Comolli under the spotlight after Spurs' stuttering start

Focus has turned to Tottenham's sporting director after the club's surprisingly poor early form this season, writes Jason Burt
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"We played quite well. We kept the ball, passed it around and once again it's got us nowhere," Darren Bent.

Not exactly words of inspiration – or great insight – from a £16m striker after Tottenham Hotspur's crushing 2-1 home defeat to Aston Villa on Monday evening. But Darren Bent was right in one thing. Spurs are going nowhere. A worst start to a season for 34 years tells its own story for a club where patience is not in great supply.

For now at least, the scrutiny is firmly on sporting director Damien Comolli rather than head coach Juande Ramos although, within the club, the Spaniard has not escaped criticism. Almost a year into the job and Ramos's failure to speak publically in English has irritated some while, more importantly, his team selections, chopping and changing line-ups and formations, have raised eyebrows.

Those accusations of inheriting an unfit, overweight squad, which he made when succeeding Martin Jol last autumn – and let it be known that Tom Huddlestone had to lose 9 kilos and Paul Robinson 10 kilos – now appear, as many suspected at the time, laboured. A cheap shot from a coach who immediately bought himself time but has overseen just three league wins since the Carling Cup triumph in February.

Having left out David Bentley and Jermaine Jenas against Villa, Ramos is considering causing a stir again by playing Aaron Lennon as a striker alongside Bent for tomorrow night's Uefa Cup tie at home to Wisla Krakow. That's because another expensive recent recruit Roman Pavlyuchenko is cup-tied.

It is yet another example of just how lop-sided the squad has become, and how Comolli's position has become increasingly vulnerable. Three years into the job and Spurs are not progressing along the smooth business and sporting lines envisaged by their ambitious, if reclusive, chairman Daniel Levy.

Comolli, having worked for Arsenal, was supposed to deliver a conveyor belt of imaginative, young and appreciating-in-value players. It just hasn't worked which has meant that those who were surprised that he was given the job appear to have had their reservations confirmed.

There were disagreements between Comolli and Jol but then the Dutchman had lost more than one friend on the board having earlier faced pressure to be replaced by Harry Redknapp. But it was Comolli who is believed to have pushed hardest for Ramos's appointment with Spurs paying a heavy price – in compensation, salary and bad PR – to lure the 53-year-old from Seville.

Such an investment means that Comolli immediately left himself vulnerable. All has not been smooth with Ramos either. He rejected eight players recommended to him by Comolli in the January transfer window while he became increasingly frustrated over the club's summer dealings. It wasn't that Ramos wanted to keep Dimitar Berbatov but he understandably also wanted to make sure the replacements were in place beforehand.

That didn't happen. For example, Comolli failed to deliver Sergio Garcia from Real Zaragoza. They got the money they wanted for Berbatov but had to make up their numbers by gratefully taking Campbell from Manchester United. They were out-flanked in the process – something that will have irritated Levy.

Further salt was added when the fanfare over Pavlyuchenko's arrival from Spartak Moscow was drowned out by the row over Spurs' attempts to sign Andrei Arshavin from Zenit St Petersburg. Having been advised that it would be best to take both Russians – or neither – the club ended up taking just one and hoping he settles. It will be no surprise if they bid again for Arshavin in January.

Ramos has also shown his frustration. His programme notes against Villa attacked the transfer window system and the lateness of deals and he has appeared annoyed at the delay in transfers taking place while, rather pointedly, a number of Comolli's signings – including Kevin-Prince Boateng, Ricardo Rocha and Adel Taarabt – have not even been afforded squad numbers by the coach. He would rather just have 22 players listed than include those he clearly doesn't rate.

The irony of that won't be lost on Levy. He is wedded to a continental structure of head coach and sporting director and is still haunted by the Sergei Rebrov story. Spurs paid £11m for the Ukrainian striker under George Graham and then, after he was sacked, watched as Glenn Hoddle marginalised him to such an extent that he was worth nothing on the transfer market.

Levy vowed that would never happen again but it's not as simple as that. Players are not inert commodities. Like all investments the value can go up as well as down while, ultimately, something else has been lost on the chairman. Teams grow organically. There was another message from Bent on Monday. "We've not really had time to get to know each other," he said after the defeat. It was the biggest indictment of all. Try and imagine a player from United, Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal saying that.

Playing the money game: Spurs' transfers since Comolli joined the club

Players in 2008/09

John Bostock Crystal Palace £0.7m

David Bentley Blackburn £15m

Roman Pavlyuchenko Spartak Moscow £13.8m

Vedran Corluka Manchester City £8.5m

2008/09: 38m spent on players

Players out 2008/09

Teemu Tainio Sunderland Undisclosed

Joe Martin Blackpool Undisclosed

Tommy Forecast Southampton Undisclosed

Paul Robinson Blackburn £3.5m

Pascal Chimbonda Sunderland Signed

Anthony Gardner Hull City £2.5m

Robbie Keane Liverpool £20.3m

Steed Malbranque Sunderland Undisclosed

Younes Kaboul Portsmouth Undisclosed

Young-Pyo Lee Borussia Dortmund Undisclosed

Dimitar Berbatov Man Utd £30.75m

2008/09: 57m received for players

Players in 2007/08

Danny Rose Leeds Undisclosed

Kevin Boateng Hertha Berlin Undisclosed

Chris Gunter Cardiff £2m

Jonathan Woodgate Middlesbrough £8m

Alan Hutton Rangers £9m

Gilberto Hertha Berlin £2m

Luka Modric Dynamo Zagreb £16.6m

Giovani Barcelona £4.7m

Heurelho Gomes PSV Eindhoven £7.8m

2007/08: £50.1m spent on players

Players out 2007/08

Emil Hallfredsson Lyn Oslo Nominal

Ahmed Mido Middlesbrough £6m

Danny Murphy Fulham Undisclosed

Philip Ifil Colchester Undisclosed

Lee Barnard Southend Free

Wayne Routledge Aston Villa £1.25m

Jermain Defoe Portsmouth £7.5m

Radek Cerny QPR Free

2007/08: £14.75m received for players

Players in 2006/07

Didier Zokora St Etienne £8.2m

Ahmed Mido Roma £4.5m

Pascal Chimbonda Wigan £4.5m

Ben Alnwick Sunderland £0.9m

Ricardo Rocha Benfica £3.3m

Gareth Bale Southampton £5m

Adel Taarabt Lens Undisclosed

Darren Bent Charlton £16.5m

Younes Kaboul Auxerre Undisclosed

2006/07: £42.9m spent on players

Players out 2006/07

Dean Marney Hull City Undisclosed

Michael Carrick Manchester Utd £18.6m

Andy Reid Charlton £3m

Marton Fulop Sunderland £0.5m

Calum Davenport West Ham £3m

Edgar Davids Ajax Free

Stuart Lewis Barnet Undisclosed

Charlie Lee Peterborough Free

Rob Burch Sheffield Wednesday Free

Reto Ziegler Sampdoria Undisclosed

Mark Yeates Colchester Undisclosed

Terry Dixon Released

2006/07: £25.1m received for players

Players in 2005/06

Wayne Routledge Crystal Palace Undisclosed

Tom Huddlestone Derby £2.5m

Aaron Lennon Leeds £1m

Teemu Tainio Auxerre Free

Mounir El Hamdaoui Excelsior Free

Radek Cerny Slavia Prague Undisclosed

Edgar Davids Internazionale Free

Jermaine Jenas Newcastle £7m

Grzegorz Rasiak Derby Undisclosed

Young-Pyo Lee PSV Eindhoven Undisclosed

Hossam Ghaly Feyenoord Undisclosed

Danny Murphy Charlton £2m

Benoit Assou-Ekotto Lens £3.5m

Dimitar Berbatov Bayer Leverkusen £ 10.9 m

Dorian Dervitte Lille Undisclosed

Tomas Pekhart Slavia Prague Undisclosed

2005/06: £26.9m spent on players

Players out 2005/06

Mark Hughes Oldham Free

Nicky Eyre Grays Free

Thimothee Atouba Hamburg Signed

Mark Wright Southend Free

Frederic Kanoute Seville £4.4m

Erik Edman Rennes Undisclosed

Pedro Mendes Portsmouth Undisclosed

Sean Davis Portsmouth Undisclosed

Noe Pamarot Portsmouth Undisclosed

Michael Brown Fulham Undisclosed

Grzegorz Rasiak Southampton £2m

Mounir El Hamdaoui Willem II Undisclosed

Johnnie Jackson Colchester Free

Claude Seanla Watford Free

Stephen Kelly Birmingham £0.75m

Ian Hillier Released

Goran Bunjevcevic Released

Noureddine Naybet Released

Rob Burch Released

2005/06: £7.15m received for players

Overall spent: £157.9m

Overall received: £104m

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