Confusion over role led Santini to reconsider his position

Worsening relationship with Frank Arnesen prompted Frenchman's departure, writes Jason Burt
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The Independent Football

They chose Bonfire Night to set off the fireworks again over Tottenham Hotspur. But even when he arrived in the summer there were signs that Jacques Santini's reign would end with a bang.

The Frenchman's first press conference was nothing if not a whimper, however. Indeed, in his insistence, brave or foolish, to express his thoughts in faltering English and ignore the use of an interpreter, Santini's approach was lampooned as much as that of another previous Spurs coach - Christian Gross. But at least the Tube-ticket-wielding Swiss lasted eight months. Santini has gone inside six.

His departure means that the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, has lost both the men he targeted to take over last season with the same explanation. Personal reasons were also cited by Giovanni Trapattoni for turning down the post before it was even offered to Santini.

But Santini did come and his swift departure means that Levy is under pressure. After all it was he who single-mindedly insisted that Spurs eschewed the traditional managerial structure and appoint a sporting director, Frank Arnesen, and head coach.

In doing so he was copying what he felt was a Continental system which he had first tried to implement with the combination of Glenn Hoddle and David Pleat. Now he is set to have a fourth man in charge of first-team affairs in little over 12 months.

His brave decision now appears to be a dangerous gamble, though Levy will hope that in Arnesen he has the man steady the ship. Levy would no doubt argue that the structure he has in place was designed to cope with such sudden eventualities as yesterday.

But it is Arnesen's closeness to Martin Jol - the man who was imposed on Santini as his assistant, and who was put in charge last night - that led to the first tensions in Santini's brief tenure. Indeed, it is believed that Arnesen favoured Jol over Santini in the first place but was overruled by Levy because, although he was a well-respected coach, he was an unknown in England.

The chairman believed that Santini would lead France to victory in Euro 2004 and his appointment would have been seen as a major coup. However, the French crashed out in the quarter-finals and Santini was left with much to prove.

In fact, Spurs made a reasonable start to the season, but he was just three weeks into it when the first cracks started to appear in his relationship with Arnesen. It did not help that, initially, the boundaries were blurred as to what responsibilities the two men had. A club document makes reference to Arnesen, being "responsible for all matters relating to the footballing side of the club and the recruitment of key personnel", whereas Santini was supposed to "deal with all matters relating to the first-team playing and coaching side of the club".

But it was soon clear who was boss. Arnesen talked about Santini being his appointment, Levy talked about success for Arnesen and "his team'. All the whirlwind summer signings had the Dane's imprint

Indeed, during Spurs' punishing - and grimly unsuccessful - pre-season schedule it was understood that Arnesen had made his feelings known. The defeat against Rangers in Glasgow was an early watershed. Jol also spoke up and it left the players somewhat perplexed as to who they were answering to.

Santini's predicament was not helped by the fact that he knew how close Arnesen and Jol were and that they both spoke perfect English. Jol, a former Bayern Munich defender, was reasonably familiar with English football having also spent time at Coventry City and West Bromwich Albion.

Though he arrived as "first assistant to the head coach", Jol is used to being his own man. There was even talk that Levy had written a probation period into Santini's contract although Spurs insisted last night that he had left of his own volition.

Little wonder that as the season started Santini insisted: "We must start well." To general surprise, they did. There was an unheard-of air of optimism around their training ground, Spurs Lodge, which reached new heights with early victories and clean sheets. Suddenly Tottenham were not a soft touch any more. They were not scoring enough goals, but "one-nil to the Tottenham" had a ring to it for fans who, for years, had suffered at the hands of their north London neighbours.

The honeymoon period did not last long. Spurs went from not scoring to being hard to beat, to not scoring and being beaten. No Premiership team has fewer goals and that, for Spurs fans, has been particularly hard to stomach. At least during their previous failings they could hide behind the fact that the team tried to entertain.

The transition was sudden and Santini struggled with it. He had already complained of tiredness, about the unrelenting toll of being a Premiership manager, about not having a good enough squad, about needing to sleep for a week and of living out a suitcase. However, it is thought that he had found somewhere to live in north London.

Suddenly the stories of disharmony resurfaced. Santini, it was said, was prone to sulking. He became introverted and uncommunicative. Training sessions also became quieter. Only last week the midfielder Sean Davis, picking his words carefully, spoke several times of a "subdued" atmosphere."It's very subdued," he said. "When training's finished he [Santini] doesn't really want anyone to stay out and do extra, so it's hard to do your own thing. If you want to do a bit extra it's best to just go in the gym or something like that. It's very subdued and more tactical." Last night the players said they had been instructed not to speak to the media.

Santini's failure to speak after the recent defeat at home to Bolton Wanderers was simply because he was so upset. He sat and immediately watched a tape of the game again, wondering why it had happened. Unfortunately it was the day that Spurs' greatest manager, Bill Nicholson, died and Santini's refusal to talk to the media was met with fierce criticism especially as it followed on from such a poor display. It showed he did not understand the club. It was, unintentionally, disrespectful. Officials hoped he would learn. Instead, he has gone.