This week’s sporting news has been so dominated by the chaos surrounding the announcement of – and subsequent mass exit from – the European Super League, that all other stories paled into near insignificance.
Tottenham were among the Premier League’s so-called ‘big six’ clubs – alongside Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool – to sign up for the breakaway competition on Sunday night, before confirming their withdrawal 48 hours later.
In between those two bombshell announcements, the club also confirmed the sacking of Jose Mourinho – just six days ahead of the Carabao Cup final.
With Ryan Mason and Chris Powell instilled as the coaching team until the end of the campaign, the club are in a position to take their time over this appointment and not rush any changes.
Last season, Mourinho was appointed little over 12 hours after Mauricio Pochettino’s departure had been confirmed but Spurs are now mulling over their future.
A report this week in The Athletic claimed that the club are considering restructuring their management system and coinciding a new managerial appointment alongside the creation of a sporting director.
That same report claimed that Athletic Bilbao boss Marcelino Garcia Toral was a name who had been included on the long-list at Spurs.
The 55-year-old may perhaps be a surprising candidate, having never previously coached outside of Spain and having only been appointed at the Basque giants earlier this year.
However, he admitted that moving abroad was something that had appealed to him and if Spurs were to follow-up on their initial interest, they would likely be able to offer an economic package that would be appealing.
Marcelino told his introductory press conference at the club, as per Football Espana : “Until 72 hours ago, I had the same idea of leaving Spain. We then thought that this was the only opportunity I had to coach this great club and we decided to come here.”
His contract at San Mames was only signed through to the summer of 2022 which highlighted the lack of long-term commitment from either side and also Marcelino’s tendency to never stay long in any one job.
Athletic are his ninth different club and he has never completed more than three full seasons at any one club, while his most impressive credentials come from his previous two roles.
He guided Villarreal to three successive top six finishes and in his final year at the Yellow Submarine secured a top four slot alongside a Europa League semi-finals place, where they were edged out by Liverpool over two legs.
After a year out of management he joined Valencia – whom had finished outside the top half in La Liga for consecutive seasons – and brought them back into the top four for two successive years, alongside winning the Copa del Rey in 2019 (the club’s first trophy in 11 years).
Both tenures ended in acrimony; at Villarreal, Marcelino was sacked on the eve of the 2016/17 season by the club’s board, culminating a fallout which had begun when the coach had joked his team had nothing to play for on the final day of the previous campaign (they lost 2-0 to Sporting Gijon, who avoided relegation thanks to the victory as Villarreal had already secured fourth place).
On-pitch success was not enough to save him at Valencia either, as he was dismissed weeks into the 2019/20 season just months after winning the Copa del Rey.
Along with sporting director Mateu Alemany (who has subsequently been appointed at Barcelona), Marcelino had formed a formidable partnership that had brought the good times back to Valencia.
Successive qualifications for the Champions League and a trophy was a remarkable success in the context of the club’s long-term underperformance and the increasing popularity of their ownership, led by Peter Lim.
Just as at Villarreal, Marcelino fell out with the boardroom at the Mestalla spectacularly and irreparably.
He was popular with the fanbase and, alongside Alemany, was viewed as the architect of their success. Not only did these successes not improve fan approval of the board but they were seen as being achieved despite it.
Marcelino subsequently alleged that the club’s board were actually unhappy with the Copa success, for which he was supposedly never congratulated, as it detracted from their ambitions to qualify for the Champions League (which was achieved in any case) and continue their revenue streams.
Naturally, this may prompt concerns that a similar scenario may play out either at Athletic Bilbao or in North London, but it does show that Marcelino knows what he wants and can implement his personality on proceedings.
His successes at Villarreal and Valencia would also share common ground with Spurs: after all, there is a recognition at all three clubs that a title push is unlikely but securing Champions League football and challenging for trophies is the aim, which Marcelino can achieve.
After all, his exit from Valencia saw the club’s form fall away drastically – they finished last season languishing in mid-table and this campaign the situation has further worsened as club cutbacks continue.
His first act at Athletic Bilbao was winning the Spanish Supercopa – just their second trophy since 1984 – thanks to victories over both Real Madrid and Barcelona, before guiding the club to this season’s Copa del Rey showpiece.
That early momentum has not been built on – Los Leones have won just two of their last 12 league matches and lost two Copa del Rey finals in two weeks, to Basque rivals Real Sociedad (from last season’s postponed final) and to Barcelona a week ago.
Such a scenario may provide a framework which would see a viable approach from Spurs and potential agreement on all sides, should Athletic be compensated.
The hallmark of Marcelino’s sides have been their fitness levels with the coach implementing a strict dietary and fitness regime at the club.
There is particular significance placed on player weigh-ins, muscle mass and body fat, which are essential for a high-octane brand of football in which the side press all over the pitch with high energy levels.
Of course, Spurs fans would be able to relate to such an intense style of football under former boss Pochettino and many may be open to the idea of Marcelino implementing such a plan.
With a month still remaining in the current campaign, Tottenham are unlikely to rush into a new appointment and a variety of names are likely to be linked to the vacancy.
However, Marcelino may remain an outside bet should they wish to go down a new route of finding a sporting director whose approach would complement the high-energy coaching methods of Marcelino.
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