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Things fall apart


When José Mourinho parted ways with Chelsea last month, it surprised many. But in hindsight, you could see it coming: a forthright, outspoken manager who bows to no one, a zillionaire owner who isn't used to hearing the word "no" and a gaggle of advisers and consultants chipping in with their two cents. The ingredients for a sudden change of heart were all there.

Martin Jol's departure this week from Tottenham Hotspur, on the other hand, is the kind of shocking news that leaves you flabbergasted. You almost wonder if Tottenham could have handled the situation any worse if it tried or, perhaps, if there isn't a teeny-tiny Arsenal fan lodged somewhere in the synapses of club chairman Daniel Levy, intentionally giving him bad advice.

The usual disclaimer: I am not an apologist for managers, nor am I one of those people that believes ad nauseam that "they should be given more time." Nor do I view a sacking as a human tragedy. So a coach walks away with a few million in his bank account and another coach is given a chance to manage club in the top-flight -- to me, that's not a bad thing for anyone involved. I don't feel sorry for them.

A manager's job at a club like Tottenham is to get the team moving in the right direction. You're judged by forward progress. Jol took Tottenham to consecutive fifth-place finishes and, along the way, became -- in statistical terms -- the most successful manager at the club since the legendary Bill Nicholson, whose tenure ended in 1974.

The flip side? Jol spent a lot of money to do it (though that's not much of an issue given that Spurs enjoyed their highest-ever profits last year) and, this season, the club is terrible, having won just once in the Premiership all season and languishing in the relegation zone.

Is that progress? You be the judge. I can go either way. Obviously, if it didn't think the situation was going to improve, the club was right in doing something. That said, there's a right way and a wrong way to change managers. Tottenham's was somewhere between wrong and embarrassing.

First, toward the end of August, the club's high command flew to Spain and met with Sevilla boss Juande Ramos. They did this behind Jol's back and, while they denied offering Ramos the job, other sources insist otherwise.

Now, it's normal for clubs to speak to managerial targets. What's not normal is to get caught. But then, that was inevitable given the very public hotel in which they met. (And, a cynic might say, the fact that Ramos -- who was in a contractual dispute with Sevilla -- had every interest in news of the meeting getting out). Ramos stayed were he was and Tottenham -- sheepishly -- gave Jol its "vote of confidence." Whatever that's worth.

Fast-forward to Thursday night. Tottenham is playing Getafe in the UEFA Cup. What does Tottenham do? It seals Jol's departure a few hours before kickoff and then -- because it's too late to get another guy in -- leaves Jol to manage that night's game (which the Dutchman did, with great dignity).

I know what you're thinking. They must have another manager lined up. Well, they don't. All we have is a whole bunch of rumors.

The most reliable -- confirmed to me by a Spurs source -- is that Ramos was given an ultimatum by Tottenham: "We'll sack Jol and you'd better quit and come over now. Otherwise, that's it. We'll rescind our offer."

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I don't know what to make of the gaggle of speculation circulating around the club. What I do know is that, once again, this has made Tottenham look silly.

If Ramos walks out on Sevilla -- after reiterating, just two months ago, that he would stay -- he'll look like a Judas. If he stays in Sevilla and joins Tottenham next summer, he could be joining a club outside the Premiership. And if he doesn't come now, Tottenham will be left manager-less for the next few weeks which, right now, is something it needs about as much as it needs a hole in the head.

Wasn't there an easier, more straightforward way of dealing with this? If Spurs felt Jol should go, why not jettison him in the summer? It's not as if they thought he was great and then, by the end of August, they realized he was a dud. Or was it?

With Tottenham, you never know. Inter Milan has historically been lampooned as the worst-run club in Europe. I think it's getting some competition from North London.

My column on different attitudes to refereeing in rugby and soccer generated a fair response. As usual, it was mixed (can't please all the people all the time). Hugh O'Connor from Chicago reasonably points out that while referee mistakes are part of the game, we should try to minimize them, and introducing an extra referee or two might help. No argument there.

W. Eddoes of Toronto writes: "Perhaps you find bad sportsmanship, diving and borderline criminal behavior (attacking referees, fans throwing projectiles, etc.) to be part of your game, but I do not want it to be a part of the beautiful game. Until soccer utilizes video replay, we have no other option. The media can use this technology to play the only role they're good for -- Monday morning armchair quarterback hero -- to whinge and complain. But for the love of the game, let's try to have professional footballers act like they are professionals -- and not a bunch of whiny, immature and volatile adolescents. It's been tolerated for too long and needs to stop."

I don't quite know what to say. I don't know what soccer he's been watching in which attacks on referees and fans throwing projectiles are tolerated, but all I can say is that he's missed the point of the column entirely.

Tom Scott, also from Toronto, quite reasonably points out that soccer at youth-level carries with it more ugliness than rugby in terms of attitudes towards match officials. He deduces that it's part of the way the game is covered at the highest level, which, as I wrote, is very different.

He does have a good point. The only thing I would say though is that I've also been to plenty of youth-soccer games where the kids were well-behaved and the parents civil to the official. I'd hate to think we were blaming the media and professional athletes for bad parenting.

More abuse from Mark Oliver of Mesa, Ariz., who writes: "Instead of playing rugby in college, you should have taken a course in logic. Yelling and screaming on the field is not critical thinking, nor is it a proper evaluation of officiating. 'Free Speech' in the media is not a necessary requirement to credibly reward the good and punish the bad. In fact, the media tends to zero in on individual instances while overlooking the larger picture, because that is what sells. Right and wrong are irrelevant; yelling and screaming sells!"

The temptation to yell and scream back at him is very strong. I'll limit myself to this: Match officials in soccer already have the power to punish players who "yell and scream." Some do, some don't. Good referees generally don't get yelled at, even when they make mistakes. Why? Because they know how to keep discipline.

I'm not sure what "larger picture" Mark is referring to. But it's nice to meet someone who can be so cynical and negative about basic things like the right to voice one's opinion being "not necessary." As for me, maybe I will enroll in some more logic courses ... they seem to be far more useful than all those "rugby" courses I took back in college.