The excitement which spread amongst Tottenham fans when André Villas-Boas was announced as Harry Redknapp’s successor already seems a long time ago. It would be false to suggest there was unanimous agreement over the appointment, since there was certainly apprehension in some quarters after his failure at Chelsea, but the majority ruling was one of approval. Yet here we are in the first week of September, having heard boos ring around the ground following a home draw with Norwich and with some fans already questioning whether the Portuguese manager is the right man for the job.
It’s important for Spurs fans to take a step back and remember the reasons for his appointment, before jumping to any hasty conclusions. As I mentioned at the time, the selection of Villas-Boas must have been part of the long-term plan which Daniel Levy holds for the club. The next period in Spurs’ history could have severe knock-on effects for the future and it was therefore important to appoint a coach with a view that stretches beyond the immediate.
Levy has made no secret of his desire to move the football club to a new stadium, with both a larger capacity and potential for corporate entertainment required. In reality, for Spurs to compete with those currently dining at the top table of English football, this is wholly necessary. Obviously, due to the ownership structure of Chelsea and Manchester City, Spurs will never be able to go toe to toe financially but a new stadium will give them a chance. Just down the road, the Emirates generates more income on a match day than any stadium in world football and Spurs can emulate this.
As Arsenal have shown during their barren run since moving to their plush new surroundings, it is very tough to manage such a transition and keep the team competitive. There were other factors – the flirting over the England job, the end of season collapses and the unwillingness to take responsibility for his mistakes – but the short-termism that Redknapp has always operated under must have played a part in determining his fate. His period at Spurs was very successful – that cannot be denied – but it was based upon an unsustainable focus on the here and now, devoid of any future planning. Villas-Boas as a character is entirely different to his predecessor. A deep thinker and analytical studier of the game, he seems to have the skill set capable of overseeing a project which runs for years rather than months.
The start to the season has generated frustration amongst the White Hart Lane faithful, with home draws to West Brom and Norwich falling below expectations, but there are mitigating circumstances. I’m not completely excusing the manager, as there have been some decisions which I personally have not agreed with, but he has been operating with at least one of his hands tied behind his back.
Whatever you think of Levy’s negotiation tactics there are obvious drawbacks, which have undoubtedly caused problems and resulted in lost points. There was criticism flying about after the weekend’s draw with Norwich over Villas-Boas’ selection of two defensive midfielders in Sandro and Jake Livermore, yet this should have been aimed at Levy. The Luka Modrić saga was allowed to drag on for far too long, meaning that Spurs started the season with no viable replacement. Had that been resolved earlier and the pursuit of João Moutinho commenced so that it could have been completed in time, the Portuguese midfielder would inevitably have started in Livermore’s place.
In Modrić and Ledley King, Villas-Boas has lost two players who have been vital to recent successes, and the impact of this should not be underestimated. Star players leave, that is the nature of the sport, but some are more important than others. Modrić dictated the verve and tempo of Redknapp’s side, with the play flowing through him constantly. While Gareth Bale was winning plaudits for his European exploits, we all knew that really the diminutive Croatian was the better player, therefore to lose someone so vital will require an adjustment – imagine Barcelona without Xavi. As for King, although he has struggled for fitness over recent years, his mere presence had a huge sway over the mentality of the team. In a side which is short of leaders, his loss will again produce an adverse effect whilst the others come to terms with life after their captain.
Meanwhile, Villas-Boas has been forced to utilise Jermain Defoe as his lone striker to this point. Any outside observer could tell you that Defoe is not suited to the role, so to think that the manager does not recognise this would be foolish – but he has had little choice. Emmanuel Adebayor arrived too late and without any pre-season other than training with Manchester City’s reserves, so has not been ready to start. His lack of sharpness since joining Spurs has been clearly evident.
It is important that Spurs fans do not forget the vision which brought Villas-Boas to the club, despite the current problems. It has only been three games and there have been difficulties placed upon him, which have made his start harder than he would have envisaged. Getting on his back and creating a negative atmosphere at White Hart Lane will only prove detrimental to the long term project.