As indicated when I concluded the 2011-12 end-of-season blog, Yesterday’s Papers, which was written when Harry Redknapp was still Manager, I thought the time was right for Tottenham to look to a long-term plan.
In the last twenty years, only five clubs have won the Premier League. Two, Manchester United and Arsenal, have enjoyed success as part of long-term approach. Although Arsene Wenger won the League in his first full-season, the model that brought three Championships, including two doubles, was based on building a foundation. The same has of course been true at Manchester United, with a Manager in place for a long-term tenure.
The other three clubs, Blackburn, Chelsea and Manchester City, have all benefited from a large injection of cash. But even if Tottenham were to suddenly find themselves flush with greater financial resource from new investors, it is the first model that is the way forward.
Harry Redknapp’s departure was inevitable due to the specifics of the situation, the reasons of which I expanded on in this piece for The Football Project. But the aim of the change was not just another hit on the fruit machine in an effort to strike lucky on a new Manager to bring greater success: it is part of the development a long-term plan where the relative progress of the last three years is built upon.
That is why the new man, Andre Villas–Boas, is not the new Manager, but the Head Coach. It is the structure that is key, with a Head Coach who believes in playing passing, moving and attacking football, and developing technical ability and footballing intelligence. This 2009 interview with Daniel Sousa, who is now our opposition scout, in which Villa-Boas talks about his time working at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, suggests he has those attributes. (It is a fascinating read, although if he thinks Drogba has a bad first touch, his orange hair may turn grey if he sees Adebayor try and trap a ball).
While clearly a student of the game, Villas-Boas’ return to Chelsea raised doubts about the way he man-managed players he already knew and the way he handled the press and the pressure. Which is why it was pleasing to hear him say yesterday he knew he had made mistakes last season yet still found it a very gratifying experience from which he has learned. Though Chelsea finished sixth in the League last season, their decline started under Carlo Ancholetti the previous season, as I wrote in ‘Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ ahead of a potential 2010/11 Champions League Quarter-Final.
The experience of understanding one-size doesn’t fit all, when it comes to both man-management and tactics is crucial. If Villas-Boas work experience in West London has taught him that, it has been time well spent from which we will hopefully benefit. Double training sessions won’t work for every player, just as having a tactical approach is fine, as long as recognizing formations depend on the talent at your disposal. Even Pep Guardiola adjusted Barcelona’s formation last season to suit both his players and the situation, while still maintaining his principles. Not having the ability to adapt, and being insistent on one formation, is asking for trouble.
All-in-all it was a positive first public appearance for the new Head Coach yesterday. He spoke about “us”, he wasn’t shy to talk about challenging for silverware and he even spoke about “Harry”, although he hadn’t got the measure of how to drop the ‘aitch.
The references to Redknapp’s legacy were on the money though. In the few minutes of answers Villa-Boas gave the mics, voice recorders and mobile phones stuck under his chin against the sleek looking backdrop of our new training ground yesterday, it was good to hear his wish to build upon the excellent foundations in the first-team squad already there.
With Juande Ramos’ first-full season fresh in the memory, The Board will surely have made clear that while progression is important, it is no good throwing the baby out with the bath water. At the start of 2008-09 the majority of the first-team was replaced - experience and goals gone, the talent of Aaron Lennon bizarrely excluded for David Bentley, one of eight new first-team players who struggled to cope with the burden of expectation in a formation that wasn’t getting the best of out of them. Ramos should have played 4-2-3-1, with Lennon, Modric and Dos Santos playing behind Pavlechcnko, in a position he excelled in just weeks earlier in Euro 2008.
Four years on, success is within reach for this Tottenham side if Villas-Boas makes the most out of the very good squad he has. And the leadership, experience and footballing qualities of Scott Parker and Rafa van der Vaart could be as crucial as the players who developed so well last year, like Walker and Kaboul. Combined with the new signings, that would include a top class striker, and the squad is as strong as any in the country other than Manchester City. So, Villa-Boas was right to talk about “titles”, with respect to both winning cups and challenging for the League.
The start will be important. With a pro-Redknapp press looking for mistakes, the pressure of a bad start could affect the confidence of the players. But it is clear the Board are more concerned about the structure, and having a system in place that will continue even if any of the new appointments don’t work out. The choice of Steffan Freund, a player who always showed his commitment on the pitch but looked like he could spend extra–time on the training ground working on his crosses from the right and his shooting, shows the Board have appointed not only an up and coming coach with a loyalty to Tottenham, but a pair of eyes and ears in the dressing room of someone they trust. And it makes sense in what is a new managerial team in a developing structure.
As is to be expected, all the noises in Week One of Training are positive, with every player seemingly being given a clean slate. Even Bentley has said he is eager to show the new Coach what he has to offer. Let’s hope he doesn’t think that means he should start kicking balls into a skip again.
However well training is going, the aim now should be for the club to complete its transfer business by the end of July.
|My e-book on Tottenham Hotspur's return to the European Cup after an absence of 49 seasons is now available to buy for £4.27 (inc VAT) on Amazon and Smashwords. It recalls the Glory Nights at the San Siro, the North London Derby Comeback, Peter Crouch's winner at Manchester City, putting Inter to the sword at White Hart Lane and Diego Maradona's one appearance in a Spurs shirt. It ends with an epilogue at the end of 2012 season, the day after another season of Europa League was confirmed. Further details and photos here.|