Last season Andre Villas-Boas’ career seemed fatally damaged – in England anyway – all occurring in what seemed be in the blink of an eye. Having been sacked as Chelsea boss on March 4th the English football media – and many football fans alike, had painted him a failure, a joke of sorts so enshrined with what a modern manager should be, yet neglecting the essential basics. Ten months on he manages Spurs, who lie in 4th place and only 4 points behind his previous club Chelsea.
The career of AVB is a well-known one. Having never played the game professionally, having the capacity to talk tactics in-depth, being only 35, well versed in a couple of languages and not to mention good-looking he symbolises everything about the ‘modern manager’.
At the age of 16 Villas-Boas was lucky enough himself living in the same apartment block as no other than Sir Bobby Robson, who was then manager of Porto. Andre had wanted to be a football reporter, never having the ability to make it as a player professionally. Andre approached Robson a couple of times, pestering him to give him some job at the club. Eventually Andre’s persistence paid off, as Robson appointed Villas-Boas to Porto’s ‘observation department’ (whatever that is). AVB insists that Robson was key to his development, maintaining that: “He was decisive in the love I feel for this profession and for the doors he opened for me at that age. I owe him.”
Robson clearly saw he had potential to develop a complex understanding of the game from very early on. Robson arranged for Villas-Boas to obtain his initial coaching badges, while he was also sent to study the training methods of Ipswich Town while still a teen. Villas-Boas had a short and quite unusual stint as head coach of the British Virgin Islands national team at the age of 21, though he left only months later. While Robson created the foundations for the manager me know today, his next move shaped him into the critical thinker – and winner, that we know today.
Moving back to Porto to take charge of the Under-19 side, he continued to pick up his coaching badges, receiving his B and A licenses. After progressing as manager of the youth side he was promoted to study under another young manager – named Jose Mourinho. While working under Mourinho Porto won 2 Primera Liga titles, a UEFA Cup and The Champions League.
It was no surprise when Villas-Boas followed Mourinho to Chelsea and Inter Milan. At Chelsea, his role was to compile Opponent Observation Department (OOD) reports – basically a secret dossier on Chelsea’s rivals, and usually delivered as a DVD presentation. It’s quite obvious AVB embraced the modern era of football with a hunger never seen before. A year after Mourinho had taken on a new chapter of his career at Inter in 2009-10, Villas-Boas took the decision to cut the cord and try to make it on his own.
Having set out to forge a career on his own, Andre found his first club managerial role at Portuguese club Académica in October following the previous managers sacking. At the time of his appointment, Académica were at the bottom of the league and still without any wins. AVB began to implement his own attacking methods, generally a fast-paced possession game deployed in a 4-3-3 formation. Soon his methods began to encourage the players of brighter days ahead. Results gradually improved and he lead them to a safe 11th place – ten points clear of the relegation zone. In addition to that, Académica also reached the 2009–10 Portuguese League Cup semi-finals, losing out to Porto.
His impact at Académica was immediate, not only because of the improvement in results, but also because of the attractive football displayed by the team. Intense media-speculation began to link AVB with the managerial role at both Portugal’s leading club sides in Porto and Sporting Lisbon. His next move is when the bright young coach became a name universally known. Just over a year later he would be sought after by one of the world’s richest clubs.
The next 12 months brought upon a whirlwind of success for Porto, which was spearheaded by the beast we know today in Ramadel Falcao. Two months after his appointment, he won his first trophy as a manager when Porto won the Portuguese Supercup. The success didn’t stop there, as Villas-Boas went on to gain unrivaled success with Porto, leading them to an undefeated season in the Primeira Liga – only the second time this had ever been achieved – and winning the title by more than 20 points, wile the conceded a meager 13 goals all season. Truly a feat worth of serious recognition. Nevertheless, it seems his next move came a year too early, though a phone call and subsequent offer of the Chelsea job from one Roman Abramovich is one not many (only Pep Guardiola) have been able to say no to.
AVB’s time in London was short-lived. There were many reasons why it didn’t work out at Chelsea. Some of the obvious ones were his lack of pragmatism on the job. He wanted to play 4-3-3 with a high defensive line. With the lack of pace possessed by then Captain John Terry it simply never worked out. Also, he seemed to try to change things too quickly, the marginalisation of key players and fan favourites like Lampard not appeasing the skeptical fans nor London-based media. Even trivial matters such as his touch-line posture and use of a notepad were mocked. He clearly made mistakes but the way he was treated was truly ridiculous. While many pundits and journalists alike said he didn’t suit the Premier League – portraying their laughable ignorance, his next appointment he would change their minds, whether the liked it or not.
In the Summer he was heavily linked with the vacant Liverpool job but after they appointed equally young coach Brendan Rodgers Spurs made a move for the young Portuguese manager following the controversial sacking of fan favourite Harry Redknapp.
AVB made some interesting signings in the Summer following his appointment at Spurs. There was the smart signing of technically gifted midfielder Dembele from Fulham while the signing of attacking midfielder Sigurðsson under the nose of Liverpool looked good (until it became apparent he would find it hard to get in the team). A new goalkeeper in France number 1 Lloris was brought in to take over the aging Brad Friedel looks a good move while the signing of previous loan signing Adebayor added much-needed numbers to the thin forward line. The versatile American Clint Dempsey was added late on – again under the noses of Liverpool.
The most interesting aspect of AVB’s Spurs side is not their ongoing progression in the league, but the way he has gone about achieving these good results. Seemingly a thoroughbred 4-3-3 man, I never envisaged him to allow for any change. This season AVB has shown immense pragmatism, playing a 4-4-2 system, yet retaining the pace and possession game he yearns for. This has shown an extra layer to his managerial skill-set.
Spurs have looked great all season, showing a new-found resilience, their greatest feat in grabbing a last-gasp equaliser against Manchester United last night. They now lie 4th, 4 points behind his former club Chelsea. Spurs would be mine and most people’s favourites to get 4th place. Having lost their star player Luka Modric in the Summer, to match last season’s 4th place finish would be no mean feat.
What lies next for Spurs remain unclear. The next step should be consolidation in regards to 4th place. Spurs will need to consistently make proper challenges for 4th. They have a talented young manager, and some really talented players, yet their squad is very thin and could be exposed should any injuries arise. Spurs are ran like a well oiled machine, with Daniel Levy consistently showing other Chairmen how to run a football club efficiently an successfully. For this season I think Spurs are nailed on for 4th, though the sky may be the limit without major funding.