Andre Villas-Boas has done very well with Tottenham. But recent weeks have shown there is a lot of work to be done if he is to be regarded as a genuine success.
With much of England covered in snow right now, it does not feel as if Easter is a week away and the Premier League season is approaching its climax.
Much of Villas-Boas' appeal lies in his youth, in the potential of what this talented manager might achieve. For him to get to that point, though, certain targets for his team have to be reached. How Tottenham finish this season will go some way to defining how quickly they reach them.
Just prior to the conclusion of the busy Christmas period, this writer outlined seven reasons as to why Spurs are on the right track under Villas-Boas. So much has transpired since then. Based on the North London side's form up to a few weeks ago, it was hard to fault the manager for much (he was manager of the month for December and February).
Three consecutive (and in their nature), worrying defeats since that point has led to a pause for thought in many people's assessments of Villas-Boas. If Spurs suffer another late-season collapse, how will he be viewed?
As tough a run-in as they have coming up, that Tottenham are in a position where such hopes and fears exist is a credit to Villas-Boas. Champions League qualification, their primary target, is still a possibility. After their inconsistent start to the season, there was undoubtedly work to be done for them to remain in contention. In that regard, the currently fourth-placed side could not have hoped for a much better winter.
The 12-match unbeaten run that Spurs went on (coupled with their progression to the Europa League quarterfinals) was a testament to the work Villas-Boas and his coaching staff put in. Defensive issues that had been so damaging, particularly late in games, were addressed with a re-focused lineup proving much more resilient.
English clubs can have a particularly hectic schedule this time of year. That Spurs handled it relatively well was down to their manager's good use of a talented, varied squad. Though some standout performers—Gareth Bale, Hugo Lloris and Michael Dawson particularly—have obviously played a large part in ensuring those strategical decisions have paid off.
Overall, Villas-Boas seems to have proven himself a manager capable of maintaining Tottenham's recent (as in the last few years) ability to compete at the higher levels of the Premier League. Translating that into genuine achievement (i.e a top-four spot and/or winning a trophy) is far more difficult.
The recent losses have been concerning in the respect that Villas-Boas, particularly against Liverpool and Inter Milan, was as culpable as his players for the poor results. At Anfield his inaction in making changes when Spurs were visibly losing their hold on the game played a part in their eventual capitulation. In Italy, Villas-Boas' failure to anticipate the demands of taking on Inter in the daunting San Siro set in motion a dreadful performance, his team unsurprisingly outclassed by Cassano and co.
There was an air of complacency about Villas-Boas and his team following the impressive wins over Arsenal and Inter (in the first leg). It might have been unconscious, but in their words and deeds, they betrayed a semi-confidence that they were as good as home in achieving their season's ambitions.
Reality has hit home, Chelsea are back above them and Arsenal are snapping at their heels. Several tough games lie ahead, and the squad is looking a little thin with injuries and poor form taking their toll in key positions. The hope for Spurs fans will be the current international break will serve as a chance for their team to clear their heads of the recent travails, motivated ahead of what is to come.
Villas-Boas has certainly needed this breather. His season has been in many respects an exercise in the merits of his youth and the flaws of his inexperience. The 35-year-old has brought a fresh approach to Tottenham that is generally working well and holds promise for the future. But he has also shown himself to very much still be learning a lot of what it takes to excel in such a job.
Nearly every manager has to go through such a learning process. Villas-Boas' is an extraordinary situation in that he is so young, and yet he has found himself on the edges of Europe's elite. If he can come through this season having taken Spurs back into the Champions League, the hype behind this fledgling star of the coaching world will be looking increasingly justified.