5 Ways Andre Villas-Boas Has Taken Spurs Forward from the Harry Redknapp Era
Tottenham's lofty ambitions remain largely unchanged, with the team still on the outside-looking in when it comes to the Champions League.
Further complicating this assessment is the contrary nature of the past season. The North Londoners finished a place lower (fifth) under the Portuguese than the previous year, yet recorded their highest points total of the Premier League era (72).
Judging where Villas Boas has taken Spurs forward thus rests on a fine line between fact and opinion—the latter may be disputed, depending on your point of view.
Over the following few pages, a mix of both is put forth to demonstrate the areas Spurs have progressed in since their change in manager.
Spurs Are More Tactically Open-Minded
Redknapp was a man who he knew what he liked, and generally stuck to it. Formation wise, for Tottenham that largely meant 4-4-2.
There were occasional variations on a theme—the signing of attacking midfielder/deep-laying forward Rafael van der Vaart saw it often become more akin to a 4-4-1-1—but even then, there were not drastic alterations.
Mostly, there was no problem.
Spurs under Redknapp were one of the league's more effective teams. Knowing where they stood strategically, the players got on with their football.
This simplicity could unfortunately just as easily transform into predictability, though.
In the latter parts of Redknapp's last two seasons in charge, Spurs lost momentum, as tiredness and a lack of ideas increasingly took their toll.
It would be unfair to put the drop-off on form squarely on Redknapp's shoulders. Still, there were occasions when a little versatility to his approach may have aided his players.
Villas-Boas' willingness to alter his tactics did not ultimately pay enormous dividends. The attempts to find a better way for his team to play were, nonetheless, welcome.
The changes were not dramatic—moving between 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2, and latterly 4-3-3, was hardly reinventing the wheel.
But it showed an openness to different, or new ideas. It will stand Spurs in good stead as they look to become a team for all occasions, even if Villas-Boas does settle on a preferred formation sooner rather than later.
Improved Squad Management
In all competitions in 2011-12, Redknapp used 40 different players at one point or another.
At first glance, this might give the impression of a manager giving more players a chance. When you consider several of these were youngsters selected in half-hearted cup campaigns, it does not come off quite as calculated.
Villas-Boas used 32 players in 2012-13. Though not flawless, on the whole his squad management was more thoughtful than his predecessor's.
He did not differ from Redknapp in that he had preferred starters (as does any manager). If, though, a player came into the team and performed well, it seemed more likely they would be rewarded with further chances.
Villas-Boas, when presented with the evidence that Michael Dawson was a better bet for his defense, gave him his chance. This despite previously thinking otherwise.
The previous season Redknapp had seen Dawson's quality at firsthand after he replaced the injured Younes Kaboul following his own absence.
The latter had been in good form, but anyone who believed he was more suited than Dawson for the upcoming North London derby (which Spurs lost) was clearly, and soon proven, mistaken. The Frenchman was not yet back to full fitness, but got the nod purely on his past contributions rather than what was best for the team.
For others like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey, there was the feeling they were more part of the squad under Villas-Boas than players of a similar stature in the squad, such as Steven Pienaar, did under Redknapp. Though rotated, if all factors made sense for them to play consecutive games, they did.
Later in the season when they could have been used, Villas-Boas did underestimate the value of younger players like Andros Townsend and Tom Carroll. Inevitably, other decisions were questioned too.
Getting to grips with a squad is a process, though. How Villas-Boas intends to manage his heading into year two is one of the most intriguing storylines about Tottenham next season.
Bale Especially Has Responded to His New Coach
"He has helped me in all aspects of my game"—so went Gareth Bale's glowing assessment on Spurs TV (via SkySports.com) of his manager, Andre Villas-Boas.
Redknapp was hardly bad for the Welshman. He gave Bale his chance after an injury-hit first couple of years at Spurs and strongly backed the emerging talent thereafter.
Bale may have been set for the sort of banner season he had regardless of who was coaching him. However, you only have to see what the player has had to say himself to see he has responded to his new gaffer's approach:
In training we have been working on things that I can do in games and in games he has given me the confidence to do what I want and do what I do best, which is a massive thing for a player.
Everyone was excited about him coming in. He is a young manager and he has got a great past at Porto. Maybe not so much at Chelsea but given time, like he has been this season, he has shown what a good manager he is. It has been a very exciting time for the club.
Had Bale not been so enamored with Villas-Boas, you suspect he may have made clear his intention to leave by now. As it is, a belief in the Portuguese may be Spurs' chief weapon in retaining their star player's services for another year.
Tougher on the Road
Toughness and resilience—those sort of attributes are hard to quantify in a football team.
Tottenham are—bar a few exceptions—pretty soft (but what football team is not these days?), so toughness might not be the right word.
Spurs improving their record on the road from seven to 10 wins did, though, say something about the belief Villas-Boas has instilled in his side.
There was no greater example of this than the 3-2 win at Manchester United in September.
Taking the game to the Red Devils in the opening hour, Spurs defended heroically (though aided by a little luck) to secure the three points.
It masked problems with the team that would soon be exposed, but it served as an example of what they could do.
Later away wins were not as glamorous, but they shared a similar conviction that the team could win away from White Hart Lane. A must-say for any side hoping to cement a place in the top four.
It will not count for much if their home form cannot be improved upon either. Still, Villas-Boas' ability to keep them prepared, hungry and brave in hostile territory will be vital in the year ahead.
A Balance in Footballing Culture
This week's appointment of Franco Baldini as Tottenham's new technical director saw the club go back to the past, as they look to the future.
In 2004, chairman Daniel Levy introduced what in England has been referred to as a "continental" structure of management. Spurs had already had a director of football for some time, but that role's influence did not extend to that of the newly installed sporting director.
The specifics of what would follow over the next four years combine for a fascinating story in their own right.
Levy ended the experiment in October 2008 when Spurs were hovering dangerously at the bottom of the table. He fired head coach Juande Ramos and sporting director Damien Comolli, and he brought in Harry Redknapp to get things fixed, as simply as possible.
To cut a long story short, in Andre Villas-Boas, Levy has found what he believes to be an ideal candidate to make the continental system work—in fact, the Portuguese encouraged the club to go further with it again, as detailed in this story in The Guardian.
Compared to a Martin Jol, Levy sees Villas-Boas as a coach capable of taking his club forward.
Unlike Ramos, the 35-year-old also has the necessary understanding of the English game and culture—from matters ranging from tradition to language—to thrive in the country.
Redknapp was more than just an old-school throwback, he was a canny operator who has adapted to changes in football remarkably well. With that said, the notion of someone having a similar level of influence on football matters was inconceivable.
Villas-Boas sees it differently. He embraces what English football has to offer, but is open-minded enough to add lessons he has learned from experiences elsewhere.
This means being able to listen to what someone else—in this case Baldini—brings to the table.
Perhaps it took some pushing from Villas-Boas, but at last Levy may have found the balance in footballing culture he strove to implement over the last decade.
In a competitive Premier League, Spurs need any advantage they can get. If Villas-Boas and Baldini can establish a good working relationship, their combined nous could be what it takes to push Tottenham even further forward.
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