Villas-Boas and Spurs – Sit Back, Deep Breath, How’s It Going?

Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas has been charged with many failings during his relatively short career. These include being aloof and uncommunicative, out of his depth, obsessed with tactics and worst of all, not being Jose Mourinho or Harry Redknapp. Over the weekend came the ultimate condemnation – AVB, you were seen in possession of a notebook. J’accuse!

Absurd, a manager in England should be writing things down when we all know a few sharp words of abuse in the dressing room plus an exhortation to run around a bit and get stuck is all that’s required. But this is the AVB phenomenon  Few managers have ever been treated with such scepticism by the media. The problem is, some Spurs fans are joining in. The phone-ins have been full of anti-Andre sentiments on the back of the Woolwich defeat, ironically perhaps the game where he achieved the most only to find his efforts were undone by Adebayor’s moment of madness and where his brave and bold tactics after the break took the play to our opponents. Which was certainly written in that notebook.

To be fair, many other Spurs fans have praised him in defeat. There are differences of opinion so let’s take a step back and add some perspective to the debate. Here are the relevant points in, using the immortal words of Tess Daly, no particular order.

Spurs have played 18 matches under Villas-Boas. It’s hardly enough time to make a judgement and condemn him. Even Abramovich gave him more time. The demands for instant success have permeated the consciousness of too many. It was better when we had lower expectations and the CL was a distant aspiration.

In those games, Younes Kaboul has played once, Benny Assou-Ekotto three times and Scott Parker never. Abebayor and Dembele have both been injured for more than half the season so far. That’s the spine of the side and then some. Our cover has been weakened too with injuries to back-up players Naughton and Livermore. Villas-Boas has therefore never been able to select from a full squad. We don’t know what his preferred team is because he’s never been able to pick it.

If you think that’s obvious, here’s another one for you. Harry Redknapp is no longer our manager. Whatever the rights and wrongsof it, it’s pointless to use him as a reference point for absolutely everything that’s happening at the club. He’s not around.

However, AVB remains in his shadow. One underlying reason is the seldom articulated view that Villas-Boas has taken over his team as well as his job, but this is not so. Rather, AVB is faced with the unenviable task of rebuilding a squad that had one major existing deficiency  the lack of another high class central striker, and over the summer had its creative heart brutally ripped out. It’s hard to watch Spurs without Modric and VDV and remember the criticism both players faced. Truly you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. I’m certain AVB did not want either to go and they have not been replaced, although by the same token Dembele’s absence has coincided with a series of deflated performances. He’s a quality player.

So whilst the presence of Defoe in the middle, Lennon and Bale on the wings and Walker, Friedel and Gallas at the back offer reassuring familiarity, it hides the extent to which this team has changed in a very short space of time.

The next charge leveled against Villas-Boas is that he does not attack enough. Cue the Tottenham tradition and the ‘R’ word again. I don’t quite see this one. We’ve not had two strikers available for the vast majority of the season so he can’t play two up front. Dempsey isn’t really a striker although right now no one seems exactly sure of what he is. We’ve played Lennon and Bale all season. Starting the season with two predominantly defensive midfielders  that has been reduced to one on several occasions because the magnificent Sandro can do the work of two players, so with Dembele and either Dempsey or Sigurdsson plus two wide men, that’s a midfield with attacking intent. Whether we attack well is another matter.

That said, going into Wigan at home with Huddlestone alongside Sandro was unnecessarily cautious and his preferred option of bringing on defensive cover if we are a goal up going into the final quarter has served to show only that we can’t defend well. We have to preserve the initiative. If anything, we are not defensive enough sometimes. An old fault from the previous era, that of Bale and Lennon not dropping back effectively to protect their full-backs, persists in this new age. I banged on about it all last season. It seems basic to me – as someone who cherishes attacking, creative football I want us to be more cautious because it always makes us vulnerable. Every team in the Prem does it – so should we, or change the team.

The final charge is that Villas-Boas is an inflexible tactician, wedded to his doctrine of set formations and blind to all else. Again, it’s not that simple. His preferred options should enable us to find the balance between attack and defence that has been missing over the years. Again, the Portuguese has changed things around  This season we’ve gone 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 3-4-2. The most significant tactical option has been created by AVB, the partnership of Dembele and Sandro in the engine room. Their flexibility, movement and understanding makes a mockery of those straight line numbers and has contributed to our best football. We really miss the Belgian.

But there are problems and let’s stick to tactics for the moment. In two games this season, Wigan and Chelsea, AVB has been comprehensively out-manoeuvred. Chelsea is perhaps unfair as they were superb on the break but the ability of other sides to by-pass their weak midfield protection and pressure their back four led to Di Matteo’s sacking this morning.  Against Wigan, we had no idea.

Then there’s the form of the players. Clearly there’s a good atmosphere around the place and the players seem eager to respond  He’s given the younger men like Carroll, Naughton and Livermore an opportunity  Caulker is now an international after regular games. Bringing youngsters through can be a painful business. Bale and Vertonghen have done very well, Lennon and Defoe in their best spells for the club.

Some have not prospered – Walker, Sigurdsson and Dempsey have been poor for the most part. Walker in particular is a serious loss because not only has he made mistakes at the back, we miss terribly the attacking options he gives us on the right. It could be that AVB has been unlucky in that on top of the problems I’ve already mentioned, he’s not had the best from these three. However, there’s always the suspicion that the manager is unable to get the best from them, that he is to blame in some way. I will never know. However, Dempsey is a shadow of the man who scored over 20 Premier League goals and contributed many more assists. Jol got far more from him than Villas-Boas. Dempsey is best laying off the striker, interchanging and finding space. He needs the ball given to him once he finds that space in the box. It’s not happening. Similarly, Sigurdsson is the guy who makes the late runs into the box to support the striker, something we’ve lacked in recent times. He seems lost, running around with a lack of purpose to make up for his lack of form. AVB has to decide what both of them do.

Talking of men in the box, it seems daft to me that we encourage Bale and Lennon to bang in the crosses but have so few bodies in the box on the end of them. If we play one striker, and a small one at that, we have to get the midfield in there. We don’t. This week I’ve watched two teams who could not be further apart in terms of their style, West Ham and Juventus. Both have three or four men in the box when the telling ball is made, be it cross or pass. Basics again. We have to do something about this.

I question whether we have the right midfielders for a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Loathe though I am to question the presence of player I like, Lennon is not right for this set-up because he is not good defensively (although he has improved  or in the box (although he has improved).

At the back, I will never have a word said against Friedel, whose ability and phenomenal focus is an example to every footballer in any league. However, Lloris must play. He’s the future. While his punching and desire to get off his line will always cause anxiety in the crowd, it works far more often than it fails. He can dominate that area like a sweeper, allowing the back four to concentrate on their man and also, when we have the ball, to get forward and make use of any space in the centre that our opponents concede. In that back four, I’d shift Vertonghen inside and play Dawson over Gallas.

And finally on players, Villas-Boas can only work with what he’s been given. Levy needs to back his manager in the transfer market. Once again the window ended without another striker and going into a long season with only Defoe and Adebayor was foolish  I suspect this was not of Andre’s doing. Where he did want a player, Moutinho, that fell through. Levy should have swallowed his pride despite the agent’s last minute demands and paid up. Think of the long-term.

In the summer I speculated that the purse strings might ease. We had income from VDV and Luka. Also, with King’s sad retirement all the big earners had gone so perhaps Levy could have raised the self-imposed salary cap without putting several noses out of joint. Bale is allegedly on £100k plus.

However much I respect Levy’s prudence, he has to give our manager more time in the same way our fans do too. The best way he can support him is to allow him to buy his players. Even the purchase of Sigurdsson appears to have been sorted by Levy, before AVB came to Spurs and without Redknapp’s knowledge. This is not about breaking the bank. Rather, it’s an investment because if we do not get close to achieving anything this season, the vultures will circle around Bale and Sandro, replacements and/or reinforcements will turn us down and we’re back to square one. Only then can we judge how good AVB is. In the meantime, let’s get behind our man.

28 comments

  1. Gary Wyman

    REALLY???? AVB is nothing more than a glorified coach . he certainly isn’t managerial material and his managerial career at Spurs will not be one of the longer ones in the clubs history .
    He may be suited to The game in Europe but he isn’t to the English game

    • Ali

      Agree..I dont think any manager has ever been given the rating of AVB just by wining a league with one of two teams who usually win it..

  2. Pingback: Villas-Boas and Spurs – Sit Back, Deep Breath, How’s It Going? - Unofficial Network
  3. mattyc85

    Fantastic article, that’s not much else to add really! I agree with all your points, avb certainly needs more time, and crucially needs to bring his own players in, and be allowed time to mould his own team. Admittedly, I know as much about what it takes for a multi million pound football deal happen, as I do about what it takes to be an astronaut, but I still feel that for the many achievements of levy, he’s continuingly let us, and his managers down, in past transfer markets. Last season if teams tried to double up on our attacking outlets of Bale and Lennon, they’d allow room for the likes of Modric and vdv to punish you. Now teams play us, and set up to deny us down the flanks knowing we have nothing in the middle. Modric and vdv have not been replaced, and if we hold any hopes of champs league football in the future, this needs to be rectified- and soon. And as you’ve pointed up already, we lack quality depth in our squad in key areas- such as full back, midfield, the wings and upfront. Every team will suffer with injuries and suspensions, modern football is a squad game- we’ve found out that past two seasons you can’t rely on a core 11 players.

    Agree with your points defensively as well. On Monday night football this week, the superb g.Neville had a very interesting piece about the amount of attacks down our left side in our last two games (scum/city). Over 50% of their attacks came down the left side, over double what it’s been in their previous matches. Neville showed that Bale continuously failed to track back and offer any protection to our defence, and we were punished for it severely. I fear Bale has it in his head that he sees himself as a messi/ronaldo player. Individuals who offer so much going forward that they feel no need to contribute defensively.

    I’ve also been saddened by a lot of the attitudes in the press -and from some spurs fans too- towards avb. The notebook thing is most ridiculous in the extreme, and pathetic, vindictive journalism. Comments from people slating avb for not making the tactical change to 3-4-2 straight away after ade was sent off are also unhelpful and way wide of the mark. To make such a huge tactical change you need time to settle the players down and make sure they know their jobs. If a man gets sent off it’s the players job to stand tall, and see the game through to half time, instead we quite visibly wilted. If avb would have made two subs straight away, he would have been slated for panicking and over reacting!

  4. Anonymous

    AVB will be gone by January, levy won’t stand much more of this dross. Home form is so poor, can’t defend, bad atmosphere all season at the lane This will be a season lost instead of one of transition.

  5. Anonymous

    I have been a spurs fan 55+ years and this is the bigest comedy act on the touch line ihave seen in that time he hasnt got a clue. Get Moyes in before its to late and were in a relegation battle

    • Anonymous

      55years? Did your mind go blank through the Terry Neill years? Did you miss Keith Burkinshaw’s 1st season? Don’t remember Christian Gross? Ramos? Brilliant lead article btw. Nail, head, firmly.

      • PeeP

        too bloody right ! the first anonymous knows clearly very little of spurs previous seasons and performances. AVB needs time and will come good! let’s not all be little abramavich’s and pull the trigger on him this early….. COYS

        • Anonymous

          I know all about the last few entertaining season we’ve had. It was time for redknapp to go, no doubt about that but we then hand over to someone who hasn’t proved a thing as a manager. If you’ve been to the lane or watched any games this year we are poor, 2 clean sheets all your. Not getting the best out of Dempsey, siggi, walker, bale, Lennon and continues to play Gallas. Avb good coach but not a manager.

  6. TonyRich

    The scepticism comes from his inexperience. AVB is the managerial equivalent of Danny Rose. He plays his first full game vs Arsenal, scores the winner and becomes a hero. However no one really knows whether that was a once off, or whether there is more to come. We really don’t know. There is no point in writing paragraphs about it. It has been disappointing so far. I am not talking results because when AVB joined, I wrote off this season as transitional. All I expect is top 6. But what I do demand is a performance every now and again. Reading game apart, we haven’t seen our boys do a full game performance. Injuries, Modric & VDV gone are no excuse for this lack of performance. Wigan, Norwich, WBA have achieved performances with lesser players than ours.

    • Cheshuntboy

      Hear hear – people who think that AVB’s appointment was part of some kind of well-thought through long-term plan on Levy’s part are completely deluded. In the same muddle-headed way as Levy sacked Hoddle (who should never have been appointed in the first place) and then took two-thirds of the 2003/4 season to come up with Santini (who’d probably never heard of Tottenham, and soon jumped ship), he sacked Redknapp in favour of AVB simply because he was available and no compensation was required. Claiming that there was now a long-term project at WHL was just a smokescreen to take the pressure off ENIC (whose record of one league cup in eleven years is abysmal), and I’m sorry that only people happy to swallow the ENIC line are allowed to be ‘real’ supporters; fifty years of following Spurs through good times and bad (mostly bad) surely entitles me to an opinion without the torrent of abuse that any criticism of Levy and/or AVB invariably attracts on these sites.

  7. Matt

    At last a sensible article about the situation going on at Spurs. We have to all remember that AVB is a young coach under immense pressure to produce from everyone in the game, so he really doesn’t need it from his own fans as well. As a coach in community football I have to say reaching for the notebook when things aren’t going to plan is by no means a bad thing, I think more coaches and managers need to consider this measured approach. If Spurs were to do what some fans are saying, and get rid of AVB it makes us look as bad as Chelsea and makes a mockery of Levy’s rebuild/restructure plans. Yes we lost to Arsenal, and yes the “MASTER TACTICIAN” (being sarcastic) Harry critiscised how we set up, but I seem to remember losing by the same score last season with 11 players, (Parker ws sent off late in the game). The biggest problem with football now is the dire need for instant results. The only way you get instant results is being owned by Billionaires and buying the best players in the world, and as we can see from chelsea and Man City, it still doesn’t pay off. Man Utd gave Ferguson time and look at them, the most succesful team in Premier League History, dare I say it even Arsenal who have won sod all in silverware terms have stayed loyal to their manager. We have to give AVB time to rebuild. Under Harry we had fun, we won games, played attractive but at times scary football, no one will ever doubt what he did. However, he has gone and life moves on. I am the first to admit I didn’t want AVB at the club, but rather him than David Moyes!! AVB is young and has an understanding of the game, he is not Jose and everyone needs to stop comparing the two. Its as pointless as comparing a cat with a fish!!! We do need to see how January goes and hopefully for once business will be completed by the end of the second week and Levy wont be playing his games and trying to get someone with 30 seconds to go. Lets see how he performs once and if he gets his own players in. However, if you want to play knee jerking with managers, then pop over to west london and join the Roman show.

    There I have said my bit, sure to upset some of you. And yes I am a season ticket holder and yes I go to away games and have been a spurs fan for 30 years, so I know what I am talking about. Take time to breathe and give someone a chance. Remember its about football, not money!!!

  8. shane

    I wonder why so many people expect us to be top 4? lets look at the basics. Our wage structure is embarrassing, our teams spine has been torn apart, half our remaining first team players are injured and yet to play a game this season and the key men that AVB had wanted were not delivered. Take all of this into account and the fact that Levy wont spend and I will not and can not blame AVB. In fact, I wish half the spurs fans writing all this shit had half the passion that he has displayed on the touch line this season. He would prosper if we could get to January still in the top 10 and Levy gave him £100 million to go out and make his team and allow him to have the correct personnel. He can only work with what he has been given and lets be honest, what were we without King, Modric, VDV, Ekkotto and Adebayor last season? We would not have one a single game with Harry if our team was that depleted and yet that is all that AVB has had from the beginning. The only 2 players we have inherited worth praise is Dembele and Vertonghen. We have been dealt a massive knock to the team and he deserves the time and support to make it right. Where would you be in your career without the proper tools?

  9. IKnowAlanGilzean

    Excellent precis of the season so far, Alan.

    My feeling is mainly in line with that of Shane, NOVEMBER 21, 2012 – 4:15 PM.

    My main concern is the overly defensive approach when leading with 30 mins to go. I’m not against it per se, though it needs to be used as a springboard for devastating counter attacks, rather than an end in itself. How much of this is to do with personnel (though with our wingers we are well placed to attack on the counter), players’ understanding/confidence or AVB’s beliefs I’m not sure.

  10. SimonJ68

    My last two games I have moved seats in PL Upper as the people surrounding me were almost willing us to lose so that AVB will be sacked.
    I have never come across this, even George Graham wasn’t treated as badly from the off. My fear is that if he is not backed by Levy in January that he will depart, and we will slide backwards. We are not Chelsea with bottomless pockets to change managers every year and I never want to be. Give AVB time, I am sure it will come. We are looking better, some tweaks and changes needed are clear, but the future is bright.

  11. UppeEastEnder

    Shane,
    I entirely agree with you. If Rednapp had been dealt AVB’s hand with the guts ripped out of his first team (what team would not miss Modric, VDV, Ledley and Parker?) all we would be hearing is guff about “being down to the bare bones” which would be picked up by his journo fan club in the red tops. Rednapp, they would be telling us, is doing a great job in the circumstances. AVB has not used injures or sold players once which I admire him for. However, my point is not to knock Harry (who did well for us) but point out the problems AVB has faced. Yes he has made mistakes but I believe he has got more right than wrong. Some of the fans need a reality check. Where I sit up in the Upper East most of the fans can remember relegation, fears of bankruptcy and many years of rubbish. Also, this nonsense about ENIC need to give AVB £100m in January is not only delusional but mistaken. We have made strides under ENIC (CL football, 4th twice, fifth twice in recent years, Ramos’ cup win, NPD plans, the new training facility). You have to accept, no matter how unpalatable, that Arsenal have benefited under Wenger from doing what we are finally doing now. We are playing catch up. And I don’t want a billionaire owner like Chelsea for a quick fix. Chelsea may have won a few things in the last twenty years but it is a rich man’s toy. If you feel alienated from Spurs now, just think how a Chelsea fan must feel. Clubs become great with vision, planning and continuity. Let’s give our young manager a chance and get behind the team.
    COYS
    PS Great Blog Alan, keep the flag flying for the sensible supporter!

  12. Anonymous

    UppeEastEnder
    I agree with most of what you have said. As much as it pains me to say, Assenal have gone about things very intelligently with their Stadium but besides that they are also losing their best players and not investing heavily and have also not won anything in the last 6 years. I agree that we have played in the champions league and made top 5 the other years which was above our weight considering the other teams gunning for the 4 positions but also remember that we have sold alot of players for amazing profit over the last few years including Modders, Carrick and Berbatov as well as not spending most of that money. Yes we have arguably the best training ground in Europe if not the world but lets get serious about a few things such as our ability to attract top targets like Hazard (would have and should have been wearing our shirt), Oscar, Damaio and even Llorente. These are players that would complete us and allow us to step up a level but as our pay structure is so tight we get people like Dempsey. There is a fine balance I agree but are we supporters or bank managers?

  13. Hotspur

    Totally agree with your comments on AVB. He has his faults but he’s got lots of potential. He needs time and our backing. The luddite views of some of our fans are shocking. At Wigan those sitting around me got most annoyed when he tried to show some players on the sidelines something he had written on some paper. Reading and writing is too complicated and new fangled for them apparently. See my post http://wp.me/p2Sby9-2p.

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