You have to say this for Andre Villas-Boas; the man isn’t scared of a challenge. Less than a year after lasting less than a year at Chelsea, the 34-year-old is back in the Premier League with a team that is, to all intents and purposes, England in a microcosm.
Like England, Tottenham Hotspur’s greatest era came in the 1960s and the 50 years since have been spent veering wildly between hapless incompetence and spirited near-misses. There is an expectancy that borders sometimes on entitlement, a regular desire for revolution and the nagging feeling that, whatever they do, something will always go wrong. On reflection, Villas-Boas may as well have just cut out the middle-man and replaced Roy Hodgson.
Contrary to what some would have you believe, Harry Redknapp was not universally adored by the denizens of White Hart Lane. A large section of support rightly applauded his achievements at the club, but his attacks on their perceived impatience had left a lasting scar and there were profound concerns over his loyalty to the cause. Villas-Boas will not be replacing a club legend, but he will be replacing someone who finished fourth twice in three seasons. The argument could be convincingly made, given the age of the squad and the splits behind the scenes, that Tottenham would not have finished as high again. Unfortunately for Villas-Boas, we’ll never know. All he’ll be judged on is whether or not Spurs finish in the top four, quite a task given the resources of their rivals.
England will never rise to the top of Europe unless they address the ideological failings that were so evident this summer. Tottenham, it could be said, are in the same boat. Unable to compete financially with the Manchester clubs, they’ll have to be fitter and smarter to stand a chance. That wasn’t the case under Redknapp, but with Villas-Boas, you never know.
Sadly, he already knows how entrenched English ideologies can be. His attempts to modernise Chelsea, the switch to a high back line, the rotating midfield three and the ‘vertical’ balls that caused so much mirth, sealed his fate. A single line in The Sun earlier this year summed up the hopelessness of the poor man’s plight.
“Ashley Cole is unhappy with Villas-Boas telling him exactly how to play,” claimed a source.
A manager attempting to manage! Oh, the scandal!
The players didn’t want to know, the fans didn’t want to lose and Roman Abramovich didn’t want to wait and see if it all turned out ok in the end. Villas-Boas was axed, the more deferential Roberto di Matteo took over and Chelsea ‘Greeced’ their way to Champions League glory.
Poor Villas-Boas. He won the Europa League, but no-one in England recognises that as a proper trophy. He won the league with Porto without losing a game, but people just laughed and said that only a handful of Portuguese clubs ever have a chance of winning the title. Well, thank goodness the English Premier League is immune to such a charge…
He remains, despite what happened at Chelsea, a bright, intelligent manager. If the players listen to him, if the fans are patient with him, if his ideas are given time to flourish, he might be able to turn this club into something more than an entertaining, but erratic also-ran. England are content to languish in the past, but Tottenham have made a brave move for modernity. Hiring Villas-Boas could be a very smart decision by Spurs. The only question is whether or not Spurs will be smart enough to allow him to do his job.