Tottenham Hotspur Boss Learning from his Spell at Chelsea

English journalists, particularly the tabloid ones, already have a well-rehearsed guide on what to say about Andre Villas-Boas. That he’s arrogant. That his only achievements were ‘lucky’ in a league Porto always win. That behind the tactics talk and gruff voice he’s actually clueless. That he’s a terrible man-manager. That he’s too young and inexperienced. And that he’ll be a failure at Tottenham like he was at Chelsea.

If these journalists were to actually do their jobs properly and not still be under the powerful spell of clichés cast by footballing Voldemort Harry Redknapp, they’d have noticed differences between Chelsea AVB and Tottenham AVB. Where the young Portuguese coach has learned lessons and done things differently.

The biggest difference is the way he has dealt with the press. Despite getting some ridiculous treatment from the press pack, whether it was the ‘AVB has three games to save his job’ story doing the rounds after only three league matches in charge or the furore over Villas-Boas’s supposedly bad man-management not putting Hugo Lloris straight in the side ahead of a man who’s started over 300 consecutive Premier League games, he has by all accounts been more accommodating with the press than he was at Chelsea.

In some press conferences this season, he has actually overrun in terms of time, just to make sure he answered every question asked of him. Managers’ talking more to the press than is required of them is very rare indeed. He’s talked at length and with passion about his footballing philosophy, about how and where he will improve Tottenham and coax them into achieving even better results. The fact that an hour of talking about his views on football will result on a few lines in the next day’s paper about how he’s ‘under pressure’ hasn’t deterred him from being more press friendly yet.

Compared to his predecessor, Villas-Boas talks far more about tactics and strategy. After the frustrating 0-0 draw with Lazio he talked of how he told Clint Dempsey and Jermain Defoe to pressurise Lazio holding midfielder Christian Ledesma, to force them to build attacks through their goalkeeper and not through their midfield. Redknapp would talk in soundbites, saying we ‘played fantastic’, ‘we were terrific’, ‘we didn’t kill the game off’, ‘my lack of squad rotation was largely at fault for blowing a 10 point lead over Arsenal with 13 games left’. Well, maybe not the last quote.

This makes a difference from his Chelsea days, when Villas-Boas at one point said there was an anti-Chelsea crusade in the press and seemed to be about as helpful to the press as Tory Chief Whips are to the policemen outside No 10 Downing Street. He’s, if not on a charm offensive, then certainly treating the press like friends rather than enemies, even if so far he hasn’t got much in return in the way of praise.

On the pitch though, Villas-Boas has obviously learnt from his Chelsea days. For all the talk of how he’s making radical changes at Tottenham, the change in tactics and the way Spurs play hasn’t been as extreme as most people would think. The high defensive line that he utilised at Porto and his early days at Chelsea hasn’t been seen yet in a proper fixture.

At Chelsea, he implemented this high line from day one, despite it being a bad fit for his personnel. John Terry was about as suitable for a high defensive line as Aaron Lennon is for the Olympic Shot Put and basically undroppable because he’s England’s (No Longer) Brave John Terry, yet Villas-Boas used it anyway. The 5-3 home defeat to Arsenal, which managed to pull off the oracle of making Theo Walcott look like a world class winger, showed the shortcomings of a high defensive line with slow defenders.

At Tottenham, despite having quicker defenders, the defensive high line is yet to be used in a competitive match. Pre-season saw a few goals conceded through the high line being prone to opposition attacks getting in behind the defence. Villas-Boas, perhaps learning from his Chelsea days, simply hasn’t implemented this defensive high line in the serious games. Almost certainly for the better.

He’s also taken steps to be a better man-manager compared to Chelsea, where even placid types such as Frank Lampard engaged in histrionics and made clear their displeasure at Villas-Boas. There were reports of players being dropped and not having it explained to them why they were sitting on the bench rather than playing on the pitch. You got the impression he couldn’t have alienated the players more if he was an actual alien.
Well at Spurs he’s been far less prone to chopping and changing the team, and has also taken care to keep older members of the squad like Jermain Defoe and William Gallas in the first team. Someone like Defoe, who has shown in previous seasons his willingness to express his displeasure at not being a first team regular, has got an extended run in the side despite the arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor.

It must have been tempting for Villas-Boas to put Adebayor in the first team. Despite Defoe scoring four goals from the opening five games of the season, his tally of five total passes at home all match against QPR show that he’s still unsuited to playing up front on his own. Adebayor is the all-round better player and was excellent for Spurs last season.

But Villas-Boas, perhaps wary of upsetting a senior player, has given Defoe an extended run in the first team, managing to placate Adebayor by saying he wasn’t fit enough and needed to get acclimatised in training to the style of play. Adebayor’s recent hamstring injury will further give Defoe a first team berth.

With Gallas, an occasionally volatile character who at various points threatened to score own goals for Chelsea in a contract dispute and went into a fairly mad strop after Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Birmingham (the game where Eduardo saw what was his ankle turn into a mesh of bones vaguely stuck together) he has consistently picked him when Steven Caulker, a younger, quicker and extremely talented centre half is waiting in the wings. For the same reasons perhaps, Brad Friedel is continuing to start in goal ahead of Hugo Lloris.
Of course, this may be nonsense and it may be Villas-Boas not trying to get older players on his side but merely picking the team he thinks is best. But the fact senior players likely to carry more influence in the dressing room are either getting picked or in the case of Rafael Van der Vaart were amicably sold indicates that Villas-Boas intends to be more diplomatic at Spurs and a better man-manager. The fact he’s dealing with players who don’t have Petronas Tower sized egos also helps.

You’d expect over time, as the Spurs squad get further used to Villas-Boas that he will slowly phase out the veterans in favour of the younger players. The likes of Lloris and Caulker may well be regular starters very soon. They may have been the better players from the start. Villas-Boas may be losing some early battles to win the war, gaining the trust of the dressing room leaders by giving them more playing time, even if it means his best eleven players not playing. Whether this is the right way to go or not is debatable, but if true it shows he’s learnt from his time in West London.

Andre Villas-Boas has a tough job at Tottenham. His predecessor, for all of his faults did a t’riffic job and gave Spurs some of their best moments in decades. Villas-Boas will be expected by the press and some fans to match those achievements, if not eclipse them. And he has to do that with Luka Modric and Rafael Van der Vaart having been sold, Ledley King retiring with the insides of his knee looking like Hiroshima after the bomb fell and a press who loved his predecessor but don’t love him.

But what he’s shown so far at Tottenham is that he’s learnt from some of his mistakes at Chelsea, and that he isn’t the arrogant, aloof tactics nerd with ‘borderline Asperger’s (Ian McGarry coming up with that insensitive and unnecessary remark). He’s realised the mistakes he’s made, is trying not to make them again, and if he fails at Tottenham it’s unlikely to be because he’s repeated the mistakes he made at Chelsea, on and off the pitch.

9 Comments on "Tottenham Hotspur Boss Learning from his Spell at Chelsea"

  1. Excellent article. Really well articulated observations about AVB’s progress thus far. Good on you matey…..

  2. Good article, I agree that AVB gets an unfair drilling from the press but hopefully that will al change in time and his true genius with shine.

    I have faith in the AVB and think he will being something special to the club, he is obviously still taking his time in assessing the teams strengths and weakness but has the balls to change things (as shown at QPR) when his ideas don’t go to plan on the day.

    Another thing thats nice to see (that HR rarely did) is squad rotation and bring in the youngsters which will fair well for player development and making the younger up-and-coming players feel more part of the team.

    My message to AVB is keep up the good work.

  3. Top article, well thought out & put across brilliantly. Great read & agree 100%.

  4. excellent article here here

  5. Started off liking what you had to say, even looking up the meaning of ‘footballing Voldemort’, as I only have a degree and three post-graduate qualifications ….. As time went on (it is quite a lengthy piece), I began to feel an element of ‘protesting too much’, and ‘damning with faint praise’ creeping in ……. I wonder why you would imagine that AVB would play older players he didn’t think were his best choices in order to placate the press and ‘get the dressing room on his side’. I wonder why you seem to be leaning in the direction of presenting him as even less sincere than ‘Arry. My take on all this is that most of his team choices are sensible, and he has tried out things and then learnt from them. Gallas has played well, and please note has generally been captain. Please note also that on one occasion LENNON was captain (that surprised us all), but Aaron responded with a very commited and determined performance, and has been amongst our best players this season. Worth noting also that Defoe has certainly worked hard and avoided many of the previous charges of ‘greedy boy’. Caulker has come in and done well, but has been eased in. Freidel is first choice because he is, well, first choice, and by sticking with him AVB has allowed Lloris the luxury of getting to know the set-up and become accustomed to the rather robust nature of English football. It seems to me AVB is showing evidence of a fine, adaptable footballing brain. I am not sure about YOU, however, because you may just be gearing up to running old ginger beard down first time he falls over …. we’ll just have to wait and see. It may be that YOU turn out to be the footballing Voldemort …….

  6. Jack, TommyHarmour’s final sentence is a tad harsh but that aside as I read your article I found myself forming largely the same view as Tommy – his reasoning seems pretty sound…..

  7. Great article and makes alot of sense ,hope you do more in the future ,,what does voldemort mean ?? sorry im lazy.

  8. Good article. I think he is learning. Although i don’t really think he did too much wrong at Chelsea. He was brought in to do a long term job and then the chairman changed his mind. (I know it’s not that simple).

    I also think it’s very clear he is on the autism spectrum (perhaps mild Asperger’s) but that does not mean he can’t manager people or a football team. In fact its refreshing to see a manager take such a logical and tactical approach to football.

    In his short time he’s already proved he has a plan B (second half against QPR) and a team B (last night in the COC. All we need now is to remove the windows from his car, give him his wage in brown envelopes full of cash and slightly melt his face and nobody will be any the wiser!

  9. Agree with all here that this is an interesting and thoughtful article though also agree with some of the comments that AVB has probably played the more established and experienced players for footballing rather than diplomatic reasons. Since you have an insight into AVB’s background perhaps you could shed some light on his time at Porto and the tactics he used. I have been trying to find out more about how he managed the impressive feat of winning just about everything on offer, with around 20 clean sheets in the league and winning in Europe.

    Did he have outstanding players at his disposal? Did he employ specific tactics? I am particularly interested in how he managed to do so well defensively, as we all know not our strong point despite having more than decent defenders.

    Speaking as a long standing spur – 45 years and counting who has seen a few managers come and go – I have been impressed so far with AVB, brought in very good players in very short time scale, managed to get them to gel for the most part and changed things when it wasn’t working and has now given playing time to young squad players and Hudd – who just happens to be my favourite.

    I am genuinly interested in knowing more about AVB’s background, are there websites out there? Or does anyone have any insights/done research?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.