Late on Tuesday night, The Guardian ran a story by David Hytner stating that Andre Villas-Boas is on the verge of losing his job at Tottenham Hotspur. He cites Joe Lewis' dissatisfaction at recent results, indications that AVB has lost the dressing room and less than measured comments about his medical staff and the club's supporters.
There are some things we need to get out of the way regarding Hytner's story before we address the actual content.
- Hytner seems to be pretty well connected with Spurs. He was on top of the Gareth Bale story every step of the way this summer and was one of the first to report that Spurs and Cardiff were working out a deal for Steven Caulker.
- You might be quick to write off this story because it doesn't have quotes, but it's normal in British media -- and I've noticed especially in The Guardian -- to not use direct quotes when information comes from an anonymous source that can't be named or identified in any way.
- The fact that it's only from anonymous sources also doesn't automatically mean that Hytner's full of it. What club employee is going to tell you on the record that AVB's about to get canned and allow Hytner to use their name in his story? We can't verify his information because he doesn't give his sources, but in this case, any legit information would have to come from an anonymous source.
- Therefore, we should probably take this fairly seriously, but certainly not as gospel.
Having gotten that out of the way, let's dive in. First up, the claims about Lewis and Levy's fury.
The embarrassment at the Etihad Stadium was keenly felt by the club's chairman, Daniel Levy, and the owner, Joe Lewis, who had initially been angry after the 3-0 home defeat by West Ham United on 6 October and Villas-Boas's hard-luck-story when he read of the defeat.
This sounds reasonable, but I doubt it's enough to get Andre Villas-Boas fired. Presumably, when the decision was made to hire Villas-Boas over a more experienced manager or one who had enjoyed some degree of success in the Premier League, Tottenham were also making a decision to give him a long leash. They probably expected him to have to do some learning on the job, which would ultimately lead to some mistakes.
Also, we spent a lot of the Bale money in the transfer market this summer, but not all of it. We ultimately made a profit and probably entered this fall with two fewer defenders than we should have had. He doesn't have a clearly top four-worthy squad at the moment.
My guess is that Levy and his associates made the judgment that establishing the style that they want the team to play was more important in the short term than making the Champions League. They probably also felt that Villas-Boas would eventually grow to become a manager better than any of the more experienced managers they could hire at the time. I can't imagine that they hired him expecting him to deliver instant results, given that he had never played top flight professional football and that he only had two-and-a-half seasons of top-flight management on his CV. He had just over a half season of Premier League management -- which was an utter disaster -- under his belt. You don't hire a guy who bombed at his last job and had minimal previous experience unless you believe in his ability to improve over time and are willing to let him make mistakes as he learns. If Spurs want to fire Villas-Boas right now purely based on results, they hired him for the wrong reasons.
But, of course, it doesn't look like it would be purely based on results.
He took the bold, and possibly foolish, decision after the 1-0 win over Hull City on 27 October to chide the White Hart Lane crowd for how they had created a "very tense, difficult atmosphere". Villas-Boas said it was "like it drags the ball into our goal, instead of the opponent's goal", and added that "this is something that is felt within the squad. It's a feeling that invades us in fixtures like this".
Our fans haven't been the greatest lately, but the players are very rich professionals and the fans will cheer if they play well. Would I like to see the fans sing and cheer through good and bad performances? Sure, but I don't want to hear anyone say that the paying supporters have an obligation to do so. Especially not the manager.
The board has not enjoyed many home matches this season and some of the players have wanted to see Villas-Boas switch from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation to play with two strikers. Villas-Boas orders his wide midfielders to work hard defensively and so the team have often struggled to commit men in front of the ball.
I just included this because it made me laugh. I now assume that one of Hytner's sources is kin to Jermain Defoe.
Villas-Boas said that the City loss ought to have provoked shame in the players, which went down badly in the dressing room ... His comments after the City defeat were badly received in the dressing room and it reinforced the impression that Villas-Boas might be happy to talk up the collective when results are good but he will revert to blaming others in times of adversity.
The criticism from the dressing room is that his highly scientific approach overlooks the human dimension, which is ironic, given that is one of his buzz phrases. The players, technically, ought to have been ashamed after City but, on a human level, would that soundbite not have been better kept behind closed doors? Other managers might have accepted the blame in public, albeit as a diversionary tactic.
This one is the biggest allegation of them all, though it's worth clarifying that Andre Villas-Boas said that the club as a whole should be ashamed of the City result, including himself, and that he did not single out the players. However, that doesn't mean that he didn't say it in a way that was taken badly by the players and that they haven't gotten annoyed with him. It makes some of the recent comments by Defoe, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen seem a little less innocent and harmless than we thought they were.
I'm not saying that Villas-Boas has lost the dressing room. I have no way of knowing that. But we don't hear about dressing room unrest stories at every club, we've heard a lot of this from less reputable papers and ITKs for months and quite a few players have given interviews where they sounded a bit frustrated with what's going on at the club. No one's seen any fire, but there's a hell of a lot of smoke.
I am skeptical that AVB is truly on thin ice and that he'll be fired sometime in December if Spurs don't surge up into the top four, but if he does actually go, I've got a feeling there's going to be a good reason. If all of the dressing room unrest stories are bogus, he's probably not going to get fired. It's hard to believe that Levy, Lewis and the rest of the club's executives would be so quick to sack a manager for purely results-based failures when it's impossible to justify hiring him if immediate results were the club's top priority.
If he does go, I assume there's going to be a Chelsea-like burn book reading in which all the players talk about how he made them feel like garbage and was a dressing room cancer. It's the only reason I can think of for canning a young manager who was hired to be part of a long-term project more than he was hired to oversee said project. But, of course, we have no way of knowing whether or not that's true.
Don't expect AVB to get fired anytime soon. If he does get fired, expect a lot of negative stories about his man management techniques to emerge. If those stories come out, management probably did what they had to do. If they don't and we get no indication that there was some serious unrest in the dressing room, it'll be time to start worrying about Lewis and Levy's itchy trigger fingers.
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