|The last few of weeks has shown
that Spurs are once more destabilised by a managerial removal, which
means that the last few people in the boss' office have had about 18
months to do what Daniel Levy wants.
But do they know what he wants ? Is there a co-ordinated approach to
get Spurs where they need to be.
So, what happened with Andre Villas-Boas ?
With the sale of Gareth Bale while he was still a bankable asset, it
was obvious that our style would change.
The way that Bale's role in the club developed, he was not only a
match winner, but had a role that took him (and opposition
defenders) all over the width of the pitch in his wake. Spurs had no
other player who could fill this role. Lennon was as quick,
Sigurdsson capable of scoring goals and Dembele good on the ball,
but none had the combination all rolled into one.
So, selling your best player, even if he wanted to go, left a big
hole in the team. So the Head coach had to set about building a new
post-Bale side that would be able to keep Tottenham in and around
the top four.
Whereas last season, Bale baled Spurs out, this season it was a
question of not getting into a position where we would need to be
saved from a losing position.
Not only that, but we then had to assimilate seven new players into
Mix and Match
Trying to fit in all the new players into his system might have not
helped AVB keep his post. One or two players is sometimes difficult
to integrate, but seven meant that the team was not stable, so
problematical in forging a pattern that they all understood from
Especially when injuries hit in particular positions. The defence
was particularly hard hit when he played Liverpool, with Etienne
Capoue playing alongside Dawson, who sometimes struggles against top
quality strikers. With both central defenders worried about sitting
off their man or getting too tight, it was a problem against a man
in such a rich vein of form as Suarez.
With Lamela not getting a run in the side, it was difficult for the
young Argentinian to fit into the club, the country and the team.
Chadli was also in and out of the side before he was injured and
Eriksen only really played three matches before he got crocked.
Capoue too had a couple of outings before Arsenal nobbled him. So,
we have probably not seen the best of a number of the new players
because of their time out of the side.
Soldado likes to play in the box. When he is being asked to be the
out ball for the team, this drags him away from areas where he
should be operating. Yes, it is a different game in England to that
in Spain, but when all of his goals come from inside the box, you
don't want him running wide to chase down long balls.
The emergence of Andros Townsend as a first team player this season
made things even more complicated. It became another player to fit
into the eleven places available in what was becoming an ever
burgeoning squad. The opportunity to fit everyone in to get games
was becoming difficult - even with the Europa League matches. The
obvious course of action would have been to play the youngsters in
the EL, but that wasn’t an option with seven new signings and
Townsend to get match time and get accustomed to playing in the same
team as each other.
The start of this season saw Spurs struggle to score many goals. But
the results were coming and the points were totting up. There wasn't
a Bale there to race away on the break to score, but the clean
sheets – a rarity for Spurs – were showing that there was a
defensive solidity that gave them the basis for winning away from
It is not the Tottenham Way, but it seemed to be pushing us into the
top four, ahead of Manchester United, City and Chelsea. It may be
anathema to Spurs fans to win 1-0, but the away wins were coming
with late goals to maintain the good form away from the Lane that we
saw last season.
It wasn't as though our game had changed a lot this season.
Towards the end of the last campaign, we were winning games by the
single goal and this season we have been among the top
chance-makers, but among the lowest chance-takers. Not all of
the blame for the lack of goals can be laid at AVB's door, although
his persistence with one man up front (see below) didn't help his
It all came undone at Manchester City, but they had already beaten
Norwich by seven, went onto hit Arsenal for six and had beaten
United by four at home. While it was a poor performance and could
have been more, we were still in the game until it went to 2-0.
Being a goal behind in 14 seconds didn't help, but it could have
been 1-1 when Lamela's shot was kicked off the line.
The same against Liverpool. They suddenly hit their peak form in one
game against us away from home, where they had previously not been
great. We could have been five down by half-time, but it was still
2-0 when Paulinho got sent off and then the team just crumbled.
Big losses and ones that Levy seemed unable to cope with, but
perhaps we were still not that far away. Yes, we were two mistakes
away from beating Liverpool at Anfield last season and for that to
turn around into a 0-5 home defeat doesn't look good. But players
were still integrating.
It shows how times have changed, as I remember Keith Burkinshaw
taking a team to Anfield and losing 0-7 and being beaten 0-5 at home
at Christmas one season, but the board stuck with him over a period
of years rather than months, paying off with the second most
successful period in the club's history.
One man up front
It was the system that was so successful which was the downfall of
our home form. Losing two home games by big scores to nil focused
attention on the lone striker Soldado being played in attack. The
lack of support for him raised issues about the ability to keep the
ball in the opposition's half and the pressure this then put on the
back four. Teams came and pressed us higher up the field and this
caused problems in our own last third.
The need to play two up front at home might have been a determined
sticking point in AVB's great scheme of things, but the fans were
seeing that the home losses were killing us. Away from home, it
worked like a dream, with the home sides having to force the play
with a shield of two defensive midfielders protecting the back four,
but at WHL, it was a different matter. Teams could push men onto our
defensive two and the attacking three were then pulled into
defensive duties, making Soldado isolated way up front. The long
ball out was not an out ball, whereas, the previous season or two,
you could just give the ball to Bale and let him do the rest.
Adebayor was perhaps more suited to the lone role than Defoe, but
the falling out with AVB did not really allow this to be an option
for the Head Coach to consider.
Lack of a Plan B
The one issue that appeared clear was that there was nothing to fall
back on if the one man up front failed. It sometimes precipitated
another man being thrown on up front, but then the area that the man
taken off had come from suffered.
More often, he replaced the lone striker with another. Providing
fresh legs, but not giving any support for the one man up top. It
worked to a certain extent, with Paulinho getting in and around the
penalty area, getting a decent return in terms of goals scored. His
ability to get up and down the pitch was what Tottenham bought him
for and he was one of the successes of the buying in the summer, but
the failure to bring in Villas-Boas’ preferred options may have
hampered how he intended to play in the current season.
You can see how Hulk or Villa might have been more suited to playing
a more isolated role in the team, but without Moutinho to run with
the ball and pass from midfield, the game plan might have been
doomed to failure. AVB might have thought that the second choice
imports were not suitable for playing his game and he needed another
plan to fit them into.
4-3-3 favourite system
Odd that the formation Spurs were supposed to be moving towards was
AVB’s favoured 4-3-3, which would give attacking options and a
formation which could quickly change from a defensive one to an
Sometimes the team looked like a 4-3-3 last season, with Bale
pushing forward into a roving striker. Perhaps if Hulk and Villa had
arrived, AVB might have set up like he wanted, although there might
be reasons why he still would have gone one up.
The 4-3-3 system allows more flexibility in changing and providing
more problems for the other team. It tends more towards Total
Football and would have seen players interchanging positions. A lot
of those whom he had brought in the season before (Vertonghen,
Dembele and Sigurdsson) would have been comfortable playing in a
formation such as this.
However, for whatever reason, it was not to be and Spurs struggled
on in a system that AVB was left to play and making the best of it.
He could have played two up front at home, which would have been
less cautious than in away games, but that might have been seen as a
retrograde step, especially without Bale to pull the rabbits out of
Relationship with the squad
After going into a squad such as Chelsea’s, AVB was never going to
find it easy to do what Roman Abramovich wanted him to do. Getting
rid of the old guard, when they were such a strong cabul in the
dressing room, was always going to be a tough task. Maybe he went
about it the wrong way, but Abramovich wanted them out and left it
to the Head Coach as to how he was to do it. When it all went wrong,
he then sided with Terry, Lampard, Drogba, etc and it was AVB who
was on his way.
At Tottenham, his ideas were more readily accepted by the squad.
They seemed to like him and were all reading from his script. While
the heavy defeats have brought some comments that the team had
stopped playing for him, I don’t think that was the case. If they
wanted him out, losing at Sunderland and Fulham would have done that
… and both of those games were won.
For all his use of tactic books and dossiers, the players warmed to
him, his tactics and his ways. Even when he said that they should be
ashamed after the Manchester City defeat, there were not many who
spoke out against him.
Even after he had gone, there was barely a bad word said against AVB.
Learned some lessons from his time at Chelsea
Villas-Boas obviously digested what happened to him at Stamford
Bridge, learning from his mistakes lade there. Coming into a mainly
young dressing room, with minds willing to be receptive to his
ideas, there were not the same objections nor the same stigma that
he took with him going into Chelsea of having been Mourniho’s video
Coming in as the number one and not a side-kick of the Chosen One,
Andre set out to stamp his own mark on the club. He didn’t do it in
a forceful way, preferring to carry out a quiet revolution, but he
had his ideas which he would stick by.
Maybe he still has to go a bit further in his dealings with players,
but his stubbornness might also be one aspect of his character he
needs to pay some attention to if some of the reasons for his
departure bandied about in the Press are true.
Injuries and players outcast
With some injuries to vital players at times when AVB could have
done without them, it was unfortunate that they all occurred at the
wrong time. This didn’t help his cause and the players that he
exiled were also an embarrassment to him.
Adebayor’s plight might have been exacerbated by his brother's death
and the need for him to return home to Togo to mourn for him, but
his late return and subsequent banishment to train with the reserves
was also looking like a punishment for last season’s failures on the
Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s tweeting seemed designed to win favour with
the fans, but his comments were often pointed at AVB and thus he was
sent off to QPR for the season to link up with the former manager
who loved him, Harry Redknapp.
Win ratio best of all Spurs managers
There is much to be said for statistics. They don't tell you
everything, but when you look at the stats, AVB comes out on top of
all the permanent managers Tottenham have had for winning games.
That had changed and the size of the defeats was probably what done
for Andre more than anything else (as far as we see from outside).
If he had not lost to Liverpool 0-5 but 0-2, would he still be at
White Hart Lane ? Most probably. Liverpool are on a roll
and we were missing players defensively and if Paulinho had not been
sent off, it might have been different.
But we are not even talking about points tallies here, we are
talking about winning games. And winning games is what gets
you where you want. Draw and you drop two points a game
compared to a win, so if we were looking at a scientific approach to
how AVB had done, you would have to say "very well".
Especially away from home, where Spurs had been weak in recent
For all the style complaints, results are what managers are judged
on and the short term view of two big defeats to teams above us in
the table obviously counted for more than the overall record
Villas-Boas had in his time in charge.
Will the next manager be granted more time, as long as we don't get
hammered and play entertaining football ?
Did he know best XI ?
There is only one person who knows the answer to that ... and it
is unlikely that he will let anyone know that in the near future.
Last season, he probably did, with a limited squad in certain
positions, but this season, with the spending spree following Bale's
departure, his squad was burgeoning with players in each place in
the team, it was difficult to get them all playing to find out who
gelled the best and who might need time to work out their place in
the system. And with injured players coming back to fitness,
it was even more difficult to see everyone in action.
The Europa League was supposed to be a competition that Spurs would
blood some youngsters in, but the need to give the first team squad
members playing time meant that the newer players were put into the
side to allow the manager to see how they might fit into his
formation. And that perhaps only caused more confusion, as
some of the first team regulars had to play, as this was a trophy
that AVB saw as winnable.
Transition is all about new players being included in the team, but
just how is a trick that might have been manageable with fewer
options available, but with an embarrassment of riches, it might
have been one of the things that cost him his job.
Five Year Plan
When taking on a new manager, is there much point in them having a
long term vision for the club ? We all know that they probably
won't last more than two years, but stability in the management of
the club can bring rewards, as is seen elsewhere.
However, what plans a manager has in the longer term, there are
always things that might derail his ideas. Injury, change of
owner, sale of players or just plain bad luck, all can knock the
planned route to success off course.
In AVB's case, the major contribution to the failure of his plan was
the sale of Gareth Bale. Not only did it see the major player
in his plans leave the club, but then he was saddled with a large
squad and the realisation that he had to do something with them all.
You can't have a £30 million player and not play him, however much
he might not have been your choice to bring him to the club.
Maybe there can never be a longer term plan, with Levy seeing a good
deal (let's face it, £86 million for Bale was wasn't it, if he
didn't want to stay) and taking it when it comes along, managers
will never be able to plan beyond the next transfer window. We
are already seeing stories of Real Madrid's interest in Paulinho.
Only when the board say that we are not a selling club and mean it,
then the man in charge of the team will be in a position to
formulate a strategy that might be going somewhere.
Lost in translation ?
While AVB's English was good, thanks to his Scottish grandmother, I
wonder if his unique phraseology was mischievously mis-intepreted by
the media to put him in a bad light.
There was still an aura about AVB from his Chelsea experience that
the media capitalised on.
People on TalkSport claimed they disliked him for trying to
"re-invent" football and the fact that he was a serious thinker
about the game seemed to set a lot of people against him. But
his spell at Tottenham was well received by the players and the fans
had few complaints after the first season.
His particular reference to "the unit" seemed designed to promote a
togetherness of the squad and his acceptance of blame might have
been taken cynically by the media, who tend to distrust foreign
coaches, unless they are particularly newsworthy (like Mourinho), as
they prefer the journo's friend approach of Harry Redknapp and Neil
Warnock. Look what the press did to Christian Gross, who tried
to make a point about wanting to come to Spurs with his tube ticket,
but he was instantly ridiculed and made to be a figure of fun, thus
ending any hope he might have had in being a success with the club.
So, Andre Villas-Boas has gone and now
Tim Sherwood is the new Head Coach, ironically on an 18 month
How long will he last in charge ? Only time will tell