Tottenham Hotspur last night pulled out of a deal to replace Martin Jol with Juande Ramos - but delivered a crude warning to their under-fire manager that performances have to improve if he is to hold on to his job.
Spurs realise they will be accused of one of the biggest public relations blunders in the history of football over their clumsy handling of the whole affair but, according to sources, it was they, and not the Seville coach, who cooled on a deal, believing the timing was not right.
The club's board, which has faced fierce criticism from supporters in the last few days, will now wait to see if the team's fortunes pick up, with Jol being told that Spurs need to establish themselves quickly as challengers for a Champions League place or he will still be sacked. That starts with Sunday's visit to Manchester United, followed by another away fixture, against Fulham.
The state of affairs will only heap further pressure on Jol, who appears to have won a stay of execution rather than a reprieve following a four-hour long meeting yesterday at which he stressed that he wanted to remain in his post. Spurs are confident that, if he is to be replaced, they can still get Ramos who had agreed in principle to join them after being "sounded out" last week.
In a clear indication of the pressure Jol is under, club sources have also let it be known that the manager had a bust-up with the striker Jermain Defoe following Saturday's league meeting with Derby County. Defoe was said to be "livid" that he only played the final 14 minutes of the match and confronted Jol, accusing the manager of not giving him a fair chance. The 24-year-old, who has only two years left on his contract at White Hart Lane, is now threatening to call off talks on a new deal.
His future at Spurs has always been in the balance because the England international feels he should play more regularly and was, therefore, unsure about signing a new contract. Spurs will now have to try to placate Defoe and have told Jol it is his job to manage four strikers and keep them all happy.
If the club cannot get Defoe to a sign a new four-year deal, it is likely that he will have to be sold, as they will not want to run the risk of him leaving for free at the end of his contract. Defoe has already told Spurs he is "at the end of his tether" and wants reassurances. "It was not as if the other strikers were scoring goals," a source said. " Jermain feels he is fit and sharp and deserves a chance."
Jol will now feel that he himself has been given another chance, although the statement last night from the Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy, did not make comfortable reading. "I am an ambitious chairman, we are an ambitious club and we want Champions League football," Levy said.
He added: "We, the board, owe it to the club and the supporters to constantly assess our position and performance and to ensure that we have the ability to operate and compete at that level. We have made a massive investment in the squad and, as a result, we have the best squad of players this club has had for over 20 years and they are equally hungry for success and silverware.
"For that we need our management and coaching standards to be of the highest quality such that players can fulfil their potential and we can compete with the best. We have discussed all of these expectations with Martin and he has confirmed to me today that he feels he is equipped with a squad and a determination to take on that challenge."
Jol said he had had a "full and frank conversation" with the board, adding: "Yes, it's pressure to deliver, but that is what we managers have to expect." Jol will also have to improve relations with the club's directors, including Levy, the vice-chairman, Paul Kemsley, and sporting director, Damien Comolli.
Ramos is due to hold a press conference today at which he will state his intention to see out the final year of his contract at Seville. His advisers have told him that it might be better to remain where he is for now, with a Champions League campaign and a European Super Cup final to play, and hold out for a bigger job next summer. However, it is clear that Ramos, who met a Spurs delegation last Friday, was keen to move to the Premier League club. Indeed, Ramos said he would resign once he had written confirmation of Spurs' offer but that was not received because the board stalled and, instead, delivered a warning to Jol that he needs to prove he can take the team "to the next level".
The Spurs board also discussed transfer targets yesterday. An inquiry has been made about Villarreal's Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme, but the club have decided not to proceed with a bid.