Thomas Jefferson once said “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers”. There must have been times where Andre Villas-Boas during his spell at Chelsea and now his time managing Tottenham was in danger of breaking his neck, so vehemently was he nodding to that quote.
This is because he is facing a press determined to criticise him. The press, whose hackles were always going to be raised after the sacking of their prodigal son Harry Redknapp are starting to get angry in print. The Mirror today are running a big story about how Michael Dawson ‘was captain and then sold’ despite AVB saying last week he wouldn’t announce his captain until the transfer window was over. Other so called ‘journalists’ and ‘pundits’ on Twitter are bristling about Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Sebastien Bassong leaving the club for pastures new.
It may be ridiculous for these people who are paid to write or talk about the game to be criticising a new manager after one unlucky loss away to the side that finished 5th in the league last year, but they are right in noticing potential parallels with AVB’s unsuccessful time at Chelsea. At Chelsea AVB was quick to sell and metaphorically take an axe to the squad and its personnel. This combined with poor man-management and the players not suiting his style of play led to his downfall.
But at Chelsea, AVB wasn’t able to build the squad he wanted. He simply lacked the power at the club to sell people like John Terry and Frank Lampard, players not suited to AVB’s high pressing game but who due to their dressing room influence could never have been sold in a million years. Selling them would have been an immediate declaration of war. And as Mark Corrigan so wisely says, ‘you don’t declare war. You prime the press, you square things with the UN, make up your reasons’. AVB never did the footballing equivalents of these things.
But at Spurs, AVB is showing that he is able to pick the team he wants and sell the players he wants. Though Daniel Levy is still negotiator-in-chief and continues to procure barely believable sums of money for players from increasingly gullible chairmen, you get the feeling AVB has a fair amount of control over who’s leaving and who’s arriving at Spurs. The likes of Huddlestone and Dawson were players who would almost certainly not have been sold if Redknapp was still in charge.
Besides, Tottenham have got good money for these players. Queens Park Rangers offering around £9m for Dawson, a popular but injury prone centre back not suited to a high defensive line was if you want to imagine Tony Fernandes as Vito Corleone, an offer Levy couldn’t refuse. Huddlestone going to Stoke on loan is understandable as Villas-Boas plainly didn’t rate him, hardly played him in pre-season and didn’t even pick him for the substitutes’ bench on Saturday. Bassong has struggled the last two seasons and was surplus to requirements.
If Spurs want to prosper under Villas-Boas, he needs to be backed. His decisions need to be followed. It is useless hiring a young manager for the long term and then not supporting him to the hilt or giving him control over the team he manages. That would be like hiring Jimi Hendrix for a recording session and giving him keyboards rather than a guitar. If for example you have a director of football in control of transfer policy and the Manager is happy with this system, that’s fine.
But Spurs don’t have a Director of Football. Villas-Boas like Redknapp before has a large amount of say in transfers. As legendary American Football coach Bill Parcells said about the coach or manager having control over personnel, “They want you to cook the dinner; at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries”. Villas-Boas has been allowed by Levy to decide what groceries he wants and cook the dinner.
It is important now that with the end of the transfer window near, Levy concentrates on bringing players in. Vertonghen, Sigurdsson and Adebayor have arrived but others need to follow. A central midfielder, preferably Joao Moutinho, AVB’s midfield general at Porto needs to be signed. In the summer, AVB did some scouting in Brazil, perhaps why Spurs have been linked with the likes of Leandro Damiao, Oscar, even Ganso this summer.
What is a notable difference between AVB and Redknapp is their use of young players. Redknapp, despite what he said about using a lot of youngsters when manager of West Ham (he did have Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and others to choose from there) rarely used them. Young players only came in when it was unavoidable, and even then he’d play senior players out of position rather than inexperienced youngsters in their natural positions. The likes of Gareth Bale, Danny Rose and Jake Livermore only got chances in the first team due to players being missing.
AVB is taking a different approach though. The likes of Tom Carroll, Harry Kane, Adam Smith and others haven’t just been sent out on loan to any club willing to take them as would happen under Redknapp but have got a lot of game time in pre-season and look set to play a part in the first team. Admittedly they’ll rarely start, but AVB seems prepared to put these youngsters ahead of the likes of Bentley, Giovani, Bassong and the like in the pecking order. This is a refreshing change.
It’s also important that AVB is backed not only in the transfer market but in the press by the club and also backed by the fans. In the age of Twitter, what often happens is that the barmy views of one or two people saying ‘AVB out’ or ‘Rodgers out’ or ‘Fergie out’ are taken by opportunistic journalists or fans of other clubs are taken to mean that all fans are saying ‘AVB out’ or something similar.
Saying ‘AVB out’ after one defeat is obviously nonsense. The vast majority of fans are fully behind him, as they were a week ago and as they will be next week and the week after that. The view that many Spurs fans are somehow unhappy with AVB is largely mythical and based on some random tweets by fans who if you encountered them in real life you would laugh out of town.
It won’t stop the press though, who if AVB doesn’t start well will scent blood, especially after Redknapp’s sacking and AVB’s failure at Chelsea. That’s fair enough though some of the opprobrium against Spurs when Redknapp was fired was ridiculous. But it does mean that it’s extra important for the club and the fans to back Villas-Boas and make clear they’re backing him.
Of course, if Spurs beat West Brom on Saturday and continue winning there won’t be any pressure on Villas-Boas. And there was a lot of promise shown in their defeat to Newcastle. Spurs had more shots, more corners and at times outplayed the opponents. The pressing game so beloved by AVB largely worked and harried Newcastle into mistakes. A superb Demba Ba goal, poor finishing and awful defending by Van der Vaart and Lennon was needed for Spurs to lose that game.
To conclude, Spurs are in the right direction. Villas-Boas is building the squad he wants, he’s getting backed by Levy and on the pitch Spurs are showing promise. Goals, victories and league points are needed now if Spurs and AVB are to get the press off their backs and put smiles on the players and the fans faces.