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Wednesday, July 04, 2012
So, will the real Andre Villas-Boas please stand up?
As the Portuguese takes over at Spurs, he does so with one of the starker question marks in football trailing his name.
Few managers of top clubs can claim such a wildly mixed heritage, a serial winner in the course of one unbeatable year in Portugal who saw his soaring reputation crash and burn in just eight months in England. That Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has decided he’s the man to replace the popular and successful Harry Redknapp might represent, as one report has already put it, a "remarkable turnaround in fortunes" for Villas-Boas but, after his experience at Stamford Bridge — and indeed, old ’Arry’s at White Hart Lane — he will need no reminding that, in football, a gaffer’s job can be lost as easily as it is won. Only the coming months will tell us if the AVB resurrection is the real deal.
He arrives at White Hart Lane just a little bit older but, one would hope, a whole lot wiser after a dizzying couple of see-saw years. It’s easy to forget that it was only a little over one year ago that he came amongst us here in Dublin as the visit of Queen Elizabeth clashed with a Portuguese invasion of the capital for the Europa League final at the Aviva Stadium.
With his impressive English, good looks, youth and nationality, it was inevitable that he would be lumbered with the ‘new Mourinho’ tag, however much he tried to play it down. Asked by reporters in Portugal if he was another ‘Special One’, he laughed and replied: "I could be the shit one," a joke which would come back to haunt him the very next season at Stamford Bridge.
But on that sunny day in May of 2011, Europe was still at his feet, his Porto side having proved invincible en route to winning the league. At his pre-match press conference, Villas-Boas revealed that his only previous visit to Dublin had been to watch Damien Duff playing for Ireland when both men were making their professional homes at Stamford Bridge. "Hopefully Dublin will be in our memories for a long time," he smiled. So it proved, a Falcao goal giving Porto the glittering prize — one of four that season — and making Villas-Boas, at 33, the youngest coach ever to win a European club trophy.
Upon taking over at Stamford Bridge, the man with the Midas touch tried a new tactic to escape the ‘Special One’ tag; he wanted, he said, to be "the group one", the man who would make a virtue out of collective strength. Sadly for him, the very opposite transpired: the young manager’s attempt to reshape an ageing side ran up against the iron will and self-regard of senior players who never really bought into Roman Abramovich’s new project.
The impression that the players were not playing for the manager was given credence by Chelsea’s subsequent recovery under Roberto Di Matteo, with some of the senior figures Villas-Boas had seemed to alienate playing key roles in winning the Champions League.
Given his failure in west London, AVB already has much to do to win over the supporters in north London.
But his first task, you suspect, will be to win over the Spurs players who, in the tight-knit world of football, will have heard all sorts of gory details about life under Villas-Boas at Stamford Bridge and perhaps already formed their own opinions.
Nor can it help that a manager who struggled with man-management on the other side of the city is being asked to fill the gap in White Hart Lane left by one of the most renowned man-managers in the business.
Villas-Boas’ first task will be to freshen up a Tottenham side which, worryingly for the new boss, began to lose its way at precisely the point when Redknapp was being almost universally lined up for the England job. Spurs have already been linked with Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was on loan at Swansea City last season, as well as Ajax and Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen, while Gareth Bale has signed a four-year deal. But surely more important is if Villas-Boas can persuade Rafael van der Vaart and, especially, Luka Modric to stay, the latter having shown at Euro 2012 that he is still a substantial cut above the rest.
One thing in Villas-Boas’ favour is that, after a tough test against Newcastle away on the opening day of the season, Spurs avoid the Premier League’s bigger guns in their next four matches — against West Brom, Norwich, Reading and QPR — before they travel to Old Trafford at the end of September.
At least this time around, there will be no badgering Villas-Boas about being a successor to ‘the Special One’.
For his second coming in the Premier League, no one is going to mistake him for the messiah.
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