Martin Jols seemed to be fighting for survival as coach of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. On the club’s anniversary match, his team fall three goals behind. Then something amazing happens
Martin Jols is a much-respected football manager. Since his arrival at Tottenham in 2004, his teams have performed beyond expectations. ‘Beyond’, that is for neutral commentators.
This season, results have been bad. Very bad. Tottenham lies in the relegation role. Jols has been made one of the favourites for the next Premier League manager to lose his job. He has received a dubious public statement of support from the board.
On Monday 1st October 2007, there is a pre-match celebration at White Hart lane, in honour of the club’s one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary. In a wave of emotion, the team starts well, and scores through one of their few prized assets, Dimitar Berbatov. After that, it was the story of the season again. Opponents Aston Villa equalise, then sweep into a two goal lead at half-time.
Say Goodbye to Martin?
As in all good dramas, there is another unexpected twist. The team could not guarantee the future of Martin Jols at the club. But they could have ensured his demise. A poor second-half performance would have finished him as surely as the loss to Fiji finished the job prospects of Gareth Jenkins of Wales a few days before in Rugby’s world cup. Heads down, and the performance would be seen as irretrievable loss of confidence in the coach.
For all their renewed efforts, Tottenham fall even further behind. Four-one with fifteen minutes to go. They think it’s all over.
But the team fought back ferociously. Two goals in ten minutes. Four-three. The clock runs down. In extra time, a corner-kick to Tottenham. Nervous defending and Younes Kaboul scrambles the ball into the net, maybe from an offside position. The game is saved.
The players rush to their coach, celebrating in delight. Player-power may have rescued Martin Jols for the moment.
It’s only a matter of time
It’s only a matter of time for any Premier League manager before he faces the sack. The process seems to work in this way. A board of directors, or in football, the powerful chairman, believes that his social identity is threatened through disappointments on the field. Regardless of the competence of the manager, or availability of a better replacement, the die is cast. [Coincidentally, Aston Villa until recently had a chairman in this mould].
The even-more celebrated demise of Jose Mourinho seems a notable example from earlier in the month.
The decision to axe the manager becomes public following a particularly humiliating critical incident for chairman and club. A bad loss is seized upon. (‘A decisive decision’ was how it was described over the weekend.
Protesting fans may be used as evidence to justify such a decision. This is a matter of judgement. Most fans believe they actions sing their team to victory, and settle the fate of their managers. I’m not sure it works that way. In this instance, it rather confirms a contrary view. It seems to be more plausible that the players screwed up big-time, then redoubled their efforts for fifteen minutes. That lifted the crowd. The result stayed the hand of the board.
For the moment.
Well done Martin Jols.
And good luck in your future career.