Saturday, August 25, 2012
Time needed for AVB to transform Spurs
John Brewin, White Hart Lane
The sharp suit with the highly flexible trousers remains. Despite thunder and rain in the London air, it is not yet the season for the tailored 'flasher's mac'. But the message from Andre Villas-Boas is clear: I can change and I can learn too but, this time, I would like a little more time. And I might need it too.
"The players have been excellent, receptive," he said calmly and with good humour after an afternoon that exposed the difficulty of his current job at Tottenham before then laughing at himself when he admitted he had tried to make four substitutions. "I lost track," he beamed. In the photo accompanying his programme notes, the grin was broad, the demeanour friendly.
Villas-Boas is mounting a clear charm offensive. He looked a young man in a hurry at Chelsea and, for all his failings, there can be no doubt that he was handed little time to learn from his mistakes. At Tottenham Hotspur, even allowing for the fact his predecessor was sacked for finishing fourth, he looks to have more of a long-term project on his hands.
He is yet to complete more than one full season as a manager, and that was the Treble-plundering campaign with FC Porto which made his name. Those achievements allowed him an air of entitlement that has often made him difficult to warm to. Such a temperament alienated players and media alike during the Stamford Bridge misadventure. Growing up in public is a requirement of his new footballing life.
"It is not a question of restoring my reputation, it is a mission to put Tottenham back on track with titles" is the statement delivered to the fans via White Hart Lane's video screens. When "AVB" took to the field to greet the Lane faithful ahead of his first Premier League home game, he did so as part of a group that contains new signings Jan Vertonghen, Emmanuel Adebayor and Gylfi Sigurdsson. At Chelsea, there was much talk of a collective, yet the images of Villas-Boas' final days were of isolation and estrangement.
On the evidence of their draw with West Bromwich Albion, the evolution of the new Tottenham will need time, and Villas-Boas has spoken of his desire not to undo the good work that Harry Redknapp undoubtedly did. Aside from Vertonghen, the starting line-up consisted entirely of former Redknapp charges and there was an increasing staleness as the game went on.
With less than a week of the transfer window remaining, there are still players to be bought and sold. To mark his sad but inevitable retirement, Ledley King was paraded at half-time to fans, a celebration staged for a one-club man who could not extend beyond 17 years as a Spurs player.
A smiling Michael Dawson sat at the back of the Spurs bench, his expected move to QPR having stalled. He may yet have a future at the club he clearly has deep feelings for, but until September 1 dawns and his future is resolved he will not be playing. Luka Modric remains out of sight and out of mind as the fax machine outside Daniel Levy's office ticks over, waiting for the correct offer to be sent from Spain.
That is not to say there were no positive signs. Already, Tottenham's style of play would seem to suit the AVB ideal better than the group of power players that greeted him at Chelsea. Redknapp bequeathed a group able to play passing football, and the defence seem much happier to play a high line than Terry and company did at Chelsea. Gareth Bale, priced out of any potential move elsewhere, remains the sharpest Spur.
Restored to the left flank rather than a confusing central role that failed to come off last season, Bale troubled West Brom's Steven Reid all afternoon. His first-half surge should have resulted in a debut goal for Vertonghen but the Dutchman drilled over. On the other flank, Aaron Lennon, that model of inconsistency, exerted similar danger at times, and especially when setting up another Dutchman, Rafael van der Vaart, to miss.
Villas-Boas still has ants in his pants. The low vantage point of the Spurs dug-out means the crouching position he often adopted at Chelsea would find him inspecting little other than the groundsmen's handiwork. After a sedentary start to the afternoon, he was soon to be found cajoling, gesticulating and urging, his deep voice audibly issuing instructions. He is usually to be found waving a hand or a finger, almost as if he believes he can control his players movement through his own body. Perhaps the young Villas-Boas was a games console addict.
Steve Clarke, his opposite number, was once his superior in the Chelsea hierarchy, and is setting out on his own for the first time as 'head coach'. After the victory against Liverpool the previous week, West Brom looked solid at first, and improved from there. They might even have been in the lead after substitute Romelu Lukaku began to cause real trouble. Lukaku, repeatedly overlooked by Villas-Boas at Chelsea, proved a point when causing Tottenham real panic in defence though his hulking physique and strong running. "He was extremely sharp," the boss who froze out the Belgian last season said.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto's goal - via two deflections - came when the balance of play had been marginally in the Midlanders' favour. When West Brom equalised through James Morrison in the last minute, it was definitely a deserved point for the Baggies.
Clarke could reflect on two good results against the division's leading lights. "It is a good start and it should give the players confidence," he said, before exposing himself as one of life's optimists. "I never think it's not going to be my day. It's my make up."
Villas-Boas had been made to wait for his first win as Tottenham manager. "I think it is one more point than last season," he offered, pointing at Redknapp's team a year ago, but there is already a semblance of pressure on the young pretender. He may yet prove he has changed, but in football the business of getting results never alters. As he admitted in a brief moment when the positive spin departed, the first time his team takes all three points will be "very, very important".