Tottenham's Juande Ramos believes that a manager should be judged at the end of the season. As a peripatetic coach of almost a dozen clubs in 14 years, he also knows that in practice, that is not how football works. Least of all at White Hart Lane, where managers tend to be judged either at the end of August (Christian Gross, sacked in 1998 after three League games); September (Glenn Hoddle, sacked in 2003 after six League games); or October (Jacques Santini, sacked in 2004 after 11 League games, and Martin Jol, sacked in 2007 after 10).
Nobody is suggesting – quite yet – that Ramos is in danger of going the way of those gentlemen. After arriving as Jol's successor nine months ago, he did, after all, guide Spurs to a first trophy in nine years by winning the Carling Cup, and lift them from 18th place in the table in November to 11th in January, where they hit a glass ceiling.
Scoring 46 goals at home was bettered only by Manchester United's 47, but five times they conceded four goals, even after Ramos had spent £16 million on defenders in the winter transfer window. As Jonathan Woodgate, the most expensive of those recruits, put it on Friday: "We've spent a lot of money, there's no credit crunch here."
The crunch for Ramos may yet arrive sooner than expected. At the back end of last season, only two of the last 10 games were won, something he puts down to a lack of motivation that a tough-guy coach might have been expected to supply.
"We'd won the Carling Cup, the objective for last season of getting into Europe had already been achieved, and then when you're kind of fixed 10th, 11th in the table, can't go down very much, that maybe explains the run of matches," Ramos said. "But at this stage of the season we are in a brand-new campaign."
And how goes this brand-new season? Easily beaten at Middlesbrough, the 2-1 scoreline distorted by the hosts conceding an own goal right at the end; and booed off after losing at home to Sunderland. Worse, Robbie Keane, scorer of 23 goals last season, has been sold to Liverpool; Dimitar Berbatov, having refused to play last week, cannot wait to follow him out of the door.
It is hardly the start anticipated by anyone at the Lane, let alone those critics who felt Spurs would be the closest challengers to the top four clubs their best players are so desperate to join. Nor is it the best form to take into an away game today against Chelsea, where Tottenhamhave not succeeded since Gary Lineker had black hair and scored the winning goal, 18 years ago.
Ramos claims not to know the latest position over players coming and going, though he declines to blame the club's sporting director, Daniel Comolli, who is in charge of recruitment. "We have an excellent relationship, the contact is daily," said Ramos. "He has been doing his best to bring players in as soon as possible, everyone's been working with the right intentions. It's just sometimes negotiations become complicated – certainly Berbatov has just dragged on and on and it's become difficult. It was the same story at Sevilla, we had a director of football responsible for transfers, and at Tottenham it is a similar situation."
What he does admit, in relation to Berbatov, is: "The sooner the whole thing is finished the better. A player, for whatever motivation or reason, wants to leave a particular club, it can have an unsettling effect on people and the club around him. I think it has affected things slightly with [the players'] work on the training ground and even going into games."
He is torn between suggesting Chelsea are "in a different league" while hoping "we are capable, little by little, day by day, of reducing the deficit between us and these clubs at the top. I'm convinced that the squad is a better one [than when he took over]. Now we've got to show that on the field".
As for his own position: "I've spent many years as a professional player and manager. I know what it's like to win and I know what it's like to lose. I also know that the season is very long and that the time to sum things up and evaluate the season is at the end of it. Whether you are winning or losing at a particular time in the season doesn't necessarily mean that you're doing something right or wrong."
Ramos needs to hope that the Spurs board, having courted him almost from the start of last season, have become converts to that hitherto foreign philosophy.