Andre Villas Boas dismissal as Spurs manager should hardly have come as a surprise. The Portuguese coach sealed his own fate on Sunday by watching his side slump to their worst home defeat to Liverpool in history, a humiliating 5-0 thrashing. Remarkably it’s not their biggest loss this season that honour goes to Manchester City who put six past them last month. It has all gone so terribly wrong for Villas Boas in what was billed to be his season of redemption in the Premier League. With a transfer kitty that Chelsea would be proud of after the record sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, Villas Boas starting the summer in optimistic mood but slowly watched his dreams crumble beneath him. Four months later, a deflated AVB would walk out of White Hart Lane, unsure where and when he would manage again. So what went wrong?
It’s the deal that should have changed Villas Boas’ fortunes but in fact ended up costing him his job. Tottenham relied heavily on Gareth Bale last season and have paid dearly for it this year after he departed for Spain by failing to replace him. Despite raking in a world record €100million transfer, Tottenham have made a series of errors that have ultimately led to Villas Boas being sacked following Sunday’s defeat. They splashed cash poorly, bringing in players they thought would take them to the next level, but instead have faltered badly. Bales departure left a gaping hole in Villas Boas’s team that he struggled to fill. Their left flank has looked especially lonely, missing the bombarding Bale who made it his own for the past few seasons. Bale was fundamental to the way Spurs played and too often dug them out of a hole with late goals or dazzling setup play. Out of the 21 games that Spurs won last season, Bale was at the heart of 14 of them, ending up on the score sheet, eight times as the match winner. Out of the remaining 7 games, Bale played and had a hand in 4 games, adding to his assist tally along the way.
Replacing Bale was never going to be easy but with cash available, Spurs scoured the world for the best talent money could buy. The decided against buying domestic players and instead went abroad to purchase Bale’s replacements. Whilst shrewd, given the escalated price attached to up and coming British talent, their plan came fraught with danger. The biggest one being that Spurs simply forgot the six month rule. Unlike players already playing in the British leagues, most foreign imports need at least half a season to adapt to life in the Premiership and Tottenham’s new signings were no different. The players that Tottenham acquired are not bad players, in fact Lamela and Erikson are two of the biggest prospects in world football today but they needed time to bed in, something that Villas Boas did not factor in. Known for his exceptional dribbling ability and pace, Lamela has yet to find his feet in the league and looks overpriced at £25.8 million but is sure to prove his worth over the coming seasons. Villas Boas threw his new signings into the deep end from day one with few managing to cope with physicality and pace of the Premiership. Added into this, wrong tactics and playing his new players out of position only hindered the settling in period. Spurs new look squad has looked dazed and confused since the first kick of the new season and poor results have followed.
We are not trying to suggest that Spurs would be in a better position if they had spent their money domestically as it’s impossible to predict what would have happened but other teams in the league are showing the benefits of adopting this approach. Southampton are flying this season thanks to home grown talents like Luke Shaw, James Prowse Ward and Jay Rodriguez. Granted Rodriguez was a £7 million purchase from Burnley but I’m sure many Spurs fans would prefer he was leading their line than the misfiring Soldado who has only scored four goals this season in the league. Part of the reason Soldado isn’t playing well is that he is being forced to play as a lone striker, a role that he is unequipped to perform. The Spaniard lacks the muscle and determination to lead the line on his own, preferring to feed off others and play alongside another striker. Andre Villas Boas faith in his star striker, whilst apparently ignoring other options like Jermaine Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor, highlights a chink in the manager’s armour. Villas Boas is fiercely loyal and holds a grudge against players who appear to disagree with his judgment. Defoe has been used mostly in Europe but ignored by the manager in the league as he preferred to employ Soldado in that role, much to the fans frustration. Defoe is unhappy and looking to leave as a result but at least he got some playing time, unlike Togo striker Adebayor. The former Arsenal and City player has played only once this season (as a sub against Manchester City) and has been ostracized by Villas Boas due to a fall out pre season. The Togo striker has failed to fire at Spurs so far, but did start to show some flashes of form at the tail end of last season, scoring three goals in Spurs last six matches. For a team struggling up front, Villas Boas refused to put his personal issues aside and look at other options which would ultimately be his downfall.
Villas Boas is by no means a bad manager but two disastrous spells in England will have many wondering how good a manager he actually is. He did lead Porto to the title in his first season but looking back did he benefit from a variety of factors that made him look better than he is? Villas Boas should have lead this Spurs team forward but instead bad tactics and poor decisions have left them lacking direction and the killer edge needed to win the title. Levy had no choice but to remove the bumbling coach and start a fresh. His search has already started for a replacement with Fabio Capello and Glenn Hoddle touted as potential managerial options. Regardless who he appoints, Levy will demand more from Tottenham in the second half of the season. He has helped to build a squad that should be challenging for honours but instead Levy watches from the stand as Spurs stumble through games. Starved of ideas, they are often found looking to the left flank, desperately searching for the player who so often saved them last season. If Spurs are to move forward, they must forget about Bale and adapt their style to fit the players at their disposal. Challenging for honours is not beyond this team but for now they need to start to believe again that the dream that Villas Boas once had can actually come true. Not an easy thing to do given the way that Spurs are currently playing.