This time last year, Chelsea were seeking a new manager, a man who could take Chelsea forward in terms of success and, importantly, style. Roman Abramovich sought a coach who could create football which rivalled that of Barcelona. Ultimately, the manager Andre Villas-Boas failed at Stamford Bridge and was shown the door, his reputation in tatters.
Now, one year later, the man who failed spectacularly for Chelsea has arrived at White Hart Lane. Andre Villas-Boas joins another club which has high ambitions and thus high expectations of their new man. The question for AVB is whether can he achieve these aims and redeem his young and battered reputation.
Harry Redknapp’s departure was not as surprising as many would have thought.
The reports are that Spurs were hoping the FA would take care of removing Harry from the Spur’s hot seat and thus enable them to move on with good PR. However, when the FA chose Hodgson, it seemed certain that the only thing keeping Redknapp in the job for another season was Champions League football.
In what was one of the worst end of season capitulations in recent times, Spurs fell from title-chasing contenders to scraping fourth. And the unlikely success of Chelsea meant that it was Europa League again for Spurs.
I cannot fault Redknapp's work at Spurs; the Champions League run was excellent, yet last season the side should have got third. They should have been closer to the top and should have been playing in the Champions League this upcoming season; Redknapp simply blew it, and he paid for it with his job.
Now, a new era at White Hart Lane begins, and Daniel Levy believes that Andre Villas-Boas is the man to take Spurs further. If Levy means for Spurs to challenge for the title or to be a regular in the top four, then, in my opinion, it will be very difficult to achieve what is expected, and AVB is risking his already damaged reputation on this job.
Last season, Spurs should have finished third—if only by default; it was perhaps the worst season in the past twenty years in terms of quality.
Liverpool and Arsenal had one of their worst seasons based on poor transfers, tactics and managers, and Chelsea suffered similarly (ironically under AVB) until the Champions League became their only concern. It is almost inconceivable that these sides will not be better next year, Chelsea and Liverpool especially, so the idea and expectation that Spurs can achieve a top four finish is not a guarantee, and AVB is putting his career on the line with this remit.
The Modric issue
There are many issues which will make it very difficult for Spurs to achieve a top-four finish this season.
First, with the quality of players that Villas-Boas will have on his squad, it seems inevitable that Luka Modric will leave White Hart Lane this summer; ironically, he was the player AVB sought last summer for Chelsea, and it would seem he will be denied the influential Croatian again.
This is a massive loss for him and for Spurs.
Modric has been simply brilliant for Spurs in the past three years especially. He has dictated the tempo of games and been a key playmaker in providing the attacking players with the ball, similar to the role of Xavi at Barcelona.
His absence will not be easy to fill. Talk of Moutinho from Porto appears possible based on AVB’s previous work with him, yet can he do what Modric did?
It will be a very difficult role to fill and one which makes Spurs weaker.
Add to this the exit of Ledley King, who, when he plays, brings leadership, organisation and success to the side; he will be another player sorely missed for Spurs.
Can Kaboul and Dawson be as effective?
Although Kaboul improved last season, it will be difficult for Spurs to be as solid. The new arrival of Vertonghen may add more quality, yet he is still unproven.
Another issue is the goalkeeper. Brad Freidal continues to defy belief and play at the level he does at 41, but can Spurs rely on him this season as well? They cannot rely on Gomes or Cudicini either, and so, a new goalkeeper will be another necessity on the ever-growing shopping list.
Based on AVB’s handling of Chelsea’s backline last season, it will be interesting to see how well the side does defend, which will be key if Spurs wish to challenge this season.
Problems in attack
As for upfront, Redknapp appeared intent on pushing every forward away from the club in his time there, and last year, he relied on ex-Arsenal and Man City forward Adebayor to deliver and provide goals. He did very well for Spurs and was a major part in their title-chasing period of the season, yet talks of arguments with the manager had a clear impact on his game, and as Adebayor fell away, so did the side.
With his return to City, Spurs face a real problem up top also.
Do they seek to bring back Adebayor on loan again, or do they make Defoe their main choice striker? Defoe is an enigma, a clearly excellent finisher, yet constantly overlooked by Redknapp; there must have been more to the issue of which we were not aware. Yet the handling and neglect of players like Kranjcar and Pienaar were both puzzling, especially when Spurs needed fresh legs towards the end. With Kranjcar leaving already and Everton bringing Pienaar back permanently, Spurs depth of squad looks distinctly slimmer.
Then there is the Van Der Vaart issue.
I have questioned his consistency and willingness to work for the team many times. His use as a No. 10, as a support striker, is mainly because he offers little or nothing in a defensive sense, meaning that, while he may be more effective in a deeper role, it is not possible because of his lack of willingness to defend. At 29, he does not represent a future for Spurs, yet with Modric appearing on his way and Kranjcar gone, Van Der Vaart may be AVB’s only creative option in the middle. If this is the case, then AVB will again struggle to make the impact expected of him.
It will be essential for AVB to bring in extra quality in this position, and Spurs have been linked to Alan Dzagvov recently; based on his performances for Russia in the Euro’s and his impressive development at CSKA Moscow, he would be an excellent signing for AVB and would be a show of intent to the ambitions of Spurs.
AVB must have been promised money to improve the squad, because looking at these issues, Spurs have much to do this summer.
The worry is, though, if Spurs do bring in a lot of new players, similar to the summer under Juande Ramos, then could it be another difficult start to the season and thus add pressure on Villas-Boas?
Of course, there are players for AVB to be excited about.
If Bale and Lennon are played as wingers, then AVB will be blessed with two of the most speedy and attacking wide players in the league, which for a manager who enjoys a high tempo attacking game, will excite both himself and the players. Add in Kyle Walker and, to a smaller extent, Assou Ekoto, then expect Spurs to be a threat on both flanks.
Scott Parker impressed in midfield last year, yet more will be expected of Sandro to play this holding role. A defensive midfielder will be important, as AVB's tactics will require a holding player to add security to the defence.
Choosing the right assistant
Last summer, AVB was the hottest property in football—the next big thing—yet he was unmasked as simply a young boy tragically out of his depth. He became ostracised from the players and was left a desolate and isolated figure on the touchline as his time at Stamford Bridge started to run down.
Villas-Boas got his tactics wrong and handled the players badly.
A lot of the issues from last season could be put down to who he chose as assistant manager. Looking at the best managers and their success, they have all been next to a loyal and respected assistant.
This was perhaps AVB's biggest error, as it set in store all the problems which preceded it.
Hiring Di Matteo was based on the belief that a previous player, someone who knew the club, could help AVB build his side and trust of the players. Yet he brought a man in who had no knowledge or affiliation with the Portuguese coach. And it showed.
The assistant is sometimes more important than the manager himself; his is the link between the players; he voices their concerns and aims to improve matters.
Therefore, Villas-Boas had a major decision to make regarding the Spurs role. Steffen Freund has been chosen as his assistant, an ex-player of Spurs whose coaching career has seen him coach several youth squads of the German national side. It is an interesting and potentially dangerous choice.
Importantly, Villas-Boas will need to have learned his lessons from Chelsea, because, simply, players talk, and he would have been the victim of many jokes and stories from his short time at Stamford Bridge. Added to this, AVB is replacing a very popular (with the starting XI especially) Redknapp, whose best attribute was being a people person.
Villas-Boas cannot be the cold and distant coach he was at Chelsea; he needs to be the man who was loved and adored by the players at Porto.
However, if he tries to be like Redknapp, he will lose the players.
Villas-Boas needs to be his own man with his own style, and his first job will be to bring together a group of players who failed in their ambitions last season.
In all credit to Redknapp, any new manager will have a difficult task to improve on what he did at the club. AVB is more tactically astute than Harry, yet the importance of team building and player relationships is the reason why Ferguson, Mourinho and Guardiola have built successful sides—this is a lesson for the young AVB.
Villas-Boas failed last season, failed at trying to implement a style of play and failed at bringing together a group of players. And in the end, he was shown the door.
The remit at Chelsea was to bring in a new generation and play football like Barca, yet Spurs have a style already which will suit AVB. However, there are similar expectations to Chelsea; Levy wants Spurs to progress higher up the league and challenge for the title and win trophies.
Levy has risked his own reputation on Villas-Boas, as he believes he is the man to take Spurs further.
Personally, I am not so sure about Levy's decision. For me, the top three will be City, United and Chelsea, meaning that fourth will be battled out by Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Newcastle. Although AVB talks a good game and is very knowledgeable, he appears to lack the necessary skills to be a great manager.
Spurs fans are in for a turbulent season, one full of goals, drama and, ultimately, disappointment.
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