Manager of the month for August, sacked on the opening day of November, Nuno Espirito Santo’s fall was somehow both swift and predictable. A reign of 10 league games was the shortest ever at Tottenham. Auspicious as his debut win over Manchester City was, Nuno is destined to be an ignominious footnote in Spurs history. He was the manager no one really wanted, included Tottenham themselves, the mistake they dismissed ruthlessly.
His tenure lasted just 124 days, the announcement on the club website occupied just 92 words. Everything was brief and terse. Nuno was described as a “true gentleman” who “wanted to succeed” and “would always be welcome” at the club. But there was little else to say, no achievements - despite that manager of the month award - to trumpet, no good times to reflect upon. Nuno promoted Oliver Skipp to the first team, but that may be his only positive legacy.
Nuno was a symptom of problems, a manager who was perhaps seventh or eighth choice, found so far down the shortlist that it was not even short, one Tottenham seemed to have ruled out before they ruled him back in. He seemed evidence of their declining appeal, hired after Wolves fired him for leading them to 13th. He was reluctantly given a two-year contract. It was scarcely a vote of confidence.
Tottenham’s resounding mediocrity this season makes it all the odder that they might get an altogether superior option. There is no doubt that Antonio Conte would be a vast upgrade on Nuno, but that was the case in the summer when the Italian rejected Spurs. The subsequent four months have only underlined the scale of the task in hand. Were Conte to head for the capital, it would suggest he recognises that his own options have narrowed. A serial winner had cast his gaze upon Manchester United; it would have seemed beneath Conte to join a club in the Europa Conference League and who have a negative goal difference in the Premier League.
Get Conte and chairman Daniel Levy might rebuild a reputation that has been dented by the misguided decisions to hire first Jose Mourinho and then Nuno. He might also land himself with a hefty bill in every transfer window. It would show a decisiveness and a competence Tottenham lacked when it took them 72 days between Mourinho’s dismissal and his successor’s appointment. Don’t get him, of course, and Spurs could have another awkward search.
But while Conte is not a byword for flair, an exception might be made for an outstanding manager whereas Nuno was a one-man repudiation of Levy’s infamous pledge to fans. In his programme notes for their final home game of last season, he vowed to get a manager who played “free-flowing, attacking and entertaining” football.
Instead, he got one whose Tottenham scored fewer league goals than Burnley. Harry Kane mustered just one, the same number as Aston Villa’s Matt Targett inadvertently donated. If Nuno had the misfortune to inherit Kane’s summer saga, he is not blameless for the worst form of the striker’s Spurs career. It was symbolic: the circumstances did not help him but Nuno compounded those problems. It hardly helped when he faced Crystal Palace without three players who were quarantining in Croatia, but picking three defensive midfielders was a piece of negativity that backfired.
Tottenham ended Nuno’s reign with no shot on target in 136 minutes in the league, despite facing the most fragile of United sides, fresh from being thrashed. Even in four months, there were a host of embarrassingly bad performances: away at Palace, in the North London derby, against United. In Europe, they managed to lose to Pacos de Ferreira and Vitesse Arnhem, albeit with weakened teams.
They were lacklustre and boring. Only Norwich had fewer shots, and by just one. Nuno’s passive, reactive football made him an awful fit for a club with a tradition of attacking. As he alienated Dele Alli and Harry Winks, his man-management scarcely felt a strength, either. Nor did he endear himself to the fans. When they called for his head on Sunday, Levy listened. An unpopular chairman scarcely wanted to become tied to an unpopular manager. And so he went, with Spurs regretting that they had ever appointed him.