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
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.