So Tottenham Hotspur have sacked their most successful – in terms of win rate percentages – manager in their post-war history. Are we surprised? Did he deserve it? Can Spurs avoid another managerial mistake? And will Andre Villas-Boas recover from this latest setback to his ego? As Johnny Nash once sang, “There are more questions than answers”.
What is clear is that Tottenham are in danger of losing their way once more. And with each day that passes, Daniel Levy, their trigger-happy chairman, must regret the day he showed Harry Redknapp the door.
What do Spurs amount to and where do they go from here? They are London’s third club, stymied by their location and a 36,000 stadium, and they are unable to break into the top bracket. “Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur”? – more like “Gory, Gory, Tottenham Flopspur.”
AVB may have been the wrong man for the job. But anyone who describes a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City and a 0-5 home drubbing by Liverpool as “expressive results” needs a new project (another AVB soundbite). But has it all been about AVB’s failure to manage a bunch of highly-priced players?
Loose purse strings
Tottenham may argue that they don’t have the resources that more celebrated clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City have. But their summer activity suggests that in 2013, at least, they have been able to spend like an Oligarch’s plaything. Tottenham spent £ 105,000,000 in the close season, bringing seven high profile signings to the club. But they also brought in more than that through selling Gareth Bale and a number of other lesser players.
Naturally, Levy and his colleagues expected a return on their investment. But how much of it was “their” investment and how much influence did AVB have in securing the likes of Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Paulinho and Christian Eriksen? In whispered corners, there are suggestions that AVB had little say in the squad’s reinforcement. There is a media report that hints of AVB’s reluctance to “integrate” Erik Lamela into the first team on the instructions of Levy and “technical director” Franco Baldini. When he refused to do so, the clock was ticking on AVB’s exit. It does make the casual onlooker wonder if the spectre of the technical director is one of the modern day scourges in football. Managers could claim that the “layer” between the dugout and the boardroom is unnecessary and undermining.
The new players have failed to make an impact. The seven new men (Nacer Chadli, Etienne Capoue, Vlad Chiriches are the others) have made 63 appearances this season and scored just seven goals. In other words, the £ 105,000,000 has not delivered a winning, or especially attractive, team – despite being drawn from Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Belgium. They were meant to plug the gap left by Bale and build a Champions League aspiring team.
It’s not often that a team can be dismantled and rebuilt and come together in a short timeframe. AVB’s man management skills have been questioned for some time, so the task may have been doubly difficult. “They wanted a miracle,” said Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, in the media. And Allardyce is right – what exactly did Tottenham expect from AVB in just a few months? Apparently, Spurs’ financial clout is only enough to secure a top seven place, but that has not stopped the White Hart Lane Board from adopting the same culture of impatience that clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City have used in recent years. The problem was, £ 105,000,000 does change the complexion a little.
However, in the Levy era, characterised by a lack of silverware and a revolving door on the dugout, Spurs have been through some personnel. Since 2001, Tottenham have had six managers – not including caretakers – and their average lifespan has been under a 100 games, although Redknapp, Glenn Hoddle and Martin Jol all lasted longer. AVB had 80 games, with a win-rate of 55% but that did include a bit of “flat-track-bullying” in the Europa League. For the record, the great Bill Nicholson’s winning record was 49.03%
Spurs have won just a single trophy since Levy took over in the chair, in 2008. That’s 0.16 of trophy per manager, compared (in that time) to Chelsea’s 1.0, Arsenal’s 5.0, Manchester United’s 12.0 and Manchester City’s 0.29 – a poor record.
So what next for Spurs? Early reports suggest they are still seduced by trying to lure a big-name foreign coach to the Lane once more. Swansea’s Michael Laudrup is one of the favourites and he may be a better choice than the likes of Luis Enrique (Celta Vigo), Cesare Prandelli (Italy), Fabio Capello (Russia) and Mauricio Pochettino (Southampton). They might fancy a top name, but have they the financial clout to turn Spurs from Champions League wannabees into a credible force. Patience is a virtue, as they say, and it may be Spurs have to acquire some of it until they are able to move home and compete with their North London neighbours.
As for AVB, what next for him? He’s clearly been promoted above himself and two aborted Premier League jobs have shown that he’s either not ready for that level or out of his depth. He made his name in Portugal, which – with the greatest respect – is not one of the top leagues. He needs to build his reputation over a longer period to earn credibility. A period out of the limelight, perhaps back in his homeland, may be just the ticket. He needs to look at his methods of man management, judging by some of the stories coming out of Chelsea and Tottenham. And he needs to learn from his mistakes. If he does that, he will emerge a better manager, and one that will win respect from players, supporters and the media. He may yet be a very successful coach.
Meanwhile, back at Tottenham. Jamie Redknapp, perhaps a little piqued at his Dad’s sacking, said Daniel Levy would quite like to be the manager. Now that would be interesting…..