Martin Jol: Mission improbable at Spurs

Tottenham have had 19 managers since Bill Nicholson and few, if any, have threatened to return the team to a long-term place among English football's élite. Martin Jol is confident it will be different under him. The eloquent Dutchman told Jason Burt why

By 2000 he was even more explicit. "I have an interview with a big magazine in Holland," he tells me, "in which I said, 'The only thing I would like is to go to the Premiership and go to Spurs'. I can show it to you." The magazine is kept in his office at Tottenham's training ground.

Mission. It is a word that recurs in Jol's conversation. "My mission," he says. "This is my mission." As he speaks your mind goes back to the annual general meeting of the club's shareholders a year ago, days after Jacques Santini resigned as Tottenham head coach, after only 13 games.

Jol, having just been appointed Santini's successor, delivers an engaging speech in front of 500 people. He invokes the spirit of Bill Nicholson, Spurs' most revered manager. It is impassioned. But the headlines the next day claim Jol wants to be the "second" Bill Nick.

He winces at the memory. "What I said on my first day with the stockholders is, 'I want to have a bit of the feeling that Bill Nicholson had'." He emphasises his words. "I never said, 'I'm the second Bill Nicholson'."

Jol has had "that feeling" before, several times: at the age of 10, when he scored 13 goals in one match; at 14 when he played at Wembley in a schoolboy international; when he made Scheveningen the non-league champions of the Netherlands in his first coaching job; and when he won the Dutch Cup with Roda.

"In my village everyone knows me. I won all the prizes," Jol says. "You can go with your head up and your chest like this [puffing it out]. That is the feeling I want."

Jol is the 19th Tottenham manager since Nicholson stepped down in 1974 and the fifth in four years. "This is one of the big clubs," the 49-year-old says. "There's a big burden, but a big glory as well. The only thing you have to do is bring it back." Jol pauses. "Appreciate what you have here, that is another story I tell the players."

He wants to appreciate it. "This," he says of his time at Spurs, whenever that will end, "this will be my last mission". It may be three, four years - it may be longer - although Jol points out the average time span of a coach in England is only 18 months. "Not everyone can be like Alex Ferguson," he says. When Jol leaves "I will go back to Holland, probably, and buy my own club or go back to my former club and be chairman".

But that is the future. First there is the "challenge, the adventure" of moulding the youngest - and biggest - squad in the Premiership. In one sentence he talks of the need for "patience", in another he is adding "but the pressure is - will we deliver now? And that is what I have to teach. We don't have time, you have to do it now."

He laughs. "We have to laugh more," he says - and there is a constant, dry humour, a warmth, an arm-around-your-shoulder mateyness. Jol takes you with him. "With Sky, a big channel, they say 'Spurs haven't won in five games'," he says. "And then the next day it's 'Spurs haven't lost in six'. That is being English. But I can live with it."

He can do more than that. "You can go to other clubs," he states "and it's work. This is not work." Chigwell, the Essex village where the training ground is, is "unbelievable. Nice weather". It is also dry. Like the humour. "People abroad think it rains all the time but I tell them - in London we only have five rainy days a year. If you are in the Midlands, it's raining every day."

Having played as a forceful midfielder in the 1980s for both West Bromwich Albion and, more briefly, Coventry City, Jol knows all about the Midlands. But first there was another foreign excursion. After joining Den Haag straight from school he moved to Bayern Munich as a right-back. But Jol didn't like life in Germany and returned to the Netherlands vowing never to go abroad again. That changed when the Black Country called and his time there left a mark. "I was back in Holland,and there's a big discussion about England. They say - what did the foreign players and coaches contribute?"

There is another colourful embellishment. "When Jesus was on the cross he said 'forgive them, because they don't know'. I have the same feeling with my countrymen because when you see the English game when I was playing, and I was one of only eight foreigners, I was running with my eyes closed sometimes. I was so tired. Up and down. I never saw the ball because it was over my head. They called it kick and rush. I thought it was rugby."

However, the influx of foreign talent brought a revolution, he says. "It changed the style, but not for the worse."

In the Netherlands, after his playing career ended, aged 34 and back at Den Haag, he had startling success. In 2001 and 2002, while at RKC Waalwijk, he was named coach of the year. But somehow the very top jobs eluded him. He could have gone to PSV Eindhoven. "There were two candidates," he says. "Me and Guus Hiddink". But Hiddink had done extraordinarily well with South Korea during the 2002 World Cup.

Then there was Feyenoord, but they wanted a celebrity appointment and chose Ruud Gullit.This made him think: "If those clubs have a coach then maybe I should go abroad," he says. When his country's third big club, Ajax, came calling he had already joined Spurs. "And I made the choice to stay here," Jol says. By then he had also confirmed in his mind that "England is the best country" for football.

Jol does not really know why he always wanted to manage Spurs, but when he was growing up they were his favourite team, "the biggest club in England". But when the call came, from the then sporting director Frank Arnesen, it was not to be manager or head coach. Jol was wanted as Santini's assistant. That made it hard. "It was difficult for me because I had been my own boss for 15 years. But Frank said, 'You have to come', and I thought, 'If I don't do this then it will be almost impossible for me to coach in England'."

The job description was clear. He was in charge of training. But then Santini brought in his own man, Dominique Cuperly. "That was a disappointment," Jol says. "Even then I thought 'maybe he's right' because he knew his assistant. But I thought I was to be the assistant."

He did not complain and neither did he expect events to unravel as they did: "I didn't come here to be head coach in three months. That was never my intention." But when Santini left Jol was the popular, immediate choice. "They asked the players, they asked Frank and they all said, 'We should do that'."

A rapidly evolving squad was inherited. "There were 20 new players but I was never responsible for them. Santini said, 'This will be very difficult' and he was right." The big change was what he now describes as "a new philosophy of young players", investing in the future, quite literally. "It was a transformation," Jol says. Out had gone older, high-earning or expensive buys such as Sergei Rebrov, Christian Ziege and Milenko Acimovic.

"If [Michael] Carrick or [Reto] Ziegler are 26 they would be playing in a top team, possibly, as we would have to pay too much money for them," Jol explains. "So our philosophy is to get them early and make the same players out of them without paying too much." This summer he also recognised the need for experience - picking up Edgar Davids, Teemu Tainio and Paul Stalteri on free transfers.

But then there was the purchase of Jermaine Jenas for £7m, someone it is said that Tottenham's chairman Daniel Levy was keener on than Jol himself. "We are in a circumstance where our chairman says, 'We take this big prospect, we take Jenas.' And there's a discussion, because I will say we have others and he says, 'Can Jenas be a goalscoring midfielder, box-to-box?' and I say 'You're right'. But we still have too many in midfield."

It has led to a bloated squad - 26 players with eight more on loan - but Jol defends the policy, saying he needs numbers to execute the "transformation". The next step is to pare his squad down, and he would like to emulate Jose Mourinho's philosophy of having a smaller squad. "I like two good goalkeepers, a young one, and 22 others."

Indeed, Jol is maddened by suggestions that he is some kind of tinkerman. "Everything I have done - and we've used 23 players [this season] - is out of necessity. Necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity, it's the same in Dutch. So we have to be inventive." Injuries have hit. "I always like to play with a settled team. If you see my teams I always play with the same if they are fit."

It is then that his "quality" as a manager will come through. "I have to teach them that they have to fight for their place," Jol, who gained his coaching licence aged 25, says. But that is not the whole story. "In England they say, 'You have to keep the players happy'. But that is ridiculous. Can you imagine that? So a teacher at a school has to keep his pupils happy? It's impossible. They have to keep him happy. Otherwise they can go into the corner. You have to compete in a big club like Spurs. You can't think 'I'll go straight into the first team'."

Jol is, he says, a good student of people. "I always try to be a step ahead of the trend, to anticipate. I don't want moles in the camp or negative people.

"The psychological aspect of football is the most important thing. When I was playing and I liked the manager I was 100 per cent. All the time. If I thought he didn't like me, he's not talking to me, I was less. Maybe I was not a top player in my mentality."

Now he tells his charges: "They have to be a robot, but not in the sense of not having any feelings - but because they have to remember the team is the most important thing and that is difficult for the individual."

Not that he wants to lose their individuality. A skills trainer, Ricardo Moniz, has been recruited. A disciple of the famous Dutch technique coach, Wiel Coerver, Moniz has "93 skills - 93 - and he can show them to all the young lads". Jol wants his team to excite. Flair is something to "treasure", attacking play to encourage - and he emphasises that he must coax more goals from midfield. "We want players like Laurie Cunningham, Peter Barnes, Stevie Coppell," he says, harking back to his playing days. Today "[Arjen] Robben is giving that to Chelsea. Damien Duff is doing that, [Shaun] Wright-Phillips can, Ronaldo." For Spurs he enthuses about 18-year-old Aaron Lennon. "In one or two years time he can be a big player like Wright-Phillips."

The "mission" was jolted bv Arnesen's departure to Chelsea. Jol was on holiday and had just arrived at his home in Spain when Levy called. "I sat there for half an hour and couldn't believe it. The next day I spoke to him [Arnesen] and he said it was the hardest decision he had ever taken. I realise he must have had his reasons but I thought Spurs was his mission, like me."

Maybe he believed he could do without a sporting director and be a manager not a head coach? There is a pause. "When I have a game, as with against Fulham, at 5am I'm still watching the game, analysing, because I can't sleep. And then I come here and by 2pm I'm tired. There's lots to do at a club - all the things to support my team. If you work together well it's no problem, it works; if you don't then it doesn't."

Jol, therefore, welcomed the appointment of Damien Comolli as sporting director but the focus has certainly shifted further to the Dutchman, whose side, in third place, face Everton today, as the club's figurehead. He revels in it and the fans have taken to him. The "only annoying thing", Jol jokes, "is that they sing 'he's got no hair, we don't care'.

Beyond that he hopes he will, indeed, be given time. "I can't be angry with Lennon because he's not a Champions' League player this year," Jol says. So Champions' League is the aim? Last season was "very good", playing for the prospect of European football until the final day. "The media said it was mediocre but for us it was the first step. We have to be 100 per cent and then we can challenge for the top four."

That begs the question of when he feels his team will peak? "When I'm back in Holland," is Jol's immediate reply. It is a final joke but, maybe, when he does return to Scheveningen - so close to England "that if you went to Clacton-on-Sea and gave a big shout I could have heard you" - he will be able to point to Tottenham Hotspur and say: "My mission is complete."

Nightmares for a sleeping giant: Tottenham managers since 1961

* BILL NICHOLSON (1958-74)

Finishes from 1960-61: 1st, 3rd, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th; 3rd, 7th, 6th, 11th, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 11th

* TERRY NEILL (1974-76)

Finishes: 19th, 9th

* KEITH BURKINSHAW (76-84)

Finishes: 22nd (Relegated), 3rd (Second Division, Promoted), 11th, 14th, 10th, 4th, 4th, 8th

* PETER SHREEVES (1984-86)

Finishes: 3rd, 10th

* DAVID PLEAT (1986-87)

Finish: 3rd

* TERRY VENABLES (1987-91)

Finishes: 13th, 6th, 3rd, 10th

* PETER SHREEVES (1991-92)

Finish: 15th

* DOUG LIVERMORE (Caretaker, 1992-93)

Finish: 8th

* OSSIE ARDILES (1993-Nov 1994)

Finish: 15th

* STEVE PERRYMAN (Caretaker, Nov 1994)

* GERRY FRANCIS (1994-97)

Finishes: 15th, 7th, 8th, 10th

* CHRISTIAN GROSS (97-98)

Finish: 14th

* DAVID PLEAT & CHRIS HUGHTON (Caretakers, Sep-Oct 1998)

* GEORGE GRAHAM

(1998-2001)

Finishes: 11th, 10th

* DAVID PLEAT (Caretaker, Mar-Apr 2001)

* GLENN HODDLE (2001-03)

Finishes: 12th, 9th, 10th

* DAVID PLEAT (Caretaker, Sep 03-June 04)

Finish: 14th

* JACQUES SANTINI (June-Nov 2004)

* MARTIN JOL

(Nov 2004 to present)

Finish: 9th

Memo to Sven: Jol on Spurs' England contenders

JERMAIN DEFOE

'He is probably the best finisher in the game. I would always play to his strength. For England, Sven Goran Eriksson has played with three up and a target man. For Jermain that is difficult, because he will go into space and be at the end of the attack. Obviously he wants someone who can hold up the ball, then he is very dangerous. Jermain is always better with Heskey or Mido. A big man. If he has to play in a different role he can do that. Sven is picking Owen because he does well for him but that's not a problem for Jermain because he's very young.'

MICHAEL CARRICK

'You can play someone like Steffen Freund as a holding midfield player or you can play with a better player. The thing with Michael Carrick was: is he a playmaker, or can I convert him into a complete player who can play as a holding player and win balls back? He has done that, he's always nicking balls. We say you have to be a calf-biter. He's doing that.'

JERMAINE JENAS

'He is a big buy for us - but he only scored one goal in the last 15 months at Newcastle. I know that he will be a big player in the future and that is what I have to teach him. He must score goals like Frank Lampard. I say to Jenas - you have to score six or seven goals. You can't be a big talent, a top box-to-box player and score one goal.'

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