Andre Villas-Boas was shown the door at Tottenham Hotspur on Monday afternoon, but did he deserve more time to turn things around?
With his reputation battered from his brief and ill-fated spell at Chelsea, it was something of a risk when Daniel Levy appointed the Portuguese coach in 2012. As legend goes, Villas-Boas wasn’t even on the initial list of potential candidates to succeed Harry Redknapp, yet the Tottenham board were so blown away by his vision and plans for the future, they handed him a three-year contract.
“Andre has an outstanding reputation for his technical knowledge of the game and for creating well-organised teams capable of playing football in an attractive and attacking style,” the Spurs chairman told the official club website of the man who had delivered four trophies in his one season in charge of FC Porto.
The task facing AVB from day one was to get the club into the UEFA Champions League, a competition they would have been playing in had his successor at Stamford Bridge, Roberto Di Matteo, not led the Blues to an unlikely victory when Didier Drogba converted the crucial spot-kick to defeat Bayern; Redknapp had guided them to a fourth-place finish that season, but they were resigned to the UEFA Europa League as their capital rivals, who ended the campaign in sixth, were given the chance to defend the crown they won in Munich.
Finishing fourth was a good achievement for Redknapp and his side, yet a look at the league table shows they were still some way off the pace; both Manchester City and Manchester United, who finished first and second respectively, accumulated 20 more points. Whilst AVB could only lead Tottenham to fifth in his debut season, they had closed the gap to second placed City to just six points, and their haul of 72 was the largest ever not to have been rewarded with a Champions League spot.
And the Portuguese managed this despite the early unrest in his squad, when his star player at the time, Luka Modric, made himself unavailable in the early stages of the season as he sought a move to Real Madrid. That move was completed on 27 August, just four days before another creative force, Rafael van der Vaart, left for Hamburg; both players had featured in a combined 69 league matches of the previous season when Redknapp had clinched fourth position.
It wasn’t all bad news in the transfer market, though, and it is often overlooked that AVB did some fine business himself: Hugo Lloris, the France international, was signed from Lyon and is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the world; and Jan Vertonghen, the Belgian defender, would walk into any back four in the Premier League. Gylfi Sigurdsson, Moussa Dembele and Lewis Holtby were also good signings who have proved their worth to the White Hart Lane cause.
On the pitch, they recorded a first win at Old Trafford since 1989, when United were defeated 3-2 in a thrilling contest. They destroyed Aston Villa in the Midlands on Boxing Day, beat neighbours and archrivals Arsenal in March, beat champions Manchester City 3-1 at home, and earned a 2-2 draw at Chelsea.
The inspiration for much of their good form was Gareth Bale, a player Redknapp, or so we are led to believe, was prepared to offload during his time at the helm. Under AVB, the Wales international was given more freedom to express himself, and he did so to such an extent he was being compared to Cristiano Ronaldo. And when he was named both PFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year, the forward paid tribute to his coach, who he later referred to as a ‘great manager’.
Yet instead of the pair being able to continue this season, Bale was sold to Real for a fee in the region of £85million in the summer. Many Tottenham fans accepted that such an offer would have been foolish to reject, regardless of the quality of player they were losing. It is fair to suggest, though, that Villas-Boas deserves much credit for his part in the development of the former Southampton youngster, which ultimately enabled the club to demand such a fee for his signature.
Levy made the money available to reinvest in the squad, and a number of high-profile signings were made ahead of the current season: Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Christian Eriksen, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches and Nacer Chadli were all snapped up for a combined sum of around £105million. Each one would have expected a regular start for their new employers, despite the amount of talent already in the White Hart Lane ranks before their arrivals. Yet how can anybody reasonably be expected to introduce seven new players in the side whilst pushing for a top-four place in the most competitive league in the world?
Unfortunately for AVB, that is exactly what he was expected to do. And at the start of the season, there were few complaints as far as results go: four wins from their opening five matches was tampered only by a narrow defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. Yet it was the heavy defeats which undoubtedly did for the 36-year-old: a 3-0 reverse at home to West Ham United, the 6-0 trouncing at Manchester City, and, this weekend, the 5-0 home loss to Liverpool.
Yet despite these defeats, Tottenham remain two points clear of champions Manchester United. They are five behind Manchester City, who currently occupy the all-important final Champions League qualifying spot. Indeed, they are only eight behind current leaders Arsenal, with 22 matches still left to play.
Not only this, but whoever is appointed as the next man in charge can look forward to pitting his wits in the Europa League, a competition in which AVB has led them to six wins from six matches. Also, if they can exact revenge and get past West Ham on Wednesday night, they will be in the semi-final of the League Cup.
Overall, AVB was making progress at Tottenham, regardless of those defeats which forced Levy and co into making their decision this week. And given more time, there is no reason why this progress would not have continued.