Last seen driven into the ground by a Russian oligarch to such an extent he was forced onto his haunches in the Chelsea dugout, Andre Villas-Boas cut a fresh figure in his new, crisp white Tottenham polo shirt as he was unveiled as the new Spurs manager yesterday.
Grinning gently while leaning on a fence like a friendly neighbour, Villas-Boas arrived at Spurs’ training ground on Tuesday displaying sartorial elegance the previous incumbent of the job could only dream of, looking every inch the man once deemed the bright young thing in management. The Portuguese had returned, back for more after just four months.
What a contrast it was to the harried, brooding figure rearranging deckchairs on the titanic in darkened February. Back then the walls were caving in around him at Chelsea, as the influence of senior players in the Blues dressing room took hold, rejecting his sweeping changes in an instant before shunting him out the club altogether.
The fact Chelsea rallied to secure two unlikely pieces of silverware following Villas-Boas' departure, under a manager whose only real experience previously was a failed spell with West Brom, served only to warp the picture further – is the 34-year-old the hip young gunslinger who went a season unbeaten on his way to a historic treble with Porto or the man sent barreling unceremoniously out the door at Chelsea?
While there are doubts over the duality of Villas-Boas, the man he takes over from is set in stone, dyed in the wool. Harry Redknapp. What you see is what you get. He maintains that the ball is round and that if its heading in the general direction of the goalmouth then not much else is wrong in the world.
In an age of statistical and analytical overload, Redknapp’s approach is refreshingly simple, and it produced gorgeous, unburdened and instinctive football that made pulses quicken, the likes of which White Hart Lane hadn’t seen for half a century. Sadly it left him open to criticism when things started to go badly wrong in the second half of last season, something he paid the ultimate price for.
The contrast between both men could not be more stark. Rafael van der Vaart once said of his former manager’s approach to training: "There are no long and boring speeches about tactics, like I was used to at Real Madrid. There is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn't write anything on it.”
The Dutchman may want to look away when one of Villas-Boas infamous dossiers, like the one leaked to the press while working as a scout for Jose Mourinho detailing opponents' strengths and weaknesses in 2005 is thrust under his nose – that is if he decides to stick around for the revolution.
That is not to say there is a correct approach, nor that one man is barking up the wrong tree. Both have their high-profile admirers; Joao Moutinho, who enjoyed a fine Euro 2012 says he would work with Villas-Boas ‘tomorrow’ if he could, while Emmanuel Adebayor claimed Redknapp had given him his ‘life back’ having signed him on loan last season.
The differences to not stop there either. Redknapp was easy on the ears if not on the eyes. Villas-Boas was certainly the other way round last season, although admittedly in trying circumstances.
Roman Abramovich made it clear that the blame for the curtailment of Villas-Boas’ time at Chelsea lie solely at the door of the obdurate players who resisted changes under his ill-fated ‘project’ – those who made his life difficult.
In the aftermath of his sacking, tales of his meticulous planning and increasing irritability perhaps offered some explanation of why he was often unable to see eye to eye with the watching media. Chelsea’s players were said to try and get a rise out of him by arriving as late as possible, just in time to meet his strict training schedule.
He often spent nights at Cobham, poring over data and fretting over what was going wrong as the end loomed large. He fell out with reserve team-coach Dermot Drummy, and went too far in exerting his authority by forcing the outbound Alex and Nicolas Anelka to park in the youth team-car-park. This was a man under severe pressure, something laid bare for all to see in his tetchy public dealings with the press.
While he worried and went on the defensive in public, across London reporters laughed at the jovial Redknapp, the man who found the game ever so simple. He shared a joke with the travelling hacks, always making himself available for a comment or line.
So obliging was the former West Ham man that he appeared on the phone on Sky Sports News to bid farewell to presenter Georgie Thompson, discussing amongst other things, the merits of a documentary about the boxer Michael Watson. Upon hearing the news of Villas-Boas sacking at Chelsea, of course Redknapp offered a line, extending his well-wishes to the man who would soon take his job.
Villas-Boas, apparently the only object of Tottenham’s affections, has gone to great lengths to persuade Levy that he is the easy-going, mild-mannered man portrayed at Porto, that he has the charm and charisma to not invite pressure upon himself, something Redknapp mastered.
He has a younger, more malleable squad to deal with at Tottenham who are far less likely to offer as much resistance, while he will be working under considerably less pressure, albeit with a similarly strict overlord in Levy. He and Redknapp rubbed each other up the wrong way but had mutual respect over the last four years. It is another relationship Villas-Boas must show he is capable of managing.
Humility is required, as are new signings to get on board with the Villas-Boas style – some, including Van der Vaart, are likely to be alienated and Luka Modric is heading towards the door. All change at White Hart Lane.
This is a crossroads for Tottenham. there was no great need for a loveable club to change after two top four finishes in three years under Redknapp. What is clear though is that chairman Daniel Levy is taking the club in a distinctly different direction and he will live and die by his decision. It is his, and his club’s great gamble. If nothing else, Levy has done well to find two managers so different in their personality and approach they appear akin to chalk and cheese.
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