The French Revolution

Last chance

Well if this doesn’t work, nothing will.

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has finally got his man. Whether that man was his first choice or not is something of a moot point.

The day after Levy had apparently sounded out Claudio “my heart belongs to Valencia” Ranieri about the vacant managers job at White Hart Lane, he chose Santini in what will be perceived as one of the club’s most high-profile appointments.

The saga has lingered for nine months with numerous top names being banded about. Martin O’Neill was reportedly the top target since day one, but he has shown little interest in moving south for just any job. Alan Curbishley was another name suggested but it seems to be merely a bored media who put him forward (one of 85 names that were wagered by the public).

Nil, practically

The top candidate of recent times was the Italian boss Giovanni Trapattoni. Originally The Trap agreed to come to Spurs only to go back on the agreement to placate his wife. This left the running open for Santini along with Ranieri and sacked Real Madrid boss, Carlos Queiroz.

In my previous column I suggested that the chances of Santini coming to Spurs were ‘nil, practically’, suggesting he would be mad to leave the France job and they would be mad to let him go. Well, guess what? He’s mad and they’re mad.

His record of one defeat and one draw in twenty-three French games is pretty decent, even with the panel he took on. Although on the outside Santini seems to be somewhat laid back, he is known as a disciplinarian who turfed out the trouble-makers in the French squad. Emmanuel Petit was given short shrift when he suggested that he only wanted to be selected if he was going to start games. Similarly Nicolas Anelka was dumped when he refused to turn up for a friendly game after being omitted from the original squad.

Pre-his French appointment, Santini guided Lyon to their first French title in 2002, although his managerial career is patchy. He played for PSG in the European Cup final in 1976 and coached Toulouse in the mid-eighties. He was director of football at Lyon before stepping up to become a successful manager there.

Although this is his first job abroad, his knowledge of the English game should be reasonable enough. Almost half of his French squad play in the Premiership and no doubt he will receive information and encouragement from those players. It’s fair to say that the Arsenal contingent of Pires, Henry and Vieira might even relish a revitalized Tottenham side.

Poor appointments

Spurs problem in the past has been the appointment of managers who just weren’t going to cut it at the top level. Following the debacle that was Ossie Ardiles, Gerry Francis’ promising start quickly faded as he tried to re-build without the talents of Ilie Dumitrescu, Gheorge Popescu and Jurgen Klinsmann – Ruel Fox, Les Ferdinand and Allan Nielsen were not adequate replacements.

The brave appointment of Christian Gross, a man who has achieved great things in Europe with Basle and took Swiss football by storm before and after his Spurs stint, was a flop. Another brave appointment, George Graham, was a ticking timebomb and even worse was the performance of Glenn Hoddle.

So it’s with tired hearts and heads that Spurs fans will face the new season. They seemingly have someone different in charge, someone perhaps they haven’t seen at the Lane before – a manager with a track record of recent success in European football.

Limited changes

What will it mean for the playing squad? Probably limited changes, but a trickle of young French talent would be nice. Our central midfield needs an overhaul and if Santini has identified the next Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires (two positions where Spurs are short), then an improved season is in the reckoning.

Actually Spurs are not too far away from a decent season. Finishing 15 points behind fourth place is not horrendous, and not something that can’t be overturned. Despite being ever-present for two seasons, there are question marks over Kasey Keller in goals. Although the jury is out on whether Paul Robinson, signed from Leeds, is a big improvement, he is likely to be first choice next season.

The back four needs to be settled and Santini may see that players like Mauricio Tarrico at left-back and Gary Doherty/Dean Richards in the middle, are not up to scratch. With strong coaching, Ledley King and Tony Gardner might succeed in making a successful partnership. Steve Carr is in his last year but Stephen Kelly, who can play right-back or center-back should expect a run in the team too.

Up front there are three strong strikers to choose from and a forward who is eager to prove his worth in Helder Postiga. Perhaps Postiga will react better to a Continental coach than the David Pleat/Glenn Hoddle axis of last season.

The midfield is where Santini will earn his money. Outside of the potential of Johnnie Jackson and Simon Davies, there is little talent. With Ziege and Poyet moved on, Redknapp, Bunjevcevic, Acimovic and Brown short of the requisite quality and Mabizela looking set to be forever on the periphery, there is a lot of rebuilding to do.

Cheering France!

Now it’s official, Spurs fans can renew their season tickets and White Hart Lane can look forward to a new season with reasonable optimism. And perhaps if Santini’s France go on to win the European Championships in Portugal, English-based Spurs fans might just smile a little more than their fellow Englishmen.

And finally..

Euro 2004 is here and after an opening day shock, hosts Portugal falling to rank-outsiders Greece, my feeling that people were putting too much faith in the traditional powers seems to be ringing true. Look at any prediction column and you will see the same 8 teams predicted to make the quarter-finals. This will not be the case. Croatia have a good record this season, Greece have proven that they are there not to make up the numbers and although they saw better days in the ninties, at least one of Denmark and Sweden should make the last eight.

You’d think the Czech Republic are odds-on for the last four but their form is terrible – a home defeat to Japan and defeat against Ireland – a team that finihsed behind Russia and Switzerland in the qualifiers, two teams that are designated whipping boys at Euro 2004.

My tournament predictions are:

Group A Group B Group C Group D

Portugal 2 Greece 1

Switzerland 1 Croatia 3 Denmark 1 Italy 2 Czech Rep 2 Latvia 0
Spain 1 Russia 1 France 2 England 0 Sweden 2 Bulgaria 0 Germany 1 Holland 4
Greece 1 Spain 2 England 3 Switzerland 0 Bulgaria 1 Denmark 2 Latvia 1 Germany 0
Russia 0 Portugal 2 Croatia 1 France 1 Italy 1 Sweden 2 Holland 2 Czech Rep 0
Spain 1 Portugal 1 Croatia 1 England 2 Italy 3 Bulgaria 1 Holland 2 Latvia 1
Russia 1 Greece 1 Switzerland 0 France 2 Denmark 0 Sweden 0 Germany 1 Czech Rep 1
final table final table final table final table
Portugal 7 pts France 7 pts Sweden 7pts Holland 9 pts
Spain 5 pts England 6 pts Italy 6 pts Czech Rep 4 pts
Russia 2 pts Croatia 4 pts Denmark 4 pts Latvia 3 pts
Greece 1 pt Switzerland 0 pts Bulgaria 0 pts Germany 1 pt
Quarter-finals Semi-finals Final
Portugal 1 England 2 England 2 Czech Rep 1 England 1 France 2
France 2 Spain 1 France 2 Italy 1
Sweden 0 Czech Rep 1
Holland 1 Italy 3

It could happen…

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