Andre Villas-Boas really doesn’t make it easy on himself, does he?
A tactical visionary and a precocious managerial talent, he has developed a worrying flair for babbling himself into more trouble than he deserves. There is an argument that football management shouldn’t be about public relations, but it’s a weak and outdated one. These days, myth matters and image is everything. For all of his undoubted abilities, Villas-Boas is going to talk himself right out of his job if he doesn’t wise up.
His natural flair for self-harm is extraordinary. On Saturday afternoon, most journalists trotted into Arsenal’s vast press auditorium with unusual feelings of warmth towards the young Portuguese. Yes, Tottenham had shipped five goals to their arch-enemies, but it wasn’t really Villas-Boas’ fault. His bold decision to play with two strikers was vindicated by the 18 minute battering his team gave the Gunners, but when Emmanuel Adebayor’s last remaining brain cells meandered off to pastures new, the game was over.
Even if Tottenham had dropped deep and tight for 72 minutes, they wouldn’t have survived. But Villas-Boas didn’t go deep and tight. He hauled off his full-backs and allowed a three man defence to push themselves up against the halfway line like fat kids at the window of a sweet shop. Arsenal, like a school bully who suddenly takes a glancing blow on the nose from the captain of the chess club, were startled. They could have easily have toppled over. As it happens, the captain of the chess club ended up with his pants pulled up over his nipples and his head in a toilet cistern, but at least he went down with a bit of pride.
Some journalists have been unnecessarily mean to Villas-Boas since he replaced Harry Redknapp at Spurs, but even they would have been prepared to give him a relatively soft write-up. Alas, it was not to be.
You can understand why Villas-Boas might be reluctant to blame Adebayor for the defeat, given the way that his former Chelsea charges reacted to his authoritarian efforts, but there are ways of doing things. He could have smiled wryly, accepted that Adebayor’s challenge was stupid, that it changed the game, that he’d learned an important lesson and then finished by pointing to his ‘passion’ and his ‘desire to win the ball’. Instead, he refused to apportion any blame and instead seemed to hint that Santi Cazorla had brought it on himself.
“Cazorla was quick, he reacted. He took the ball away before Ade’s feet met his foot and the ref has to make a decision and he decided for the red card.”
Of course he decided for the red card! Adebayor hit him like a giant swinging log, hoisted into position and released by vengeful Ewoks. If Cazorla hadn’t lifted his foot, Adebayor would have snapped him like a Subutteo player.
Villas-Boas’ claim that Tottenham, “controlled the game from the first minute to the last,” was even more extraordinary. Around the room, journalists looked at each other in confusion. One respected scribe just stood and stared, agape, his eyes so wide that I was worried they might actually fall out.
Tottenham didn’t look like they were controlling much when Arsenal slid three past them in quick succession in the first half. Villas-Boas couldn’t have turned the press against him any quicker without pulling the plug on the wireless router five minutes before their copy deadline.
I like Villas-Boas. He looks like a German submariner five weeks into a voyage and he has a voice like an industrial accident. He’s intelligent, innovative and brave. He’s inspirational proof that anyone, regardless of their background, can rise to the top of their profession through nothing more than desire and determination. But, by thunder, if he doesn’t get to grips with press conferences soon, he’ll be laughed out of England by Christmas.