Will Andre Villas-Boas Succeed At Tottenham And Achieve More Than Harry Redknapp?

Andre Villas-Boas is a very confident man, and that’s a good thing because he has very ambitious plans. Recently appointed by Tottenham Hotspur, the man who flamed out at Chelsea is already talking about mounting a title challenge, but doing it his own way. Will his methods work this time?

Last season, despite Harry Redknapp’s repeated assertions that he was no tactical mastermind Spurs always set out to play in a specific style. Normally a 4-4-1-1 that ensured they weren’t outnumbered in midfield without the ball, they averaged the fifth highest possession in the Premiership. Offensively, the designated attacking midfielder would play passes beyond the defense or to the flanks where they had pace and trickery in the form of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon. The system didn’t always work; most notably Rafael Van der Vaart was often lazy without the ball and sometimes didn’t do enough to link the team. Redknapp was also quick to realize when things weren’t working and changed games through half-time substitutions several times, notably against Arsenal in the 2010-11 season, a game that Spurs came back to win 3-2.

Under ‘Arry’s style of football Tottenham finished fourth and for much of the season occupied one of the automatic Champions League spots, so it would appear that Villas-Boas has a solid team to work with. However, with a shallow squad, and the fact that one side in England has already rejected the Portuguese’s way of playing his appointment could also be a step in the wrong direction that takes Spurs years to recover from.

The reason why this appointment is so special, even at a club that’s been through seven managers in the past ten years, is that Andre Villas-Boas will have plans to completely reshape the club’s style in his own image. Most managers will bring one or two favorite players with them when they move clubs but Villas-Boas goes further. As seen at Chelsea, he replaced the playing time of former stalwarts with players he either brought in or out from the cold to fit his own system. He also shifted Chelsea’s players from the 4-3-3 they had played under the previous four managers to his 4-2-1-3 with Mata as a central playmaker. All this was done in less than a full season. And he wasn’t finished, in an interview with The Guardian, Villas-Boas has said that Roman Abramovich knew about his plans to further alter the playing style and staff of the club, but got cold feet and went back to the tried and true Chelsea formula.

Villas-Boas has already tried to make his mark on Tottenham, effectively replacing Rafael Van der Vaart with Gylfi Sigurdsson. Symbolically this can be read as making a clean break from Redknapp by replacing his most successful transfer capture. However, in football terms Van der Vaart didn’t fit the system. He had the ability to press decently in the first few minutes of games but often ran out of gas around the hour mark and was useless defensively. Gylfi Sigurdsson, effectively his replacement, cost around the same but is seven years younger and averages a tackle and interception more per game. The Icelandic midfielder had also been playing in a heavy-pressing system at Swansea for a good part of last season. Villas-Boas likes to keep the game in the opposition’s half and to play a high line. Defending starts from the front and in this sort of system Van der Vaart would be marginalized.

Similar to this was the transfer of Gary Cahill to Chelsea. Villas-Boas had recognized that not only were his central defenders like John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic resistant to the new style he wanted; they simply couldn’t play it very well. Their age and build made them excellent penalty box defenders but high up the pitch their offside trap and lack of pace was constantly exposed. Terry in particular was beaten constantly on the turn. Cahill, while perhaps not having as much natural ability as the two mentioned above and playing in a leaky defense at Bolton, had all the attributes to succeed in Villas-Boas’ system. According to this piece by Zonal Marking, not only did Cahill catch the most players offside per game, he played in a side that was used to playing high up the field and catching people offside.

Another way Villas-Boas his marking his legacy on Tottenham is his valuation of Luka Modric. Once deemed so important to Spurs that they rejected a £40 million bid from Chelsea and deemed by Redknapp to be “irreplaceable”, it seems now that the club is willing to let him go and replace him with Joao Moutinho. Someone Villas-Boas used to great effect in his days with Porto. The two players have similar pass completion statistics while Moutinho is also much more aggressive defensively, similar to another former Porto player Villas-Boas bought at Chelsea, Raul Meireles. If this move was made, (and obviously there’s no guarantee it will be), it would further add tackling and energy to the side while the extra Modric funds could be used to accrue depth. Further forward Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon are energetic and Emmanuel Adebayor is an intelligent striker, the front three will often be used to press the opposition backline and force the keeper to kick long.

Not only will Villas-Boas reshape the squad’s members to fit his mold, (which didn’t work out too well at Chelsea), he will adjust the style and tempos of Spur’s play starting from the back. In defense Tottenham have a similar problem to Chelsea, while they have excellent offensive fullbacks their central defense would appear to enjoy playing closer to their own penalty area. Tottenham were middle of the pack in playing opponents offside last season. And it only stands to reason that when a manager tries to shoehorn players into a system that they don’t fit disharmony will reign. That was the real reason for all the discord and ‘egos’ at Chelsea.

Of course the transfer season is not over, and Villas-Boas has presumably got corporate backing and at least some funds to implement his style of play smoothly. The rumored transfer of Jan Vertonghen from Ajax, a younger, more aggressive player, would start to help shape the defense in his way. If the transition doesn’t work out, however, as bad as the situation looked at Chelsea it would be even worse at White Hart Lane. Chelsea had the deep squad and the deeper pockets to ensure that despite Villas-Boas’ failure they still finished reasonably high in the league, won a domestic cup, and got into the Champions League this season. Players that fit the Portuguese’s style of play but no other can be treated as sunk costs while Abramovich splurges on big names for Roberto Di Matteo. Tottenham are not so rich a club that they can afford many seasons of failure. Their wage structure is already putting off needed acquisitions and if they seem to be fading further from success recruiting will become even harder.

Andre Villas-Boas has basically only one style of play, a Guus Hiddink style tactical chameleon he’s not. Tottenham are investing quite a lot in his style of football despite the fact that they may have many of the same problems as Chelsea. From everything Villas-Boas has said and done, the claims that Chelsea would have still won their titles with him at the helm, the threat to pull out of the running for the Tottenham position, it seems that he’s a manager with utmost belief and confidence in himself and his methods. Perhaps there won’t be the same egos and resistance to his way of thinking and playing at Tottenham, but if he doesn’t do a better job preparing his side for matches this time around, a side that was almost on the verge of something great may find itself further away than ever.

26 thoughts on “Will Andre Villas-Boas Succeed At Tottenham And Achieve More Than Harry Redknapp?”

      1. It means that of the present 28, 1st team players 14 are English… which is ‘pretty’ English by PL standards.
        and AVB doesn’t speak the language very well at all.

        1. Utter garbage, he speaks english just fine, he is easier to understand than SAF.

          Starting 11

          GK 0 English
          DF 1 English Walker
          MF 2 English Parker, Lennon (Maybe)
          AT 1 English Defoe is the only one left (No Ade yet or other prospects have signed yet)

          1. I stand corrected….
            And it wasn’t a slight, perhaps it was the English players turning on him at Chelsea… and Spurs don’t have loathsome characters like Terry on their squad. There is Defoe, but he is just a sulky prick, not in the same league as Terry.

            “He speaks perfect English, a language that he learned from his grandmother Margaret Kendall, whose mother was a British national and moved to Portugal to start a wine business in the early half of the 20th century.”

  1. I’m sorry for being negative but ,I STILL don’t get the massive gamble that Levy has taken.I don’t have faith in AVB,but I hope I’m wrong. If I’m not Spurs will be recovering from this debacle for the next 3 years.The guy failed in the EPL.Blame who you like but at the end of the day ,he couldn’t do his job,and had a pretty public meltdown.
    He talks a good game but anybody can blag.It’s producing the goods that matter ,so we’ll just have to wait and see.I would be astonished to be quite blunt,if Spurs finisned anywhere near the 4 th place that we did under Harry.
    I feel that if this experiment fails,then Levy’s positon has to be untenable.THat would be 8 managers in 11 years.Thats not acceptable.

  2. Does the author of this article actually know anything about football?
    1 – AVB plays a 4-3-3, NOT a 4-2-1-3.
    2 – Siggs is not as a ‘replacement’ for anyone, least of all VDV (who one has said is happy to stay at the club, and two AVB has said is a key part of his plans – maybe something to do with his Ajax roots perhaps, if author had done minimal research would have known this).
    3 – Modric will not go unless there is a replacement lined up.
    4 – 1st Team Euro Internationals not returned to training yet, so AVB hasn’t had time to assess what he has to work with first hand, let alone make decisions about who will ‘fit’ into his system.
    5 – AVB does NOT have one style of play, but he DOES have a strong philosophy of HOW he wants his team to play. He likes a team to be fluid in attack, and compact in defense. This results in the changing of positions and therefor formation throughout the game.
    6 – Completely reshaping the Club? He is 1st Team Coach, not Chairman. There is a structure put in place to deal with Academy and Youth players, and bring in a philosophy through the playing style – similar to what Ajax and Barca have been doing for years.
    7 – Jan Vertonghen has been a done deal for a while now, author should have known that without any requirement of research (which clearly this article demonstrates there has been none).

    What a lazy lazy effort of an article. I don’t think Ihave read much that comes close to this in terms of inaccuracies and fictitious comments that could only be described as a poor uneducated opinion.
    If your an upstarting journalist, please do not give up the day job – oh, actually, apply at the Mail, this is around their level!

    1. Don’t forget the suggestion that ‘Arry was a tactician who regularly made adjustments at half time. I wish that was true.

      1. A valid point – and also Arry and AVB’s supposed valuation of Modders…
        Not that it could be related to Levy saying to him last season
        ‘play one more season with us, if we don’t make CL then I’ll let you go abroard for the right price’

        AVB’s opinion of Modders as a player doesn’t come into it if he still wants to leave, he just has to find the right replacement (if of course he doesn’t think existing players such as Parker/Sandro/Thudd/Townsend/Carroll or even Siggs/VDV cannot be used in a system at present.

        On an entirely different matter, striker wise, one player I am personally very excited at seeing develop further is a certain Souleymane Coulibaly. Scored 9 in 4 games for Ivory Coast U17’s. Can’t actually find his Stats from Spurs Youth appearances in relation to games played/scored. Reading Windy’s blog (awesome resource for youth and reserve team players progress and development, including loanee reports) through the season it doesn’t sound like he is quite ready for the 1st team yet, but is still only 17 – and only just turned pro mid last season. I’d like to think he may get some game time this season, or perhaps a loan move – if not I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more of him the season after.

    2. 1. a 4-2-1-3 can be a 4-3-3 (because 2+1=3), I just wanted to stress that he used mata as a high central playmaker.

      2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/jul/10/rafael-van-der-vaart-hamburg-schalke That’s where I got the VDV information from, I suppose nobody’s going to come out and say they want him gone that would lower value but if Shalke say they could have had him if they wanted to I’m guessing he’s not that key. He’s also not really the sort of player you can build a team around.

      3. Obviously, but they’re willing to let him go. Redknapp was not.

      4. Yeah, but what I was saying is that going by what he did at Chelsea, whenever he does see the squad he will have a clear idea about who he wants and who he doesn’t. For example, bringing in Meireles the only Chelsea manager to regularly start Sturridge, etc.

      5. He has a strong philosophy of his style of play that he’s not willing to alter even when it’s not working

      6. Well Tottenham scrapped their reserve team I think, so most of their players who are seen as future first teamers get loaned out to sides that could play all sorts of different styles. Anyway when I was talking about reshaping the club I meant more in the way he did at Chelsea, trying to institute a new style of play on a side that had been playing the same way for a while without easing them into it. Tottenham under Harry have been playing the same way for a while and if Villas-Boas does the same thing here it may backfire.

      7. I knew the fee was agreed but I never read anything about him actually signing. Looked it up and he’s signed…on July 12. It’s July 17th cut me some slack.

  3. That depends on if he has learned from his mistakes, but from some of his comments he has been making already to the press it seems that he still doesn’t get how the British media works.

  4. “Villas-Boas has already tried to make his mark on Tottenham, effectively replacing Rafael Van der Vaart with Gylfi Sigurdsson” He said publically a couple of weeks ago Van der Vaart is a person he could build a team around.

    This is Levy’s second attempt at introducing a “continental” style of play at Tottenham. The first failed miserably. However, Levy most definitely sees this approach as the way forward. Will it work? Teen Wolf must bury the axe with Chelsea after watching his assistant achieve great success after he failed. He speaks fluent English which is a plus, but it will depend upon his relationship with Levy and if he has learned anything about Premier League culture while at Chelsea.

    1. ‘This is Levy’s second attempt at introducing a “continental” style of play at Tottenham.’

      What continental style are you referring to?

      1. LOL.. I forgot Martin Jol was english as was Satini, Ramos (to and a few recent “Continental” managers). Spurs have had a free flowing, attacking style of football since the 60’s it’s not “Continental”.

        Maybe to supporters of other clubs it’s a new way to look at football, Spurs fans have always had the pleasure of that “brand” of football (damn, except when George “The Muppet” Graham was in charge for a short spell), Spurs may not have got the success they wanted because of…well a variety of reasons, but they have played entertaining and technical football for quite some time now. the youth System in particular has always had a good reputation, with former “continental” players saying so. (See our new 1st team assistant coach Stephan Freund’s interview on Spurs TV). Lets not forget the the english managers we have had that also went abroad and had success a players and managers also (Terry Venebles, and Glen Hoddle).

      2. Change “continental” to “Ibernian” style of play and you should get it. BTW I’ve watched the classic Spurs teams of – Jimmy Greaves, Allan Gilzean, Dave Mackay, Martin Chivers, Peters etc. Since the heady days of the sixties they’ve never been a serious title contender and success has been sporadic FA and League Cup wins. Something Levy obviously wants to correct.

  5. If people are expecting AVB to make Spurs challenge for the title this season then they will be disappointed. However, if he is given time to implement his philosophy then I believe he has a better chance of success. The question is will Levy give him beyond 1 season? Just because AVB failed at Chelsea doesn’t mean he will fail at Spurs. Given time I think he will be good for Spurs.

  6. The writer of this article is a muppet living in the past and with all his facts wrong… Go and do your homework before writing this sort of rubbish. WASTE OF TIME

  7. Harry’s strengths were man management, players seemed to enjoy playing for him, he also had a good eye for talent (though how much credit goes to Levy for that I don’t know), his weaknesses were tactical and making in game adjustments

    AVB is supposedly a good tactician but the question becomes if you can’t get your men to believe in your tactics it won’t matter. I am hoping some of AVB’s gaffs in man management (he just tried to hard to be one of the guys) was more from inexperience than a fatal personality flaw. I am hoping the Chelsea experience elevated his coaching skills not revealed them. We should be better defensively but if tries to do too much too soon it could be problematic. This squad doesn’t need a lot of change, we are not looking at the same issues facing Chelsea with age and transformation we already have an attractive football lineup-I think with AVB the pretty football could also end up with more actual goals and with a better defense Tottenham could take another step up.

    If he starts playing to the press about celebrating goals and other mismosh then we’re in trouble. They are different types of coaches with different strengths. Harry certainly got us to a good place, but AVB may be the guy to get us to the next level

  8. Whether you agree or disagree with the story, you can still act civil and an offer constructive criticism instead of being a total tool. But for all of you throwing mud at this guy he has got one thing you don’t, the courage to write this article for the whole world to see. So, if anyone of you can do a better job show some backbone and wrote your own and see if you can take it.

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