Andre Villas-Boas: 8 Things His Sacking Means for Tottenham Hotspur

Hi-res-451720307-andre-villas-boas-the-manager-of-tottenham-hotspur_crop_650x440
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

His face during the game and after the final whistle said it all: Andre Villas-Boas was a man on borrowed time. And on Monday morning, a day after a 5-0 thrashing to Liverpool at White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur have confirmed the sacking of the Portuguese coach.

This news comes in a Premier League of increasing turbulence: Villas-Boas himself was only appointed Chelsea manager some two-and-a-half years ago, fired by Roman Abramovich just a year and nine months ago and brought to Tottenham a season and a half ago.

And now he’s found himself out of a job. Again.

While Villas-Boas will surely be wondering whether or not he will get another chance to manage in the Premier League, let’s look at eight things his dismissal means for Tottenham. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

A Sad End for Tottenham’s Winningest-Ever Coach

Surprise!

It might not seem it, what with the media, pundits and fans questioning his ability, but with 29 wins, 12 draws and 13 losses, Andre Villas-Boas is actually Tottenham’s winningest-ever coach in their history, with a win percentage of 53.7, according to the Telegraph.

Yes, conceding a whopping 11 goals to two teams in quick succession—which makes up almost a sixth of his entire goals against record at White Hart Lane—makes for terrible reading, but before we dissect the other implications of his removal at Spurs, we should take a moment and recognize the work that he has done as their manager.

Not only does he possess their most successful managerial record, but he also steered the club to fifth place last season, narrowly missing out on Champions League qualification, and is now actually only eight points off Arsene Wenger’s league-leading Arsenal, despite having sold Gareth Bale in the summer.

All this in an ever-increasing Premier League, which has also seen increasingly cut-throat approaches adopted by rival clubs to ensure that they stay ahead of (or at least in close competition with) the pack.

 

Premier League Chairmen Don’t Like Their Egos Bruised

Anyone who had any doubt that AVB’s career at White Hart Lane was in trouble during their hammering to Liverpool will have had their suspicions confirmed if they saw the facial expressions of Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy on Sunday.

Of course this hurt: Spurs were hosting one of their rivals this season for a top-four spot—and before this season, Liverpool were seen as having fallen even out of the top six that had inaugurated the hosts as a new member.

What Levy saw unfolding before his eyes was a statement of intent, a demolition job brought about by a manager with a well-defined philosophy. What Levy witnessed was a disintegration of his dreams in front of him.

Add the humiliating defeat to Manchester City just a few weeks before and it became clear that no matter how close Spurs would still be after finishing the match with no points taken, losing to clubs considered as rivals would turn out to be too much.

Never mind that Spurs had only ever qualified once for the Champions League, despite their status as top-four pretenders. Never mind that big games with rivals only account for a small proportion of your points every season.

This was a result that hurt, and in the eyes of Levy and owner Joe Lewis, something had to be done.

 

Momentum Can Also Go the Other Way

It was just a month ago that Tottenham had one of the meanest defensive records in the country, having conceded six goals in 11 league games, but a 6-0 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium kickstarted a downward spiral that has seen them ship 17 goals in five matches.

While the official Tottenham Hotspur Twitter feed announced in the aftermath of the Liverpool defeat that their “unbeaten run in December came to an abrupt halt,” the reality was that they had won unconvincingly at two clubs struggling near the foot of the table.

A defence torn to shreds by Manchester City perhaps opened the door to confusion, panic and self-questioning in the Spurs defence, and they haven’t been the same since.

Just this March, Villas-Boas had proclaimed that Arsenal, who were trailing Spurs by seven points then, were in a “negative spiral in terms of results,” as reported by BBC Sport, and that “to get out of that negative spiral is extremely difficult.”

He’s now found that out himself. “Momentum” is always brought up in a run of positive results; alas, it can also go the other way.

 

Gareth Bale Was, in the End, Too Big a Loss

Twenty-one goals and four assists in 34 league games.

So goes the record of the current holder of the most expensive transfer fee in football history.

But Gareth Bale, to Tottenham Hotspur, was about more than just goals and assists: He was the face of a young and ambitious team led by a young and ambitious manager. He was even the face of the Premier League in NBC Sports’ high-profile marketing and build-up of their EPL coverage in the U.S. for the season.

And on the pitch, Bale represented that missing link—that all-important attacking player who was capable of influencing play from deep and transitioning seamlessly from defence to attack.

On paper, when the players who were brought in eventually signed, they would make up for Bale’s goals and assists as a collective. We all know how it has turned out in practice.

So besides all the other ominous warning signs on show on Sunday, Liverpool’s thrashing was also symbolic in that it was led by their new stand-in skipper Luis Suarez—a player who had threatened to leave Anfield the way Bale so spectacularly quit Tottenham.

Suarez hit two goals right out of the top drawer. Meanwhile, Gareth Bale kept doing his stuff in sunny Spain. Two different worlds, one “coulda woulda shoulda” scenario.

 

Instability Is a Constant at a Selling Club

Chairman Levy’s relentless ambition and ruthless ways have served Spurs in memorable ways down the years. Their astute £8 million capture of Rafael van der Vaart in 2010 was one of the finest transfer coups in Premier League history and, not so long ago, Hugo Lloris at the same price last summer was considered another fine example of Levy’s transfer acumen.

But on the flipside stands perhaps the underlying reason for such bargain hunts: The recent sales of the talismanic Luka Modric, van der Vaart and Bale have presented Spurs as an unstable selling club, and this reputation looks to have been enhanced.

It might be a hallmark of a rapidly evolving and rising club, but the constant chopping and changing of both managers and players will not install the sense of stability that is sorely needed even in the corporate world.

That things are different at White Hart Lane is a reminder that patience is a prerequisite after all, and too much change might not actually be a good thing. Other Premier League clubs would do well to take note.

 

You Can Actually Have Too Many Good Players

“You can never have too many good players,” so the football cliche goes. Players in form and players of great ability give managers selection headaches; the more the merrier, right?

If the situation at Tottenham is anything to go by, the answer to that is a resounding no.

We mentioned the prospect of having a group of new signings collectively replace Bale’s importance at Spurs. The very idea of it is appealing and also effectively mitigates the risk of concentrating the club’s fortunes on one single player, but the way it has been carried out has been horribly miscalculated.

We only need to look at the bench on Sunday, where record signing Erik Lamela was yet again kicking his heels (or not), and at Villas-Boas’ constant rotation of his midfield to guess that they simply have too big a roster of midfielders to be able to build any sort of continuity in the starting XI.

In a league that’s becoming more and more about midfield partnerships and dynamic movement, the infamous rotation at Tottenham has become a textbook example of why not to stockpile players in one position.

Perhaps we should just amend that age-old adage then: “You can never have too many good defenders when your first choice backline is injured.” Poor Etienne Capoue was hapless out of position as a makeshift central defender.

 

Did AVB Actually Learn from His Time at Chelsea?

A few months after his arrival at Tottenham, Andre Villas-Boas proclaimed that he had learned from his tough spell at Stamford Bridge, as reported by the Mirror, and the general feeling after his first few interviews and press conferences was that he had learned to open up to the media to get them on his side.

This was a new, softer AVB, they said. This was a less obstinate, a more open-minded AVB, they said. This was a great chance for him to prove that Chelsea and Roman Abramovich were a one-off, a mere blip in his bright career, they said.

A year later, according to BBC Sport, the same new AVB was sat in his chair getting involved in a high-profile spat with journalists over a few columns questioning his pedigree as a manager that he didn’t agree with.

Whether or not such accusations were fair is a discussion best left to the past, but by that time, it wasn’t just his methods of dealing with the press that had remained unchanged. His persistence with a physical midfield and a high defensive line had started to become major weaknesses and areas for opposing teams to exploit.

A strong, physical and energetic midfield that was supposed to provide a base for a budding Spurs attack had become an unimaginative source of creativity and the reason for a chronic lack of goals.

 

What Next for Tottenham?

It’s all well and good dissecting the ramifications of Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking and the messages it sends about Tottenham Hotspur, but as in any big footballing decisions, what matters most is how the club moves forward.

And in this case, though to a certain extent his departure was inevitable and understandable, there will be bigger things on Daniel Levy’s mind as he begins to contemplate life without his head coach.

Finding a manager with a pedigree and CV—or an ambitious vision and grand plan, as AVB once had—is hard enough to do, but finding one that can work within the constraints of a perennial Europe-chasing selling club and with a ruthless chairman and director of football is near impossible.

Unlike at Chelsea, where Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti had established an impressive winning record that proved too difficult to replicate, Andre Villas-Boas arrived at Tottenham to find a club striving to challenge for Europe but with the expectations of a top-four club.

Never mind the lack of available names in the market now; the job itself is fast becoming one of the most stressful in English football.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

English Football Weekly: Manchester and Liverpool Roar; Fletcher’s Return; Managing in the Premier League

EPL Week 16 recap: Manchester and Liverpool roar

It’s been a while since Manchester United have made the headlines for anything positive, so before we get to Darren Fletcher’s return to first-team action, let’s give United their due credit for a professional job on Aston Villa at Villa Park. Sure, it’s a ground where they’ve traditionally enjoyed success, but we also saw Danny Welbeck score two (two!) and Tom Cleverley score (score!). That Wayne Rooney played in a deep, prompting Scholes-esque role (and that Welbeck was finally deployed in his favored centerforward position) was curious—a sign of things to come?

Which result was the bigger statement this weekend—Manchester City scoring six against Arsenal, or Liverpool hitting five at White Hart Lane? We’ll leave the debate to you, but what’s clear is that Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers, both known for their “philosophies” and approaches to the game, are apparently also masters in dissecting opponents and exploiting their weaknesses to the full. City’s sheer power through the middle saw Fernandinho and Yaya Toure give a midfield masterclass and completely blow Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere away, while Liverpool’s relentless pressuring, movement and dynamic passing dominated a Tottenham midfield that’s been tipped as one of the league’s finest.The gap between leaders Arsenal and fourth-placed City has now been reduced to just three. Liverpool are sandwiched just in between along with Chelsea.

That hasn’t deterred Everton, however, as they continued their impressive rise—documented in this column last week—with a 4-1 rout over Fulham, who themselves have exhibited signs of springing back into life under Rene Meulensteen. Seamus Coleman, Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas all got goals that their excellent campaigns thus far have deserved (so did Leon Osman), but Gerard Deulofeu’s injury will have been concerning for Roberto Martinez. An interesting set of December fixtures (Swansea away, then Sunderland and Southampton at home) may yet see Everton start the New Year in the top four.

 

Welcome back, Darren Fletcher

It was in 2010—over three years ago—that Darren Fletcher first captained Manchester United and then went on to be nominated as their vice-captain. He was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year in April 2010 after a successful season, and aged 26, he had already undergone a transformation from “not good enough” to become an important member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad.

So it was particularly poignant that Ferguson decided to pay Fletcher a special tribute in his retirement speech at Old Trafford, wishing him a speedy recovery and a quick return to first-team football. Of course, sandwiched in between was an unfortunate case of ulcerative colitis, which ruled him out of most of United’s matches for the seasons to come—and at one point, put his professional career into jeopardy.

And so it was particularly good news when Fletcher—widely seen to be a hardworking, honest model professional—returned once again to the field against Aston Villa on Saturday. The ovations were heard around Villa Park, and they won’t have been confined to Birmingham. But his presence and return will give David Moyes another experienced option in the Manchester United midfield, who have missed Michael Carrick and who haven’t been significantly bolstered or upgraded with the signing of Marouane Fellaini.

Best that Fletcher gets to work and returns to form as soon as possible, then.

 

Still want to be a Premier League manager?

In recent weeks, we’ve read all about how Martin Jol is utterly incompetent, recently that Steve Clarke was ultimately not good enough for West Brom, and now that Andre Villas-Boas has become the latest to lose his job as a Premier League manager. There are rumblings of Sam Allardyce being on borrowed time at West Ham. In the Championship, Owen Coyle and Dave Jones have been sacked in the first two weeks of December.

It’s a peculiarity in modern football that so much emphasis is still being placed on the manager—sometimes styled as “Head Coach,” sometimes “First-Team Manager,” among other iterations of the title. It’s not happened overnight, and it’s largely been done behind the scenes, but the European model of football operations, otherwise known as the corporatization of Premier League football clubs, has almost entirely taken over in the Premier League. With the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, perhaps only Arsenal employ a traditional all-powerful manager, but even he is working within the confines of a very American, very business-like setup.

So how much influence do Premier League managers actually have? Managers can bring a philosophy, a dream, a vision into their clubs, but how much room do they actually get to see it through? When your best players are being sold against your wishes and replacements are being brought in after consultation with “advisors,” “consultants” and “specialists” but not necessarily with you, how would you be able to fit them into your ideal starting XI to play the type of football you want?

Essentially, a Premier League manager has now become akin to a middle manager in the corporate world, who has to work within major constraints but is still expected to bring stellar results. Except corporate executives (generally) don’t have to endure mass protestations of “You’re getting sacked in the morning” from 40,000-plus fans every single week, which in turn put more pressure on chairmen, whose backgrounds are usually in other industries, to take action, all in the name of sporting glory—in a league where there can, alas, only be one winner.

The plus side? You get to do a job you “love” and have always dreamed about—and the payoff, in case things just don’t work out, is pretty attractive.
This piece was part of my weekly column on SWOL.co, where I take a look back at the weekend’s English Premier League and domestic cup action, related talking points and news surrounding English football at large.