Has Andre Villas-Boas been let down?
As the dust settles on the chaos of Tottenham Hotspur’s deadline day dealings off the pitch, it appears that the focus has almost inadvertently returned to what’s been happening back on the field of play. And whilst it’s hardly as if supporters haven’t been paying attention to performances in the first two fixtures, it feels as if now the sideshow has finished, the realities of the Norwich game came so much starker for supporters.
Results against Newcastle and West Bromwich Albion disappointed fans, but they seemed to be underwritten against the premise of some game changing dealings in the transfer market. Since the 1-1 draw at home to the Baggies, it’s fair to say that not everything has gone as was perhaps planned at White Hart Lane. And after a repeat result against Norwich on Saturday, it has been Andre Villas-Boas who has seemingly taken the brunt of frustration.
The fortunes of the squad won’t necessarily change overnight, but there is more than enough capacity and promise within the side, to progress back to the level supporters desperately crave to be. But this culture of short sightedness has to stop and stop quickly, at White Hart Lane.
Merely a simple look at the team sheet before the game against Norwich suggested that Tottenham were short in a couple of crucial areas and the responsibility of that lies with one man above all. Villas-Boas has made some mistakes already and he will have to rectify them. But Daniel Levy’s brinkmanship in the transfer window has let his new manager down badly. And both the team and Villas-Boas in particular, are suffering as a result.
Now whatever way you would like to look at it, Tottenham Hotspur fielded a team against the Canaries on Saturday that were more than capable of coming out with three points. The new system dreadfully lacked a sense of fluidity and Villas-Boas is going to have to find a way to start making it tick. People are quick to slate a new set-up (one that worked extremely effectively for the first halves against Newcastle and West Brom) after only three games and that’s a painfully impatient judgment.
But Villas-Boas must be proactive in changing the teams’ fortunes. If the shoe doesn’t fit, then it cannot be forced. Changing formations at a football club is difficult but it isn’t quite alchemy. Tottenham can change to the new 4-2-3-1 set-up and no football club is constrained to play a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 until the end of time. Although the players are going to have to adapt and AVB can’t stick with those who are unable to make the transition.
But it’s quite difficult to judge the merits of those who can succeed in the new set-up or even the credentials of Villas-Boas himself, when the team looks the way it is.
Jermain Defoe, for example, epitomizes the situation that Spurs and Villas-Boas currently find themselves in. The team has started the first three games of the Premier League season with a striker who isn’t suited to the way in which the new manager wants the team to be playing. Defoe has worked his socks of for the team, but he simply isn’t viable to play up front on his own. It’s almost like Levy giving AVB the keys to a brand new kit-car and telling him to take it as far as he can- just that he forgot to fit in the gearbox. In one respect already, Tottenham have been faulty goods since the season started on August 18th and that responsibility lies with Levy.
The hesitation and brinkmanship to bring in Emmanuel Adebayor has cost Spurs and Villas-Boas. Defoe has been the only option to play in Villas-Boas’ team; as was clear to see on Saturday, Adebayor is clearly still short of match-fitness and until Friday’s acquisition of Clint Dempsey, Defoe was the only recognized striker at White Hart Lane. But this point seemed to be blissfully ignored in recent days.
But it is in the centre of Tottenham’s midfield that we are seeing the biggest legacy of Levy’s transfer brinkmanship. Andre Villas-Boas has only ever wanted one player more than anyone else since he stepped through the door at Spurs Lodge and it was no secret that the man in question was Porto’s Joao Moutinho. He was the metronome of AVB’s success in Portugal, a genuine top class central midfielder who was the jewel in which Villas-Boas wished to build his Spurs team around.
But it’s not even the fact that the deal fell apart on personal terms, that is the crux of the issue here. Tottenham are a tightly run ship, if not the tightest ship around and the club physically cannot afford to be bent over financially by either Moutinho or Porto. But the timing of the deal was simply absurd. The entire Modric scenario was drawn out because Levy believed he was getting the best deal for the club. Leaving it till deadline day to acquire your new managers’ most wanted transfer target, after drawing out the sale of your best player, was a game of risk that went far too far and it’s one that Levy lost.
Because by drawing out the entire Modric/Moutinho scenario, he was in essence telling Villas-Boas that he must start with Jake Livermore in the holding midfield pair. Why? Because Levy knew the system Villas-Boas was playing with the two holding midfielders and Livermore and Sandro were the only to players likely to play there. Modric would have, had he not wanted to leave. Parker would have, had he not been sidelined with injury. Tom Huddlestone is still feeling his way back after nearly a year away from Premier League football. Fans were astounded when Jermaine Jenas made a cameo the other week, but regardless about whether it was the right substitution, who else was there to play?
And with the greatest respect to Livermore, a player of real tenacity and promise, he isn’t of the caliber of a Modric, Parker or Moutinho. But like Defoe, he has started in a crucial position as a result of Levy’s brinkmanship- not through Villas-Boas’ unremitting wishes.
The facts and balance sheet suggest that Levy has indeed backed Villas-Boas to the hilt, but in practice, that doesn’t tell the entire story. Everyone makes mistakes and this isn’t to say that Levy doesn’t remain one of the best chairmen in the country. But he isn’t bulletproof and supporters must realize the situation their team currently finds themselves in isn’t entirely Villas-Boas fuelled.
Now deadline day is finished, Spurs can now focus purely on the football and no more of the transfer fuelled nonsense. The likes of Dembele, Dempsey and Lloris are all fantastic signings. But the fact is they should have been at Spurs for a lot longer than several days, three games into the season. What’s done is now done and it’s time to get behind the team and support them as they look to build on something of a new era.
Villas-Boas has made mistakes. But let’s not pan a manager who has only just had his hands untied from behind his back.
How do you feel about the Levy’s brinkmanship this summer? Was he right to take the gamble or is it unacceptable that the Villas-Boas started the season without key acquisitions? Tell me what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your take on all things Spurs.