Tottenham forging a new era in women’s and men’s teams

Oct 27, 2023, 05:38 AM ET

At this early stage of the season it would be easy to suggest this is a new and improved Tottenham Hotspur — version 2.0, with go-faster stripes and a cup holder included as standard — but perhaps still with the same dodgy wheels that tend to come off at the most inopportune moments. Yet across both the men’s and women’s teams there really is a sense of a newer, more evolved and dynamic Spurs. The entire club seems to have bought into the “one badge, one team” values.

Having struggled with muddled styles and underperforming players in recent years, it was clear a change was needed. The women’s team sacked Rehanne Skinner in March with the club sitting two points above the relegation zone, and ended up ninth — their lowest position since they were promoted to the Women’s Super League (WSL) in 2019 — under interim boss Vicky Jepson. Spurs’ men finished the season with their own interim boss (Ryan Mason), missed out on Europe by finishing eighth, then let star striker Harry Kane depart for Bayern Munich.

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But momentum was found as the recruitment team oversaw the arrivals of two new managers this summer, Ange Postecoglou (men’s team) and Robert Vilahamn (women’s), as leaders who could implement a similar attacking style. And both teams have hit the ground running: The men lead the Premier League with seven wins from nine games; the women are third in the WSL with three wins from four. And, for a brief moment on Saturday, both teams were in the No. 1 spot.

More than simply a position in the table, or goals scored, the belief is back.

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“The vibes are amazing, we’ve signed really good players and I’m loving working with the new manager,” women’s star Rosella Ayane said. “The vibes around the training ground are really good. So, it’s a really positive place to be.”

Ashleigh Neville, the longest-serving player on the women’s team, told ESPN: “We’ve started afresh, we’ve had Robert come in and a new captain [Beth England], new vice-captains [Molly Bartrip and Olga Ahtinen] and everyone is invested in what he wants and what the club wants as a team. This season we have no expectations after last season, we’re just working behind the scenes to get the job done.

“I think the main thing for us was to be playing exciting football that the fans want to watch. It was more about the performance, than ‘we want to be in the Champions League,’ for example. It was more about getting set on how we want to play and then the points will follow and the table will show that.”

Meanwhile new men’s signing James Maddison told TalkSPORT last month: “He [Postecoglou] has come in and had his way of playing and his methods. The way he wants us to train day in, day out is infectious. There’s not a day where you can go out and be half-hearted. Every day and every training session is intense, it’s hard and it’s his way, but we’re reaping the rewards of that on the pitch.”

New manager bounce

Robert Vilahamn has Tottenham playing attacking football and they are WSL’s top scorers. Alex Broadway – The FA/The FA via Getty Images

The renewed sense of identity comes from both teams being led by men with their own steadfast philosophies.

Much has been made of Postecoglou’s attacking ideals and history of keeping a barrier between himself and those he coaches, with the former Celtic and Australia boss always one to aim for improvement even if it means focusing on the negatives.

But this is where he and Vilahamn differ most, with the Swede never short of praise to lavish upon his players. Vilahamn is more concerned about the bigger picture and the oft-heard Swedish refrain about improving every day, or as compatriot and Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson puts it: “One day better, not just one day older.”

Where Postecoglou was typically restrained after Spurs’ 2-0 win over Fulham on Monday night — noting that “it was probably the worst 45 minutes we’ve had all year [with the ball]” — Vilahamn was full of positives after his team’s 4-2 comeback win over Aston Villa on Saturday, highlighting the overall performance in the second half and how his players have bought into his style of play. “You can see we have really good character in this group,” he said. “We know how to keep going. You can see how brave we are in the buildup, how we play in the Tottenham way. That’s also a big step for us.”

However, much like Postecoglou, Vilahamn is keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground when it comes to the lofty position of his team in the standings. When speaking to the media ahead of the Villa game, the Swede reiterated that player development is key and his job is not just to bed in a more attacking style of football, but to help their mentality so they can bounce back from setbacks.

“There are going to come times where we don’t succeed, and games are going where we lose as well,” he said. “I’m just making sure that we continue to develop because the season is all about that, to keep going.”

It’s a far cry from Vilahamn’s early days at Swedish side Häcken, where poor performances punctuated a rocky start to his first half of the season in 2021. But much like his players, the young coach grew and developed during those tricky early months. The experience was undoubtedly one that has helped him adapt to life outside of Sweden as he has fast-tracked Spurs to the top end of the table. So far, everything seems to be going right.

Trust in the players and the system

Martha Thomas, left, has hit the ground running so far this season. Morgan Harlow/Getty Images

One Tottenham women’s player thriving under her new coach is Scotland international Martha Thomas, who was signed on deadline day to fill the void left by the injured Beth England. The 27-year-old has already surpassed her best WSL tally of goals for a season (five in 18 games two years ago) to net six in her first four outings, including an eye-catching hat trick against Villa.

“Those players, national team players who are on the bench at the biggest clubs and so on, you can find that in them, if you give them the trust — [20-year-old Manchester United loanee] Grace Clinton is the same — you give them trust and they shine,” Vilahamn said.

In Thomas’ own words: “He has allowed us to have our own personality, as long as we stick with his style. He wants to press and be on the ball, be a possession team, and he’s got the right personnel for that. I think it’s exciting for us to have that culture.”


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Although there are plenty of Spurs fans who are used to seeing the club fail to live up to their potential, on both the men’s and women’s teams, there is no question it has entered a new era. All the squads — including at youth and academy level — now work in a similar way, promoting attacking football and collaboration.

“We spoke about it the other day when the men’s team won 2-0, the way their goals came about were very similar to how ours did,” Neville told ESPN. “It’s great to see across the board that the men’s team and some of the academy teams are top of their leagues, we’re pushing for that at the moment. But it’s kind of showing on the pitch that we’re all under the same club and are aspiring to be the same.”

One of the improvements for the women’s team has been moving Hannah Sheridan, who worked as a nutritionist for the men’s side for many years, to a role as head of performance. Increased investment in sports science has seen better working practices and Vilahamn now has spreadsheets detailing sweat loss during training (to help monitor his player’s hydration levels) which is something of a novelty for the women’s team. There is also increased emphasis on streamlining the pathway from the academy to the senior squad, with Vilahamn introducing a newly created role of “transition coach” for Anton Blackwood.

It is working so far, but the plan for Spurs isn’t about this year in the Premier League or WSL, it’s about the new path being trodden, long-term stability and success for the club, and development of the players. Both managers can dream of titles eventually, but getting their sides to play attacking football and cashing in on their potential is what matters for now.

“I think me and Ange try to do the same stuff with how to play, trying to be brave enough to play good, offensive football,” Vilahamn said before the season started. “In the long run you’re going to see a Tottenham that dictate games, press high, want to lean forward and try to score a lot of goals.”

Already fans of both Spurs’ senior teams are seeing more than they could have ever bargained for.


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