Villas Boas can start again at Spurs

In a matter of just nine months, Andre Villas Boas had seen his star fall at a rate of knots that could have left his name languishing in the forgotten world of the footballing ether such is the speed that football moves on from failure.

His rise was quick, the former advisor to Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Inter Milan was entrusted to the manager’s job at Porto via just one year at the struggling Academica De Coimbra, and a season later an undefeated treble was secured by the head of Radamel Falcao in Dublin. Villas Boas was regarded as the shining light of European football management; it was an incomparable success at the youth of 33 years of age and he was beginning to threaten the potential usurping of his mentor, now at Real Madrid, from whom he’d so evidently been influenced in his sophisticated, exotically Portuguese managerial demeanour.

Roman Abramovich immediately bought into the comparison having ruthlessly just sacked Carlo Ancelotti at Chelsea in his relentless search for a manager that characterised the charisma and quiet assurance of Mourinho, the “special one” who still provides the bench-mark to any manager to take the Stamford Bridge hot-seat. On the back of his treble, Villas Boas was hoisted to the lofty heights of unyielding expectation that comes with the territory of Chelsea boss, perhaps prematurely, at the tender age of 33.

This was, according to the fanfare that surrounded Villas Boas at the time, Mourinho mark II, an ambitious, successful, driven manager that had youthful looks and exuberance in abundance. His year-long juggernaut at Porto was based on the type of adventurous, expansive football that Abramovich had yearned for, to move Chelsea away from the rigid, typically Italian style that was beginning to fester under Ancelotti and Villas Boas was the obvious choice, a clamour that was given further momentum by the fact he played such a telling part as advisor to Mourinho’s successful Chelsea era. Abramovich, beginning to urge a period of thrift in South London at the risk of falling on the wrong side of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations, forked out in excess of £13 million in compensation for his services such was his desperation to land him.

With the task of enveloping a period of transition to Chelsea, involving the gradual injection of younger talent into a side that still contained the backbone of 30-somethings Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba; this wasn’t going to be the easiest of assignments for a coach that, despite the success, didn’t have reputation or experience on his side. Yet, nobody could predict the extent of disaster that encapsulated Villas Boas’ time at Chelsea, stranded in 5th to the ever-louder tune of dressing room mutiny, with the threat of failure to qualify for the Champions League growing larger with every set-back, his era reached a unassailable nadir with a spectacular European defeat away to Napoli that pushed his side to the edge of elimination in the second round, and a 1-0 defeat to West Brom the following Saturday that drained Abramovich’s patience to an empty tank. Villas Boas was a goner on March 4th following just 13 wins from 27 matches and the memory of his spell at Porto, where he had painted his self-portrait of infallible managerial wonder, was burnt to a regretful crisp.

His successor at Chelsea, his Stamford Bridge assistant Roberto Di Matteo, put the foot further into the Villas Boas reputation by duly calming the burgeoning crisis enough to deliver the FA Cup and, most incredibly, the owner’s holy-grail of the Champions League trophy. Di Matteo, with even less first-hand managerial experience than Villas Boas, had proven utmost successful with the same players and staff that the Portuguese had failed with and within 12 months, the AVB story had gone full circle; from unbeatable champion with Porto, to the forgotten, almost irrelevant man in Chelsea’s own champion season and at 34, still so callow for a football manager, he is faced with the task of rebuilding his stock.

He will do that back in London, and back in the unforgiving surroundings of the Premier League with Tottenham as Daniel Levy saw enough potential to justify the replacement of Harry Redknapp, who had somehow managed to master a fall from grace with greater velocity than what Villas Boas managed, with a promising stint at the title at Christmas time turning into a Europa League place with a series of poor results in the second half of the season.

The Portuguese is seen to fit the Spurs philosophy with even more ease than he did at Chelsea, he will be an advocate of the offensive style that has become synonymous with Tottenham over the years and he will be in no place to implement the same type of drastic revolution, epitomised by the immediate jettisoning of Nicolas Anelka and Alex in January, that was at the heart of his downfall at Stamford Bridge. The majestic Gareth Bale has committed his future by signing a four year deal whilst midfield lynch-pin Luka Modric, subject to intense speculation over a possible departure, is expected to do the same. Spurs are also in possession of the productive youth system that Villas Boas pined for at Chelsea, with Danny Rose and Jake Livermore both emerging through in recent years and Steven Caulker, on the back of a largely successful loan spell with Swansea, due to return to the squad.

Perhaps a benefit will be seen from the current state of a thin squad at White Hart Lane in that Villas Boas will be charged with addressing the reduced number of options at centre-half and in attack, following the departures of Ledley King, Emmanuel Adebayor and the suggested unrest of Benoit Assou-Ekotto. With the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Joao Moutinho, Villas Boas’ trusted integral midfield force at Porto, linked with moves, it may give the Portuguese boss a chance to insert his own identity in the squad with an influx of his own players. In an inviting contrast to Chelsea’s close-knit squad that had aged together through sustained success, the squad at Spurs may contain more margin for change than Villas Boas encountered in South London.

An innovative student of the game, it would be incredibly naïve to think that Villas Boas would not have harboured any lessons from his failure at Chelsea, but the reassuring factor will come from the realisation that those mistakes were made in the totally different surroundings of heightened expectation and an impenetrable squad that ultimately proved too difficult for Villas Boas to imprint his ideas for the long-term. Daniel Levy will manage expectation levels cautiously at White Hart Lane and they will be already reduced, to some extent, by Villas Boas’ own failure with his sole experience of the English game to date.

Long term revolution and high short term expectancy levels don’t mix in the battlegrounds of the Premier League and Villas Boas found that out in the most harrowing manner, but now is his chance to eradicate those memories in the calmer waters of Spurs. Villas Boas is no longer the new Mourinho, but it’s the perfect chance for him to create the new Villas Boas.