Leadership skills are tough to acquire, especially within a group of peers. It comes naturally to the fortunate minority but for others, their voice can be lost in a cacophony of opinion that is just too strong to overcome.
Andre Villas-Boas was just 33 when he took charge at Stamford Bridge last season, an unusual youthful exuberance that is so rarely associated with Premier League managers had befallen Chelsea when appointing the Portuguese prodigy. Coming off the back of one of the most successful single seasons ever witnessed by a relatively unknown manager, the Portuguese appointment at Chelsea was met with great expectation. However, less than impressive results combined with an apparent loss of respect within the changing room bought an end to his short tenure in London. His managerial style that combined statistical analysis with introducing younger players to the team did not go down as expected at Stamford Bridge, especially with the much admired senior members of the squad like Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard. With the man they were taking orders from comparatively similar in age, it seemed as though AVB’s voice wandered the corridors at Cobham, failing to find an adhering ear.
So what can be done to halt a similar situation unfolding at White Hart Lane, the location of the Portuguese new employers? Does AVB need to adapt his man management skills to the Premier League, where almost all 20 squads contain a healthy dose of egocentricity. Or will the Spurs dressing room be more forgiving of the unorthodox style of the young coaches managerial approach?
One concern that may loom over Spurs if the imminent new season begins with disappointment is the absolute contrast of managerial style between Villas-Boas and his predecessor Harry Redknapp. The Englishman allowed the players a relatively free reign, with training ground discussions and match analysis taking a back seat behind player expression on the pitch. Believing that footballers should be treated as people not machine like commodities, Redknapp had very few members in his team of analysts. In stark contrast, new man Villas-Boas has a wealth of statisticians, nutritionists and psychologists who assist him and his team in preparation for match day. The 34-year old tends to shy away from tested training methods that promote technical repetition and instead focuses on situational aspects that have more relevance when in-game. This enormous transition may shake some players into realisation, with peak fitness levels a prerequisite for Villas-Boas’ system to work effectively. No longer will they have free reign on the pitch, the regimented new style that will become entrenched at White Hart Lane will see to that. They must adapt, and fast.
What may prove a blessing for Spurs is the pace and style of play at the club has been very offensive-minded and exciting for a number of years, something that the new man prides himself on. Villas-Boas will not necessarily need to rip up the team sheet in order to apply his theories to the club. Spurs are blessed with pace out wide and in Gareth Bale, have one of the most exciting offensive players in Europe.
Keeping hold of want away players may be the challenge for AVB. His time at Chelsea indicates that he may not have the dominating voice that is required to put a footballer in his place. If Luka Modric stated his desire to leave so fervently in Redknapp’s tenure, surely he will not be too concerned about any sharp words from a man who was seemingly second in command at his previous job. Still, lessons learnt from his time at Stamford Bridge may have sharpened the Portuguese man management skills and the baptism of fire that he received may have made him a wiser, stronger, more determined manager.
There is little doubt that every club may have a fraction of egocentric players in the changing room and Spurs are no different. However, not all of the blame for Chelsea poor form whilst under Villas-Boas’ wing can fall at the players feet. Immature decisions made by the young manager, regardless of dressing room divide, condemned him early on. His refusal to bring on more experienced players when they were so vitally needed indicates an arrogance that was less Jose Mourinho and more Jacques Santini. He must find a healthy balance between demanding respect without disparaging a team that has seemed content for the last few years.
AVB now knows that this test will make or break him. Capture the dressing room and excite the fans and he will flourish as he did when managing in his native country. However, a repeat of the fault lines that divided the Chelsea team under his tenure could consign the young Portuguese prodigy to an early exit and an irreparable relationship with the Premier League.