Earlier today Tottenham Hotspur appointed former Porto and Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas as manager. The hire has gotten mostly positive reviews from people, but there are some out there who question whether AVB is the right man for the job. Glen Hoddle is among them, as is our resident Englishman Ed Francis. So, Ed and I sat down to discuss Tottenham's new manager.
Ashlock: So, the best way to start this is, obviously, now that Spurs have a manager how do you feel?
Ed: To an extent, relieved. The off-season has been shooting by us at an alarming rate and though I know Levy was delayed only by his own perfectionism and a couple of personal problems, there's obviously a lot of work that needs to be done to this squad and I'm glad we now have a figurehead to actually fashion the transfers we've reportedly been working on into a working team.
Ashlock: I agree. I said a while back that I really didn't care who we hired, just so long as we got someone in soon. Now we have Andre Villas-Boas and he has 6-7 weeks to get the squad ready for the season. I know you've been a little down on AVB though this whole process, why don't you take a second to explain your thought process on that.
More discussion after the jump.
Ed: When Harry Redknapp was told to relinquish his duties as Spurs manager, coming off the back of what was undeniably a ultimately very good season for Tottenham which saw us finishing in the top four of the Premier League, it would have been very difficult to argue that we were in any kind of crisis at the time. We had a talented squad of achievers, and with the current investment we currently recieve, we were actually in my opinion pretty much where we should have ended up come the end of the season (arguments about changing expectations aside). I thus rationalized that I would only be content with the decision if the next manager was someone I thought could take over our exisiting squad, fix it's more glaring problems, and take us forward. On this logic, I'm not really sold on Villas-Boas as that guy to take us forwards. I'm wary of how much he requires his sides to be refashioned in his own image, and the problems that will arise if "the project" is hindered by his players. Can we afford AVB the time and money to undertake a reconstruction of our side? Can this side adapt to his preferred tactics? I know he plays the right style of football for Spurs, but his "my way or the highway" approach at Chelsea, compared with how I currently assess our team, makes me somewhat wary of his appointment.
Ashlock: I understand the questions about AVB, but I don't think any of the other managers had less significant questions about their qualifications. I'm of the opinion that Spurs can definitely afford AVB the time and money to reconstruct the club. I mean, let's be honest, Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy aren't obsessed with winning the Champions League or the Premier League every year. We're still pursuing Champions League qualification year in and year out. So, I'm ok with that. Does that mean we might finish 6th or 7th this year? I have no idea, but I have faith that in the long term this hire is good for Tottenham Hotspur. Although it will be interesting to see what happens if we have another 2 points from 8 games. We know Levy isn't afraid to fire managers early in the season (see: Jol, Martin and Ramos, Juande).
Ed: I understand the point about Villas-Boas being a solid appointment for the long term, but looking at the way other clubs are run compared to us, I'd like to reiterate the concern that we don't seem built to accommodate the implementation of a 'project'. We have to keep pace with the rest of the top four candidates, because we're not set up to force our way back in by buying big stars and dropping out of the race could see us moving towards new-Liverpool territory.
Ashlock: I think eventually something is going to have to give in the arms race that is Premier League football. I don't know if that's going to come as a result of FFP or EEEP or something else further down the road, but I have to imagine that the way some clubs are building isn't sustainable. No matter what though, I'm excited about this hire. Did you see that we have a guy whose sole job is to scout the opposition. We're going to have tactical plans and whatnot. Don't tell me you're not excited for that.
Ed: Well, this isn't necessarily my concern, but I'm sure it'll be in the back of everyone's mind that a lot of the players in our squad seemed to be perfectly content with Redknapp's FRAAB tactics last season. It certainly produced some of our most free-flowing and exciting football at it's best. The problem for me was that Harry didn't seem to know how modify and reorganize his squad when anti-tactics weren't working out at times at last season. But does that necessarily mean we have to go in completely the other direction and start choreographing our matches out step-by-step? Can you imagine Bale and Rafa taking particularly well to the pre-match opposition DVDs and hours of chalkboard lectures?
Ashlock: I really would love to be a fly on the wall for the conversation AVB has with Rafa and Bale. I just can't imagine Rafa being told he has to hustle to this spot or the other in order to break up play or force the opposition into a mistake. Although, Bale will probably keep out on the left now as opposed to playing where ever he felt like under Harry. That's definitely a good thing. The clear thing this club is missing is that lead the line striker. Jermain Defoe is not that guy. I know there's talk about Gylfi Sigurdsson and Alan Dzagoev, but a true number 9 has to be our top priority now, right?
Ed: Definitely. One thing that makes me quite excited about the prospect of having a new manager in general is the fact that we know our new guy will be proactive in this respect, and considering the way AVB likes to line up his teams I'm sure he'll do a thorough and focused job of it to boot. The problem is that there aren't that many world class number 9s out there in Spurs' price range right now. We may be able to nail down Manny Adebayor, but his wage concerns mean we can hardly factor him in to our plans for next season right now. With that said, how many other out and out goalscoring line leaders are there out there who'll want to be at Spurs right now? AVB's tactics demand a rather complete centre forward and, y'know, we don't have Drogba.
Ashlock: Well, the one good thing we have going for us is that AVB's unbeaten Porto team didn't have a true No. 9 either. Falcao is very very very good, but he's not Drogba or Llorente in that he's not a target striker. [Editors note: I am an idiot and am wrong about Falcao.] As far as who we can get there I think Adebayor is the most likely option and to be honest I won't be too bothered to have him back. The thing that is going to make or break this move, I think, is Bale. Can he become Tottenham's version of Hulk or does he stay as guy that score 15 or so goals a season and is just good. I think Bale could take that next step, but I suppose only time will tell.
Ed: I'd put a cheeky bet on that Villas-Boas will start moving him onto the right in order to make him a cut-inside RF. My issue is what will Bale make of that? Will he become the latest player to revolt against AVB misusing him in the wrong position and stifling his development, like Sturridge and Lukaku at Chelsea? Will AVB respond with the same undiplomatic like-it-or-lump-it approach he took at his last club? It's little problems from AVB's recent managerial history like this, which other candidates like Moyes, Blanc and Deschamps don't carry with them, that sets off alarm bells for me.
Ashlock: Well, I think Deschamps carrys some different personality conflicts, ones with management, that wouldn't be tolerated at this club. But you bring up a good point. As amazing as AVB was at Porto (going unbeaten in the League and winning the Treble) his time at Chelsea was marred by controversy. I'd like to think that a lot of that was the product of the personalities in the Chelsea dressing room knowing that they were bigger than the club. I'd like to think, but obviously cannot be certain, that this is not a problem that Spurs have. Either way, it definitely raises some concerns about AVB's man management skills. Do you think he learned anything from his time at Chelsea and even if he didn't is he likely to face the same problems at White Hart Lane?
Ed: I guess it's too early to say really. I really am concerned, however, that one of AVB's biggest problems throughout his Chelsea tenure was obstinacy. Threatening to send players 'across the street' to the youth training ground when they disagreed with his tactics, rarely erring from the 4-3-3 he likes best, ignoring his player's pleas for playing time when they might have contributed to turning around the side's fortunes- I know dressing rooms need reigning in now and again, but as Roberto Di Matteo showed at that same club immediately after AVB departed, a little mutual understanding can go a loooong way. So clearly Villas-Boas doesn't have a fantastic record of learning from his own visible mistakes. But will that experience open his eyes to the need for behind the scenes diplomacy? Oh God, for this club's sake I hope so.
Ashlock: I think some of that may have also stemmed from the culture surrounding Chelsea. Despite the alleged directive from ownership that AVB was to makeover the squad, there was still pressure to win now. Abramovich was never going to tolerate a seventh place finish (even though Chelsea wound up sixth). I think, Tottenham Hotspur and Daniel Levy are going to do everything in their power to make this relationship work. So, given everything, what are your expectations for the coming season? Are we looking at playing in the Europa League again in 2013 or should we be aiming higher?
Ed: We've survived OK claiming nothing more than Europa League football for the past two seasons now. Bale's been tied to a four-year contract and Modric is probably off at this point- outside of those guys, I don't think any of our existing players are clamouring for Champions League football, and we've shown that we can attract class players like Rafa and Ade without it too. With that in mind, if the players are behind AVB and he makes it clear from the beginning that he's laying down solid foundations for the future, like Jol and Comolli managed to, then I could live with finishing 5th again.
Ashlock: I agree. I don't think some fans are going to be happy about it, because that one Champions League season kind of spoiled us, but we're at a point where the Premier League is very competitive and there are realistically 7 teams competing for four Champions League spots. I think another top five finish would be fantastic, given the current squad, but I'm willing to accept 6th or 7th as long as we see some sort of progress from the club. The club's performance is really going to hinge on who is bought and sold in these next two months. If we get a real striker, who knows, maybe we could finish fourth. Any final thoughts on AVB?
Ed: He's an incredibly talented young manager with bags of acumen and ambition. The one thing I hope he has developed as a result of his last job is a degree more maturity, and an understanding that at crunch times football is more about players than chalkboards. If he sorts that, then I'm certain he can settle my nerves and prove me wrong. It's certainly nice to see that the club have moved on when we could well have stagnated under the prior regime and that Levy has shown a bit of a gambling streak with his latest appointment. If there's one great thing that can come out of AVB's appointment, is that he can grow and flourish with the club and if he shows us a little love then I'm more than willing to reciprocate.
Ashlock: Patience is definitely going to be a keyword around White Hart Lane in the coming months, but I think this hire is a big win for Tottenham Hotspur. Now we just need to start signing some players.