The worry for AVB is, can he achieve Spurs aims and redeem his young yet damaged reputation?
This time last year Chelsea were seeking a new manager, a man who could take Chelsea forward in terms success and importantly style. Abramovich sought a coach who could create football which rivalled that of Barcelona. A year later and Chelsea are Champions League’s winners, yet the style in which it was won was in fact the antithesis to Barcelona. And the man who was given the job last summer was not the one who led the side to success, instead Andre Villas-Boas was licking his wounds after a turbulent and ultimately failed experience at Stamford Bridge.
Now, the following summer Villas-Boas is on the verge of joining another London side, another which has high ambitions and thus high expectations of their new man. The worry for AVB is, can he achieve these aims and redeem his young reputation?
Harry Redknapp’s departure was not as surprising as many would have thought, the reports are that Spurs were hoping the FA would take care of removing Harry from the Spur’s hotseat and thus enable them to move on with good PR. However, when the FA chose Hodgson, it seemed certain that the only thing keeping Redknapp in the job for another season was Champions League football.
In what was one of the worst end of season capitulations in recent times, Spurs fell from title chasing contenders to scraping fourth. And the unlikely success of Chelsea meant that it was Europa League again for Spurs and as Drogba tucked away the decisive penalty, Harry must have known his time was up.
Many will say that Redknapp did a fantastic job at Spurs, however the somewhat annoying argument of where Spurs were when he took over is a simple yet misguided evaluation of his success. True, Spurs were in the relegation zone at that time, players bought in that summer were struggling to adapt to the club and to the Spanish manager Ramos, who struggled to speak the language.
Yet this was the side which won the League Cup the year before and who had spent heavily on acquiring some of the best young talent around; players such as Modric, Prince Boateng, Bale and Taarabt. Harry’s arrival improved the spirit and galvanised the players, yet to argue that he took a relegation threatened side to the top reaches of the league is just ridiculous. Spurs were a top six side, Redknapp just took them to their rightful place in the league.
I cannot fault Redknapp's work at Spurs, the Champions League run was excellent, yet last season the side should have got third, should have been closer to the top and should have been playing in the Champions League this upcoming season, simply Redknapp blew it and he paid for it with his job.
Now a new era at White Hart Lane begins and with names like Blance and Moyes mentioned as Redknapp's replacement, Daniel Levy believes that it is Andre Villas-Boas who is the man to take Spurs further. The question is, are Spurs good enough to go further? If Levy means for Spurs to challenge for the title or to be a regular in top four, then in my opinion it will be very difficult to achieve what is expected and AVB is risking his already damaged reputation on this job.
There are many issue which will make it very difficult for Spurs to achieve a top four finish this season. Firstly, the quality of players Villas-Boas will have to work with. It seems inevitable that Luka Modric will leave White Hart Lane this summer, ironic that he was the player AVB sought last summer for Chelsea and it would seem he will be denied the influential Croatian again.
This is a massive loss for him and for Spurs; Modric has been simply brilliant for Spurs in the past three years especially, he has dictated the tempo of games and been a key playmaker in providing the attacking players with the ball, similar to the role of Xavi at Barcelona. His absence will not be easy to fill, talk of Moutinho from Porto appears possible based on AVB’s previous work with him, yet can he do what Modric did? It will be a very difficult role to fill and one which makes Spurs weaker.
Add to this the exit of Ledley King, who when he plays, brings leadership, organisation and success to the side, will be another sorely missed for Spurs. Can Kaboul and Bassong be as effective? Although Kaboul improved last season, it will be difficult for Spurs to be as solid. Again talk of a new arrival in Vertonghen may add more quality in there, yet he is as of yet unproven and based on AVB’s handling of Chelsea’s backline last season, it may be interesting to see how well the side does defend, regardless of personel.
Another issue is the goalkeeper. Brad Freidal continues to defy belief and play at the level he does at 41, yet Spurs cannot rely on him this season surely? Yet they cannot rely on Gomes or Cudicini either, and so a new goalkeeper will be another necessity on the ever growing shopping list.
As for up front, Redknapp appeared intent on pushing every forward away from the club in his time there and last year relied on ex-Arsenal and Man City forward Adebayor to deliver and provide goals. He did very well for Spurs and was a major part in their title chasing period of the season, yet talks of arguments with the manager had a clear impact on his game and as Adebayor fell away, so did the side.
With his return to City Spurs face a real problem up top also, do they seek to bring back Adebayor on loan again, or do they make Defoe their main choice striker? Defoe is an enigma, a clearly excellent finisher, yet constantly overlooked by Redknapp, there must have been more to the issue of which we were not aware. Yet the handling and neglect of players like Kranjcar and Pienaar were both puzzling, especially when Spurs needed fresh legs towards the end. With Kranjcar leaving already and Everton seeking to bring Pienaar back permanently, Spurs depth of squad looks distinctly slimmer.
Then there is the Van Der Vaart issue, of which I have questioned his consistency and willingness to work for the team many times. His use as a number 10, as a support striker is mainly because he offers little or nothing in a defensive sense, meaning that where he may be better in a deeper role, is not possible because of his lack of willingness to defend. At 29 he does not represent a future for Spurs, yet with Modric appearing on his way and Kranjcar gone, Van Der Vaart may be AVB’s only creative option in the middle. If this is the case, then AVB will again struggle to make the impact expected of him.
It will be essential for AVB to bring in extra quality in this position and Spurs have been linked to Alan Dzagvov recently and based on his performances for Russia in the Euro’s and his impressive development at CSKA Moscow, he would be an excellent signing for AVB and would be a show of intent to the ambitions of Spurs. Yet, AVB must have been promised money to improve the squad, because looking at these issues, Spurs have much to do this summer. The worry is though, if Spurs do bring in a lot of new players, similar to the summer under Juande Ramos, then could it be another difficult start to the season and thus pressure on Villas-Boas?
Of course there are players for AVB to be excited. If Bale and Lennon are played as wingers then AVB will be blessed with one of the most potent, fast and attacking wide players in the league, which for a manager who enjoys a high tempo attacking game, will excite both players and manager. Add in Kyle Walker and to a smaller extent Assou Ekoto then expect Spurs to be a threat on both flanks. Scott Parker impressed in midfield last year and will be important as AVB's tactics will ask a lot of him when Spurs are throwing numbers forward.
AVB's other problems
Along with the personel issue, Villas-Boas has two other problems. Spurs should have finished 3rd last season if only by default, it was perhaps the worst season in the past twenty years for quality; Liverpool and Arsenal had one of their worst seasons based on poor transfers, tactics and managers and Chelsea suffered the same until the Champions League became their only concern. It is almost inconceivable that these sides will not be better next year, Chelsea and Liverpool especially, so the idea and expectation that Spurs can achieve a top four finish is not a guarantee and AVB is putting his career on the line with this remit.
Add to these issues the biggest one for AVB. His self. His reputation took a battering last season, he was the hottest property in football last summer, the next big thing, yet was unmasked as simply a young boy tragically out of his depth. He became ostracised from the players and was left a desolate and isolated figure on the touchline as his time at Stamford Bridge started to run down. Villas-Boas got his tactics wrong, handled the players even badly and ultimately made a bad choice in his appointment of Di Matteo as assistant.
The assistant is sometimes more important than the manager himself, his is the link between the players, he voices their concerns and aims to improve matters. This was perhaps AVB's biggest error, as it set it store all the problems which preceded it. Hiring Di Matteo was based on the belief that a previous player, someone who knew the club, could help AVB build his side and trust of the players. Yet, he brought a man in who had no knowledge or affiliation with the Portuguese coach. And it showed.
Yet, what happened at Stamford Bridge was that Di Matteo simply found AVB as tiresome as the players did and mutiny ensued. When the assistant takes over and when the manager is the only one to leave, indicates how isolated he has become at a club. Thus, Villas-Boas has a major decision to make regarding the Spurs role, if he has one like at Porto in Vítor Pereira, then he stands a chance, yet if chooses another Di Matteo, expect failure. Looking at the best managers and their success, often will see them next to a loyal and respected assistant, meaning that if AVB wishes to be successful at Spurs, he will need to choose the right man.
Yet importantly, Villas-Boas will need to have learnt his lessons from Chelsea, because simply players talk and he would have been the victim of many jokes and stories from his short time at Stamford Bridge. Added to this AVB is replacing a very popular (with the starting XI especially) Redknapp whose best attribute was being a people person, which means that Villas-Boas cannot be the cold and distant coach he was at Chelsea, he needs to be the man who was loved and adored by the players at Porto.
However if he tries to be like Redknapp though he will lose the players, Villas-Boas needs to be his own man with his own style and his first job will be to bring together a group of players who failed in their ambitions last season and who now have heightened expectations of where Spurs should finish. The remit at Chelsea was start a new generation and play like Barca, I can imagine Levy has not been as ridiculous as this, so AVB may have less work of transition, yet there will be expectations on him to achieve things.
In all credit to Redknapp, any new manager will have a difficult task to improve on what he did at the club, AVB is more tactically astute than Harry, yet the importance of team building and player relationships is the reason why Ferguson, Mourinho and Guardiola have built successful sides, this is a lesson for AVB.
A New Era for Club & Manager
Villa-Boas failed last season, failed at trying to implement a style of play and failed at bringing together a group of players and in the end he was shown the door. This situation is just the same, Spurs have a style already which will suit AVB, yet there are similar expectations to Chelsea, Levy wants Spurs to progress higher up the league and challenge for the title and win trophies, he believes Villas-Boas is the man to achieve this. Personally, I am not so sure about Levy's decision.
The key for AVB will be what happens in the transfer window, who he decides to bring in as his right hand man and how much he learnt about him-self last season. Can he achieve what is expected of him? I am not sure, yet I know for certain it will be another fascinating story and one which will either surprise or entertain in the coming months.