In Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham finally have a manager that understands the Spurs’ way: Ardiles

Club legend loves the Australian boss' attacking philosophy and also praises Son Heung-min’s growing leadership

Tottenham Hotspur great Osvaldo Ardiles (left) during an interview with Yahoo Southeast Asia. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)
Tottenham Hotspur great Osvaldo Ardiles (left) during an interview with Yahoo Southeast Asia. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

Reporting from London

Osvaldo Ardiles understands the Tottenham Hotspur way. He was one of the original torchbearers, a swashbuckling pioneer channelling the spirit of legendary club manager Bill Nicholson. And he believes Spurs have finally returned to their attacking roots.

After the parked buses and defensive caution of Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte, old is new again at the stunning Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, thanks to Ange Postecoglou.

“Attacking football is our philosophy. It was cemented by Bill Nicholson, who was very successful,” Ardiles told Yahoo Southeast Asia, referring to Spurs' legendary Double-winning manager. “From my point of view, I played for Argentina in 1978 (and won the World Cup.) It was my philosophy as well. So me and Tottenham always had the same way of thinking.

“And I absolutely love Ange’s football. You must have strong principles as a manager and say, ‘This is the way we are going to play.' And I absolutely love it. The football has been a revelation after the last two or three seasons. To be honest, Ange has been a breath of fresh air.”

Son Heung-min has moved up to another level: Ardiles

Ardiles was speaking at an AIA Singapore event inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. He sat beside a huge poster of Spurs players, including James Maddison and Son Heung-min, two archetypal Ange-ballers, two direct beneficiaries of a playing system that Ardiles compared to his greatest team of all time.

“You can win with lots of different styles, but personally, I like players to go forward,” he said. “The best thing I’ve ever seen in my life was Brazil at the 1970 World Cup, where they played with five No.10s. People thought they were crazy but they were the best team I saw in my life. It’s the only way to play football.

“And Ange-ball is very positive. He has them thinking about attacking the goal, all the time. Ange tries to squeeze the other team as fast as possible. We win the ball quickly and we attack. Even Pep Guardiola’s teams try to keep the ball a little bit, but with Ange, no, as soon as Spurs win the ball, boom, we attack.”

And the boys on the wall behind him are revelling in such a liberating system, with Maddison replacing Harry Kane as Son’s creative partner. But it’s the South Korean’s elevation to the captaincy this English Premier League season that has impressed the Argentine legend.

“Last season, a lot of Spurs players were not very good, because of the style of play. But it’s a different scenario now with Ange. Maddison is my type of player. He’s good with the ball, and very creative,” Ardiles said.

“But Son has moved up to another level. He has taken on the responsibility of being a club captain. As a leader, he’s not someone who’s going to be shouting, but he impresses (with his football leadership). Son is happy because Tottenham are playing football now. Last season, it was tough. Sometimes, the personality of the manager influences everything and now the players are settled.”

Qualifying for Europe should be Spurs' target

Attacking progress still requires an end product and Europe would be the ideal final destination for Ardiles. The 71-year-old famously lifted the FA Cup twice and the old Uefa Cup with Spurs in the early 1980s, a halcyon period that now feels a distant memory for many supporters.

Ange-ball is easy on the eye, but maybe not quite as alluring as a new trophy in the cabinet. Ardiles is no less impatient. He believes that all the fundamentals are now in place: a sparkling stadium within the heart of Spurs’ North London community which respects the past but looks to the future and a manager doing the same.

“Qualifying for Europe in Ange’s first season would be great. You can see everyone is pushing towards something better,” Ardiles said. “This is now the greatest stadium in the world. It helps that we changed, but we stayed in the same place. The community relies on this football club in so many ways and everything is much better now.”

Ardiles’ eloquence and devotion mirrored his finest attributes as a player, who played 238 times for the club and returned to Tottenham briefly as a manager in 1993, without ever sacrificing those attacking principles that he developed as a young boy from Cordoba, watching Argentina’s sworn enemy at the 1970 World Cup.

“Pele was… my idol. I’m from Argentina, you can’t do that. You can’t say that Pele was my idol, but he was. I’m sorry,” he said, laughing.

But Ardiles has nothing to apologise for. He still believes that football was perfected by Pele’s Brazil in 1970 and has been on a quest ever since, as both a player and a manager, to emulate and champion the sons of samba. Of course, Tottenham are not there yet. But Ange-ball is a significant step in the right direction. To borrow the title of Spurs’ famous 1981 FA Cup song, Ossie’s Dream is still alive.

Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 28 books.

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