Ok, so Andre Villas-Boas may not be the ‘most valuable player’ but he is certainly doing a fine job at White Hart Lane. Yesterday’s home win over Reading was the Lilywhites seventh in nine Premier League games and as 2013 begins they sit third in the table with only Manchester’s United and City above them.
Villas-Boas has his charges playing a fast and fluid style with the irrepressible Gareth Bale and the vastly improving Aaron Lennon to the fore. Jermaine Defoe cannot stop finding the back of the net and, all things being equal, you would struggle to find a more dynamic midfield duo than Sandro and Mousa Dembele up and down the country.
All seems a far cry from the turmoil of a turbulent and fractured summer. With the spectre of Harry Redknapp still lingering in the manager’s office at White Hart Lane chairman Daniel Levy made the bold step to approach Villas-Boas for the vacant manager’s seat. To put it mildly AVB had a difficult time on the other side of London at Chelsea and the blinkered among us doubted whether the 35-year-old Portuguese had what it takes to succeed in the cut and thrust of England’s top division.
But to his credit Levy saw past the nine torrid months at Stamford Bridge and instead put faith in the achievements garnered prior to that less than stellar spell under Roman Abramovich.
AVB began his managerial career at Academica where he guided them from the foot of the table to comfortable safety in 11th. His brand of attacking and stylish football saw him secure the coveted hot seat at Portuguese giants FC Porto with whom he achieved unprecedented success. An unbeaten domestic season and a total of four titles in less than twelve months culminated in him lifting the Europa League, becoming the youngest manager in history to do so.
His arrival at Chelsea in June 2011 as ‘The Special One’ Mark II was seen as a progressive step from Abramovich, moving from the galactico managers of the past to a younger, hungrier commander in chief and a more long-termist approach.
Yet after high profile criticism from senior players and mounting media pressure in February of last year AVB was given his marching orders after a poor run of domestic form and a disappointing European campaign.
From the outside, to dismiss him only nine months into his ‘long-term project’ seemed, at best, an unfair decision even by Abramovich’s famously ruthless standards. On appointment Villas-Boas was tasked with lowering the age of the squad and moving some of the more established names on and replacing them with younger and more exciting prospects. To then be criticised for dropping the then 33-year-old Frank Lampard from the side seemed a little rich. The fact that the team assembled by him went on to claim both the FA Cup and Champions League crowns has been largely forgotten.
If you discount his relative failure at Chelsea, albeit with a wealth of mitigating circumstances, then for him to take the helm at Spurs just twelve months after those unbridled successes was a coup for a team Redknapp left without Champions League football.
Yet his appointment in July of this year was not greeted with universal approval both from within his own supporters and in the wider media. Add to that the sale of his best player – Luka Modric – to Real Madrid and the problems for AVB were mounting even before the first Premier League whistle of the season had been blown.
But as 2013 begins the doom mongers have been consigned to the minority with an overwhelming sense of positivity surrounding the club, a club on the rise. While a tilt at the top may be a little premature, a spot in next year’s Champions League seems a more than realistic goal.
To return to the scene of the crime after such a public discrediting was a brave and courageous decision for the Portuguese to make. A switch to La Liga or back home to Portugal would have been an easy option but choosing to take a job back in the limelight of the Premier League and in doing so returning to London deserves plaudits. After enduring an overly-extended period of criticism, credit is now due. Andre Villas-Boas is confounding his doubters and forging a quietly impressive Premier League CV in the process, albeit twelve months later than he may once have perhaps imagined.
By Ben Burrows