In Defense of AVB

When Andre Villas Boas was unveiled as Tottenham manager I was excited. I thought it was a brave, forward thinking appointment. Some fans and a large proportion of the media didn’t seem to agree. Since then AVB has had his ups and downs and the jury is still out. He seems to polarise opinion; some like him and want him to succeed, some hate him and mock his every decision. I’m not sure whether he will ultimately be a success, nor whether he’ll be given the time, but here’s why I for one think he’s worth persevering with.

Positives

  • He has worked with two great managers

AVB’s first break in football was given to him by Bobby Robson who apparently got into a conversion with him in the apartment block they both lived in and was so impressed by his opinions on the game that he gave him a job. After this he worked as assistant coach under Jose Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. Two impressive men to have worked with and learnt from. Perhaps even more pertinent is the fact that they picked him out as someone with talent.

  • His record in Portugal

His first managerial position was at Academica, a team normally found mid-table in the Portuguese Primeira Liga. When he took over, the team were bottom and without a win. His impact was immediate, taking the team to 11th place while playing attractive football.

This lead to him getting one of the biggest jobs in Portugal as manager of Porto where his reputation really took off. Porto had finished the previous season in third position, eight points off the winners, Benfica. In his one and only season, Porto won the league remaining undefeated, a feat even his former mentor Mourinho did not achieve. The team also won the Portuguese cup and the Europa League, making him the youngest manager ever to win a European trophy.

Now some will say it’s only Portugal, or that Porto frequently win the league whoever is their manager. However, to go undefeated and win every competition you are entered in, in your first season, is incredibly impressive. Surely even Villas Boas’ biggest critics have to admit that he must have talent to have achieved all of that. A look at the table shows just how impressive a season it was.

Primeira Liga 2010 - 2011

2010 – 2011 Primeira Liga (Note: The winners the previous season were Benfica)

  • Modern European methods with English experience

AVB is very young for a manager. He’s bound to make some mistakes but he also brings a fresh perspective to the Premier League and some modern European methods. He has had an education in football both through the study he has undertaken, his tutelage under Robson and Mourinho and his experience of several of the top European Leagues whilst working with Mourinho.

Unusually he marries this with an understanding of English culture and football that he has gained from learning the language as a boy from his English Grandmother, through his links with Bobby Robson, his time spent studying for coaching badges in Scotland and at Ipswich Town and his two spells at Chelsea.

Answering the criticisms

So these are some of the reasons I like him. What about some of the criticisms often levelled against him.

  • He’s not Harry

This was always going to be a problem for whoever came after Redknapp. He was very successful at Spurs, saving us from relegation, getting us to the Champions League and at the same time making us one of the most exciting teams to watch. Some of my favourite memories as a Spurs supporter are from his time in charge. The wins against Arsenal, the Champions League ties against the Milan teams. I’m very grateful to him for these.

However, he’s gone now and it’s time to move on. We didn’t sack Harry to get AVB, Harry would have left anyway. Last year was a very traumatic year for Harry at Spurs. The court case, the England speculation, our disastrous run of form in the second half of the season and our last gasp loss of the final Champions League place to Chelsea. There are many reasons for Harry’s departure, not least his contract demands. AVB isn’t one of them.

  • Chelsea

AVB’s stint as Chelsea manager was clearly not a success. He lost the dressing room and appeared out of his depth. This is probably why people in England are so suspicious of him, this is their only first hand experience of him. He made plenty of mistakes while he was at Stamford Bridge and hopefully he has learnt from them. However, there were also plenty of mitigating factors.

Firstly, the spectre of Jose Mourinho has hung over every Chelsea manager since he left. For AVB, who was one of Morinho’s assistants, this must have been even worse. It is famously hard for an assistant at a club to make the transition to manager partly because the players still perceive them as an assistant.

Secondly there are two strong characters at the club who both think they are in charge rather than the manager; Roman Abramovich and John Terry. Being stuck between these two cannot be easy. Add in a raft of other powerful senior players, the huge expectations at the club and Abramovich’s wish to refresh the team and totally change the style of play and you can see why success would have been a miracle.

Just look at Di Matteo his successor. Despite a good start to his tenure, results have deteriorated, the pressure is now on and reports suggest he is fighting for his job.

Stop Press … Matteo has just been sacked which pretty much backs up my point

  • Media

The media has not been very kind to AVB. This is in part due to his disastrous spell at Chelsea. Once the media has decided on a particular narrative for a manager or player it is hard to change.

Redknapp is particularly popular amongst journalists. To realise this you only need to look at the media speculation around the England manager’s job. This weekend the north London derby was live on Sky and the highlights were on Match of the Day. On Sky one of the studio guests was Jamie Redknapp and on MOTD it was Harry himself. Is Villas Boas likely to get a fair hearing?

  • Overcomplicates tactics and team selection

There is a section of supporters and the media who seem to be suspicious of AVB’s modern ways of coaching. This ties in to the “he’s not Harry” complaint. Harry was one of them, a simple man from the old school. Goodness, according to his trial evidence he couldn’t even use a computer. AVB is perceived to to use more complicated tactics and more modern ideas and this is seen as not being the English way.

When I was at White Hart Lane for the Wigan game, the crowd were hurling abuse at the players and the manager, quite rightly as we were awful. However they saved the greatest opprobrium for a small incident when there was a break in play. AVB was on the sideline trying to show a player something he had written on a piece of paper, presumably some tactical instructions. This made the fans more irate than all the misplaced passes. “Stop showing them bits of f***ing paper” shouted a man behind me. What a strange, modern, foreign, new fangled idea to introduce the skills of reading and writing into football management. Are we ever going to move forward as a team if this is people’s attitude.

Redknapp of course added to these sentiments with his comment about dossiers baffling players. Well as AVB pointed out, Mourinho uses them and his record speaks for itself.

  • Spurs current form

Spurs’ form has not been great but it hasn’t been terrible either. We have looked very good in spells in most games but equally we have looked slow and ponderous in others. This is understandable under the circumstances. Any manager needs time to mold the team in their image.

If you look at our results this calendar year, the team was not playing that well at the end of Redknapp’s time in charge. Then we lost two key players, Van der Vart and more importantly Modric our key man in midfield. We have bought some good new players but they will take time to bed in, and we missed out on AVB’s top target Moutinho. This looks increasingly unfortunate given our lack of cohesion and dynamism in midfield.

Redknapp last 12 league games: 16 points
AVB first 12 league games: 17 points

Conclusion

It may sound like I’m AVB’s biggest fan, that I am sure he will go on to great things. Well that’s not the case. I realise that he’s a risk, that it could all go wrong. I just think he has the potential and a coach with potential is better than a “safe pair of hands”, one of the usual suspects. If we can’t have Harry Redknapp why have a poor copy? Why not go for someone new and different?

If all that hasn’t convinced you then look on the bright side, at least we don’t have Mark Hughes.

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