Andre Villas-Boas content in calmer waters at Spurs after year of tumult
Portuguese faces former club with confidence 12 months on from defining John Terry fracas
Saturday 20 October 2012
A list of those whose careers have been upturned by the events of 23 October 2011 is already long. Anton Ferdinand, the innocent victim. John Terry, shamed, banned and finished as an England player. Fabio Capello, backing Terry and stepping down. Harry Redknapp, caught up in a public wave that took him out of Tottenham Hotspur. A year on, English football would certainly look different had Terry not said what he said. It has not even stopped unravelling.
That Chelsea team, in their solar-panel shirts, was managed by Andre Villas-Boas. They had won six of their first eight league games. But the storms conjured up that afternoon cost him as well. Football, Villas-Boas said, is about "jumping from adversity", which his Chelsea team failed to do. Their results collapsed and Villas-Boas was sacked in March.
Villas-Boas now finds himself on rather safer ground, at Tottenham, facing Chelsea at White Hart Lane this afternoon. Spurs' position is similar to Chelsea's last year before the storms began. And Villas-Boas can trace his journey here back to that infamous afternoon at Loftus Road.
"When I go back now to this exact date last season before we played the QPR game at Chelsea in our position," Villas-Boas recalled. "After the QPR game we had a consecutive run of bad results. In the end football is about stability and jumping from adversity. At my time at Chelsea we never got that stability. We were always up and down."
Although Chelsea won their next Carling Cup game at Everton after extra time, a manic 5-3 home defeat by Arsenal stripped them of their old authority. "We won at Everton then dropped points against Arsenal," Villas-Boas said. "It was those two Premier League fixtures in a row that took the belief from us being champions."
Tottenham may not believe they can win the league quite yet but Villas-Boas insisted this week that today is more about them than him. Asked repeatedly about how it felt to face his old club, he insisted he was not the story. "I feel exactly the same," he said. "Normal. Completely normal."
But Villas-Boas this season has appeared much more settled than he did in west London. Yes, he was propelled out of Chelsea by unpredictable chaos, but it was never a stable marriage; a manager trying to impose a way of playing on a club where a very different method already existed.
At Spurs, though, he has more malleable material; younger players with fewer ingrained patterns and some new arrivals. There is a club-deep embrace of attacking football, too. "This club has a philosophy from the past that I like, to be involved with of attacking football," he explained. "I am a coach who likes to have the ball as much as I can. This meets Tottenham's philosophy."
There is an expensive new training ground in Enfield where Villas-Boas and his assistant Steffen Freund can drill the players. "I am enjoying it from now looking towards the future," Villas-Boas added, appearing no less hungry than at Chelsea, but maybe slightly calmer. No more ego battles, less self-assertion. "He is relaxed, honestly," Freund said recently. "We enjoy working together."
No cliques, either. All the players are treated equally, almost painfully so in the case of competing goalkeepers Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris. "He does not have favourites," midfielder Sandro told The Independent recently. "Everyone in the club can speak to him. Every player he speaks with, to create a positive environment."
"It's not nice when there are favourites," said Steven Caulker, who made his second Spurs start last month but has started four more games since. "
Even the language seems to be changing. Villas-Boas spoke to the media for 40 minutes this week and did not use the word "perspectivate" once. Freund's role is motivation, not interpretation. "They understand [Villas-Boas' instructions] really well. I don't have to translate."
The approach has worked well so far. After a slow start, Spurs have won four straight in the league, including their first win at Old Trafford in a generation. They have the Premier League elite in their sights, with Chelsea at the top. Today's opponents, though, are a rather different side from the one Villas-Boas left in March.
They are European champions. Roberto Di Matteo, who started last season as Villas-Boas's assistant, won the FA Cup and Champions League in May.
Villas-Boas, though, believes Chelsea's improvement was a natural consequence of his departure. "I think this is down not to personal reasons," he said, answering a question about Fernando Torres, "because the players transcended themselves after I left based on managerial change, which is something normal. I benefited from it in Academica when there was a managerial change when I arrived. It is something that happens with any human being in a change of a club."
Di Matteo, then, might be the lone beneficiary of this last year of madness. Or maybe that reading does not give enough credit to the man who calmed the storms which have been ripping through English football.
Villas-Boas insisted that he has a "good relationship" with Di Matteo, that they have seen each other "two or three times" since he joined Tottenham. But as he guides his new ship through these calmer waters, with increasing authority, he knows precisely where he wants to take it: "Chelsea have joined that elite of Manchester United and Liverpool. Tottenham want to be in that position in the future. There is a gap to be filled."
White Hart pain: Chelsea's struggle
* After going 19 years without losing a league game at Tottenham, Chelsea have now failed to win at White Hart Lane since a 2-0 success in August 2005.
5 Nov 2006 Spurs 2-1 Chelsea 19 Mar 2008 Spurs 4-4 Chelsea
21 Mar 2009 Spurs 1-0 Chelsea 17 Apr 2010 Spurs 2-1 Chelsea 12 Dec 2010 Spurs 1-1 Chelsea 22 Dec 2011 Spurs 1-1 Chelsea
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