Andre Villas-Boas was appointed at Chelsea in the summer of 2011 to rejuvenate an ageing side but his mission to instil a new philosophy at Chelsea floundered when his senior players failed to buy into his vision. As at any successful club, Chelsea’s previous managers understood the importance of ensuring John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and company were on board. A year ago Arsene Wenger, speaking on the situation at Chelsea, said the key to a transformation in philosophy is to get the senior players on board:
“It is hard. But I believe as well a manager, when he has strong players in the squad and they share what he thinks, it makes him stronger. If they go against, it is difficult.”
This is where it all went wrong and what made it impossible for Villas-Boas to succeed at Stamford Bridge – he didn’t have the full support of the senior players and so he was undermined in the eyes of the other players. The Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, was unhappy with the situation as Chelsea’s form slipped in mid-season and was aware that some players were supporting Villas-Boas but the old boys were not. In the end it was the coach who was sacked and the club have felt justified in their decision as they went on to win the Champions League and FA Cup.
At Tottenham, Villas-Boas has shown faith with his ‘golden-oldies’ this year as Brad Friedel and William Gallas retain their positions in the team against stiff opposition from younger players. Both Friedel and Gallas are older that their manager – Friedel can give him six years while Gallas is a two months older than than his coach who turned 35 in mid-October.
Brad Friedel started the season in goal and extended his unbroken run in the Premier League to a ninth season. Last season Friedel had been the undisputed number one choice at Spurs but the arrival of Hugo Lloris, the French international goalkeeper, from Lyon suggested that the situation was about to change. Friedel, however, chose the day after the signing of Lloris to put in a ‘Man of the Match’ performance against Norwich City. Asked about the situation post-match, Villas-Boas supported his veteran goalkeeper and Lloris has remained as back-up since joining Tottenham. Friedel’s record breaking run was an issue but Villas-Boas showed no sentiment and brought it to an abrupt end when selecting Lloris for his Premier League debut against Aston Villa. Friedel has since returned and continues to do nothing to justify being left out of the team.
Speaking after the Aston Villa match Villas-Boas explained the situation with Friedel,
“We spoke among the staff this week about it and we thought it was logical to let Hugo come into a Premier League game because he can’t just play in the Europa League. Brad obviously was disappointed with the decision but accepted it like the good professional he is.”
William Gallas was an unexpected choice for the opening match at Newcastle where he partnered Younes Kaboul in central defence. It had been widely anticipated that new signing, Jan Vertonghen would make his debut alongside Kaboul. The naming of Gallas as captain brought further amazement as Villas-Boas had further options available to him in central defence – Steven Caulker and Michael Dawson. Like Friedel, Gallas has put his vast experience to good use for Spurs this year. He was excellent at Old Trafford and although he scored his first Tottenham goal against his former club Chelsea he was not at his best as Spurs lost for the first time since August. He was, however, outstanding in the second half against Southampton as they staged a revival which threatened to deny Tottenham the points which had seemed assured at half-time. Injury to Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto in the early weeks of the season has allowed Villas-Boas to make use of his other central defenders but Gallas retains his position having played every minute of the Premier League matches.
While the future of Tottenham will be based on the younger players like Lloris and Caulker, for the present Villas-Boas has been content to persevere with the older, experienced heads as his team has climbed smoothly to fourth place in the Premier League table. Frustrating though it must be for them, the Europa League matches and the Capital One Cup have provided opportunities for the other members of the squad to get some match practice in teams which have a shown minimum of change and have been selected with the expectation of producing a result.
Gallas has shown full support for the manager’s decision to field strong teams in all competitions saying,
“We have to be strong in the heart because the manager is a competitor – he is a warrior – he wants to win everything.”
Friedel and Gallas will presumably sit out the match at Carrow Road but be re-instated for Saturday’s home game against Wigan in the Premier League. Perhaps, Andre Villas-Boas who was a troubled soul at Chelsea has learned from his unpleasant Stamford Bridge experience and Tottenham are the benefactors – long may that continue.