Martin Jol undervalued ‘hand’ in Tottenham’s success

Although none of the current Spurs crop were brought in by Martin Jol – the last of his signings, Aaron Lennon, sold to Everton two years ago – it would be wrong to overlook his lasting influence on the club.

The Dutchman, who led the Lilywhites for three years between 2004 and 2007 after Jacques Santini’s ill-fated tenure ran into a brick wall, has been largely forgotten by Spurs historians – despite his enduring popularity among the supporters.

They’ve tended to only have eyes for Harry Redknapp, who took them into the Champions League for the first time, and Mauricio Pochettino, credited with ultimately transforming them from also-rans into a genuine, title-challenging force. Go back a little further and you’ve also got Juande Ramos, the erstwhile Real Madrid manager who lifted the League Cup in 2008 (which remains their last major honour).

Jol, though, at least helped plant the seeds for the success that has followed. The decade-and-change of Premier League football that preceded his arrival was largely spent languishing in the mid-table, but under the one-time West Brom player, they began challenging the established order for a place in the top four. Whilst he never quite got them over the line – thanks, in large part, to some dodgy lasagna (but let’s not go there) – his period in the Tottenham dugout was a transformative one in terms of how they set their ambitions.

It also saw the implementation of a radical new recruitment policy. Spurs stopped going for big-name veterans whose careers were beginning to wind down (well, almost: they did pick up Edgar Davids on a free after he left Inter – but who wouldn’t?) and started looking towards promising upstarts with years on the clock.

The aforementioned Lennon arrived from Leeds in 2005, alongside fellow England youth players Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Wayne Routledge. The following summer it was Adel Taarabt (yeah, we know), and the one after that Danny Rose, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Chris Gunter, Alan Hutton – and a certain Gareth Bale. There are hits and misses in there, but Tottenham – for so long, merely Arsenal’s noisy neighbours – at least now had a clear identity.

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In 2010, led by Harry Redknapp (and importantly, orchestrated from deep by Luka Modric, whose path didn’t quite cross with Jol’s, unfortunately), Spurs pipped a much wealthier Manchester City to the fabled fourth Champions League spot. Much of that owed to a late-season surge, driven by – you guessed it – Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, both of them having amassed invaluable experience as teenagers in the seasons prior.

Whilst Pochettino gutted the last remnants of Jol’s side when he sold off Lennon and Dawson – who, ultimately, don’t have the quality to play for a team aspiring to win the title – his philosophy, similar to that of the Dutchman in terms of promoting youth, probably wouldn’t have been met with such patience were it not for the culture change brought about by his predecessor. In that sense, Jol’s impact at the club was arguably greater than that of either Ramos or Redknapp.