Spurs manager still has point to prove
By Andrew Warshaw
When Andre Villas-Boas sat down with assembled scribes at his first official press conference since becoming manager of Tottenham Hotspur, it was no surprise that the club’s spanking new £45million training ground was chosen as the venue – even though it had not officially opened for business.
As a statement of intent, it said everything about the new regime breezing into White Hart Lane and the modern approach Villas-Boas and his backroom staff were keen to bring to the club as they prepared for life after ‘Arry – on and off the field.
Villas-Boas made a point – no fool is he -- of stressing that matching fourth place would be a tall order but was something Spurs had to aspire to in order to progress.
He is also made it clear how hurt he was at having been sacked by Chelsea before he had had time to implement his “project” – a word he used frequently at Stamford Bridge once he realised he was living on borrowed time.
The view of most Spurs fans was they didn’t want Redknapp replaced by a man who may speak a hatful of languages (he even ticked off the official interpreter, amid much hilarity, for mistranslation after Tottenham’s Europa League fixture against Lazio) but was perceived as a failure at Chelsea and someone who really had only one full season of success with Porto in his homeland where there are only three or four genuine regular contenders for the major prizes.
The general thinking that this was one gamble too many by chairman Daniel Levy intensified as Tottenham began the season looking a disjointed unit with no cohesion or passion. Villas-Boas might be the epitome of a modern manager but, at 34, it was felt he couldn’t possibly know as much as all the hype surrounding him might suggest.
Has this view changed as a result of Saturday’s memorable, historic win at Old Trafford? Yes and no. Tottenham fans are understandably wary of over-hyped foreign managers walking through the door. Redknapp changed all that and is the hardest of acts to follow having restored a sense of chest-pumping pride by taking a club that had under-achieved for so long back up amongst the elite.
What Redknapp couldn’t do was win at Old Trafford or bring Tottenham a trophy. Villas-Boas has already achieved the first and craves the second. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, of course, nor one history-making victory an entire season. Rooney or no Rooney, Tottenham’s tendency to play deeper and deeper during the second half on Saturday played into United’s hands, as a result of which the visitors were cut open with alarming regularity.
Fairly or not, the jury is still out on Villas-Boas and will be for some time. If Tottenham fail to capitalize on Saturday’s scintillating first-half spectacle and don’t show the same attacking instincts against Aston Villa at home next weekend, just wait for the fans to get on the manager’s case and once again cite inconsistency, naivety and no plan B if things go wrong.
But let’s look on the positive side. There are strong signs that Villas-Boas may, just may, be the right man to take Tottenham forward. Away wins were as rare as the most underdone cut of beef under Redknapp and already Spurs have two in the bag. There is a strong argument to suggest that, given their ghastly record at Old Trafford, they would have capitulated mentally and physically under the previous regime; playing well but getting nothing. 'Twas ever thus.
For all United’s shortcomings and injuries, let’s not forget Spurs also have a number of players to return. Big important players like Emanuel Adebayor, Younes Kaboul and Scott Parker, two of whom haven’t kicked a ball so far this season.
It was almost inevitable that after a slow start Villas-Boas would quickly find his abilities questioned amid the same kind of rumoured dressing room unrest he encountered at Chelsea. But you surely don’t put your bodies on the line with the kind of spirit and commitment shown last Saturday if there are rows and shenanigans going on in the background. Every club has its personality clashes but on paper at least, team bonding seems to be growing at Spurs. Jermain Defoe has never been comfortable playing up front on his own but is a natural predator. Like all natural predators, he just needed regular games. Right now, there is no stopping him.
Title contenders Tottenham may not be, but Villas-Boas has already enhanced his credentials. Given time - football’s most precious commodity - he just might fulfill expectations, prove everybody wrong (bar those who appointed him) and show that what he lacks in age and experience, he makes up for with a winning mentality, a drive and determination to succeed and a desire, if not to be loved like Redknapp was by the media and fans alike, then at least to be appreciated, respected and admired.
And don’t forget, he has point to prove. Always a strong additional motivational factor.