Juande Ramos is the only coach to have won anything at Tottenham in the last 15 years but he is remembered as the bumbling boss who was sacked after a year.
‘The stupid Spaniard who didn’t have a clue’ is how he feels the story was told. Now, as he prepares to bring his Dnipro side to White Hart Lane in the Europa League next week, he offers up another version of the events that ruined his reputation in England.
Spurs sacked Andre Villas-Boas, while Tim Sherwood has them just outside the Champions League places – but Ramos believes that is exactly where they will stay for as long as they sell established stars and replace them with young prospects.
‘Spurs sold Gareth Bale in the summer and with the €100million they have signed five or six players. They will see if any of those players take off and then maybe sell them on and reinvest: that’s the business plan,’ said Ramos at the Ukraine side’s winter training camp in Alicante.
‘It works well but you have to ask the question: what are you trying to achieve? Are you trying to win money or titles? The sporting side is the priority at Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea.
‘City sign Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo. They don’t look at the age of the player, they look at the performances. Spurs look at the age, thinking of a future sale.
‘I advised them to sign Luka Modric. He spent a couple of years developing and started performing well and they sold him.
‘Why aren’t Spurs going to win the league? Because they are always a small step below those three or four teams. Economically it works well but in sporting terms it needs a slight tuning. What are you chasing? Titles or economic success?’
And what if Spurs simply don’t have the budget to compete with the top clubs?
‘Then you don’t sack the manager for not always being in the top four,’ he said. ‘I didn’t have a problem with selling Berbatov, so long as someone came in to replace him.
‘The two strikers that I asked for were Samuel Eto’o and David Villa. But we were left with Darren Bent and Roman Pavlyuchenko.
‘We started the league and we couldn’t beat anyone; we couldn’t score a goal under a rainbow and in the eighth week I’m gone.’
In 2008 Pep Guardiola’s arrival at Barcelona had put Eto’o’s future in doubt and Villa was on his way out of cash-strapped Valencia — but Tottenham chose Pavlyuchenko.
‘He came,’ remembered Ramos. ‘Russian — he didn’t understand anything. He was here for six months and he hardly played. Damien Comolli signed him.’
All the goals we got that pre-season, he scored! Hell! It’s the worst thing that could have happened.
‘We won every game and he scores 11 or 12 goals and so the chairman thinks, “This guy Berbatov out, this guy Robbie Keane out!”
‘And then what happens? In December they spent £51m to rectify the mistakes. They say, “It’s the manager who doesn’t understand. He doesn’t know anything. The stupid Spaniard hasn’t got a clue. We’ll blame him”.
‘The guy that sold Keane and Berbatov wasn’t to blame and yet they had to spend £51m to sort it out!’
Sporting director Comolli was sacked as well. ‘With hindsight it would probably have been better not to agree to work with Comolli,’ added Ramos. ‘The only honourable thing Levy did was that he knew Comolli had made the signings and so he sacked him, too.
‘If he had blamed the signings on me, Comolli would have carried on.’
So has Villas-Boas been the victim of similar errors this season?
‘You take Bale out after last season when he won eight or 10 games on his own and you start to struggle, of course,’ agreed Ramos, but he is happier talking about his own dismissal. ‘It’s not a case of defending myself. These are quantifiable facts. I should have resigned sooner when I saw what was happening.’
Bent’s pre-season form was accompanied by Berbatov’s refusal to play. Ramos said: ‘As a coach, what do you do? If he doesn’t want to play then he’s not going to play well. It’s actually more honourable to say “I don’t want to play” than to put the shirt on and go out there and not try. I understand the player. He wants to go to United.’
Not understanding the players was one of the main criticisms made about his short reign. But he said: ‘My relationship with the players was excellent in the main but you know who it was bad with? David Bentley. His agent was close to Levy. And as Bentley didn’t play, because we had Aaron Lennon, he started to dish the dirt.
‘He was the one who started to undermine the relationship. He started with, “He doesn’t understand”. But four months before, I had understood. Then they said they were hungry. But four months before, they weren’t hungry.’
Bentley and his agent strongly refute these allegations and insist the player enjoyed working with the Spaniard.
But the players’ complaints about his crackdown on diet still riles Ramos. The five trophies won at Sevilla had been based in part on extreme fitness levels he tried to impose at Tottenham.
It was incredible,’ he said of the food made available to the squad.
‘It was like a wedding buffet. Cakes, pastries, sauces. Honestly, and I say this with no bitterness at all, there were players who were… well, fat. They were sedantary.
‘In a sportsman the physical condition has to be perfect because you live off your body. Your food is your fuel. If I eat a cake, I’m putting in diesel; an athlete needs to be putting in super fuel.
There was some resistance of course — a lad who is 22, 23 years old, with cash in his pocket thinking, “And this guy’s coming here telling me what to eat”, we could see that.
‘We trained out in Chigwell and there is a McDonald’s and we would see them there, eating hamburgers and drinking Coca-Cola.
‘I couldn’t go to their houses to see what they were eating but if they were not at their ideal weight then I could keep them out of the side. And we recovered in the league, we beat Arsenal for the first time in (nine) years and we won the Carling Cup, all in four months. Everyone’s as happy as hell.’
There was an unhappy ending a few months later but Ramos says he is not down on the culture of English football. He speaks about the ‘scandalously good touch’ of Tom Huddlestone and how good Jonathan Woodgate and Ledley King would have been if not for their injuries.
And he disagrees that the average English footballer is less intelligent than his continental contemporary, saying: ‘It’s the flexibility they lack, not the intelligence. Changing things during a game is hard for them. All that kind of work is done with Spanish kids early on.’
But he doesn’t expect to be giving any footballing lessons when Dnipro meet Spurs. ‘One of their players is probably our budget for the entire season,’ he admitted.
‘Spurs are a team who are clearly superior to us. We’re light years away from them right now.’
And there is no lingering inside knowledge that can help him out. ‘Knowing about the opposition is not the same as being able to stop them,’ he said. ‘I can tell them how quick Lennon is and how he can take them on the outside. But then they can go out on to the pitch knowing that and, voom-voom, he’s gone. What are you going to do? Throw a rope around him?’
Ramos is perhaps, above all, an unlucky coach. When he won the League Cup with Spurs it was his sixth trophy in less than two years. He beat a club record for consecutive wins at Real
Madrid only to be sacked by a new president.
What kind of welcome does he expect at White Hart Lane in March? ‘The best case scenario is some applause and a welcome back, I suppose,’ he said. ‘The memory should be a good one. I was the coach the last time they won a trophy after all.’
Written by Steve Milne @stevenmilnelive