Being the sensationalist carnival the Premier League now is, Andre Villas-Boas was clearly quite surprised last week when he found himself the odds-on favourite to be the next top flight manager to get the sack.
The bookies were more convinced regarding the Tottenham gaffer’s fate as the Lilywhites’ clash with Manchester United approached than they were over Martin Jol’s, who is now without a job after his Fulham side lost 3-0 to a strikerless West Ham.
Perhaps their implicit indictment of Spurs’ efforts this season came a game too early – if the North Londoners had failed to impact against a lukewarm Manchester United outfit a week after losing 6-0 to Manchester City and in the fixture previous succumbing to defeat at home to Newcastle, suggestions that the Portuguese wasn’t quite up to the task would be more than understandable.
But even if Tottenham didn’t come away with a promising 2-2 display, making it four points they’ve taken from the Red Devils in their last three Premier League outings against them, and instead recorded their third domestic defeat in a row, that alone should not justify the annihilation of AVB’s White Hart Lane career.
In fact, I’m of the firm opinion that sacking the Tottenham gaffer would be a completely pointless enterprise for Daniel Levy, the kind of face-saving action that Roman Abramovich has found himself obsessed with over the last decade, often to his club’s detriment.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means AVB’s biggest fan. He may claim certain journalists from the Daily Mail are out to get him, but there’s certainly some weight behind the argument that he’s found any excuse this season to deflect attentions from the fact his conservative 4-5-1 philosophy has spawned just 11 goals in 13 games and left Spurs in ninth place in the English table.
Did his monotonous voice not contain such arrogant undertones, perhaps the media hacks would be blaming Spurs’ slow start on the inconsistent displays of Tottenham’s summer arrivals, or the sheer fact Villas-Boas has the difficult task of blending seven first-team players into his squad, rather than hint at suggestions of the Portuguese’s inadequacies as a manager.
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But Tottenham are not simply a case of a club whose fortunes could turn around overnight with another coach in charge.
The fact that former Spurs owner Alan Sugar, one of AVB’s biggest critics, could only come up with Sir Alex Ferguson as an adequate replacement for the Portuguese in his recent interview with talkSPORT suggests firstly that high-quality managers with proven Premier League credentials aren’t in hot supply at the minute, and secondly that it would take a managerial genius to marshal the Lilywhites to the title contending levels wrongly assumed of them in the summer.
The Spurs ‘project’ is ongoing, a term AVB himself has often used to describe his efforts at White Hart Lane since being appointed by Levy in summer 2012.
And considering the wealth of finance and resources being poured into Villas-Boas’s Tottenham vision, it seems a rather absurd notion to sever its head, based on two poor results amid a season in which Tottenham have been accused of not meeting unfairly high standards.
Just this summer alone, Levy has allowed his manager to spend £110million on new recruits – albeit balanced out by £100million’s worth of summer departures – and hired a new technical director in Franco Baldini to administer the Portuguese’s transfer bidding.
Villas-Boas brought in seven new players, only one of them over the age of 25, Roberto Soldado, and none having plied their trade in the Premier League before, also welcoming back two loan signings in the form of Danny Rose and Andros Townsend and giving them their inaugural campaign as first team regulars at White Hart Lane.
So it should be no surprise that these nine players have struggled to blend going forward, while Tottenham’s relatively unchanged backline has remained as efficient as it was last season.
Wind back another 12 months from the summer, and we have even more examples of the Tottenham chairman putting his full faith in the former Chelsea boss, first giving him a job in favour of the incredibly established Harry Redknapp, who had recorded two top four finishes in four campaigns at White Hart Lane, and then providing him with £61million’s worth of new talent, including the likes of Moussa Dembele, Hugo Lloris and Jan Vertonghen.
The faith comes with the expectation that AVB will take Spurs to the dizzy heights Harry Redknapp never could – effectively making their relationship with the top four a permanent one rather than a more ‘booty-call’ basis – and admittedly, the former Porto head coach hasn’t achieved that just yet.
He did, however, oversee the Lilywhites’ biggest points haul of the Premier League era last season, and is now struggling with the inevitably troublesome task of maintaining the high standard without the talismanic influence of Gareth Bale, something any manager at White Hart Lane would have undoubtedly struggled with.
But as previously stated, the project to make Tottenham major players in the Premier League title race is ongoing, and there won’t be a simple solution to rectify their fortunes overnight.
With around £170million already poured into it, arguably the most established English manager tossed by the wayside, the hiring of a new technical director and now just 18 months left on AVB’s current White Hart Lane deal, it seems absurd for Daniel Levy to pull the plug now when we’re yet to witness anything near the project’s final product – at the moment, Tottenham’s first team are undoubtedly still in the blueprint stage.
If we were another six months down the line and you could understand Levy cutting his manager’s tenure short 12 months early, providing Spurs were still floundering in mid-table. But right now, Tottenham have a roster bursting with potential, so it’s just a matter of time before they start producing.
The same can be said for Villas-Boas as a manager. Being the youngest head coach to ever win the Europa League, scope for an incredibly illustrious managerial career is obvious, even if he’s still yet to fully meet that expectation in England.
The shock doctrine strategy of firing AVB for poor performance and appointing a replacement won’t bring about results any quicker, in fact, it’s equally as likely to take the club further backwards, especially if that hypothetical replacement commanded the right to bring in his own selection of players.
Over the last year, we’ve seen a flurry of managerial changes in the top flight. But are Manchester City currently any better off with Manuel Pellegrini? They’re still yet to meet the standards expected of such an illustrious cast. Are Stoke reaching new heights without Tony Pulis at the helm? They’re arguably in greater danger of going down with Mark Hughes in charge. Have Sunderland done anything more than prolong the inevitable by sacking Martin O’Neill in favour of Paolo Di Canio, and now Gus Poyet?
Meanwhile, Newcastle and Arsenal, who don the second and first longest-serving head coaches in the Premier League respectively, have stuck to their managerial guns despite overwhelming calls for change last term, and are now firmly surpassing expectations this season.
These are the examples Daniel Levy should adhere to. To put it bluntly, he’s gone all in for AVB. The changes in personnel have been costly, wholesale and drastic, and the hiring of the Portuguese came at the cost of arguably the most successful manager in Tottenham’s Premier League history. So what’s the benefit of putting all your money in the pot if you’re going to fold before the final flop?
Let’s at least give Villas-Boas the right to see out his vision, or at least reach something near it’s ultimate, before suggesting Tottenham need to go back to the drawing board. By this time next season, with their illustrious cast of highly-rated continental talents finally settled in the English game, it could be the Lilywhites turn to start earning all the plaudits for effectively challenging the Premier League’s established order. By that time, AVB could look like the genius that made it all happen.
Should AVB be sacked by Daniel Levy?
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