Make no mistake, there were clear issues at Tottenham Hotspur, but the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas smacks of the short-termism in football that we’ve all come to know and hate.
In the wake of a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool, Tottenham made the decision to part company with their Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas. It is perhaps not the most surprising of managerial departures given the difficulties Spurs have experienced since the season began, but when one considers the task that AVB faced at White Hart Lane, it’s difficult not to feel that this is a silly dismissal, borne out of a desire for instant success and delusions of grandeur.
See the thing is, despite their teething problems, Tottenham aren’t actually massively underachieving. Sure, big defeats to Man City and Liverpool as well as a disappointing loss at the hands of West Ham have not been good for the club, but despite this they sit seventh in the league, a mere five points from the top four. Let’s not forget that Spurs have actually only finished in the top four twice in the entire history of the Premier League.
AVB’s detractors point to the substantial outlay in the summer, suggesting that he deserved to lose his job because he has failed to make the most of his new players. However, this point of view needs to be put into context. Last season, Tottenham’s team was based around Gareth Bale and he was their matchwinner. As we all know, Bale left for Real Madrid at the end of the summer. As much as Spurs claim not to be a ‘selling club’, the decision of Daniel Levy to sell the Welshman is damning evidence to the contrary.
If we consider the three main transfer sagas of the summer: Wayne Rooney to Chelsea, Gareth Bale to Real Madrid and Luis Suarez to anywhere but Liverpool, we can’t help but notice that only one of those moves went through. And really, that is perhaps the most obvious evidence that Tottenham are a selling club. It’s not true to say that Levy had no choice, because he absolutely did. Rooney wasn’t allowed to leave United. Suarez wasn’t allowed to leave Liverpool. But Bale was allowed to leave Tottenham. Enough said really.
The reason for bringing up Bale is to illustrate that any team is going to struggle when their most important player is sold. It’s difficult to comprehend, but just try to imagine how much worse United’s season would have gone so far had David Moyes acquiesced to Wayne Rooney’s pleas to leave. Ditto Suarez and Liverpool.
In order to ‘replace’ Bale, Levy sanctioned the signings of no fewer than seven players. Who chose those players? Not AVB. Levy installed Franco Baldini as Technical Director in the summer, and the Italian was the man charged with recruiting new players for the Tottenham side. The pros and cons of having a ‘director of football’ type position have been widely debated in the footballing world, but to me, it seems fairly obvious that for whatever reason it doesn’t work in England. One would think that Levy might have learnt this lesson when working with his previous ‘director’ Damien Comolli when Comolli invested heavily in the squad seemingly without even consulting the Martin Jol – the man in charge at the time. Comolli bought a number of players who failed to fire, and after being sacked by Levy, the Frenchman went to Liverpool and did exactly the same.
So to summarise, AVB built his Spurs side around Gareth Bale, and last year he became Spurs most important player. Daniel Levy sold the Welshman, and then got someone other than the manager to sign replacements. When those stark facts are considered, is it any wonder that Spurs have looked rather lost this season? Not only have they lost their most important attacking outlet and their main source of goals, but their manager has also had seven new players foisted on him; none of whom were chosen by him.
Furthermore, one has to question the wisdom of signing some of the players that Baldini recruited. Is it really sensible to buy Erik Lamela for £30m? Is it not very obvious that Moussa Dembele and Paulinho are similar players, who probably won’t be able to play together? Is it a good idea to buy a 5ft 10 forward to play as a lone striker against the 6ft+ centre back that has become the norm in the Premier League?
Not only does it seem clear that Baldini’s recruitment strategy left a lot to be desired, but there is also the small matter of trying to create a team blend. Football fans will know that it can take months, even seasons, to shape a football side, and in my opinion, expecting instant success after effectively buying a new team is absurd. None of the players recruited by Baldini had ever played Premier League football before, and it is therefore unreasonable to expect them to all be world beaters inside their first few months at the club; as they acclimatise not just to a new style of football, but a new country, culture and for some, a new language.
When one considers all the facts, it seems clear that the most important factor in determining whether or not AVB was capable of taking Spurs onto the next level was time. The Portuguese needed time to shape his squad, to instill his footballing philosophy into his players and time to help them familiarise themselves with the English game. Sadly, Levy has not seen fit to provide him with that time, and given that he led Tottenham to a record points total last season, it’s something that I believe he deserved. He has been treated very poorly by Tottenham, and has every right to feel aggrieved about his dismissal.
The bookmakers have installed Fabio Capello as the favourite to succeed Villas-Boas (he may have been appointed by the time you read this), and if that doesn’t inspire a sense of déjà vu in the minds of Tottenham fans, they have very short memories. After Levy sacked Jol; in similar circumstances, the Spurs chairman appointed Spaniard Juande Ramos; a manager with no Premier League experience, and limited understanding of the English language. It did not end well. Now that he has sacked AVB, he is reported to be bringing in an Italian manager, with no Premier League experience and a limited understanding of the English language. It may go differently this time, but I wouldn’t bet on it.