the Laws of Human Nature – The Dark Side of Julian Nagelsmann: Tottenham’s uncertain future

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If you’re too young to have seen the Titanic, get yourself acquainted. The film can be compared to the original ‘Spursy’ moment in modern history. An obvious glitch in our season has seen the Conte-led vessel plunge to the depths of his ocean of expectations, leading up to the start of the campaign.

I, for one, have too started to experience this sunken feeling come the present day.

Tottenham fell to 5th place following a disappointing 1-1 draw with 10-man Everton. Harry Kane’s penalty looked set to take us third in the table after Abdoulaye Doucoure had been sent off for unlaw conduct. Moura’s red card sparked the catalyst for Keane’s late equaliser, which temporarily eases Everton’s relegation woes. Tottenham on the other hand, plummeted.

Our most recent defeat to Bournemouth have placed us 3 points behind 4th place Newcastle and 6 points behind 3rd place Man United.

Such numbers would ordinarily reflect that we are having a decent run this season, but is it enough? Have we truly done enough? The stats in truth merely act as a cloak that smooths over the disastrous performances we’ve had throughout the entirety of the season.

A league position we ought not to be too proud of, considering the treacherous season both Chelsea and Liverpool have had respectively. It has allowed us the room to suffer less in the interim from our own shortcomings, with hopes of ultimately dismantling our vices as the season progressed.

But can we honestly say our performances have merited our current league position?

We’ve once again been embarrassed in both domestic cups. Sheffield United emulating the most recent iceberg floating aimlessly about Conte’s ocean. 

And with all due respect to the Championship team, considering they made eight changes, the scenario may be compared to Tottenham’s lifeboat receiving an unimaginable puncture while being disembarked from its craft – our only real hope at the time of winning any silverware.

There is truly not enough quality in the team at the moment, with the squad beginning to feel stale. Barring Kane and Romero, it can be argued that the entire roster could be scrapped and revamped altogether. 

Porro will hopefully prove a worthwhile transfer, with Udogie a seemingly good fit for the Conte system. But with Stellini’s better half taking his leave, both wingbacks may struggle when the formation changes. As may the rest of the squad.

The uncertainty that surrounds the club at the moment should be a cause for some concern.

Prior to Conte’s most recent rant, the Italian had joked at the fact that he would not be sacked by Tottenham before season’s end, following our elimination from the Champions League.

“I have a contract about to expire and let’s see how the season ends. Maybe they can send me away even earlier. Perhaps the expectations were higher and [the club] may be disappointed.”

“But I repeat: I don’t think the club is thinking this. The club sees every day what me and my staff, we are doing for this club. It was only an answer about my future.”

Antonio Conte

Spurs have begun their yearly usurping project, with the current managing director Fabio Paratici tasked with the tall order of drafting a shortlist of replacements for Conte. It is becoming increasingly likely that he too will be leaving Tottenham at the end of the season.

After a brief 16-month spell at Tottenham, Antonio Conte has left the club on mutual terms. When managers leave, their entire backroom staff usually leaves with them, yet Stellini will become the team’s acting head coach until the end of the campaign.

Ryan Mason had initially assumed responsibility of the squad subsequent to the Italian’s unfiltered verbal attack, he currently acts as the assistant head coach.

When Conte was asked by the club for an explanation of his comments at St Mary’s, he insisted that his criticism was directed at the squad and not Daniel Levy.

An insider’s view had initially suggested that Levy leaned towards actually sacking Conte during the recently concluded international break. But as a result of Stellini’s continued presence at the club, we’re led to believe that the partition may truly have been on mutual grounds.

Antonio Conte’s contract included a clause that stipulated the choice of him staying for an extra 12 months should Tottenham finish the season in the Premier League’s top four, which was said to be worth a further £15M. Conte is due £4M in compensation, barring the money owed to his staff. 

While the 12-month extension option was initially in Tottenham’s’ favour, Conte’s leverage compounded with each passing day Tottenham remained among the top four.

The full details of the severance package are still unknown.

But as expected, Conte’s departure was concluded well before the players returned to training. 

I honestly was not Antonio’s biggest fan. The excitement in his football won’t ever be compared to Barcelona’s 2015 squad. His oftentimes inflated ego was more concerned with chatter rather than the actionable plans needed to propel us from our fossil football.

The players spoke to his lack of innovation in training sessions and his unwillingness to reform.

He has ultimately failed in my opinion. What better way was there to silence the criticism than by actually winning us something similar to that of your other clubs?

Tottenham is like Britney Spears in her prime when it comes to making bad decisions, and knowing Levy, it is unquestionable that if Mason was handed the reins on an interim basis and even went on to impress in the remaining matches, he would EASILY come into contention as a long-term option.

Mauricio Pochettino, Ange Postecoglou, Luis Enrique and most recently Julian Nagelsmann are among the most high-profile names under consideration for the managerial role.

A window of opportunity has presented itself for Tottenham after Nagelsmann was sacked by German giants Bayern Munich. He had seemingly lost the plot when his squad started to lose faith and trust in him as a result of him dating Lena Wurzenberger, a BILD reporter that covers the club’s events. 

After Pochettino’s departure in 2019, Spurs had placed the German high on their list of potential replacements prior to the appointment of Jose Mourinho.

There is a certain irony that both Nagelsmann and the man he admired in Pochettino are now both available at a time Tottenham need to carefully plot their next steps.

And though the general consensus seems to be in support of the German rising to the helm, there are surely a few things to consider; considering his radical fallout with Bayern’s directors.

Overly Obsessive Nature

Not only did Julian win the Bundesliga title in his first season, but Bayern is predicted to win the treble this season. They’re the bookkeeper’s favourites to win both the German Cup and the Bundesliga respectively, whilst being second favourites behind City to win the Champions League.

A mere four days earlier, Bayern’s chairman Herbert Hainer spoke openly about the club’s plans to focus on the German “long term”, because he was “tactically and strategically excellent at the highest European level,” that he had made “clear progress” in his small tenure, and that any doubts around his coaching comes from outside the club. 

So, what went wrong?

Like any great manager, Nagelsmann is obsessive when it comes to his in-depth preparations and tactical analysis. May it be the opposition, a potential signing, or a midweek training session, Nagelsmann leaves no stone unturned in his pursuit for excellence. 

A trait that is undoubtedly a prerequisite for success, but it seems it had inadvertently knitted a blanket of doubt that caught wind of a growing concern around the overcomplicating of his tactical principles.

Nagelsmann is known to needlessly and recklessly open his side up on the precedence of being brave with sustained build-up play and extreme positional movement. 

Undoubtedly, at its best, it’s virtually unstoppable. But ever too often we’ve seen this Bayern squad struggle to keep up with the demands of their own ‘manager’s’ evolving outlook, thus underestimating the intrinsic risks versus their true actual gains.

Andrej Kramarić, Hoffenheim‘s record Bundesliga goal scorer, once threw verbal blows at his former boss after a game where Nagelsmann insisted on aimlessly, and constantly altering the tactical outlook without consulting his players. It is said he explains in parables and absolutes. If a squad such as Bayern were unable to properly cope with such techniques, what do we say of Tottenham?

Sadio Mané had also become a victim of Julian’s radical overthinking. The Senegalese superstar was quoted in his first press conference saying that he would be “willing to play anywhere but goalkeeper,” for his new manager. Nagelsmann had seemingly scrabbled those words out of context (lol).

The former Premier League winger had once gone 5 matches in a row without scoring, (prior to his injury) struggling for consistency. He was immediately expected to either feature through the middle as the central focal point, or along the wing where he truly peaked for Liverpool. 

Philipp Lahm – a long-time Bayern veteran – even noted how difficult it could be for Mané to adapt when a clear tactical outline isn’t provided by those in charge.

“His (Mané’s) qualities are out of question, but it’s crucial that roles are clearly assigned. I don’t see that at the moment. I currently don’t understand how the roles are defined. Everyone has to know what they have to do on the pitch.” 

Philipp Lahm

He seems to struggle at the point of identifying an ideal middle-ground between his hypothetical match plans and a system that can be practically applied.

Polarising Nature

The strong words from Kramarić may seem like a heat-of-the-moment reaction after a poor result, but the Croatian international isn’t the only player who has been left frustrated with Nagelsmann’s handling of personalities. He has before been internally criticized for his lack of attention to the human elements within a squad. 

While he is generally always open and honest with the press, Nagelsmann was described as being excessively reserved within the confines of the squad, sporadically speaking to individual players, and rarely, if ever, to those outside his current 11. 

Some have considered it a power-play on the manager’s part – attempting to instill a sense of hierarchy to compensate for his lack of experience – a ploy that has more often than not left his players disillusioned after failing to come to grips with his tactical demands and bizarre personality.

At Hoffenheim, Kevin Kuranyi, a 50-time German international praised Nagelsmann’s extraordinary tactical intelligence, but made note of how he all but stopped talking to him after the first week, never given an explanation for the reasons he was left out of the club’s plans. 

In Leipzig, Angeliño suffered a similar fate. The Spaniard was dropped for the DFB-Pokal final despite featuring in 36 matches and contributing 8 goals and 11 assists throughout the entirety of the season. Leipzig went on to lose that final 4-1 to Dortmund, with the German widely criticized for his peculiar lineup decisions. 

In the case of both Kuranyi and Angeliño, one could simply assume that each incident were isolated instances where Nagelsmann failed to connect with the respective stars, but it’s hard to not at least acknowledge these events considering his high-profile dismissal at Bayern. 

Julian ultimately learned of his discharge via social media.

Critical Shut-Down

In addition to Nagelsmann’s polarising nature, the German almost readily caves in under the cosh – with his inability to effectively respond to criticism. 

Not to be singled out, as even Jürgen Klopp, so revered for his casual and honest persona, isn’t blameless for overstepping the line when it comes to addressing media questioning – famously arguing that “the strong wind” and “dry pitch” were the reasons for his defeat against any given Sunday league team. 

While Nagelsmann is yet to look towards the changing weather patterns to justify his most recent struggles, his response to public criticism has been equally embarrassing.

Like a child being scolded on the playground, young Julian becomes extremely combative and defensive when his team loses, or he is faced with an opinion that doesn’t conform to his own. 

Journalist: What does this trend mean when you look back on the last 4 Bundesliga games? 

Julian: Nothing good.

Journalist: Care to elaborate?

Julian: Yeah nothing good. What should I say!

Journalist: What needs to change?

Julian: A lot. [long pause] We need to use 1v1 opportunities against the goalkeeper if we want to win games. When we don’t do it, we don’t win. It’s that simple. 

Julian’s solutions tend to revolve around laying blame on “the individual efforts of players” – oblivious to the weaknesses in his own game plans, and neglecting to make mention of the tactical nuances. 

Despite this newfound joy that most Tottenham fans have found in the hopeful appointment of Julian, I’m still not sure if he’s the best option for Tottenham going forward.

His tactical intelligence is oftentimes compared to that of Pep Guardiola, but if his release was so quickly expedited, it may be a tad deeper than the music.

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