Spurs Were Always Going To Stagnate With Same Old Cristian Stellini
Tottenham Hotspur’s brief dalliance with Cristian Stellini as their acting head coach has come to an abrupt end. The 48-year-old was sacked on Monday evening, an unusual turn of events for an interim manager. Ryan Mason, who had been serving as Stellini’s assistant, will take charge for the remainder of the season. It is Mason’s second spell in the interim role, having previously led Spurs in 2021.
The decision to appoint Stellini looked strange from the start. Spurs came to terms on the departure of Antonio Conte at the end of March. They were out of the FA Cup and Champions League, with fourth spot hanging by a thread. It was disappointing rather than a disaster, but the performances were abject and morale was shot. By the time Conte eviscerated his team in a press conference after a worrying 3-3 draw with relegation candidates Southampton, the horse had bolted.
The issue was more morale based than it was tactical. Conte was still capable of getting results from this team, but his regime had turned toxic. An uneasy union needed to end for all concerned. It was one of the few “mutual consent” departures that you could actually believe was mutual.
The whole point of removing a toxic presence from a football dressing room is to instil new belief, renewed hope and a greater buy-in. Players whom the manager had already made up his mind can come in from the cold. Those growing disillusioned with the tactics, training or general approach are given a new way of thinking to get behind. While the fabled “new manager bounce” is hardly scientific, there is a tangible benefit to new ideas permeating a stagnating side.
This made the appointment of Stellini bizarre in the extreme. The Italian had served as Conte’s assistant not only at Spurs, but also at Juventus and Inter Milan. He was synonymous with the reign of his predecessor. How were Spurs meant to act like a rejuvenated club if they were essentially labouring under a diet version of the manager who got them into this mess?
The staff around Stellini were largely unchanged, too. As unhappy as Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy was with his figurehead, he should have known that removing him entirely and changing nothing else was going to leave the club rudderless.
The flimsy logic for hiring Stellini seems to have been his record in temporary charge while Conte recovered from gallbladder surgery earlier this year. The Italian did shepherd Spurs through their best run of the season while Conte was laid up. But taking the team on matchdays while the club was still under Conte’s control is a different animal than the buck stopping with you. Stellini has proven with his record of one win in four games that he just doesn’t have the force of will to lead a club of this size.
That shouldn’t have come as a shock to Levy and the Spurs hierarchy. Stellini’s one senior management role was a five month spell in Serie C with Alessandria. Had he not been in the immediate physical vicinity he would not even have been considered. So why was he? His lack of top flight experience should have been enough on its own to kibosh his involvement. The Conte connection should have simply been the icing on the P45.
You could make the argument that Tottenham are making the same mistake with his replacement. Mason is a former Spurs player and interim manager. On the surface he feels less associated with Conte than he does with the club itself. But this is another case of Levy reaching for the easiest solution to the detriment of the team. Mason has been right there in the dressing room for Spurs’ recent failings. As a first team coach under Conte and an assistant under Stellini, he has been part of a failed season. What difference does Levy think it will make to shift the former midfielder a few feet over into the manager’s chair?
Spurs give the impression of a side that have written their season off. But even after a 6-1 hammering at the hands of Newcastle United, they can still qualify for the Champions League. Excellent coaches like Julian Nagelsmann and Tottenham icon Mauricio Pochettino are out of work. There is another tier of coach who might have seen the interim job as an opportunity, and would at least have offered something different. Would Steven Gerrard or Jesse Marsch really have done worse than Stellini, for example? Instead, they have to try and get something out of the same players with at least some of the same methods. What is it they say about doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result?
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