On Sunday, Tottenham capitulated for the second time in five Premier League matches to be on the wrong end of a heavy defeat, this time losing 5-0 to Liverpool, just a few weeks after their 6-0 thrashing at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City. It was the final straw for the Spurs board, who took the decision to fire manager Andre Villas-Boas on Monday in response to the poor performances. As a Tottenham fan, I have been heavily conflicted about this (admittedly completely predictable) move by Daniel Levy. Let’s start with the reasons I think it is short-sighted and ridiculous:
- Tottenham have changed their manager so many times in the last twenty years, that my most worn out line is that they have had more false dawns than Truman Burbank. Since 1993, the men to have been permanently (though that has a different meaning at White Hart Lane) in charge at Spurs are: Osvaldo Ardiles; Gerry Francis; Christian Gross; Man in a Raincoat; Glenn Hoddle; Jacques Santini; Martin Jol; Juande Ramos; Harry Redknapp and Andre Villas-Boas. That’s ten, making of an average of one every two years, with an 11th to be appointed sometime soon (you would assume) and not even counting David Pleat, who has had three spells as caretaker boss including an extended period following Hoddle’s dismissal in 2003. Do we really need to start rebuilding again?
- Yes, a lot of money was spent in the summer (£110.5m), but the net outlay that Tottenham made was one of the lowest in the Premiership thanks to the money that came back in the selling of several players, but mainly Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for £86m. Also, AVB was not in charge of player recruitment this summer (that job went to the new Director of Football, Frances Baldini) and the club was left in a position where they have numerous options in midfield (Sandro, Paulinho, Mousa Dembélé, Etienne Capoue, Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, Nacer Chadli, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Lewis Holtby and Gylfi Sigurdsson), while in central defence, only Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches and Jan Vertonghen are at the manager’s disposal. Not only that, but Vertonghen as been forced to fill-in at left-back for much of the season due to an injury to the only other senior player who can lineup there (Danny Rose, who himself is a converted midfielder) and the lack of depth at centre-back was exposed by Liverpool on Sunday, who took advantage of Capoue’s inexperience in the position.
- Spurs have sold one of their best assets many times in the last few years (Michael Carrick, Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale – even Robbie Keane was at the top of his game when he moved to Liverpool for more than £20m), blamed the manager for not progressing after those players have been sold, then started the process all over again with a new man in charge.
- In 2012/13, Villas-Boas led Spurs to their highest ever Premiership points total (72). After 16 games of that campaign, we had 26 points – at the same stage this season, we have 27 points. Heavy defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City are not good – in fact, the trouble really started with the 3-0 loss to West Ham at the Lane, which is much less excusable – but it was not like Tottenham were in a completely terrible position despite those results. He also had the best win percentage of any Spurs boss in the Premiership era.
- In the Europa League and League Cup – our two main chances at a trophy, particularly after being drawn away at Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup – progress has been good. Spurs rank as one of the favorites for the Europa League, while on Wednesday, there is a chance to atone for the home loss to West Ham when they return for the League Cup quarter-final. Now, Steffan Freund will be in charge for that match and who knows what kind of job he will do – if it is anything like his playing performances for the club, expect lots of strong challenges and wild, off-target shooting.
Having said all that, I can definitely understand why the decision was made, based on the following:
- For the most part, Tottenham have been really boring to watch this season. All the amazing players we have at our disposal have not resulted in exciting, attacking play, but instead, sustained periods of possession with little or no penetration of an opponent who just sits back and defends. This has been a problem for quite a few seasons and Redknapp had no idea on how to break down teams who used such tactics, one of the big reasons why his exit as manager was needed. Admittedly the easiest way to counter opponents who are defending is to have a player like Bale to win matches for you with stunning goals, as he did ridiculously often last campaign, but the tempo of Spurs’ game has not been good enough and there has been far too much caution with protecting the ball rather than allowing players to take a chance and run at defenders. The only player who has been willing to do this – other than Lennon, who was out injured for several weeks – has been Andros Townsend, but his inexperience leads to poor decision-making and he takes far too many shots rather than creating openings for others with his direct approach.
- The 5-0 loss to Liverpool and 6-0 defeat to City in the context of the results is poor, but the attitude of the players on the pitch was simply not good enough. There did not seem to be any fight left in them as soon as they faced a two goal deficit, a direct contrast to the manner of how Arsenal played to the final whistle on Saturday at the Etihad, despite the game being beyond them at 5-2 (it ended 6-3). One of the main problems in both games was the use of the high-line defense that AVB likes to employ – broken down in detail here by the excellent Michael Cox on Zonal Marking – which was so successful for him at Porto (a club he will be managing again by next summer, I guarantee it) but does not work if you do not have fast defenders, as was the case for Villas-Boas at both Tottenham – other than Chiriches – and Chelsea.
- AVB blamed the fans for a lack of vocal support following the 1-0 home victory over Hull, never a good tactic for a manager to adopt. If he wanted the crowd to be boisterous and loud, then a more attacking approach from the team was all that was needed. Excitement and desire from the players equals support and cheering from the crowd – it’s not like they were booing either, just understandably reticent about the tactics being employed and nervous about seeing yet another disappointing home defeat.
- This is the most wide open Premiership season in recent years – especially with the struggles of Manchester United potentially opening up a position in the top four for the first time in more than two decades – yet poor results against West Ham, Newcastle and Liverpool in particular (Spurs had won their last five home league matches against the Reds) have seen Tottenham drop out of even being in the conversation for a Champions League place, let alone the title race. So far this season, no wins had been achieved against any club that is currently higher than 10th in the league.
All in all, while I do not agree with the tactic of constantly changing your manager, it has to be said that Andre Villas-Boas simply was not getting enough out of his side to justify his continuing in the position. Tottenham under AVB were good on paper, but shit on grass.
So who next? Fabio Capello was touted as a possible due to his presence in the stands on Sunday, but that seems very unlikely (and unwanted by me and many other Spurs supporters) given he is taking Russia to the World Cup in June, not to mention the fact that he was at Stamford Bridge on Saturday too and may just be watching the Belgian players who were on display in each match, seeing as though they will be one of his team’s opponents in Group H). My choice would be either Michael Laudrup from Swansea or – much less likely, but a suggestion from a fellow Tottenham fanatic friend that I thought would be great – the current USA boss and former Spurs player, Jürgen Klinsmann, but he did just extend his contract to 2018. Whoever comes in, hopefully he will get Tottenham back to playing entertaining football and can mold the players already at the club, rather than it leading to wholesale changes in the makeup of the squad once again.
Whoever is appointed, us Spurs supporters will get behind them (at least at first, unless it is the Main in a Raincoat) and we remain Tottenham Till We Die. Come On You Spurs!