By Richard Parry
Five years have passed since Martin Jol’s dismissal from the Tottenham hot seat, but the man affectionately dubbed 'The Godfather' continues to warm the hearts of the White Hart Lane faithful.
“I'm not an Arsenal fan - as you well know...” teased the Dutchman ahead of Fulham’s recent trip to the Emirates, an echo back to his three-year tenure with Spurs, and long-running feud with Arsene Wenger. The man who promised to “never forget” the Tottenham supporters has kept true to his word.
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For the vast majority of the Premier League era, the ‘Tottenham way’ may as well have been a backstreet behind White Hart Lane. Spurs fans had witnessed glimpses of hope; the likes of David Ginola, Jurgen Klinsmann and Teddy Sheringham offered a flickering insight to the bygone days of Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Jimmy Greaves, but Spurs remained largely inconsistent; a soft touch that could play the ball around a bit.
Under Jol, Spurs began to grow shoots of recovery, fertilised by embracing a history which for so many of his predecessors had been an utter hindrance. From day one he turned it into motivation, making an immediate impact following the death of Nicholson; the Sir Alex Ferguson, the Bill Shankly, the Brian Clough of White Hart Lane.
“All the players and I were at the memorial service and we could not help but be inspired by the values and standards that he set and which we must try to regain,” reflected Jol during his official unveiling as the club’s new manager. He was quickly becoming a man of the people.
And the football followed, and the fans loved him for it. Not only did Jol oversee the end of the club’s infamous 16-year Chelsea hoodoo, he equipped Spurs with an attacking line that was the envy of the league. The partnership of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane gave Spurs a lethal cutting edge, back-to-back fifth place finishes, and but for a certain ill-fated lasagne would have unlocked the door to the Champions League.
Failure to reach the head table of European football would prove his downfall, an achievement later reached by Harry Redknapp, but not without Jol’s blueprint.
Aaron Lennon, Gareth Bale, Younes Kaboul, Michael Dawson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Tom Huddlestone were all acquired by Jol, for approximately £35 million. Not only were these prodigies four years older, and four years more experienced under Redknapp, the former Portsmouth man was able to compliment them with experienced personnel; the likes of William Gallas and Scott Parker.
This was a luxury denied to Jol by chairman Daniel Levy, but one which he knew was pivotal in order to meet the club’s lofty aspirations.
“The club’s policy of buying players for the future was a sound one,” wrote Jol, in the preface to Martin Jol: The Inside Story. “But there are occasions when you need a bit of experience, when you need a leader in certain areas of the pitch.
“I believed in the players we got, but more experience would have made the difference.”
Jol was right. The squad which came so close to finishing in the top four had a far better blend of experience and youth than the one he finished with.
Edgar Davids and Moroccan veteran Noureddine Naybet were brought in to complement a developing squad consisting of the likes of Michael Carrick, Jermaine Jenas and Robbie Keane, who themselves were already accustomed to the Premier League. A composition more comparable to Redknapp’s Champions League outfit.
Five years on, Bale and Lennon are now lynchpins of Spurs’ attack. Their pace and wing play are the catalysts for the club’s domestic resurgence, and it was Jol – not Redknapp – who transformed the Welshman from an attacking full-back to the destructive wing-forward he is today.
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He would not feature in this position again until January 2010, when Redknapp and Spurs finally picked up on an asset overlooked since Jol's departure. A weapon which had lay dormant for the best part of three years.
The rest, as they say, is history. A rejuvenated Bale would prove instrumental to the second half of the 2009-10 campaign, subsequent Champions League qualification, and those infamous nights tormenting Inter. A man once set to be shipped out to Nottingham Forest is now being coveted by Europe’s biggest sides, and easily Tottenham’s number one asset.
Of Tottenham's 12 Premier League managers, only Redknapp can boast a stronger win percentage ratio to Jol, but like their most recent managerial casualty, the Dutchman deserves legendary status in the club’s recent history, for he set the coordinates for his successors to follow.
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