Daniel Levy isn’t regarded as a man to shy away from a gamble or two. The notoriously hardball playing Tottenham Hotspur chairman often gets what he wants. But when André Villas-Boas was announced as Harry Redknapp’s successor – four months after his ignominious exit from Stamford Bridge – some thought that Levy had finally overstepped the mark.
Reputation, though, had clouded the judgement of many Spurs supporters. Villas-Boas was as much a victim of circumstance as he was of himself at Chelsea. He opted for revolution as opposed to evolution. His sacking was inevitable and Chelsea winning the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League was vindication of that. But buoyed by the knowledge that his stock has remained high, the 35-year-old Portuguese man has arrived at Spurs a reformed character – ready to put his previous wrongs right and to lead his side into the coveted top four of the Barclays Premier League.
If Redknapp baked the Spurs cake, then Villas-Boas has been charged with decorating it. And rather than overhauling the framework, the former Porto manager has sensibly tweaked his squad. Luka ModriÄ‡ and Rafeal van der Vaart may have departed but in Jan Vetonghen and Moussa Dembélé, Villas-Boas has both European experience, and in the case of the latter, a man well versed in the rough and tumble of the Barclays Premier League. And with some of the more established stars, amongst them Scott Parker, currently occupying the sidelines, Villas-Boas has genuine options at his disposal.
Furthermore, reputation, it seems, now counts for little. Instead, Spurs is a meritocracy. Centre-back Steven Caulker, who served his apprenticeship at Swansea City last season, has come through the ranks whilst the Brazilian defensive midfielder Sandro has become more ambitious in his passing and a commanding presence in the centre of midfield. But it is Jermain Defoe, who appeared surplus to requirements under Redknapp, who has epitomised this newfound philosophy. The England forward has been rewarded for his goalscoring prowess with a regular place in the starting XI, keeping one Emmanuel Adebayor warming the bench.
All the signs point towards a man who has learned the importance of team chemistry and communication – both of which where his downfall at Stamford Bridge. Gone are the days of ‘Crouching André, Hidden Villas-Boas’ – of the intense and, at times, combative individual. Now he appears relaxed and ready to foster the collective ‘team spirit’ principle in which he prides himself on. There are no cliques. Each player is treated equally, be it Brad Friedel or his younger goalkeeping understudy Hugo Lloris. And the Spurs players have responded emphatically: they’re ready to understand his ideology.
Just as with his treble-winning Porto side of 2010-2011, Spurs have, in patches, played with attacking intent and always with the ball on the playing surface, as was demonstrated to great effect in their first-half performance against Manchester United in September, where Spurs recorded their first win since 1989. Throughout the team, especially on the wings, there is genuine pace and purpose, symbolized none more so than by the electric Welsh wizardry of Gareth Bale, undoubtedly the jewel in Villas-Boas’ crown. Nonetheless, it is still too early to determine whether the squad possesses enough experience and depth to take the club to the next level.
Although Villas-Boas remains prone to tactical naivety, he has demonstrated an equal measure of flexibility – QPR at home being the case in point. Trailing 0-1 at half-time, Villas-Boas shifted his back four, moving Vertonghen out from centre-back to left-back, Bale onto the left-wing and Clint Dempsey to occupy the hole in behind Defoe. The changes paid dividends. Spurs went on two win 2-1. Dempsey, though, remains a square peg in a round whole whilst Gylfi Sigurðsson has yet to make the same waves as he did during his loan spell at Swansea City last season.
Two defeats in nine Barclays Premier League games and undefeated in the Europa League this season, Spurs encouraging start has, momentarily, silenced the naysayers. Reinvented and revitalized, the real André Villas-Boas is on his feet and ready to be counted.