When Tottenham Hotspur announced this summer that the new manager for the London side was to be Andre Villas-Boas, one could literally hear the pessimistic murmurs echoing around White Hart Lane. It was less than a year previous that the bright eyed young manager had been turfed from his “project” at Chelsea, and given how well his replacement at Chelsea (Roberto Di Matteo) had fared, winning both the FA Cup and Champions League, it was highly unlikely that Villas-Boas would resurface again in England anytime soon. He’d looked an ostracized figure at Stamford Bridge, alone on the touch line all match, constantly gesturing and barking instructions at his players. His management issues with the core players at Chelsea had made him appear to lose the dressing room. In short, he looked out of his depth.
As Villas-Boas settled in at Spurs, he had numerous squad issues to deal with. Perpetually crocked defender and team captain Ledley King was finally forced to retire due to his numerous injury issues. Midfield dynamo Luka Modric basically forced Spurs hand, and he was sold to Real Madrid for a huge fee. And another key member, Dutch international Rafael Van der Vaart, had been sold to Hamburg. Villas-Boas did balance his squad losses with some promising buys, bringing in Moussa Dembele and Clint Dempsey from Fulham, Gylfi Sigurdsson from Hoffenheim, Emmanuel Adebayor from Manchester City and Jan Vertonghen from Ajax Amsterdam. Oh yes, and French international keeper Hugo Lloris, thought by many to be one of the best keepers in the game today.
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The season started slowly for the Spurs, losing a tough away game to Newcastle on opening day 2-1, and following that with home draws to West Bromwich Albion and Norwich. Spurs fans were beginning to grumble, and boos could be heard emanating from the terraces at White Hart Lane. One had to wonder if Villas-Boas was going to go down a similar path as he did at Chelsea, underachieving until the inevitable hook came from backstage.
However, the fortunes for the Spurs began to change. They knocked off Reading 3-1 in convincing fashion, and then badly outplayed Lazio at home in the Europa League, and were very unlucky to draw 0-0 on the night. Victories over QPR (2-1) and Carlisle in the League Cup (3-0) preceded the match many would see as a key test for Spurs, which was away to Manchester United at Old Trafford, a venue Spurs had failed to win at in twenty three long years.
The Spurs walked in to one of football’s hallowed shrines and delivered a very strong performance, topping United 3-2. Left sided players Jan Vertonghen and Gareth Bale both made lengthy, mazey runs through the United midfield and defence in the first half to score lovely goals, and give Spurs a 2-0 halftime lead. But, one can never count United out at home, and they stormed out of the gates after half time, and an early effort by Nani increased the pressure on Spurs. However it was Spurs scoring next, with new boy Clint Dempsey’s tapping in a rebound after another great run by Bale down the left flank, and Spurs had restored their two goal advantage. Though United pulled another back, Spurs hung tough and delivered a historic 3-2 victory for the London side.
I think it is key that Mr. Villas-Boas has appeared to learn from his negative experience last season at Chelsea. He’s not standing at the touchline all match barking orders, and looks much calmer and more comfortable. Perhaps the parallels with another great Portuguese boss (and ex-Chelsea manager), one Jose Mourinho, had been too overt and had created an almost impossible set of expectations (perhaps self-imposed) for Villas-Boas to succeed last season at Stamford Bridge.
Additionally, Villas-Boas has appeared to learn from his decisions last campaign to bring in newer faces to replace the Chelsea old guard, personified by the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. That move blew up in his face, and he lost the dressing room. His decision to stick with 41-year-old Brad Freidel as the starting keeper, after his acquisition of Hugo Lloris, was a brave one, and it’s probably done much to solidify the dressing room at White Hart Lane.
Freidel has been playing well, and everyone knows Lloris will sooner, rather than later, be the number one, but that little gesture of faith was an astute maneuver. Spurs look a team with a good spirit, and the bright eyed manager appears to have reflected well, and learned from his previous mistakes.