from that win the team put together an impressive run of results through to the end of the year in League, Carling Cup and UEFA competition.

The climax of the season saw Spurs again claim fifth place in the League and a second season in the UEFA Cup. Martin Jol had achieved Spurs’ best back to back League finishes for twenty four years.

However, in the months from November to May questions had arisen about Martin Jol’s ability to take Spurs on to the next level which was seen as gaining a Champions League place and again it centred on his team’s performances and ability to take on and beat the top sides.

The first query arose when Spurs faced Liverpool at home in the final game of 2006. Having made White Hart Lane almost fortress-like with a good run of results and only one home defeat all season, Spurs succumbed rather timidly to a Liverpool side who showed greater determination and endeavour – it was a disappointing way to end 2006, a year which had seen Spurs make so much progress.

The next two months saw a downward turn in Spurs’ form – no League wins and only Cup success to keep the spirits up but defeat to Arsenal in the semi-final of the Carling Cup was another bitter disappointment. The ‘young’ Arsenal side had been two down in the first leg at White Hart Lane and Spurs seemed in a strong position but two second half goals for the visitors turned the tie and greatly increased Spurs’ difficulties for the second leg. Injury to Berbatov during the game had affected Spurs’ play and his unavailability for the second leg along with Lennon increased their problems. Eventual defeat in extra time left Spurs looking to the other Cups in hope of success.

A defeat at home in the League to Manchester United by four goals again raised doubts and rumours suggested that if Spurs lost their FA Cup tie at Fulham, then Spurs could be looking for a new manager. However, somewhat unexpectedly Spurs turned on an exciting display of football to win 4-0 and the manager was reprieved for the meantime.

The next meeting with a ‘top 4’ team saw Spurs visit Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup. At half-time Spurs were leading by two goals (3-1) and a semi-final place seemed a possibility. However, a determined Chelsea fight back saw them equalise and take the tie to White Hart Lane where they brought more heartache to the Spurs’ faithful.

The final disappointment came in the UEFA Cup where Spurs were undone in Sevilla by the award of an unwarranted penalty which gifted the home team an equaliser, enabling them to bring a one goal advantage to the second leg. However, within seven minutes the tie was effectively over as Juande Ramos’ side scored twice and although Spurs mounted a second half comeback to earn a draw, they had once again fallen short against a top side in a critical game.

Having qualified for Europe for a second season, any doubts about the manager seemed to be have been set aside during the summer as £40 million was spent on strengthening the team and many commentators were predicting a season which would see Spurs challenging for a top for place and even ousting Arsenal from that top group.

However, after opening the season with two uninspiring defeats, the concerns about the manager were brought into the public domain when directors of the club were seen in a hotel in Sevilla courting the manager of the UEFA Cup winners. Denials and statements were issued, Martin Jol was assured there was nothing sinister in the meeting and that his position was safe but the matter was never resolved and wouldn’t go away.

From that time in August Martin Jol knew that his days as Spurs’ manager were numbered. The players knew it, the supporters knew and with continuing media speculation on the back of poor results it was only a matter of time.

That time came fifty weeks after Jol was being hailed a hero following his side’s first success against a ‘top 4’ side and the first League victory over Chelsea since 1990. The match against Getafe in the UEFA Cup which had brought such exciting football to White Hart Lane last season, was the background to the manager’s departure. Rumours had circulated on the internet before the game that this was going to happen and during the match the spectators became aware of the situation and responded with a constant roar of support and appreciation for Martin Jol.

The deed has been done and it could have been handled so much better but while Juande Ramos has been installed as manager of Tottenham Hotspur, Martin Jol deserves credit for what he achieved at the club. He brought the club a respect that had long been missing from Tottenham Hotspur and he achieved more than any of his immediate predecessors and qualification for two successive UEFA Cup campaigns.

However, nothing is assured in football. Last year on the strength of that win over Chelsea it appeared that Martin Jol would be in post for a considerable period of time but in fact for Jol it went from ‘hero to zero’ and the dole in only fifty weeks.


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