Andre Villas-Boas’ unforgettable tenure in England highlights the various components required to succeed at the highest level. In a country where the media and football fans are quick to criticize, coping with pressure and negativity is a necessity.
Winning the treble with a remarkable Porto side transformed Villas-Boas into one of the games most coveted managers in 2011, and with the Chelsea job vacant, the Portuguese manager couldn’t resist. Villas-Boas’ return to Stamford Bridge – he was previously a video analyst for the club – presented an opportunity to replicate Jose Mourinho’s career path and succeed in England.
But apart from their nationality, time as work colleagues, and the fact that neither man played professional football, the two managers have very little in common – and Villas-Boas’ spell in the Premier League displayed that. The 36-year-old is a young, vibrant manager that strives on producing attacking football. However, Villas-Boas’ man-management skills were poor, while his obstinacy and tactical naivety led to his downfall.
The Portuguese manager’s attempt to play ‘vertical football’ – attacking football that pegs the opposition into their half, while quickly circulating the ball, and maintaining a high defensive line – at Chelsea didn’t fit the players’ identity, nor did his eagerness to phase out the old guard bode well with management, the dressing room, or the supporters. Villas-Boas was sacked within seven months, and it appeared that his experiment in the Premier League was over.
Nonetheless, Harry Redknapp’s dismissal at Spurs provided Villas-Boas the platform to prove his critics wrong, as the North London side pushed for Champions League football. This time, Villas-Boas completed the season with Spurs, guiding them to their highest Premier League point total, but they still finished a few points out of the top-four.
Besides all the problems regarding the Portuguese manager and the Spurs hierarchy, the one issue Spurs encountered was scoring goals. Gareth Bale’s breakthrough season was pivotal towards Spurs’ success in his final season at White Hart Lane, but with the Welshman pushing for a move to Real Madrid, Spurs required another scoring outlet.
A mixture of poor performances, lack of goals, and new signings needing time to gel played a factor in Villas-Boas’ dismissal, but turning against the fans, along with his naïve tactics that resulted in blowouts against Manchester City and Liverpool solidified his fate. The drive was no longer visible, the exuberant celebrations were halted, and his methodical approach was constrained – Villas-Boas wanted out.
Spurs were at an all-time low, and the atmosphere around White Hart Lane became toxic. Yet two months later, the appointment of Tim Sherwood has proved to be successful, as Spurs sit a mere three points behind Liverpool for the final Champions League spot. Sherwood contradicts Villas-Boas’ style, as his team selections are pragmatic, his sides sit deeper without the ball, and Emmanuel Adebayor, opposed to Roberto Soldado, has led Spurs to success.
Villas-Boas attempted to sell Adebayor in the summer, but the striker was determined to stay put and fight for his position. The Togolese striker’s poor relationship with Villas-Boas increased when he questioned the Portuguese manager’s tactics during training, thus resulting in his exclusion from the first-team.
Adebayor’s behavioural issues have held him back in the past, but the Togolese striker doesn’t take his profession for granted, and is fortunate to play the sport he loves. The 29-year-old striker spent four years of his life unable to walk, in which his mother travelled across Africa with hopes of curing Adebayor.
Adebayor spent most of his time in church during tribulation, due to his religious background – yet, despite numerous prayers, a footballing miracle changed Adebayor’s life forever. “I was in the church laying down and, around nine or ten o’clock on the Sunday morning, I could hear children playing outside. Suddenly somebody kicked a ball into the church. And the first person to stand up and run was me, because I wanted to get that ball,” Adebayor told the Telegraph.
“My mum was afraid because she had never even seen me walking and suddenly I was running after a ball. And all the people in the church who had been praying for me told my mum, ‘your son is walking because of football. It must mean the boy has football in his blood.’
Adebayor’s opportunistic personality enables him to thrive when managers instill belief in the Togolese striker, but Spurs’ summer spending spree highlighted that the club was headed in another direction.
Over £100m worth of talent arrived at White Hart Lane, including Spanish striker Roberto Soldado. On paper, the Spaniard represented a striker well suited for Villas-Boas’ system – a diminutive, mobile poacher that could punish the opposition if presented an opportunity around the 18-yard box. The 28-year-old striker plays on the shoulder of the last defender, constantly aiming to make darting runs in behind the opponents back-line in search of goals.
Soldado’s £26m price tag merited him a start in Villas-Boas’ 4-2-3-1, but the Spaniard has only recorded five Premier League goals since his big move from Valencia – four from the penalty spot. Due to Villas-Boas’ lack of a no.10 capable of providing weighted through-balls, Soldado lacked the service to thrive at White Hart Lane. The 28-year-old spent most of his time under Villas-Boas isolated upfront, and with the Portuguese manager reluctant on playing 4-4-2, or using Emmanuel Adebayor, and Jermain Defoe, Spurs’ chances of achieving Champions League’s qualification was in jeopardy.
Nevertheless, Adebayor’s return to prominence has been beneficial to Spurs, as the Togolese striker’s recorded nine goals since Sherwood’s appointment. Adebayor provides Spurs with a reference point, which not only adds variety to their attack, but also makes up their lack of a legitimate through-ball specialist when Christian Eriksen is unavailable.
In Spurs’ victory over United at Old Trafford, Adebayor constantly dropped deep to link play, while Soldado stuck tight to the last defender, thus giving Spurs the attacking options they lacked under Villas-Boas. Adebayor received the ball in pockets of space and tormented Moyes’ back-line when he ran into United’s third. His opening goal signified the attacking dimension he offers Spurs – Adebayor linked play with Soldado in midfield, and ran towards the back post, out jumping Chris Smalling to perfectly nod Aaron Lennon’s cross past David De Gea.
Sherwood believes that Adebayor’s experience and desire to play are vital towards Spurs’ success. “He is in the mood already, he wants to enjoy his football and I’m giving him license to go on the pitch and express himself,” Sherwood said.
“He is a great example to the rest of the boys. He has been there and done it. He has done it on a regular basis and is one the players are looking up to. He’s been magnificent from the moment I took over, both on the pitch and off the pitch.”
And even when Spurs haven’t played their best football under Sherwood, the Togolese striker has kept them within touching distance of fourth place as a lone striker. Everton single-handedly outplayed Spurs when they visited White Hart Lane a few weeks ago, but poor finishing and Adebayor’s wonderful strike ensured Spurs obtained maximum points. Despite being isolated for majority of the match, a lofted Kyle Walker free-kick saw Adebayor wonderfully control the ball, shrug off Seamus Coleman, and fire a venomous shot past Tim Howard.
Perhaps, Sherwood still needs to incorporate a holding midfielder in his starting lineup, and find a way to limit the opposition from penetrating space between the lines, but his pragmatism states that he’s quickly learning from his mistakes.
There’s always room for defensive improvement, though, but Adebayor’s goals can be the key towards Spurs’ Champions League return, opposed to another disappointing season.