Andre Villas-Boas is a manager who took the wrong first step in English football, taking up the impossible job at Stamford Bridge and subsequently walking around with the apparent weight of failure following his short time at Chelsea.
But what can you say about the current Tottenham manager? Villas-Boas at Chelsea was the same manager we see today, but now he’s been given an environment where he can show his worth. In fairness, we’re very unlikely to see the true and lasting qualities of a manager who takes over the helm at Chelsea, such is the struggle to gain some form of control.
And here’s the thing: I don’t believe we should take this season for what Villas-Boas is really worth, and that on its own should tell us how good he could be. This season at Tottenham has been described as a transition, and that’s certainly the case for both the squad and the manager. The Portuguese continues to learn his trade, just as others in his age group will do despite past successes, and anything added on top – such as Champions League football, which is looking increasingly likely – will be seen as an incredible bonus.
So what do we take from Villas-Boas now? After what may have been described as a frustrating first few months, rather than difficult, this is finally looking like his team, even if it isn’t quite the finished article. Unlike at Chelsea, it appears that the manager has everyone on side, working hard for the club as well as the man in the dugout.
The manager’s handling of Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris has been excellent; anyone who didn’t believe the Frenchman would become Tottenham’s No 1 at some stage this season was only kidding themselves. But what Villas-Boas has done is create a settled atmosphere, one where the older figure in goal knows his place but is treated with the respect and offered the dignified move to the bench he deserves. If Lloris had come in and been offered the starting role immediately, it would have been a backhand to the good work Friedel had done last season. As of now, Villas-Boas has two very good goalkeepers he can count on, rather than one in a positive frame of mind for what the future holds and the other feeling dejected.
There’s something quiet and efficient about Spurs, too. Yes, they will receive praise for being in the top four and sustaining their charge on Champions League football, but they’ve done so in the background and behind the praise that has been shelled out to David Moyes’ Everton and Steve Clarke’s West Brom.
The results over Manchester United have been outstanding, notably because Spurs have offered a resilience and fight that few have put forward against Alex Ferguson’s side this season. Yes, United have been challenged, but how many teams have been successful in taking points off them? The win at Old Trafford was incredible for Tottenham, and yet Villas-Boas had no time to rest on the glory of that win. Tottenham very much are becoming about the finish, rather than the personal glories along the way.
Football is now a young man’s game, where much more energetic and hungry figures take up the positions in the dugout. It’s a game which sees the old style of management thrown out the door and replaced with something a little more complex. Managers take notes, present spreadsheets, over examine an opponent they should beat regardless. Villas-Boas has brought greater attention to detail; he’s not a manager who will wait around for problems to fix themselves. Even if changes aren’t needed, he seems the type to make tweaks to things that do work until the whole picture is perfect.
The manager has taken what Daniel Levy has given him in terms of a squad and gone about making positive strides: more than anything, he’s holding up his end of the bargain if top four was the target for this season. You really can’t make guarantees in football, but Villas-Boas’ management style suggests that his team are unlikely to crumble the way Harry Redknapp’s did last season.
This Tottenham team still need further investment to launch themselves away from the rest of the pack chasing a top four spot and into a position where challenging for Champions League football becomes the minimum requirement. But as is always the case, that’s down to the chairman.
It’s still early days for Villas-Boas at Tottenham, but unlike names we’ve seen in the past, this vibrant manager with the winning mentality could be the real deal.