Jacques Santini has been around for over 20 years, through his playing and managerial career. In his time he was a gifted midfielder, who began his career with Lisieux before joining St Etienne, where he spent the large part of his playing career. During his 12 seasons with, he helped the club to a European Cup final in 1976, won four French titles and two domestic cups before finishing off with a two year stint at Montpellier.
With that element of his career over, he turned to coaching, initially with a third division team called Lisieux. In 1985 he took over at Toulouse, before returning to St Etienne for a couple of years and on to Sochaux – everywhere he sent the teams did well achieving solid results and a degree of success. It was time for the learning to stop, and he took the next logic step when he joined Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon), in 1997 as their Technical Director. By 2000 the manager's job was his, and he set about winning things; beginning with the League Cup in his first season, and following that with their first ever Championship.
Sometimes, however managers have to be lucky, and things came together at the right time for Santini personally. A few months after he won the league, the national team suffered horribly in the FIFA 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan – the holders were dumped out in the Group stages. With that Roger Lemerre was sacked and the FFF appointed Santini head coach of Les Bleus – it seemed he had made it to the top. Despite a sceptic press, and a fan-base it was fair to say were not convinced, he knew he had some of the greatest players around in Henry, Veiria, Pires and Silvestre to name a few, telling all that would listen that
“I am from a place where the men are not easy; I like to keep my distance.”
He backed it up by taking France through the Euro 2004 qualifiers with eight straight victories. His record, going to Portugal as one of the favourites, was played 17, won 15, drawn 1 and lost only one – giving his a success ratio of a staggering 88%. Prior to the tournament, following a dispute about a new deal, he announced that he would be taking over at Tottenham Hotspur for the up and coming Premiership season. Whether this affected their preparation is debatable, but it was not be a glorious end, as they lost in the quarter final to Greece, who went on to memorably win the tournament.
He later went on to tell French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche that the France team had had little respect for him at Euro 2004 and did 'what they wanted'. There were hints that striker David Trezeguet may have spat at him after being replaced during France's 1-0 quarter-final defeat by Greece. He commented
“I'm not stupid enough to start a national controversy between Trezeguet and Santini. And did he really do it? I'm not going to ask him. If it's true, was he cited? No he wasn't. Now isn't it a more serious offence to spit at the national manager and on the "Bleu" jersey than it is to wear a Puma T-shirt like Pires?”
Meanwhile at Tottenham, fans were in shock as on June 3rd 2004 it was announced that current French coach Jacques Santini would become the new head coach at White Hart Lane, following a nine month search to a successor to Glenn Hoddle. Following the appointment, a month earlier of highly respected Danish coach Frank Arnesen, as Sporting Director – so this was the new continental direction that Daniel Levy wanted to put in place. The fans, though sceptical, believe it was a signal of intent. Santini was also happy to come, saying after his appointment
“I am delighted to get the opportunity to join Tottenham Hotspur. I am an ambitious man and it has always been a dream of mine to coach a big English club in the most exciting league in the world. Tottenham Hotspur are a very big club, with a wonderful history and great traditions. Daniel (Levy) and Frank (Arnesen) have outlined their vision and I share their ambitions. I am determined to help the club return to its place amongst the elite and look forward to joining after Euro 2004."
It was a case of mutual back slapping as the club's chairman Daniel Levy said of Santini:
“He was the outstanding candidate because of his experience, coaching ability and track record at all levels. His arrival in addition to that of Frank Arnesen is the direct result of a comprehensive review of the football side of the club. We now have a coaching set-up in place that has experience in several different countries and an extensive knowledge of players across the world. As I have said on previous occasions, we were always going to make this appointment at the end of the European season as it was our aim to appoint a top European coach. The club and our fans have had to endure an unprecedented level of speculation regarding this appointment and this is undoubtedly due to the significant number of high calibre individuals who were interested in coming to Tottenham. The supporters have been very patient and for that I thank them. I hope that they now feel that their patience has been rewarded. With Jacques on board, an existing talented squad and further strengthening over the summer, we can now look forward to the start of next season with renewed optimism."
The circle of admirers was completed by Arnesen, who added:
“Jacques has a wealth of experience both as a player and as a coach. He has won honours at both national and international level and his reputation in Europe and amongst other respected figures in the game is excellent. In my opinion he was by far and away the best candidate short-listed for the position and I am very happy that we have succeeded in bringing him to the club."
He then set about bringing in new faces to the club in preparation for the 2004/5 Barclays Premiership season. The transfer policy seemed clear, no established stars, but good young English players, such as Sean Davis, Paul Robinson, Michael Carrick and Callum Davenport mixed with foreign flair and experience with Noureddine Naybet, Pedro Mendes, Eric Edman, Atouba and Pamarot all signing up to join Santini's squad. It all began well, as Spurs enjoyed a good start and were challenging the top end of the Premiership table with one of the best defensive records, but the storm clouds were gathering the fans used to a certain style of play were critical of Santini's defensive style. After 13 games in charge, Santini shocked the English game resigning on November 5. The official reason was down to personal problems, but the press were not convinced believing issues with Frank Arnesen's role being a major factor.
At the time, Santini said:
“My time at Tottenham has been memorable and it is with deep regret that I take my leave. I wish the club and the supporters all the best. Private issues in my personal life have arisen which caused my decision. I very much hope that the wonderful fans will respect my decision. I should like to thank (sporting director) Frank Arnesen and (chairman) Daniel Levy for their understanding.”
Arnesen was more circumspect saying
“We are obviously disappointed that Jacques is leaving us. We fully respect his decision. I can assure you that the club will act swiftly to minimise the impact of Jacques' departure. Our priority is to ensure that this season's performance remains unaffected by this move. We wish Jacques well."
However Santini, when speaking to Le Journal du Dimanche, some 3 months after he had left put the record straight saying:
“I should have waited for the end of Euro, even if it meant missing my chance. They said I was leaving because I was getting divorced and because my son was on drugs. But I left for organisation problems,”
With Santini returned to his native France many will be watching his next step, which one can be assured will surprise and interest many who are yet to be convinced of his managerial ability – only time will tell the truth