Villas-Boas Opus: Beginnings
And so it begins. A new error. Sorry, era. Damn it. I forgot myself there for a moment. Thought I was sat behind a desk staring at a Sky Sports News camera reading an auto-cue. Or walking around N17 aimlessly searching for an armchair. Or perhaps even picking up the phone and calling into talk radio to complain. What was that famous line about idiots? I need to choose my media outlets more carefully in future, avoid the confusion. Okay, so let's try this again.
Welcome Andre Villas-Boas to the Lane.
Finally, the worst kept secret is out, done and dusted. Even though we knew it was coming it still managed to pack a punch by knocking out the server the official Tottenham Hotspur site sits on. Only Spurs could make an announcement but not physically share the statement. The traffic bulldozing its way through bandwidth like Harry Redknapp seeking a working microphone after a round of golf. Relentless, such was the anticipation of all the speculation. We've been expecting this news for a while so you can't blame us for foaming at the mouth just to hear it from the only source that matters. Having it finally confirmed by Daniel Levy allows us to get on with things, with pre-season training and working towards consolidating the current transfer sagas we're involved in and targeting new players for that new era.
Villas-Boas is now part of the family. Kitted out in a curious Under Armour training top (with the crest on the opposite side it usually sits proudly on) and shown around the Lodge in Chigwell - no doubt already getting involved in tactics, appointing a sweeper to clean up all the chalk pieces used up by the previous regime. Someone no doubt busy wiping that board clean. I'm thinking we don't have to worry about the Portuguese for ‘run around a bit and kick the ball’.
Pull up a chair. Thoughts in response to Levy’s statement on the OS:
> The Club is delighted to announce that Andre Villas-Boas has joined as our new Head Coach on a 3 year contract.
Standard contract. Probably a clause in there to renew. If he’s a success, he stays and continues to build or he packs up and moves on. Club wins. If he doesn’t go well and he’s 'let go', we don’t want to be forking out masses of compensation. Modern football is all about the short-termism with players, with managerial appoints and with expectations. There is no seasoned patience. You get a bedding in period and then you’re thrown to the dogs if you don’t produce the results. I don’t want to keep referring back to Harry Redknapp (here I go again) as I’ve covered practically everything there is to say on his tenure in previous articles. What we’ve been left with, his legacy, is consistency and stability and in some ways the potential to be better. Redknapp is already talking up how Villas-Boas and Tottenham (to be more specific) have the squad to challenge for the title.
Yes, it’s more Redknappology from the great man, applying the right measure of pressure on his replacement and allowing the media to build up their portfolio of disparaging evidence if we find ourselves in the midst of a transition. The fact is, Redknapp has left us with some very tasty looking stats. But no side dish to complement them, therefore the belly is left rambling with food for thought. He had us believing then adapted his ambitions based on where the team sat in the league. The squad was, in Redknapp’s own words, ‘good enough’ but yet fell short for a variety of reasons. Depth in key areas, lack of rotation, lack of shrewd calculated preparation and so forth. So although in relative terms, based on our Prem history, we have excelled we have also failed to maximise the resources in our possession – that’s based on the very same logic Redknapp preaches. But he contradicts to his heart content. Stripping him (perish the thought) and the rest of the ideology behind ‘this is as good as we’ve ever had it’ – the fact remains, it can be better. Harry lost the opportunity to have another go at it. Villas-Boas is now that man. So is he under pressure?
Please, someone point me in the direction of a football manager that isn’t under pressure? There is no easy job in football. Equally so, managing Spurs is hardly the easiest of tasks. Mainly due to a combination of entitlement, ambition, delusion, heart on sleeves, fickleness, impatience and traditions and ethics of football we expect to see played out. We’re not an easy lot to cater for. In the past it was a poison chalice. Mid-table and struggling for consistency we aimed upwards via yet another rebirth only to spiral back down once more. Then from Jol to Ramos to Redknapp we’ve found prolonged form. The club now has the players and the fortitude to be contenders, as proven. We’re just not quite experienced enough. For all the swashbuckle and swagger we still get kneed in the balls too often.
Villas-Boas is no different from the Redknapp appointment in terms of risk. Harry came in to steady the ship. Did we expect or hope for more? With so many failed experiments, back to basics was the winning formula all along. But it’s not robust. It’s not perfect. Does a club and its fans accept it all because it’s a vast improvement on a decade of disappointment or does it look to progress, evolve further in order to truly consolidate its new founded stature and work towards the next level? Why should we tag ourselves with being the perpetual pretenders and just embrace stability at the risk of it going stale? You take risks all the time. Audere est Facere. Is that not at the very core of our footballing DNA? For years we’ve endeavoured but we’ve simply not been good enough. Now we are, we should continue to aim higher. Daring is achieving.
In my footballing fantasy I wanted Villas-Boas at Spurs when he was at Porto and was gutted he went to Chelsea. The guidance undertaken with Robson and Mourinho, can’t be ignored. His achievements at Porto were amazing. I bet we all fall in love with the Europa League this season because we take it seriously and attempt to win it. Don’t underestimate the power a manager can have on the supporters and how the team approaches the challenges ahead of us. The simplest things can be reinvented, the meaningless become meaningful.
He made mistakes at the Stamford Bridge club and appeared to drown in all the dressing room conspiracies and tabloid backlash. He was waterboarded out of a job. So the hottest thing in football management is what, suddenly not that very good? Chelsea is hardly the most comfortable chair to sit in. There was a feeling he tried to do too much too quickly with the wrong set of players and ideas that simply did not fit his template. Look at some of their previous appointments and how they suffered at the hands of player power and boardroom baying. Some of his selections and tactics appeared erratic but even with best intentions they won’t play out if the players hearts are not in it (Ramos and Spurs the perfect illustration).
Lessons learnt? We hope. But let’s not patronise the man for being thirty-four years of age. He’s no idiot and he’ll have taken his hellish baptism and had a quiet word with himself, hopefully exorcising any lingering demons. It was a rush, botched up job by all concerned because of the ill-fated variables festering at that club. It’s a different challenge at Spurs altogether. Chelsea are expected (by Roman) to dominate every season. Even managers that win trophies are shown the door. Even the special one was made to feel not so special.
Fact is, he has the balls to come back to the Prem, to a London rival and be up against the same people that loved to watch him fail. He's back even with the added bonus of all the Redknapp-worshippers already piecing together their obituaries which they probably won’t be able to hold back from previewing come the first defeat we suffer. With any luck Villas-Boas has worked on his deliver a little in prep for future post-match interviews. No point making a difficult job even harder. Humility can be a vital characteristic. Not just in public, but also on the training pitch.
We have not a clue how things will pan out. All we can be is positive. All we can do is back him. And more importantly, the chairman – the key to unlocking the preverbal door to that next level – has to back him unequivocally. The players also have a duty to the shirt and the supporters. Massive difference between Redknapp and Villas-Boas. They need to also be unequivocal in their trust of their new coach.
> Andre was previously at Porto and led them to an undefeated season in the league, winning four trophies and becoming the youngest manager ever to win a European title in the process, before joining Chelsea and extending his run to 39 games undefeated.
This alone excites me. He hasn’t suddenly forgotten how to manage successfully at the top level. The players at Porto adore him. Okay, managing a club in your home country is going to be more agreeable with all concerned than managing one abroad. Blanc was the only other preferable choice out there in terms of experience. Rodgers would have been a risk as big as any other appointment. We have tried all sorts of coaches and systems and it feels right that this appointment ties in with the clubs future. We need to be progressive. Villas-Boas is a modern manager and rather than say allowing him to use Tottenham as a blank canvas to create a vision, we have given him a chance to share our own. The training ground, youth development, the quality of our first team. This has been ongoing for some time – it simply needs a football philosophy to bring it altogether. Our last manager worked wonders for the team. The new one might work wonders for the club.
> Commenting on the appointment, Chairman, Daniel Levy said: “I am delighted that Andre has agreed to become our new Head Coach. He has an outstanding reputation for his technical knowledge of the game and for creating well-organised teams capable of playing football in an attractive and attacking style. Andre shares our long-term ambitions and ethos of developing players and nurturing young talent, and he will be able to do so now at a new world class Training Centre.”
One or two of you (discussed on social media) have found concerns with that last sentence in the above quote. You’ve seen it as some formal acceptance that we’ve unofficially returned to the ‘director of football’ science of running a club. Firstly, earlier in the quote Levy refers to Villas-Boas as ‘head coach’. Not manager. It’s all the same thing. Wasn’t Martin Jol head coach? VB will have agreed the setup and vision outlined by Levy so he’s hardly going to accept a job where he feels he will be undermined. I’m not going to entertain the suggestion that Levy’s ego can’t take being second best to the person running the football team. His relationship with Redknapp was not working. Hopefully what we’ll have here is Levy acting like a general manager (as he has been doing since the DoF system was discarded). VB will want to sign his own players, Levy will handle that. Support the coach. I don’t see an issue with this unless Levy and VB do not agree on transfer targets. Which is how the previous relationship suffered. The fact we have players ‘in talks’ might even be a gentle nod towards VB’s approval during talks between club and coach before a contract was agreed upon.
In terms of short-termism, it’s still relevant. We have to sustain a top four challenge. But already you can imagine VB being ambitious in wanting to win every competition he’s involved in. This should be about tweaking and improving the side, making sure that the best players fit the best formation and tactics to lead the club forward. Redknapp was brilliant at getting the players playing in their best positions but there has to be another dimension to how you approach games. You only have to look at the truly successful clubs in football to understand that you can't always just go out there and attempt to out play the opposition.
In terms of the long term vision, why should we not want to make the most of our new Enfield training ground and make sure that in the years to come we actually have a youth academy that is producing first team players. Another bugbear of modern football, one that we’ve been guilty of ignoring for years and just splashing out on big money signings all the time. Although when we have produced a good player, they’ve been world class (Campbell, King). Our current development squad and youth teams are also impressive (at their level) but time will tell if they are good enough to break into first team football.
Not suggesting we are in any position to recreate La Masia in North London, but do you think Manchester City aren’t thinking of something similar when they build their £50M state of the art training facility? Having the facilities is great but there’s a mindset and a sense of pride, ethos and identity that also needs to be instilled. That might still remain a function of Tim Sherwood’s and I’m probably getting way ahead of myself. Mainly because this won’t be the priority, but I already sense there’s a master-plan behind this particular part of the clubs vision. We have to be ambitious at every level. We have a tradition at Spurs. If the academy are worked towards adhering to it and players are signed based on a style of football...perhaps I'm over-dramatising this, but grass-roots is criminal to ignore.
> Speaking as the new Head Coach, Andre Villas-Boas said, “Tottenham Hotspur is a great club with a strong tradition and fantastic support, both at home and throughout the world. I feel privileged to be its coach. For me, this is one of the most exciting coaching positions in the Premier League. I have had several discussions with the Chairman and the Board and I share their vision for the future progress of the Club. This is a squad any coach would love to work with and together I believe we can bring success in the seasons ahead."
It’s what you want to hear from the new man. Back of the net. We’ve got ourselves a hungry football manager that has a massive point to prove. As long as he keeps that determination contained and channelled, getting the very best out of Spurs then we’re going to enjoy seeing a very good side mature into a beast.
> Andre brings with him two members of his coaching staff - First Team fitness coach Jose Mario Rocha and Daniel Sousa, head of opposition scouting.
Already, I’m smiling. ‘Head of opposition scouting’. Fitness coaches. I’ll take a guess that our set-pieces and pre-match preparation will be unrecognisable to what we’ve been used to in the past several years. Redknapp gave us entertaining football, the style of which we come to expect at Spurs, but he also gave us substance and backbone. We had heart and grit to go with the free flowing football. But there was still an apparent lack of cutting edge, on the pitch and from the bench. There was no acceptance that we actually under-achieved – not compared to the past (it’s hardly a difficult task to better it when you improve tenfold) but compared with the untapped potential it's arguably wasted in the present. Unless the harsh reality is the reason we lost that ten point gap was because we are not good enough on all levels required to retain such a gap. In other words, as good as we can be its not quite good enough if 3rd or 2nd place is the target you wish to embrace.
A truly focused manager would demand more from himself to be able to inspire. What Villas-Boas has to do is introduce the mind-set but also retain the togetherness and avoid trying to mix things up too quickly. Our squad is far more adaptable to his tactics than his previous one. More youth, more pace.
By mind-set, I'd point towards our failings last season. Say the lack of coverage in the box when attacking leading to loss of clinical finishing in front of goal. Misuse of certain players. If you fine-tune the side and we continue to create but also score and improve on performances from last season - then we're going to win more games. It's logic you can scribble on the back of a handkerchief. Far more difficult to deploy from training to dressing room to the pitch - but then that's why we've upgraded our manager.
Redknapp’s strongest ability was man-management of players he favoured. If VB can retain the unity - we are onto a winner. It’s the area he was scrutinised for at Chelsea. Failure of managing the players (although one or two did not appear to want to be managed). It will be very interesting to see which of our players find themselves in favour with VB in terms of being allowed a chance to prove themselves again. Equally so how much other players will improve with more disciplined responsibilities.
> Daniel Levy continued: "We are constantly looking to move the Club forward. It is important that we now look to develop the potential within the squads at all levels, whilst strengthening the First Team in the summer in key positions with players who will become part of the future success of the Club.”
Levy has his hands full with the stadium. There are rumours of investments, naming rights. We’re also about to find out how much money we have in the War Chest. Which might tell us plenty more about the Levy/Redknapp transfer relationship. If we suddenly spend big, was it because Redknapp wasn’t interested in the big money signings Levy wanted or did Levy simply not make the funds available to him?
Modric will be sold if we fail to trick him into staying (won’t sell to an English club so La Liga beckons). So expect a major signing to replace him. VB might look towards his former club, Porto and Moutinho (or the Brazilian Oscar). We've got the new boy Sigurdsson, an attacking midfielder who plays further up the pitch rather than sitting deep. At some point we might even see Vertonghen in a Spurs shirt. VB will possibly look to mould us into a dashing 433 with over-lapping fullbacks, high intensity inside forwards, high line. Bale on the left, cutting in with effect rather than roaming aimlessly. Where does van der Vaart fit into it if at all? One (Parker) holding midfielder or two (+ Sandro)? Is Defoe good enough to lead the line? Are we planning on going back in for Adebayor on a permanent basis or look for a blockbuster striker elsewhere? We’re also going to need another winger for the right-hand side to assist Lennon over the course of the season. That's if we play 433 and if Lennon can fit into the forward three. All rather wonderful questions that need to be answered in time for Newcastle away. These are good problems to have.
Levy understands we need to improve the squad. Not only because of Villas-Boas requirements but because we were left wanting last season by not rotating. Possibly because Redknapp did not trust or did not manage the players on the bench with enough astuteness. The league – no matter the arguments over what truly matters in football (i.e. winning silverware) is where VB will be judged because of the prioritising of Champions League qualification. We need to be Trojans, we need to last a long time. The whole course of the season.
This will be a monumental summer. It can’t be anything else. It's started well. Bale contract, Villas-Boas, Sig. Levy knows we are 5 years or so away from having the revenue to compete at the same level as the other clubs in the top tier of the Prem, financially. That’s when the Northumberland Development Project finally gets under way. Balancing everything – it’s no walk in the park. We have to compete in Europe every season until the NDP is complete. Ideally it would be the Champions League we're competing in. Which is why short-term and long-term has to become one and the same thing. Regardless of ENIC’s end game (to sell the club to keep their shareholders happy), to get there they know the club has to be successful on the pitch as well as continuing to bolster the bank account.
We have to retain faith. Levy has to retain faith. We have to have faith in Andre Villas-Boas. It’s a team game. With traits of redemption.
In terms of us, the supporters, it’s worth noting that even with the success we’ve had in recent years (aside from the Carling Cup) we haven’t actually won anything. 4th, 5th and 4th have simply given us a foundation to build on. For me, the team I watch has to be a Spurs team. You know what I mean by that so I won’t explain it. We’ve got ourselves a new architect now. One that we might all find ourselves enjoying his work more so as a collective than the previous builder who at times didn't bother to plaster over the cracks in the wall preferring to stand outside enjoying the sunshine.
The future is always bright because it’s no way to follow your team worrying about negatives that have not played out and might never play out. Being Spurs means you are in the eye of the storm of the greatest footballing soap opera there is. We’re made of stern stuff, suffering all the dramatics, year after year. Hopefully with this appointment the team will be made of equally stern stuff with a plethora of sexy coated on.