If Michael Dawson’s Tottenham Hotspur career was supposed to be dead and buried, then he’s certainly got a funny way of showing it.
As the 29-year old fan favourite skippered the Lilywhites to a well-earned 1-1 draw against Manchester United during the weekend, it did in fact represent his 17th appearance for the club in all competitions this season. Which isn’t too bad at all, considering he was deemed surplus to requirements last July.
Indeed, Dawson’s return to the fold at White Hart Lane marks an incredible turn around in fortunes for a player ominously told earlier in the season by Andre Villas-Boas, that he “couldn’t guarantee him games.” The Portuguese may have earned a reputation for overindulging in footballing techno-speak since he first arrived in this country, but there was nothing sugar coated about the way in which he stated his intentions to Dawson.
Yet as the season has progressed and the ex-Nottingham Forest man has fought his way back in from the cold at Hotspur Way, Dawson’s change in fortunes arguably tell us as much about the manager as they do about the player.
Working out Dawson’s response to Villas-Boas’ doubts hardly involved required the musings of an amateur psychologist. As soon as it became strikingly apparent that the defender had no intentions on making a proposed switch to Queens Park Rangers stick, supporters knew exactly what to expect; unrelenting commitment, the upmost professionalism and not a peep of discontent aired in public.
That’s the measure of the man that fans have come to know, love and most poignantly, expect. No one was ever in any doubt of how Dawson was likely to react to the news that he wasn’t likely to feature in Villas-Boas’ plans. But where as the player’s reaction wasn’t ever in any doubt, the same couldn’t necessarily be said about the manager.
For all Villas-Boas’ coaching credentials, the feats that he’d achieved in his short career and the tactical intricacies of the football he was looking to implement, the question marks surrounding his man management skills were hardly without foundation.
While his difficulties with the egos and personas that irreparably damaged his time at Chelsea were endlessly documented, even the most ardent of Villas-Boas’ proponents amongst the White Hart Lane faithful would have had concerns about whether the Portuguese had learned from his mistakes. His decision to sanction a sale to QPR just weeks after naming Dawson as the club’s captain for the season, certainly made for some concerning logic at best.
Yet while Villas-Boas’ masterminding of Spurs’ current top-four position is rightfully drawing all the plaudits, it’s the way in which he’s handled the Dawson situation that has been a wonderful testament to his evolution in English football.
Few in N17 brought into the seeming media agenda that some quarters of Fleet Street seemed to bestow upon Villas-Boas and as the months have gone on this season, more of the urban myths that reared their head during his time at Chelsea appear to have been debunked. But for as much of a hard time as he appeared to receive from the Stamford Bridge dressing room, unceremoniously dumping a couple of respected dressing room faces in Alex and Nicolas Anelka into the reserves, hardly reeked of great man management.
The biggest fear emanating from Spurs supporters was that Villas-Boas hadn’t learned his lessons. But it’s his galvanization from his time at Chelsea that’s been perhaps his most impressive feature.
Where as he refused to stray at times from his staunch tactical philosophies at Stamford Bridge, Villas-Boas has adapted his squad to fit the needs of the players available to him. When – in no doubt catalyzed by a couple of transfer market failings – the side floundered within a 4-2-3-1 formation, there was no stubborn refusal to stray from his ways as we saw at Chelsea. Instead, he’s appeared proactive and adaptive in his approach, switching to more of a 4-4-2 like set-up in recent weeks.
Similarly with the media, where as at Chelsea we saw Villas-Boas adopt a cold and sometimes spiky approach at press conferences, this season we’ve seen an open, positive and even jovial AVB interact with the press. Which seems all the more incredible considering some of the column inches that have carried his name over the last six months.
But it’s in the return of Michael Dawson that Villas-Boas has really shown both his class and improvement as a manager within this league. It would have been all too easy for him to let vanity cloud judgment in refusing Dawson entry back into first team. Yet if anything, he’s seemed almost proactive in letting the defender prove him wrong for looking to let him go last August. And it’s won him both the trust and the respect of the players at his disposal.
You only need to look at the raft of quotes that have emanated from the Spurs squad since he took over last summer to gauge his standing with the players. Jermain Defoe quipped, “All the lads love him [AVB].” Kyle Walker has spoke glowingly about how he’s helped him with his game. Steven Caulker has praised his lack of so-called ‘favourites’ in the squad. And to top it all off, the man he once doubted in Michael Dawson said: “He speaks to me on a regular basis, and when I wasn’t playing, it was the same. He’s been great.”
Quite how stubborn Andre Villas-Boas may or may not have once been at Chelsea is perhaps open for debate. But what’s not open for discussion is the level of respect that this Tottenham Hotspur squad affords their manager. Michael Dawson’s return to the side only serves to smear his doubters further.