It’s hard to envisage a scenario where Fabio Paratici’s 30-month ban from Italian football doesn’t reflect badly on Tottenham Hotspur.
Paratici, embroiled in an investigation into former employers Juventus’ dealings which has seen the Serie A club docked 15 points and their now-former chairman Andrea Agnelli barred from holding any office in the game in Italy for two years, has been running the show as Spurs’ managing director of football for a year and a half.
His ban currently only applies under the jurisdiction of the Italian football federation (FIGC) but could be extended beyond Italy’s borders following a request to that end by the FIGC to both the European game’s governing body UEFA and its worldwide equivalent FIFA.
This new development throws Tottenham further into turmoil at what already felt like a crossroads moment for the club, with their season not panning out how they’d hoped, growing supporting fan unrest at ENIC, the company which owns Spurs, and chairman Daniel Levy and the question of head coach Antonio Conte’s future coming to a head one way or the other in the weeks and months ahead.
There is absolutely no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Paratici while he has been working for Tottenham.
Juventus also deny any wrongdoing and appeals against the bans and points deduction — punishments handed out for alleged false accounting and transfer market manipulation — are expected.
But can Spurs realistically continue with Paratici in such an important role with these allegations and now a ban hanging over his head?
This is a club – built in Levy’s mould – who pride themselves on a public perception as savvy and sensible, certainly in their transfer-market dealings. Too cautious, probably, but sensible nonetheless.
And Levy has honed a reputation as a shrewd, canny operator. If Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly is at the maverick end of the scale with spending on transfers which could be described as uninhibited, outlandish and potentially reckless since last summer’s takeover, Levy and Tottenham are seen as the complete opposite. Every decision is considered, and carefully thought through.
To have a man who is banned from football at the top of the club’s transfer operation is at odds with those attributes, and its morals too.
It also adds uncertainty over aspects of the club’s short, medium and long term futures — the short clearly being the ongoing January transfer window. The deadline is 10 days away and Spurs are yet to sign anyone, despite an obvious need for new recruits.
Under Paratici, they got business done efficiently and effectively in the summer, signing Ivan Perisic, Richarlison, Yves Bissouma, Clement Lenglet (loan) and Fraser Forster, all by July 8 — a month before the season began. Djed Spence, described as very much a “club signing” and a player Conte has barely used and Cristian Romero, last season’s loanee whose permanent move went through, were the other two additions later in the window.
But many fans were underwhelmed by the lack of one of two more arrivals as the days to the September 1 deadline ticked by, particularly at right wing-back but also in central defence and up front, where Spurs have lacked depth.
To add this new chaos into the mix at a crucial juncture of the season — with Tottenham fifth, six points off the top four places that mean Champions League football again in 2023-24 — is potentially destabilising.
In fact, given Paratici’s importance at the top of Spurs’ football tree, it can’t be described any other way. It just can’t be business as usual.
However, it may be less disruptive than it could have been if this had happened a year ago, given the structure Paratici has helped create below him in the hierarchy since his appointment in the summer of 2021.
Part of his remit, and his vision, was to put his mark on Spurs and to have them run as a big club should, with several people in senior positions under one umbrella rather than it all just being the work of a single individual — ie, Paratici.
Gretar Steinsson arrived in a newly-created position as performance director at both first-team and junior levels, Andy Scoulding is performance manager and specialises in the British transfer market, Simon Davies is head of coaching methodology and Leonardo Gabbanini the chief scout. All are fairly recent hires and have both shared out the workload and increased the level of expertise.
It’s caused a deliberate power shift at the club, one which has moved away from Levy and a small group of advisors and towards Paratici and his team (Levy is still involved in some recruitment operations but has been a more elusive figure at the training ground, leaving day-to-day football matters to Paratici).
But it all reflects how a modern-day big club should run, with decisions delegated to other senior figures in the organisation rather than being made at the whim of one person.
And what that means is that should Paratici leave as a result of this news, while it would of course be inconvenient at a time when Tottenham are craving stability, consistency and an upward trajectory, it needn’t be the turbulent event it could have been in the past, given there is now a solid base of senior staff underneath him in the management structure and given that you’d expect Levy to step back in to oversee more day-to-day running of operations in any interim period.
A club of Spurs’ size, stature and ambitions also shouldn’t struggle to attract a satisfactory replacement, and it’s not as if Paratici and Conte are welded to each other.
It is via Paratici’s restructuring and a decent chunk of their recruitment activity that he, although a divisive figure among supporters for his track record (being so determined to hire Conte’s short-lived predecessor Nuno Espirito Santo didn’t turn out to be the best start), has done some good work for the club.
The additions of Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur from his previous club Juventus, plus the signings of Romero and also Pape Matar Sarr — an extremely highly-rated young midfielder courted by clubs across Europe — have been successful.
This would be one of the downsides of any departure – his relationships in the game have helped facilitate successful signings.
That’s all in the past, but what happens in the future is currently unclear, not just for Paratici but also Conte who, if the club still want him beyond the end of his current contract in the summer (and given their form since October, that’s no assumption), has a decision to make on whether he stays.
If you’re Conte, does this just add a layer of farce to an unpredictable situation and make it easier for him to walk away? Or does the man hired by Paratici to manage Juventus and now Spurs deem it all irrelevant as long as he can do his own job without it being impacted? He will surely seek urgent assurances on the latter.
As for Spurs, while there was presumably a confidence that this cloud which has been hanging over Paratici for some time (but was not there at the time of his appointment) wouldn’t be an issue, any such confidence was badly misplaced.
And if the decision isn’t taken out of their hands, Spurs now have a huge call to make.
A club trying to carve out a place for themselves as a global entity don’t want to have their reputation tarnished. And these developments will linger.
For now, they are staying silent.
The Athletic posed a series of questions to the club — about the due diligence they performed when hiring Paratici, if there was an assumption he could be cleared, if they will launch an internal investigation as to whether similar practices have taken place at Spurs, and whether Paratici will now be suspended or sacked. They have declined to comment.
All eyes are now on what they do next.
Paratici once said: “The best one at this job is not the one who makes no mistakes, but the one who makes the fewest.”
Those words feel prescient.
A man who wanted to be judged on his ability to grow a football club and sign good players is now being judged on his past instead. And whether it’s fair or not so, by association, are Tottenham Hotspur.
(Top photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
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