To the regular, Tottenham’s resurgence is a product of newfound buoyancy borne out of Harry Redknapp and built upon by now-coach Mauricio Pochettino. The club has a history of sparkling excitement, but there have been times in which the fans have had little to be proud of. Martin Jol, in 2004, starting to build the foundations for a modern era Tottenham Hotspur. Yes, there have been significant stumbling blocks and hurdles yet, in their current state, Spurs fans have much to thank the Dutchman for.
As was a norm in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Spurs were hopping from manager to manager, often employing caretakers and more specifically, David Pleat, to patch up the wounds. When Jacques Santini, ex-Lyon and France international manager, agreed to experiment his full-bodied defensive tactics at the Lane, Tottenham lost something that had always defined them. No longer were they playing glory football; they were sacrificing the club’s identity for results. The year before, they had gone a whole season bereft of a permanent coach and instead opted to allow Director of Football David Pleat a whole season in charge. Santini’s appointment was a relief, soon turned nightmare. He, after just six goals in 11 games in charge, resigned citing ‘personal reasons’.
Contrary to Tottenham’s fortune in that time period, one recently employed assistant coach was fit for purpose and ready to fill the void left by Santini. Martin Jol, actively sought out by newly appointed Director of Football Frank Arnesen, took the reins at the Lane and immediately eradicated the cautious, robotic approach that had been creeping into Santini’s Spurs. This was Jol’s Spurs, and his transition into the role was seemingly instant. A defence that consisted of Ledley King, Noureddine Naybe, Erik Edman, Timothee Atouba, Anthony Gardner and Noe Pamarot would often leak two or three goals, but three times they managed five at the other end. Jol’s squad has significant limitations, but soon the philosophy would be to outscore the opponent. It was unquestionably more entertaining. In his first window, he brought in Michael Dawson from Nottingham Forest.
His first full season in charge was a pertinent yet understated one in the history of Tottenham. Yes, the club have won the double, FA Cups and numerous pieces of silverware but this year, Jol would take Tottenham somewhere they were beginning to consider was unattainable. The Champions League, contrived and hollow as it may be, is a tournament that continues to make Tottenham fans weak at the knees. By the start of the season, he had brought in Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon, Jermaine Jenas, Teemu Tainio and Edgar Davids to accompany Michael Carrick in midfield. There were mistakes; namely Gregorz Rasiak and Hossam Ghaly, but the side had an injection of quality and seemingly out of nowhere, the club found themselves competing with England’s conventional ‘Top Four’.
Lasagne-gate happened, conspiracies from within the club were drawn up and appeals were filed. The furore surrounding the final game of the season tarnished what had been a step into the unknown for Spurs. The fans, who had become so used to the cut and dried nature of mid-table, had something to be proud of. Jol had shown the steel to face up to Arsene Wenger and the club had some basic fight. “He’s got no hair, but we don’t care… Martin, Martin Jol”. After years of nothing, the Dutchman had conjured up a side who could unsteady the immovable top four, and themselves were becoming a regular fixture in Europe.
A year on, they cemented fifth place once more, if a little less competitively. In reaching the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup, they were building a European reputation once again, and in beating Chelsea, they were overcoming unwelcome hoodoos for which they had been ravaged in. They lost one the finest players to grace the shirt in Michael Carrick, but brought in Dimitar Berbatov. He and Robbie Keane formed a daunting strike partnership that vaulted Spurs back into Europe.
Jol’s last months at the Lane came in 2007. His successes meant that expectations were speedily inflated and by October, he was sacked by Daniel Levy. That still sits uneasily with many Tottenham fans who attended the UEFA Cup match vs Getafe, where it was rumoured he would be sacked once the game had finished. The coach, who had reinvigorated this club and taken them back into Europe, was gone at the drop of a hat. In unison, the crowd sung his name for the duration in respect for what he had accomplished. Before his departure, he accrued the services of Gareth Bale, Danny Rose, Jonathan Woodgate and Younes Kaboul, all of whom would make their name in Lilywhite. Though he was not the master of the League Cup win in 2008, it was his legacy that permitted it.
When you consider where Tottenham are now, there’s something that still feels spectacular. The fans had become so accustomed to mediocrity that even now, over 10 years on, Tottenham sitting comfortably with the likes of Chelsea, Man United, Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal is peculiar. The role of Martin Jol far outweighs the role of say, Harry Redknapp. While Redknapp built upon those foundations to dip at the finish line, Jol had made sure the springs and bolts were positioned correctly. Pochettino is extending that further and soon, with credit to Daniel Levy, a new stadium and platform for the football that Jol rekindled will have been built.
His tenure was brief but, in the context of Tottenham’s past 20 years, weighty. Post-Tottenham, Jol has done little as momentous as what he accomplished at White Hart Lane. As is the nature of Daniel Levy, it’s difficult to imagine Jol being truly awarded for his efforts with this side, but, I hope at least, that all Tottenham fans can respect him for his contribution to the club’s upward journey.