AVB’s message is lost in translation
We mock what we don’t understand, which is why, argues Iain Spragg, Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas is still to win over a hostile media and sceptical supporters
As Andre Villas-Boas prepares for Spurs' opening Europa League clash with Lazio, Iain Spragg explains why the Portuguese coach remains a lightning rod for criticism from media and fans.
It’s amazing how things can change in the space of 15 days. At the start of the month, the sound of knives being sharpened by Andre Villas-Boas’ critics was almost deafening but fast forward a fortnight and the Tottenham manager has seemingly avoided what looked like being a bloody carve-up.
His reprieve came in the shape of Spurs’ 3-1 victory at Reading at the weekend, a performance brimming with the swagger and style that Tottenham fans demand. More significantly, it was three priceless points, the first of the season, and privately the Portuguese must have been breathing a huge sigh of relief on Sunday evening.
His detractors may not been magically converted by the Reading result but for the moment at least, the brakes have been applied to ABAVB (Anyone But Andre Villas-Boas) bandwagon.
It’s true the Tottenham boss can sometimes be his own worst enemy. His penchant for extensive video analysis (leading Chelsea’s players to dub him ‘DVD’), his constant reference to his Stamford Bridge ‘project’ and what Harry Redknapp alluded to this week as his obsession with rather large dossiers have all provided his critics in the media and on the terraces alike with ample ammunition.
"As an outsider, Villas-Boas places little significance on seniority in the dressing room, he doesn’t believe established international stars should be immune to change and new challenges."
The press still do not quite know what to make of him. He’s an enigma but he’s not blessed with Jose Mourinho’s charisma and he definitely doesn’t sell newspapers. His aloofness and invariably deadpan delivery make their copy harder to write.
It’s not, however, the real reason for the antipathy. His crime is to be innovative, young and unburdened by the traditions of the English game. He has the audacity to do things differently.
Chief among his sins is the fact he has not played the game. We accept managers who had modest, unremarkable professional careers in the lower leagues before hanging up the boots but to not have played at all is an utterly alien concept. That he is only 34 and younger than some of the players in the Premier League merely compounds his crime.
His lack of first-hand experience out on the pitch leads to a fundamental clash of football cultures. As an outsider, Villas-Boas places little significance on seniority in the dressing room, he doesn’t believe established international stars should be immune to change and new challenges and he is utterly disinterested how his players are used to going about their business.
"What really scares people is that the Spurs manager might be successful with his idiosyncratic and more scientific approach."
Six months ago his tunnel vision and belief his way was ultimately the right way cost him his job at Chelsea. The players baulked at his single-mindedness and perceived lack of empathy and when Roman Abramovich was faced with the choice between his expensively-assembled squad and his young manager, the Portuguese had to go.
This has led to the charge is a poor man manager.
But what really scares people is that the Portuguese might be right. That the Spurs manager might just be successful with his admittedly idiosyncratic and more scientific approach and make fools of his critics. That his cool logic might be just as effective as the old school adherence to hard work, heart and handling the players the right way.
He represents the antithesis of all the game’s long established training ground traditions and if he’s right, everything else is broken.
It’s nonsense of course. If Villas-Boas’ dossiers, extended DVD sessions or even his readiness to sleep in a Japanese-style pod at the training ground (as he did the night before he collected his Chelsea P45) bring results, it doesn’t make a mockery of the starkly contrasting modus operandi of managers like Martin O’Neill, David Moyes or, for the sake of argument, Redknapp.
It’s simply a different philosophy.
"Villas-Boas is not the saviour of English football but he could yet be a standard bearer for a quiet but meticulously planned evolution."
A good example is his insistence that the Tottenham players work painstakingly on their movement off the ball in training. It’s a drill that a coach with a Level One qualification – the entry level badge for all aspiring coaches - would be expected to put his or her Under-11s through.
Villas-Boas makes professionals earning £60,000-a-week do the same because he believes it’s a key component of a winning side.
There could also be wider repercussions for the game in England should the Portuguese be successful at White Hart Lane and those who ridiculed him for his esoteric methods may yet forced to reconsider.
Generations of ‘traditional’ club managers have unwittingly overseen an alarming decline in England’s results and performances on the world stage as their players have reported for international duty. From preparation and conditioning to tactics and technique, we have fallen behind those we used to believe we had an innate right to lord it over.
Villas-Boas is not the saviour of English football but he could yet be a standard bearer for a quiet but meticulously planned evolution. He’s got to keep hold of his job at the Lane first but don’t write him off just because he doesn’t own a sheepskin jacket.
Iain Spragg is a writer, author and Spurs fan. Follow him on Twitter @angryspraggy
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