Martin Jol has decided to turn down Ajax and remain as the head coach of Tottenham Hotspur. The news from the 49-year-old Dutchman will provide a relieving boost for Spurs ahead of today's FA Cup quarter-final against Newcastle United.
Jol was the No 1 choice to succeed Ronald Koeman at Ajax and held talks with the club's chairman, John Jaakke, and general manager, Arie van Eijden, during last week. As much as he has been tempted to take the Ajax job, if it was formally offered, Jol realises that, after just four months in charge at Spurs, it would be difficult for him to leave right now.
Instead Jol will sign an improvement to the deal he currently has at White Hart Lane, which has two years to run, and which has been hastily tabled by the Tottenham board, who are desperate to keep the popular successor to the ill-fated Jacques Santini. Jol's pay is understood to be about to receive a significant boost for a start - from about £600,000 a year to nearer £1m (what Santini received) - while Spurs also want to tie up a more prohibitive compensation package should another club come calling soon.
Jol confirmed that he is on the verge of signing a new deal. "It's only a couple of minor things to be talked about," he said. He added that he would be relieved once Ajax appoint a new coach because "then all the talk is over" as to whether he is leaving. They are likely to turn to their academy director, and former captain, Danny Blind, or the Barcelona assistant, Henk Ten Cate.
Originally Jol attempted to evade attempts on Friday to pin him down over his future - referring to previous answers he has given "to the [Spurs club] website". Asked to clarify further his remarks, he said: "What do you want from me, a clear answer?" When told "Yes", he replied "No". As in no, he's not leaving. Jol added: "I've told you this is a challenge for me. This is a good club and they are looking after me. The fans are terrific. I'm happy here, I'm committed to this club." He went on: "This is the first time that I've told somebody [that I'm definitely staying]."
The whole saga is a bitter irony for Jol. After waiting 14 years for a big club - during which time he developed the essentially village team RKC Waalwijk into one of Holland's best while making handsome profits in the transfer market - two have come along at once. Indeed Jol, one of the most meticulous and detailed coaches in Europe, only left Holland in the first place because he had been consistently overlooked for the top posts despite, twice, being named Dutch coach of the year.
The final straw for him was when Ruud Gullit was appointed coach of Feyenoord last summer, a job he is making a mess of, when the short list had been whittled down to the two of them; Jol was deemed less charismatic. Instead he accepted the offer of Frank Arnesen, then Spurs' new sporting director, to assist Santini. It is believed Jol was Arnesen's original choice for the top job itself, but that the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, had insisted on a "big name" - hence the appointment of Santini ahead of him after leading France at Euro 2004.
It is a refrain Jol has heard before. But the coup became a débâcle and Jol has, brilliantly, picked up the pieces. And he knows that he is loved at Spurs, also, and that if he can bring back European credibility it may also enhance his reputation back home. Ajax, and others, will come calling again.
The FA Cup offers an immediate shot at glory, even if Jol laughs at the fascination with qualifying for the Uefa Cup. "If we are in Europe and we play Metalurg Donetsk in Ukraine, you won't even go there, will you?" he said. His argument is that the idea of being in the competition is often more attractive than actually taking part.
Spurs' fans - with just one campaign in the past decade - would relish the opportunity. "It's important for this club," Jol said, mindful as he is of Spurs', and Newcastle's, Cup tradition. "We're in the last eight, we were in the last eight of the Carling Cup and didn't achieve anything. If you get to the semi-finals that would be a marvellous situation to be in." A favourable draw then, he said, and "who knows?".
Jol quickly dismantled Santini's negative tactics and clearly understands Tottenham fans - "the only ones in England who demand beautiful football instead of long balls and battle", he told the Dutch magazine Sportweek. Six thousand of them will be at St James' Park today, and they will be pleased to hear of Jol's renewed commitment.
It would have been a shame to lose him. Raised in the cold beach resort of Scheveningen, Jol is one of the warmest characters in football. The highlight of his midfield career was three years at West Bromwich Albion, during the early 1980s, but it gave him a deep impression of England. So did his managerial opponent today, Graeme Souness, ever also make a deep impression? On his shins, for example?
"He was one of the most complete midfielders in England in those days," Jol recalled. "He was tough. I heard yesterday that [Steven] Gerrard must be one of the best and I agree with that, because he's an unbelievable player. But Souness must be in the same top five [of all time]."
Not that he felt his full force. Instead that came from another Scot. "The only injury I have is from Andy Gray, who stamped on my calf and called me a big twit," Jol said. It was twit, or something that sounded similar, he added. He does not hold grudges, and now rates Gray among the best television pundits, even if "every time when I see him I feel my calf".
Jol also holds a deep admiration for Alan Shearer. "He must be one of the best strikers ever in England," he said. "He is such a credit to the game." Impending retirement will make for a sad loss. "If you listen to other great players, some will tell you that they have to quit when they are good and others will tell you that playing football is the best thing to do, so play as long as you can. I don't know what the answer is. I would play on if I were him," Jol said. He believes Shearer too will become a manager. Doing that at the "highest level" represents the closest substitute for playing, he said.
It will undoubtedly be an intriguing battle of two strike forces, with Newcastle revitalised and unbeaten in nine games and Jol drawing on his young battery of strikers. Only one of them, Mido, is among the bewildering 20 or so - Jol himself isn't sure of the exact number - new players who have been assimilated this season under Arnesen's rebuilding. "It's a new team, a lot of foreigners," Jol said. "We are the only team in England with so many new players. But I think we have done well. We are still in with a big chance of European football, we are still in the FA Cup." And, above all, they still have the coach they need.Reuse content