I wonder if Andre Villas-Boas has a framed screenshot of the Premier League table hanging in his office? Having amassed 40 points from 22 games, Tottenham sit just two points behind the Champions of Europe, with a six-point gap ahead of fierce rivals Arsenal. The club may not be hailed as the outside ‘title challengers’ they were this time last season, but they are arguably in a better shape to regain entry into the Champions League.
The arrival of Villas-Boas caught many by surprise and evoked an uneasy reaction from supporters still holding a candle for Harry Redknapp. The national press were quick to voice their concerns, seemingly eager to ignite another tabloid friendly disaster that was frequent column filler last year.
However, despite some early teething problems stemming from obscure tactical decisions, Villas-Boas can now rest assured that his feet are firmly under one of English football’s most prominent tables. Only league leaders Manchester United better the impressive tally of 22 goals away from home and while a few more net-busters at the Lane would be welcomed, the team is slowly shaking free their negative persona.
As results improved on the pitch, the tabloids were running out of ammo and so turned their attention to his unique brand of vocal mannerisms. A piece in the Daily Mail portrayed Villas-Boas as a Mr Bean type character stuck in a Carry On film and revelled in the fact the 35-year-old failed to land the Burnley job in 2010, after sending in a lengthy and confusing application.
‘Tommy Docherty used to say he never said anything to his players his milkman wouldn’t understand,’ said the Claret’s chief executive Paul Fletcher.
‘I don’t think any milkman would fathom the meaning of a lot of Andre’s presentation.’ (Daily Mail)
It seems as though a short-sighted few are still longing for the beautiful game that was built on blood, sweat and tears. They fail to realise that football has evolved, it now thrives upon newfound intelligence which sees managers treasure patient build-up play rather than long ball bombardment.
The detailed preparation process can no longer be ignored or deemed insignificant, especially when tactics need to be repeatedly adjusted to triumph over each new opponent. The modern player needs inspiring beyond the cliched ‘go out there and enjoy yourself’ speech and Villas-Boas is someone perfectly capable of providing just that.
In many ways Harry Redknapp is still the media’s darling, a graduate from the old school of coaching who prefers warriors to artists. His “you’d have to be a dope to mess up the Chelsea job” comment screamed petulance and portrayed an annoyance at being replaced by this new breed of intellectual coach. His tactics in the game against Spurs highlighted just how afraid he was of his former side, but of course the media spun such a performance as a positive, despite the fact QPR were at home and should have been relentlessly pursuing victory.
In Portugal there is an altogether different perception of the manager they believe will one day take charge of the national team. Villas-Boas is widely renowned as an articulate and elegant communicator, even current Porto boss Vítor Pereira revealed he was jealous of his predecessors media skills.
Villas-Boas does however fail to appreciate context and instead persists with translating his thoughts from Portuguese to English in a literal format. His remark that Jermain Defoe can “smell” crosses was not a reference to his special nasal powers but instead the striker’s good anticipation and awareness off the ball. But that isn’t half as funny and certainly won’t look as good strapped across a newspaper headline.
Yet his current crop of players seem to understand him perfectly and now play with a natural sense of rhythm and balance that was missing last season. Unlike Roman Abramovich, Daniel Levy will not loom, pry or demand instant success. There is a reassuring sense of security in their relationship, although this would be officially confirmed if Levy could bring in an identifiably ‘Villas-Boas’ signing like Joao Moutinho or Willian.
There is also a strong sense that he is learning from his previous errors of misjudgement and not just because he’s finally admitted to making them at Chelsea. He has been less ruthless in his changes and has even allowed Michael Dawson back into contention after reported exile. The defensive frailty of Spurs in the latter stages of games has also been rectified, as the club haven’t conceded late on since that last gasp defeat to Everton. In fact, they’ve only let in two goals in their last eight games.
Whereas Arsenal fans are growing tired of Wenger’s methodical approach, loyal Lilywhites seem perfectly content with their own professor. There is a growing consensus that young, dedicated tacticians will be the future template of all successful managers in the Premier League.
Southampton certainly think so – having today appointed 40-year-old “astute tactician” Mauricio Pochettino – it’s just a shame that such a decision has come at the expense of yet another English manager.