If Tottenham Hotspur had managed to clinch a move for Frank De Boer by the time former manager Andre Villas-Boas was shown the exit at White Hart Lane, the club’s latest in a long list of sackings would not only have been understandable, but even commendable.
De Boer, the current Ajax boss, is a modern manager—the antithesis of Fabio Capello, who was also linked to the Spurs job after making a media appearance at White Hart Lane over the weekend—and, as Andy Brassell pointed out in the Mirror, was quickly able to turn the Dutch giants around following the disastrous tenure of Martin Jol.
Since replacing his countryman, he has managed to deliver three straight Eredivisie titles, and after 17 rounds of the current campaign, his side are just two points back of first-place Vitesse, have the best defensive record in the country and the second-best goalscoring total.
And they play the type of free-flowing, attractive football Spurs manager Daniel Levy quite obviously had in mind when he signed the likes of Cristian Eriksen and Erik Lamela following the departure of Gareth Bale.
But a De Boer appointment at Tottenham remains in every way a long shot.
Although the Mirror’s John Cross reported that the 43-year-old was approached by the London club in the days following Villas-Boas’ removal, the former Netherlands international’s agent, Guido Albers, has denied the story, telling Voetbal International (via The Guardian) that while it had “become clear” that Spurs were interested in his client, the club had yet to approach Ajax about a deal.
“Frank focuses entirely on Ajax,” he said.
Frank De Boer "If there is interest from Spurs, I am very honored. But i have my full attention at Ajax." (@ajaxnetwerk )— Dutch Football (@football_oranje) December 19, 2013
Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a manager of De Boer’s cache remaining at Amsterdam Arena for the long haul, especially with the likes of AC Milan perhaps preparing to make a coaching change in addition to Spurs.
What he has proven in his time at Ajax—his first job in senior management—is that he can get a team to embrace a system that both accommodates its capabilities and enhances them as part of a group.
Against Barcelona last month, his team managed to pull off a 2-1 victory over the Spanish champions despite playing a man down for much of the second half, using an impressive understanding of space to close down the Catalan ball-carriers.
Of course, at even strength his teams prefer to keep and move the ball—qualities Levy is no doubt keen to see a manger instill at White Hart Lane.
In Lamela, Roberto Soldado and Aaron Lennon, for example, Spurs have a ready-made attacking trident, and Eriksen—who played two seasons under De Boer at Ajax—would be the ideal distributor in a midfield trio that could also include the likes of Paulinho and Mousa Dembele.
Statistically, Ajax and Barcelona have been almost identical this season in categories such as possession (separated by two per cent), passing (separated by two per cent), duels won (separated by three per cent) and passing length (separated by two metres). (Statistics courtesy Squawka.)
Tottenham already have the players to adopt a similar template, and De Boer would be just the man to make it happen.
But Spurs are hardly the only club swooning over him, and for the time being he has a decent thing going—one that includes Champions League football—at Ajax.