Can Villas-Boas master the transition at Spurs?

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When a team is described as being in transition, it means they stink, but we kind of understand why. Chelsea were in transition for most of last season. It was generally accepted that Chelsea had relied on their established stars for too long; phasing them out was a problem they would have to confront if they wanted to challenge for silverware again. Andre Villas-Boas was the exciting choice to lead the transition – a young, ambitious and modern manager. They also recruited new players to provide Chelsea’s play with more dynamism and fluidity.

Then came the spluttering form, the increasingly desperate performances, and the rapidly evaporating confidence in the new manager’s plan. Andre Villas-Boas could not get Chelsea playing with any purpose. They played his formation, they tried a shorter passing game, but in doing so they looked as though they had handicapped themselves, and revealed their soft-spot to opponents.

When Villas-Boas was put out of his misery, Chelsea once again turned to their most trusted players, but let’s not go over that again. In short, it was a pretty disastrous spell, but not a career ending one. Villas-Boas has landed a good job at Tottenham, and now Spurs are in transition. It was inevitable that they would lose Luka Modric this summer, as well as several peripheral members of the first team squad accumulated under Harry Redknapp. Villas-Boas was expected to make signings, and although they’ve been a little slow out of the blocks, it looks as though Daniel Levy will be writing a few cheques this week. But, the questions about Villas-Boas aren’t about player recruitment, they’re about his ability to nurture a winning core.

A young manager is a risky appointment for any club, because they haven’t been scarred enough to see problems coming and know how to deal with them. The exceptions to this rule are extremely rare – there aren’t many like Jose Mourinho. Villas-Boas was very successful during a very brief spell in charge of FC Porto. But, success of this kind can raise as many questions as answers. Porto are a relentlessly successful club, so deducing how much to attribute to Villas-Boas’ personal ability is always going to be highly subjective.

During his time at Chelsea, you could argue he was willing to take difficult decisions in order to try and realise his vision on the pitch. This indicates a toughness that we associate with all the most successful managers. But, management isn’t just about being a tough guy, hence why John Sitton was never interviewed for a Premier League job.

Villas-Boas was ultimately responsible for managing the transition he started, with as little disruption as possible. That sentence might sound like middle-manager bullshit, but it means he should have been aware of other factors that go beyond tactics, like the impact of losing the support of Chelsea’s most influential players. If he was trying to force them out, he did a lousy job. If he was trying to show them who was boss, they showed him.

All managers will make mistakes, especially when they’re young and inexperienced. Providing he has some humility, you would expect Villas-Boas to have learned plenty from his time at Chelsea. And yet, already at Tottenham, there are familiar issues emerging. Most bizarrely of all, he appears determined to force the exit of Michael Dawson. This doesn’t make any sense. If Dawson is the kind of dominating influence that Villas-Boas had difficulty with at Chelsea, he disguises it well. And, although you don’t hear many voices claiming Dawson to be world class, he is arguably Tottenham’s best centre-back, certainly with more to offer at this stage of his career than William Gallas, and more experienced than Younes Kaboul and the newly acquired Jan Vertonghen.

Does Villas-Boas have to clear out more first teamers before bringing new ones in? If not, losing Dawson, and possibly Jermain Defoe, before any new recruits have proven their worth seems like an unnecessary risk to take.

Those who believe in Villas-Boas’ talent will argue that Roberto Di-Matteo has been able to benefit from his spade work at Chelsea. He dragged a fading force reluctantly towards change, but was too naive to realise the consequences of his actions before it was too late. Perhaps this is right, and he was set up to fail by forces within Chelsea who perceived a threat to their status.

Admittedly, it is ridiculously early in the season to start drawing conclusions, but the alternative theory – that Villas-Boas is too arrogant to identify any flaws on his part – is hard to ignore. We’ll know the answer in about eight months time. When things went wrong at Chelsea, they had enough of a core to dig them out of a hole; Spurs won’t have that luxury.

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10 Responses to Can Villas-Boas master the transition at Spurs?

  1. Cheshuntboy says:

    Totally agree with this article – every one of Levy’s managerial appointments has been a panic reaction to the perceived failure of the previous incumbent (look it up) by going for a completely different type, hence cuddly Jol succeeding aloof Hoddle (I think we can ignore Santini’s brief tenure!), then back to the distant Ramos, then over to good old ‘arry, and now the arrogant, aloof and downright weird AVB. Any idea that Levy has a plan in this unending pantomime of mismanagement is sheer delusion.

  2. Come back Jurgen says:

    IMO no, but I hope he proves me wrong. He flunked at Chelsea, our rivals and now we have him – I disliked him at CHelsea and I find it hard to suddenly start. His attitude with the media wasnt great and he just appeared a bit of a tool. He hasnt done anything so far to make me think he is a good manager (all I have seen is 2 crappy results, a poor pre-season, willingness to sell Dawson and him saying Barndoor, Defoe and Kane are good enough to challenge top 4). All in all not that impressed and Im really struggling with my Spurs this season……:-(

  3. ColinSC says:

    Dawson has his heart in the right place but he has the speed of a turning aircraft carrier. He does not suit AVBs high line as he has the potential to let opposition run past him too often. Spurs have a great core of players we did badly at this time too because Modders was messing us about then too, I am so hoping we develop a more varied midfield than last year anyway. It is obvious we are missing a few regulars too Kaboul is much better than Dawson and his pairing with Vert looks like it will be a pleasure to watch.
    To me what we had last year was a good holding player (Parker) and a player that recycled the ball from the back to the strikers. That is what we are currently missing a recycler, however we do have a groups of midfielders that as they gel will cause all sorts of problems to opposition defenses many of our midfielders now have better potential to score than Modric had. All we have to do is hold up in the middle and get the ball to them.

  4. John says:

    You may be right or wrong, the history of AVB is interesting, but now he must be allowed to manage even when mistakes occur. Your article almost suggests that it is a Harry replica you favour and you dislike the appointment. Better AVB makes changes now than fiddle around at the edges of the team. Dawson is a good player but is slowing and prone to give a penalty away. His status is such that he would not be satisfied as a squad member so on balance it is maybe the right decision to cash in now.

  5. drwinston001 says:

    I’m normally in full agreement with much of what you write but to suggest Dawson is better than Kaboul and Vertonghen is ridiculous. A player who gives 100% no doubt, but a player who is incapable of playing in a team than wants to play a high defensive line and wants it’s defenders to use the ball wisely. As John Terry struggled with it playing the ever worse Dawson in that role would be crazy. The fact AVB see’s this actually shows he has learned from his mistakes at Chelsea.

    As for some of the other comments, in particular the one’s made by “Come back Jurgen”. What would you prefer AVB to say to the press regarding the striker situation? That Defoe isn’t good enough? Harry Kane has a career in the lower leagues to look forward to? Hardly inspiring words to players currently being paid by the club.

    As for 2 crappy results and a poor season. Give me strength. It’s a wonder you can even read, let alone write a response. Pre-season means nothing. It’s about getting players fit, familiar with each other and working on tactics. I’ll give you as far as results go 1 point from 6 isn’t the best start in the world but I’m guessing you’re someone who thinks Spurs should’ve got 6 points. Newcastle away is an easy fixture? Put bluntly, did you watch either game? Considering we were without our most influential playmaker in recent history (Modric) we actually dominated large periods of both games and unsurprisingly struggled to finish things off. Is that the managers fault or could it be the chairman hasn’t backed up his new recruit in the transfer market (yet)? Only 2 clubs have created more chances than Spurs so far in this fledgling season and only 3 have had more shots.

    The 4231 formation is coming together but without a player of Modric’s ability and a proper striker for the 3 to play off AVB has his hands tied somewhat so far.

    If you’re suggesting you wouldn’t take £9-10m for Dawson, then you’re crazy. That sort of money for a player that would offer us only cover and possibly stop the emergence and development of a much better player in Caulker is something no manager in their right mind should turn down.

    • Michael says:

      I expect Vertonghen to do well over time, but he is 25 and unproven in the Premier League. Right now, I think axing Dawson is a risk that AVB does not need to take. Let’s see how good Vertonghen is – if he is as good as is hoped there will still be buyers for Dawson in January.

    • Come back Jurgen says:

      drwinston001 – Firstly, there is absolutely no need to insinuate that I cannot read let alone write. – why do you feel the need to get personal because you disagree with my opinion? I can read and write just fine thank you. I won’t drop to your level either (especially to what I presume is a fellow Spurs fan), and retort but I will reply to your post.
      Firstly, what would I prefer him to say? Well nothing would be a start. I personally dont think those 3 strikers are good enough to challenge Top 4 – that is my opinion, and I find it hard to believe that he thinks they are. Another thing I would prefer him to say, is ‘we are active in the transfer market, are looking and will look to try and approve our squad where we can’. I compare those 3 strikers to the strikers at Utd, City, Chelsea, Arsenal (albeit unproven yet, but still have an abundance of strikers and options etc) and I think we are lacking. I also then think there are teams out there with a strike force at a similar level to us, so we will be competing with them – so to finish top 4 I think will be a push and I would have liked signing someone else. Barndoor is not clinical enough, Defoe doesnt suit AVB’s formation and Kane, well is unproven in Prem and did not set the championship alight. I also wasnt that impressed when he played in Europe a couple of times last season.

      Secondly, give you strength? You start by saying my comment is complete nonsense, then you say you ‘I’ll give you as far as results go 1 point from 6 isn’t the best start in the world’. Well if you give me that, then you agree its 2 crappy results. What else would you like me to say about them? They were good? No, I am not someone who thinks we should have beat Newcy at SJP…..I am however someone that thought we should be beating WBA at home. However we have a loss and a draw – IMO thats 2 crappy results. My point also being that 2 crappy results gives me no extra belief in AVB (what this article is about), I havent seen a lot that fills me with confidence. Fine we played well, doesnt mean they werent crappy results, nor does it mean we will win our next game. Pre season does mean something in my opinion. It gives players confidence going into the new season, and as you say its a chance for players to do exactly what you said…….and from the results so far, extra work is needed in my opinion so it wasnt a good pre season.

      You seem to infer Levy is at fault for some of it. Thats fair enough, I dont agree with everything he has done this summer and his timing etc, but that has nothing to do with my opinion of AVB. Maybe Levy is to blame for some of it, maybe he isnt – I cant really go any of that though, I can only go on what I have seen so far this season. Levy has done well for us as a club imo, kept us financially sound, kept us competing and improving…as for AVB, he came from Chelsea, didnt do very well there and I didnt like the way he came across – I was disappointed when he was appointed, and am waiting and hoping something happens for me to start liking him and believing in him – something I have never had a problem with in the past, with past Spurs managers except Graham who I never really ‘grew to’.

      It does make me laugh that you firstly say my post about AVB’s comment about the 3 strikers not being good enough wasnt to your liking and defend AVB, and then you post that we dont have a good enough striker for his formation. Baffling.

      9-10mln for Dawson, no I wouldnt take it. All the talk in the modern age about players being loyal to clubs etc, well I also think clubs should be loyal to players too. Dawson gives his all for Spurs, 100% commitment, and would be a good defender to have in our squad – and it is a squad game these days. I dont see the reason for AVB telling Dawson he is third choice, ‘hardly inspiring words’ is it. Dawson would have got his fair share of game time, and would be a good option for back up. I would have preferred Gallas to leave before Dawson, and that would have offered Caulker his fair share of game time and a chance for us to see if he can step and be a top 4 centre back – which let me add Dawson has shown he already is. I also didnt like the way Dawson was handed the captaincy and then told he could leave freely – by a manager that has been in the door 5 minutes. I am a loyal fan, maybe too much so, and have always been a big fan of Dawson, true captain material – now he is being shipped out to whoever by a manager who was in charge of Chelsea 12 months ago.

      Finally my post was nothing to do with how well Spurs have/havent done this season – it was about AVB and how he has shown me nothing to get excited or prove to me that can improve us. I hope he does.

  6. Dawleylad says:

    AVB seems to be going about the transformation much better than he did at chelsea, though is this because there was a more urgent need. What he has to do though while the change happens is to keep winning, and so far that is not happening.

    Dawleylad
    http://www.keelbyunited.co.uk

  7. I don’t want to sound like a little Englander but I don’t see it working. As a Reading fan, Tottenham are up next and I actually think the Royals have a chance of winning that one – given that the Berkshire club’s record transfer fee equates roughly to the value of Jermain Defoe’s little finger, that is a ridiculous thing to contemplate

  8. Danny Slevin says:

    AVB’s management style reminds me of Ray Winstone in Scum. Going into the mess hall, find the biggest guy you can, smash him over the head with a snooker ball in a sock, and roar ‘I’m the daddy now”.

    It worked a bit better for Ray than it has for AVB so far….

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