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Sport
Culture: Exit Jol: What a sacking says.
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Friday, 26 October 2007 Written by Henry Midgley
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Daniel Levy, Chairman of Spurs
ambitious and vicious
So Martin Jol has been sacked. Jol was on the road to unemployment from earlier in the season when his job was being offered around Europe to various figures. Allegations in the media have suggested that he didn't even control transfer policy this summer, the Spurs Board preferred to turn that over to Daniel Commoli, the director of football- and so despite wanting a central midfielder and experienced centre half, Jol got Darren Bent a striker and Younes Kaboul, an inexperienced centre half. Whether Jol was to blame or not, and there may be some constructive leaking going on here (the Dutchman is popular with the British media), he has got the blame for a ruinous start to this season. Tottenham languish in the bottom three- having lost game after game. Last night they lost to Getafe, for a board that dreams of matching up to Real Madrid and Barcelona, to lose to such proletarian Spanish opposition would seem to confirm the fact that Jol is not their man.

Jol though can point with justification to a great deal of success. Appointed when Jacques Santini resigned two years ago, the Dutchman has guided Tottenham to two successive fifth place finishes. In his first season he was desperately unlucky, as the night before the crucial match on the last day, his squad went down with food poisoning and Arsenal grabbed Champion's League football at Tottenham's expense. Jol has also survived a considerable quantity of backroom change- when he was appointed he came into work with Frank Arnesen, but Arnesen left to go to Chelsea and become director of football there and relations have not been so harmonious with Commolli. Jol despite that has achieved those two top five finishes, whilst fashioning an attractive young squad. Aaron Lennon, Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and others demonstrate that Tottenham's future may well be bright. There might be doubts about some of Jol's substitutions and some of his coaching- but the Dutchman is also an obviously decent individual and a competent manager.

This season though has been a disaster. But the atmosphere inside the club can not have helped. Directors were briefing against Jol right from the beggining- public disclosures that they were examining other options led to fallings out between Jol and major players- such as the Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov. Essentially the directors paraded their scorn for their manager in front of the squad and the world- it can't be any surprise that the reaction has been that the squad haven't performed for a manager that is on the slip road out. The rather nasty political tactics of undermining performance in order to undermine a popular manager has been successful at the cost of making many neutrals see Tottenham as a club happy to undermine a decent and competent manager.

Spurs though have sacked him because the directors demand success that goes beyond what he has acheived. Daniel Levy the chairman stated earlier this season that for Jol only beating Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United or Arsenal into the Champions League would suffice. Anything else would be seen as failure and hence force the Dutchman out. That qualification does not seem to have changed despite this season proving how hard it is to sustain success. Tottenham think that they belong in Britain's elite- and consequently are courting the Sevilla manager Juande Ramos- strong rumours in both Spain and the UK suggest they will get their man and the search for Champion's League football will be back on.

Its worth contrasting Spurs with their neighbours in the bottom three Bolton. Bolton are playing this season in the same European competition as Tottenham- and yet their board have a different attitude. In the summer they too lost their long serving manager- Sam Allardyce who went to Newcastle. Instead of turning to Europe, the Bolton directors appointed from within- the Assistant Coach Sammy Lee. Having sacked Lee after a terrible start, again they've turned to a low profile candidate (a battler according to their chairmen) Gary Megson. Whereas Tottenham see themselves as European challengers, whose present manager fell because he didn't achieve the Champion's League, Bolton see themselves as strugglers who couldn't get a manager to propel them forwards and rather want to moderate their inevitable decline. The two boards have shown over the last few months contrasting ambitions- in both cases those ambitions have led to the club being undermined.

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Phil Gartside, Bolton Chairman
not so confident
For in Bolton's case, whereas the directors didn't force out a good manager by undermining him because of their unrealistic expectations of instant success, they forced a good manager out by not being ambitious enough. They didn't convince Mr Allardyce that they were prepared to spend more to achieve more. They didn't show him the ambition that he felt and so Allardyce has gone to St James's Park and Bolton are falling apart. Bolton at present look doomed and Bolton message boards are filled with pessimism- they may be wrong and its worth remembering that we are only in October and there is a lot of football to be played but Mr Megson, the new man, doesn't come with years of success in the Premiership behind him. Whereas for Tottenham, one wonders what the effects on the squad of the changes will have been. They need to get Ramos- but the pressure on him will be incredible- having said that they have a good foundation and so long as the manager can get back control of transfer policy (ironically Commolli if he was involved in Jol's fall may be the next loser in this battle) they may have a more promising future.

There are other managers of course in danger- what Jol's sacking also reflects is the fact that patience for what directors consider failure with a large ammount of money is not tolerated. Up at Liverpool Rafa ought to take notice- spending 40 million this summer- he has few excuses left particularly if Liverpool go out of the Champion's League (as it looks they may after an insipid performance against Besiktas midweek) for continuing failures to challenge United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Beware what you wish for could be the motto of this week for both managers and clubs- greater finance brings greater pressure, setting expectations too low or too high can lead to disturbing the fragile equilibrium that makes a good squad prosper.

Often we underrate the power of a board to influence a football team's season- but both Spurs and Bolton have sent signals this week. Spurs that they are ruthless with failure and that anything less than spectacular success is failure and Bolton that they are happy to drift into the bottom reaches of the Premiership. We shall have to see what effect the boards' actions will have at the Reebok and White Hart Lane. I suspect there will be more disappointment in Lancashire and more squabbling in North London.

But I could be wrong....