Villas-Boas must learn from Chelsea mistakes
Andre Villas-Boas arrived at Chelsea last summer armed with a three-year plan that proved he was not lacking in confidence and optimism. Nine months later he was sacked by Roman Abramovich.
Less than four months on, the 34-year-old Portuguese is back in London at Tottenham. He has a contract that presumes another three-year plan but faces another tough job as successor to Harry Redknapp, who was dismissed despite finishing fourth in the Premier League.
Villas-Boas, who was on Liverpool’s radar before they turned to Brendan Rodgers, has proved the old concrete confidence is still in place by taking another job so close to his previous home at a time when the scars to his reputation have not healed in many quarters.
These qualities may be his aid at White Hart Lane because less assured men may have shied away from returning to England so soon after such a damaging experience.
Former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has replaced Harry Redknapp as the new Tottenham Hotspur boss. Photo: Getty
He will have been buoyed by the knowledge that his stock remained high, that many felt he had not so much been handed a poisoned chalice at Chelsea but an empty one once things started to go wrong.
Villas-Boas, however, will need to return to the capital as a more mellow and measured individual or run the risk of the same pitfalls that led to his demise at Chelsea.
He cut a confrontational, and at times arrogant, figure during his brief time in west London. He attempted to impose his ideas too quickly on a notoriously strong-willed squad, misjudging the mood, alienating Chelsea's fans and many at the club to end up a beaten and demoralised manager.
Villas-Boas was not at Chelsea long enough to do his previously glowing reputation irretrievable damage but he may still consider himself fortunate that Spurs have placed such faith in him so soon after beating a retreat back to Portugal.
When Chelsea appointed “AVB” last summer they heralded the arrival of Europe’s most coveted young coach.
The special circumstances surrounding the notorious lack of managerial longevity under owner Abramovich at Chelsea will have played a part in persuading Spurs chairman Daniel Levy that the glowing references of 12 months ago still hold good today.
There is an element of gamble in Levy’s choice. Villas-Boas may hear the charges that he is damaged goods if he gets off to a bad start – but Spurs wanted a vibrant young manager to work within a modern framework and have settled on him as their man.
It will be intriguing to see if Villas-Boas returns as a changed personality. He may need to have a more even approach inside and outside the dressing room this time around.
He was a compelling character in his trademark crouched position in the technical area but he was too quick to see shadows and enemies where none existed, especially in the media. It is also stretching the elasticity of reality to breaking point to suggest he was a popular figure even within his own club.
There was sympathy for his plight when he was dismissed, with even Abramovich making it clear to Chelsea’s players that he held them largely responsible for him having to sack the man who was very much his managerial pet project.
Villas-Boas' time at Chelsea was characterised by his failure to carry the influential old guard with him.
He was asked to give the dressing room a younger, more progressive look but appeared to want to take a sledgehammer to the Stamford Bridge careers of experienced players such as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba rather than oversee a gradual evolution.
Spurs will be banking on Villas-Boas learning from his mistakes as he has a hard act to follow in Redknapp, who was only denied a place in the Champions League by the stunning Chelsea renewal overseen by Villas-Boas’ former right-hand man at Stamford Bridge, Roberto Di Matteo.
Villas-Boas is sure to have spent his time away from England reflecting on the dark days at Chelsea – but it should also be stressed Chelsea’s players must take a large share of the blame for their failure to play for him.
While Chelsea’s road to success in the FA Cup and Champions League brought a permanent job for Di Matteo, Villas-Boas was perfectly entitled to sit in front of the television at home in Portugal and ask where was this resolve, this fire, this unity when he was in charge.
He played a part in his downfall but he was not alone. And those of us who saw Villas-Boas at close quarters last season will know he will be burning inside to prove his critics wrong.
He may need to go on a charm offensive with a media he was only too happy to take on before his sacking but he is unlikely to be so chastened as to not be fuelled by a feeling of unfinished business in the Premier League.
Villas-Boas watching will be quite a sport at Spurs because he captures the imagination. Unless he has undergone a character rebuild it will not be dull at White Hart Lane.
He almost revelled in battling the media, happily rubbing our noses in it on the rare occasions Chelsea did get it right, infamously announcing after a Champions League win against Valencia: “Here we have given everyone a slap in the face.
“It is unfortunate for you guys in the media because you have to report on a brilliant win for Chelsea and we qualify first in the group. It is difficult for everybody and today this is difficult for you." The audience was left bemused.
It is a feisty and brave approach that needs results to back it up. Chelsea did not get those results and perhaps this is another lesson Villas-Boas will heed.
The Chelsea debacle is sure to be mentioned in his new environment but his year at Porto proved him to be a coach of genuine talent and charisma and Spurs will fit his profile perfectly as a place to rebuild his reputation.
Villas-Boas will hope Spurs' players can respond to his detailed tactical approach – remember his ill-fated attempts to play “a high line” with Chelsea’s defence? – and total conviction in his methods.
He has already had the perfect start with Gareth Bale’s decision to sign a new contract. Ironically, another top priority is to retain the services of Luka Modric having spent much of his sole summer at Chelsea hoping to lure him to Stamford Bridge.
Many of us felt Villas-Boas was placed in an almost impossible position at Chelsea, although he did little to help himself. He was asked to carry out a long-term job at a short-term club – although the improvement after his departure may have caused him both hurt and embarrassment.
Levy ruthlessly removed Redknapp to bring in Villas-Boas. He is unlikely to place his manager under pressure as quickly as at Chelsea but life in the modern Premier League means a fast start is compulsory at a club such as Spurs.
On the day he was sacked, Redknapp said: “He will bounce back. He is a young man with a big future.”
The future now for Villas-Boas is replacing Redknapp at White Hart Lane. If he has learned the lessons of the past he can still live up to the words of his predecessor.