Andre Villas-Boas’s fate was clear from the moment the television cameras at White Hart Lane panned up the director’s box as Liverpool ran amok. There was the chairman, Daniel Levy, scowling with the mien of an assassin.
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Since becoming Tottenham’s kingmaker in 2001, Levy has pulled the trigger on seven managers. A couple – Frenchman Jacques Santini and Spaniard Juande Ramos – were hired to transform the culture at the club. Some lasted no more than a few months. Villas-Boas at least managed to last into the winter of his second season, but there was no escaping his fate after an abomination of a 5-0 home defeat handed out by exuberant Liverpool underlined the frailties Tottenham are experiencing as they try to rebuild in the post-Gareth Bale age.
When scrutinizing how Spurs find themselves sliding clumsily around like an elephant on ice skates, Villas-Boas is an obvious scapegoat. But there is a bigger picture, and it was fascinating that when Villas-Boas was asked about it in the Liverpool post-mortem, he was evasive, and wondered aloud whether it was a subject for the public domain.
The burning question was this: Was it really Villas-Boas’ team out there?
Any manager is assessed on how he fares with the material at his disposal, and Villas-Boas’s problems on that score are down to him and he paid the price. But the question of who put his squad together has to be as big a consideration. Who bought the raft of players who arrived in the summer with the money raised by the lucrative Bale sale? Who identified them? Who decided how to use that money, and whether it should go on a bunch of promising players instead of focusing on the highest quality rather than a bigger quantity?
Villas-Boas clearly didn’t want to get involved in that issue immediately after watching his team getting lacerated. But the supporters are entitled to respectfully ask Mr. Levy to explain if those decisions were purely down to Franco Baldini, the technical director who arrived in the summer and oversaw the mass of new signings, or were made jointly in conjuction with Villas-Boas.
Either way, the guillotine fell with haste. This team was always going to be a work in progress with so many new additions needing time to integrate. Some have found adapting to a new country and culture of football more trying than others. It has not helped that Erik Lamela, the club’s record signing from Roma (Baldini’s old club) has clearly been unable to settle. Roberto Soldado, another major purchase, has struggled to find the goals he was signed for. It is not unusual for a player to need a good six months to find their groove in a new environment.
Tottenham’s attempt at a sudden evolution was brought into focus in the sharpest way possible by Liverpool, who managed to keep their outstanding performer over a summer when a move away from Anfield was a possibility. Fortunately, they kept hold of Luis Suarez, and the team is developing around their great player and technical heartbeat around whom the rest flow.
What a difference one world-class player makes. What Liverpool have now with Suarez, Tottenham had with Bale. Trading him in and buying a batch of interesting talent in exchange looked like a fascinating piece of business during the summer. It might have been a masterstroke. But a few months down the line, reality has taken an agonizing chomp out of that strategy. There is no simple substitute for a brilliant individual, who can shoulder responsibility and lift all of those around him to raise their game.
Villas-Boas could not pick up the pieces quickly enough for Levy’s liking. The Tottenham chairman has expectations of greatness, but when critics cheaply slam Villas-Boas for wasting $160 million, they also need to remember that $160 million-worth of talent left Tottenham over the same summer. The club raised a big chunk on top of the Bale transfer from selling Clint Dempsey, Tom Huddlestone and Steven Caulker.
This was a reconstruction job, and expecting an instant top-four challenge in an environment where others dwarf their resources and have more experience of what it takes to regularly occupy the highest positions was naïve.
Everyone at Tottenham has come down to earth with a bump. Villas-Boas’s fall is the most painful, and he now has to somehow revive his reputation on the back of two bad experiences at London clubs expecting him to oversee an overhaul under pressure.
But Levy ought to be looking at himself and his decision-making as well.