The stats show that Andre Villas-Boas has the best record of any Tottenham manager. The nature of the recent defeats to West Ham, Manchester City and finally Liverpool, however, was too much and he lost his job on Monday morning.
On his appointment, AVB conducted himself in a very dignified manner and spoke of his desire to bring success to Tottenham. Things started disappointingly with defeat at Newcastle and two home draws when some fans booed the team off the pitch. After the international break, results picked up with four successive league wins including the historic win at Old Trafford. Supporters’ views on the manager improved even allowing for occasional blips like losing 5 – 2 at the Emirates. The season continued with Spurs keeping pace with the teams near the top of the league and from 16th December, exactly a year later he was sacked, to the beginning of March Spurs went on a 12-match unbeaten league run, a club record in the Premier League. With Gareth Bale hitting the form of his life Spurs finished with 72 points, their highest ever total, but it wasn’t enough for Champions League qualification.
Where did it go wrong?
- Last January Tottenham were in need of a goalscoring striker but the decision not to sign one proved costly. If it hadn’t been for Bale’s goals in the second half of the season, Spurs would not have finished in 5th place. If they had signed a striker, that fifth place might have been improved upon as Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor failed to produce the goals required to compliment Bale’s superb form.
- AVB was always regarded as an astute coach and tactician but he rarely showed the ability to change things around when the game was going against Spurs. The defeat at the Emirates last season was an early example of him being slow to react to a situation. When Adebayor was sent off with Spurs a goal up, he delayed making any changes until the interval by which time Arsenal had scored three and taken control of the game. The second half introduction of Michael Dawson steadied the ship but it was too late to save the game. A similar slowness to react was evident at Manchester City last season when they changed tactics in the second half to recover from being a goal down to win 2 – 1. At home to Wigan last season Spurs could not break through the visitors well organised defence with three at the back and 5 in midfield. It was a similar situation this year against West Ham who played without a striker and won 3 – 0, AVB had no response to that unexpected tactical switch. The situation has been obvious this season as teams have sat back and defended in depth especially at White Hart Lane.
- AVB was quick to make a decision on whether a player would fit into his plans and rarely changed his mind. He decided against Michael Dawson and was prepared to sell him only weeks after his appointment. It was only the captain’s refusal to leave and his persistence which saw him back into the team. Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Steven Caulker and Emmanuel Adebayor were others whose faces didn’t fit. Caulker was sold in the summer and has proved a success at Cardiff while Spurs kept Younes Kaboul who has struggled to recover from the serious injury which kept him out last season. BAE was allowed to go out on loan even though there was a shortage of cover at left back, a problem which has again required our best central defender, Jan Vertonghen to play in that position. With his injury, the lack of cover was evident as Raheem Sterling caused Kyle Naughton serious problems in a position where he has struggled when used during the past 18 months. Adebayor has made only one appearance this season even though Tottenham’s system of using a lone striker was failing with Roberto Soldado isolated and unable to reproduce the form which brought him so many goals in Spain. No-one knows what issues there are between individual players and the manager at a club but AVB, having made his mind up about a player, seemed very unwilling to change that view even when the team would have benefited from the player being brought back into the side.
- The defeat at the Emirates early this season and the announcement of Bale’s transfer to Real Madrid was a significant day. The defeat raised issues of the ability of the new signings to adapt and cope with the pressures of the Premier League. The loss of Bale and results this season have subsequently proved the point that Spurs were a ‘one-man team’ last year and very reliant on their star player.
- Villas-Boas introduced a cautious, slow-tempo to Spurs play. Gone was much of the style, pace and counter-attacking which had been such a feature with Spurs over the past number of seasons. The desire to pass their way through a team fell down against a packed defence who waited for a miss-placed pass or their chance to make an interception on the edge of their own penalty area. Too many passes went sideways and backwards and no-one on the team would take the responsibility to make a telling pass into the penalty area for Soldado or Defoe. While the team managed to keep a clean sheet in the early season games and produced a solitary goal, usually from a fortunate penalty, so results kept them in touch with other teams who were scoring regularly but it was a false position as sterner tests were to prove.
- The insistence of playing Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend on the wrong wing, cutting in to shot was a waste of their natural ability to take on defenders on the outside and deliver crosses into the centre. Wingers cutting in to an already congested area on the edge of the penalty area was too easy for teams to defend. The system wasn’t working, as every supporter could see, but in his stubborn resistance to change AVB persisted with the tactic. The manager had no Plan ‘B’.
- Tottenham have scored 15 league goals, including 3 penalties, in 16 league games. Luis Suarez’s two goals at White Hart Lane take him on to 14 league goals in 8 games and 17 in total. The blame has been laid at new signing Soldado but in the league he has had no service and been isolated, no striker could have scored in such circumstances.
- The defeat against West Ham was described as ‘one of those games’ against a team which has won only once since then, the loss at City showed a lack of fight and spirit against a top side by a team of internationals who should not have been so put off by conceding a very early goal. The nature of the defeat against Liverpool when Spurs never got into a game at White Hart Lane and allowed the visitors to totally dominate them for 90 minutes was the final straw.
There was to be no further chances for Andre Villas-Boas. He was unfortunate to lose Bale in the summer, no team can afford to lose their star player but he can’t complain as he was able to sign 7 players costing over £100m but he was unable to bring them together as a team who could compete at the highest level. His team would have continued to win games against lower teams but would not have been a threat to the top sides and they slipped off the pace for Champions league qualification.
Can a new manager rescue the season?