12 months ago, Andre Villas-Boas at the age of 33 made his big money move to Chelsea after a remarkable season at Porto. Villas-Boas went undefeated domestically and won an unprecedented treble, which included a Europa league title, making him the youngest manager to win a European competition. Unfortunately, even with a resume of that quality, he failed to replicate that success at Chelsea who indirectly paid Porto ₤13.3m to attain the young manager. After a failed stint at Chelsea, Villas-Boas finds himself in North London where he has signed a three-year deal with rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
AVB, as referred to by the media was known for his extremely high defensive line that is created because he asks his players to defend high up the pitch. When doing this, his players attempt to make the pitch as small as possible forcing the opposition to lose possession in their half of the field. This form of defence requires high fitness levels and requires defenders with pace as they do play the offside trap. Villas-Boas also intends on having his team penetrating vertically. He likes to operate with two pacy wingers, one who can cut inside the middle of the pitch to drag a defender with him, and the other to provide natural width and stretch the field in order to deliver venomous balls for the striker to get onto. Unlike Chelsea, he has this area covered and it’s just a matter of finding adequate replacements to fill in for these players, as the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are injury prone and can burn out easily as Redknapp discovered during his time at Spurs.
The formula that worked so well at Porto in which his team scored over 100 goals in one season, failed miserably at Chelsea. His short tenure at Chelsea saw his team lose to Arsenal 5-3, Liverpool 2-1, QPR 1-0, Napoli 3-1, Manchester United 3-1, and also tie them 3-3 after being three goals up. The qualities/personalities that he had at hand at Porto were not available at Chelsea. He had a defence that preferred to sit deep; a midfield that lacked creativity, no natural wingers, and two strikers that he failed to get the best out of, simply it was a project waiting to fail. His eight month spell at the club saw Chelsea fighting for a European spot rather than for the Premier League crown which he was brought in to win. The club suffered their worst start to a Premier League season since Roman Abrahimovich bought the club in 2003. After a string of poor results, Villas-Boas finally got the sack, and it’s hard to argue that he didn’t deserve it.
It is now four months later and he has received a second stint in England as manager of Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham finished fourth last season in the final Champions League spot, but failed to qualify because Chelsea had won the competition, giving them an automatic spot in next years tournament and pushing Spurs to the Europa League. Spurs started off last season well and were in the title race for periods of the season, but their lack of squad depth saw them fade away in January after a hard fought loss to eventual champions Manchester City.
Squad depth is one of many issues Villas-Boas faces as the new manager of Spurs. It leaves many wondering if he “bites more than he can chew” when he accepts job offers with such a high demand. Villas-Boas is young and wants to give himself a challenge, but at this point in his career another failed stint, can really tarnish his reputation and opportunities to be offered high profile jobs in the future. To win a Premier League title or any domestic league, you need to rely on more than just 11 players. Spurs will need to address this issue as the likes of Modric, Parker, Bale, Adebayor and Lennon were all burnt out by February and suffered a massive loss of form, which caused Spurs to obtain 16 points from a possible 39 in their last 13 games of the season, and drop to fourth place in the table.
Villas-Boas will have to win over the locker room as fast as possible, and with personalities such as William Gallas and Rafael Van der Vaart in the locker room it’s much easier said then done. Unlike Redknapp, who was a man manager, we are unsure if Villas-Boas possesses the characteristics to get the best out of top level players. His fallouts with John Terry, Frank Lampard, and Didier Drogba are perfect examples, although they aren’t the easiest players to deal with. His problem was he tried to change things to quickly, and attempted to phase out the “old guard” without much explanation.
“His plan was long-term. But somewhere in the middle of that, the present didn’t go so well and that’s where the problems came” according to Lampard. “I have been told because I didn’t sign a new contract I was not allowed to play” – Salomon Kalou. Not one Chelsea player had something positive to say about Villas-Boas, and even though when he was sacked Chelsea sat three points out of fourth, you couldn’t imagine that they would win the FA Cup and qualify/win the Champions League if he was still in charge.
Spurs best player in Luka Modric is tempted to pursue Champions League football, and it should be Villas-Boas first priority to keep the Croatian superstar at White Hart Lane. Although, Levy will only sell Modric at a high price, he is too valuable to lose and would possibly set Villas-Boas five steps back. It now seems imminent that he will leave Spurs, and it seems like Joao Moutinho is the man they look to replace Modric with. Moutinho had a great Euro 2012 campaign and has been spectacular at Porto, he also knows Villas-Boas system inside out. He would settle in at Spurs well, but is he the man that will take this team to the next level?
Another question to be asked is will Levy provide the money needed for AVB to find his perfect mix of players? As last season came to an end, many wondered if this Spurs team can get any better. Villas-Boas provides that breath of fresh air, and his eye for young talent should not be overlooked, but for this club to reach the next level, they will need to spend, and the squad will have to get bigger and better. When a few members of the Spurs XI were unavailable last year, the team looked disjointed and was a shade of themselves. They only really seemed to hit full gear, when their original starting XI would be on the field. Levy has already funded moves for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Jan Vertonghen at approximately ₤18m. These are signs of good things to come, and many Spurs fans will hope he doesn’t follow in Juande Ramos footsteps as Villas-Boas has control over the players coming into the side. Levy allowed Ramos to restructure the squad and gave him transfer control, and in return Ramos guided Spurs to their worst-ever to start to a season in the clubs history.
Lastly, it has to be said that Villas-Boas needs to stay away from the media. It seems like everyday journalists shove daily interviews with him down our throats. This morning, papers were filled with talks about Spurs aiming for the Premier League title and it just seems that this man can’t stay out of the spotlight. The pressure he mounts on his players is ridiculous, and if Spurs are unable to get results during a patch of the season, the media will be waiting to attack Villas-Boas and the team, as they did during his tenure at Chelsea. Villas-Boas hasn’t been at the club for over a month yet and he along with his new signings has put massive heaps of pressure on the club already.
Now I understand Villas-Boas did win the treble with Porto, but there are few things to consider. Was he really tested? In the last 10 years Porto has won their domestic league eight times. Is it possible he was a big fish in a small pond? Now yes, he won the Europa League, but the teams he encountered were nowhere near the level of any of the top four teams in England. What he did at Porto was outstanding, but do we really know where to classify Villas-Boas? You can look at the untested challenge at Porto that saw him go undefeated in his domestic league and win the Europa league while claiming a treble.
Or you can look at his time at Chelsea in which he steered Chelsea to their worst start in Premier League history, alienated the squad, was tactically naïve/inept, and saw him make some dismal decisions for the club. May I remind you that with the same squad, Roberto Di Matteo led Chelsea to an FA Cup and a Champions league title, two competitions that Villas-Boas nearly had them bowing out of. He also failed to win games against any top four sides except for Manchester City, and that involved John Terry rallying his troops and instructing them to defend deep rather than high after conceding a goal two minutes into the game. Good managers are able to deal with the squad they have and play to their strengths, Di Matteo did this, where as Villas-Boas was stubborn and virtually had no plan B to his tactics/style of football that clearly did not suit Chelsea.
It’s really difficult to predict how this could play out with Villas-Boas as his two stints with top clubs are much like Jekyll & Hyde. Through them you could get a sense of the type of man he his and his football philosophy. It looks good on paper, and many will hope he has learned from his errors at Chelsea, as the neutrals such as myself want to see him succeed. It leaves one to think he will succeed and eventually give Spurs Champions League football and trophies, or it can fail and see him spend half a season at White Hart Lane. Spurs fans have been so close to success over the past years and the key question will be, how the fans along with the players and Levy will cope if he falls short of their expectations?