Identity is such an important concept in soccer. It’s formed by a variety of facets; from the badge, stadium, name, kit color and history. In the modern game, a key part of a team’s identity is the brand of soccer they play, which is essentially the stylistic representation of a manager’s principles.
One boss who is perhaps more obvious than most when it comes his ideologies is Brendan Rodgers. And as Liverpool smashed in five goals at White Hart Lane on Sunday, Rodgers will have been delighted with a performance that reeked of his influence. Since joining Liverpool, this showing would have pleased him more than any other to date.
It was Rodgers all over. They dominated the ball from back to front, the centre-backs split and built from deep, and the Liverpool midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson ran rings around their opponents. The attacking triumvirate of Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling were fluid and interchangeable, each player bringing their own qualities and a varying dimension to Liverpool’s attacking forays.
Every Liverpool player out-worked and out-thought their Tottenham counterpart. Red shirts buzzed about the pitch, picking up the ball in clever areas via subtle movements and clever passing angles.
They didn’t put a foot out of line and it was a showing that will lead many to re-evaluate their expectations for this Liverpool team. They have a bold, progressive manager who has implemented a philosophy. And despite derision from some quarters, he has continued to drill his philosophies into these Liverpool players. Rodgers’ self-belief has never waivered and he’s starting to reap the huge benefits of that.
Whilst the Reds were brimming with positivity and purpose, Tottenham looked embarrassingly out of sorts from the off. Their boss Andre Villas-Boas has since paid the ultimate price, as he was axed on Monday morning.
In truth, it comes as little surprise. In fact, it’s pretty obvious why Villas-Boas has been sacked: after an outlay of circa £100 million, the Spurs board were expecting a title challenge this year.
But it’s not materialized. Instead, they’ve undergone a strange season that has contained some bright spots, some glimpses of progress and some deplorable displays too.
Who should front the blame for this and who should Spurs turn to next remains to be seen, but where does this leave Villas-Boas? He’s been sacked twice now – by two of the biggest clubs in England – and reflecting on his collective time at both clubs, I’d struggle to tell you what type of manager he is, what his playing style is, what types of players he likes or even what his preferred formation is.
I thought I caught a glimpse of a prosperous long-term plan earlier in the season against Everton, but Spurs have regressed massively since then. Their defense has capitulated, the blend in midfield is askew and Roberto Soldado and Jermain Defoe are far too one-dimensional to play as a lone striker. Transitionally they are painfully pedestrian and there is a growing reluctance from certain players to press the ball and track back.
It’s the culmination of a mish-mash of different systems, styles and personnel in recent weeks. Just look at Tottenham’s previous three fixtures. After abandoning his tactic of employing a high-line for their two recent away wins at Sunderland and Fulham, Villas-Boas looked to enforce it once again here. With a makeshift back-four containing a right-back playing at left-back and a central midfielder playing centre-back, nonetheless. Naturally, Suarez and co. ran riot.
Much has been made of the flurry of transfer activity Spurs underwent in the summer. And yes, a host of new players need time to settle in, but the manager must facilitate an appropriate framework in which they can do so. Villas-Boas looked to be doing exactly that, but he has creaked under the media spotlight in recent weeks. As such, they have become a team that see a change in so many different areas on an almost weekly basis. It is by no means an ideal environment for new players to adapt within.
As of late, the former Porto and Chelsea boss has emitted an air of a man who has had his self-belief completely obliterated. And it begs the question, does he have enough conviction in his methods to implement them to full effect in the high-pressure environment of the Premier League? In a manner as unrelenting and unashamedly as the manager who masterminded the 5-0 trouncing of his team yesterday?
Perhaps the disaster at Chelsea has knocked his confidence. Perhaps he needs a lower profile job and a chairman who will allow him to build. Perhaps as a young manager, he is at a crossroads on how he wants his teams to operate. But going forward, Villas-Boas certainly needs to take a leaf from the book of the manager who concocted the humiliation that led to his axing.
He must have the assurance to impress his style on a team – whatever that may be – settle on a first XI, choose a system and build from there. And he must rediscover the self-confidence in his methods that brought him so much success at FC Porto. If he doesn’t, these half-performances that have been littered across Tottenham’s early season will continue to puncture his managerial career.
The contrast between the two managers and their respective teams yesterday couldn’t be greater. It could yet be the biggest lesson Villas-Boas heeds in his managerial career: Rodgers’ unyielding self-confidence and stubbornness is an example to follow and it is starting to bear fruit at Liverpool. Make no mistake, if Villas-Boas is looking for a template on how to fashion a side with a strong identity, supreme self-confidence and bags of class, then he should look no further than Rodgers and this marvelous Liverpool team he has fashioned.
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