Tottenham Hotspur: Return of Steffen Freund Highlights Feel-Good Factor at Spurs

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Tottenham Hotspur: Return of Steffen Freund Highlights Feel-Good Factor at Spurs
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
Return of the Freund: the hard-tackling former Spurs midfield is back as assistant coach.

The last time Steffen Freund wore a Tottenham Hotspur shirt in public was in the autumn of 2005.

Spurs were away at Manchester United, in the process of picking up some form ahead of what would turn out to be a thrilling, if ultimately disappointing, campaign.

Yet Freund had left Spurs in 2003 and retired from professional football over a year earlier, following a loan spell at Leicester City.

The German easily got around this problem—he was actually there with his son amongst the traveling Spurs contingent at Old Trafford, wearing his own shirt from the 1999 League Cup final.

The full story of the day can be read on the fansite Spurs Odyssey, but it is just one example of why the passionate and tenacious midfielder was so beloved by Spurs fans.

On the pitch, he was never less than fully committed. Off it, he was by all accounts a gentleman in his dealings with supporters. In both, he was one of football's great characters.

Such is his popularity, the decision to elect him to the club's Hall of Fame (along with another great midfielder of the era, Darren Anderton) in late 2009 was a no-brainer.

The decision to appoint the 42-year-old as Andre Villas-Boas' assistant head coach is an equally shrewd one.

Nobody will commit to it fully just yet, but there is a developing feel-good factor around Tottenham right now.

Freund among the Spurs fans at Old Trafford in 2005. Photo credit: SpursOdyssey.com

Only a few days into preseason, this might seem a tad presumptuous with no football having been played and plenty of work still to be done, but after last season finished on a disappointing and bitter note, the appointment of a new management regime has brought about a sense of fresh possibilities.

Freund, having enjoyed a decent start to his own coaching career within the German national team's youth setup, toes the line of being part of the hopeful promise of the future whilst being a link to the club's past.

So, it should be said, was Gus Poyet when he was appointed as assistant to Juande Ramos in 2007, but ultimately the Uruguayan's presence could do little to correct the unsuitability of Ramos for life in England.

Despite Villas-Boas' difficulties at Chelsea, he is a different proposition entirely to the Spaniard (he is able to speak English a great deal better for starters!).

Freund's role alongside him does not legitimise the Portuguese in the eyes of Spurs fans—only results will do that—but it does provide some welcome familiarity in the otherwise unfamiliar sanctum of the coaching staff (in addition to other familiar names like Tony Parks).

A coach does not conduct himself in entirely the same way as he did as a player, but what is as certain as the sun coming up tomorrow (fingers crossed, touch wood, etc.) is that Freund will perform his duties with the same level of commitment as he did as a player.

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Freund celebrates with team-mate Gus Poyet, a former Spur who did not enjoy such a happy time as assistant manager at the club.

The coaching credentials are there and he is more than qualified, and the hope must be that the fiery tendencies of the German will act as a natural counterbalance to the more thoughtful style of Villas-Boas, creating an atmosphere in the changing room that thrives on the best of both qualities.

 

This is not the first time Villas-Boas has worked alongside an ex-player of a club in England—of course, at Chelsea it was Roberto Di Matteo, who was his assistant before the Italian replaced him in the conclusion to a historic season for the West Londoners.

Perhaps that was a partnership that was ultimately counterintuitive to Villas-Boas' plans for the Blues.

A former player with both clubs, Jason Cundy recently pointed out on his UK radio show that a significant hindrance to the Portuguese coach at Stamford Bridge may have been that several of the players knew him from his time there when he did not have any authority, and considering he was already relatively young, were unwilling to take him as seriously as maybe they could have.

Di Matteo, meanwhile, had long left Chelsea before many of the current players (besides Frank Lampard and John Terry) knew him there and had been able to establish himself as a coach in the meantime, and was a lot more palatable a compromise considering his mandate wasn't to change things as much as his predecessor.

Villas-Boas will undoubtedly have learned from his time at Chelsea, but at Spurs, he does not have the same (ultimately damning) issues to deal with.

It is a fresh start for him, and a fresh start for the North London club.

As preseason goes on, we will get more of an idea of how Spurs are looking ahead of the new Premier League campaign. For now, the fans at least can look forward to once again seeing Steffen Freund in their colors.

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