Spotlight on AVB again

I was defensive of Andre Villas-Boas after his sacking by Chelsea in March. Given the success the Blues enjoyed under Roberto Di Matteo for the rest of that season, I don’t think they’ll be too bothered about their decision. The performance of the Portugese coach, now at Tottenham, would add further weight to that.

Unfortunately for AVB, there are similarities between the situation he has inherited at White Hart Lane to the one at Stamford Bridge. Both times he’s come in by request of an interfering chairman to replace a manager who was popular with the players. Carlo Ancelotti might have struggled for results in his final months with Chelsea, but he had brought them the double just 12 months earlier in his first season with the club, and by this point the meddling Roman Abrahmovich had sacked his assistant Ray Wilkins against his will and unsettled the entire camp. It can’t be easy doing your job when you and your staff are all sure your days are numbered, as Villas-Boas himself would later find out.

Given his experience in West London, perhaps this North London club wasn’t the wisest choice either. Harry Redknapp had been sacked not so much for results, but for being linked so heavily with the England job and refusing to rule out accepting it – something which, as I wrote at the time, Spurs can hardly blame him for. Yes they finished the season poorly, but they still ended up in 4th place, not something that should be scoffed at for a club of their size, or do they not remember their recent history where bottom half finishes were commonplace? If not for a very fortunate Champions League win for Chelsea, Harry would’ve ordinarily done enough to secure the club’s ultimate target.

No one had done a finer job of managing Tottenham than Harry. If that still wasn’t enough for Daniel Levy, then maybe AVB ought to have a better look at how he picks his clubs.

Of course, there’s no real suggestion yet that Spurs are going to sack their latest manager anytime soon, but one feels results can’t really continue as they have been. They’re not renowned for being a club that sticks by a manager for the long term, and they especially don’t like losing to Arsenal, as they did so feably this weekend.

Questions will rightly be asked at this stage – is the Premier League too much of a step up for him at this stage of his career? He’s young, still only 35, and only had two seasons of managerial experience in the Portugese league. His work with Porto was immensely impressive, but the level of competition in Portugal is far from even France and Germany, never mind England. The Europa League as well, is not a great competition; the best teams don’t compete in it, or if they do they don’t necessarily field their best players. Recent winners and finalists, the likes of Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, Fulham and Werder Bremen have not made any impact in the Champions League. Jose Mourinho’s Porto UEFA Cup-winning side of 2003 are very unique in going on to win the Champions League the following year. AVB’s inevitable comparisons with Mourinho, whom he worked with at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan, have been his undoing as much as anything else.

He was highly rated by his mentor, who mostly used him as a scout on opposition teams. He has been in this business since the age of 16, when he used to discuss tactics with Bobby Robson and then landed himself a job for the then Porto boss. This attention to detail and highly mathematical approach to the game is very well suited to working under a more charismatic head coach like Mourinho, but does it lend itself to management? Was this experience really enough to land him a job at Chelsea? His weaknesses in building a rapor with both his players and the media since then have been highlighted, as well as a rigidity and loyalty to his tactics notebook over the flow of a game or the happiness of his players.

His overall Premier League record with Chelsea and Spurs so far reads: Played 39, Won 18, Drawn 9, Lost 12, For 67, Against 53. That’s just one game more than a Premier League campaign, and this points total of 63 would give you a league finish of between 5th and 7th in the league, based on recent seasons. For now, that’s not really what Spurs want.

Once again, I feel it’s worth saying that AVB should be given time. As soon as he arrived at Spurs he faced departures from key players in Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart. He has had to assemble a new midfield with signings of Sigurdsson, Dempsey and Dembele, the latter proving a very good transfer and who has been a real miss with his recent injury; the former two have so far failed to make an impact, but they’re quality players and will surely do so with time.

If Spurs are patient, they could yet see the best of a man who was so highly rated he became the most expensive manager ever when he joined Chelsea. If they continue to demand unrealistic results, I can see AVB being out the door in the next few months. At this point, a break from the game and the spotlight might be advised for the young manager. And pick your club better next time!

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