Thursday, 16 May 2013

AVB Year One : Success or Failure?

When Andre Villas-Boas took control at White Hart Lane last summer it brought a distinctly mixed reaction. A lot of pundits remarked that anything less than a top four finish would be considered a failure. But with the league season finishing on Sunday there is a new question which now needs answered; Is this still the case?

AVB took over the job with certain sections of the media, and indeed certain sections of the Tottenham fanbase, questioning his appointment. His brief tenure at Chelsea had seen the glittering reputation gained at Porto of being a young, forward thinking, talented manager severely tarnished.  Chelsea's subsequent success in the Champions League final was seen as a further example of his inability to handle the complex personalties of high profile players and the more intricate workings of a big club.

Alongside this was the fact he was replacing Harry Redknapp, a popular manager both within journalistic circles and on the terraces. His sacking was seen as a brave but ultimately foolish decision by Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy. Redknapp had not only managed to get the club out of relegation places in his first season in charge but had more importantly had oversaw final league positions of  4th-5th-4th in the last three seasons as well as a memorable Champions League campaign in 2010-2011.

Success therefore to some was to replicate this 4th placed position at the very least. Many doubted his chances of success.

The opening months seemed to suggest this opinion was correct. Defeat at Newcastle on the opening day of the season was followed by home draws against West Brom and Norwich. Some newspaper reports rather extravagantly proclaimed AVB had three games to save his job.

However slowly things started to improve. A sequence of four victories, including a historic victory at Old Trafford moved Spurs up the table. With new signing Jan Vertonghen among others becoming an instant fan favourite things seemed to be on the rise.

There were still blips along the way. Defeat at home to Wigan and heavy defeats to rivals Chelsea and Arsenal raised further doubts but with the new players slowly bedding in and the team responding to AVB's tactics and beliefs, Spurs continue to move forward.

Three defeats in the next 25 games followed and catapulted Tottenham into the Champions League places. They now sit 5th, one point behind arch rivals Arsenal.

On the playing side there have been ups and downs.

Spurs went into the season without talismanic skipper Ledley King, playmaker Luka Modric and Dutch goalscorer Rafael van der Vaart. Coupled to this centre half and last years player of the season, Younes Kaboul has only managed 90 minutes this year. Arguably these were Tottenham's best four players.

The players signed throughout the season have performed well. Dembele has been solid but is a different type of player to Modric. And the loss of the Croat hasn't helped Scott Parker who has struggled to recapture last season's form.

Dempsey while not setting the world alight has weighed in with seven goals, some at vital times. The same is true of Gylffi Sigurdsson whose haul of four league goals have come predominately from the bench.

The sensational form of Gareth Bale has obviously been a key reason why Tottenham are at the top end of the table. But AVB's decision to play him in a more central role has also been pivotal. He admitted after Bale picked up the Football Writers Award that he had held a frank discussion with the Welshman in order to help him enjoy his football more. His handling of Hugo Lloris by keeping him on the bench behind Brad Friedel brought condemnation from Didier Deschamps amongst others but ultimately proved to be the right thing to do as Lloris was given time to acclimatise to a new country and a new club.

It was a move that has reaped huge benefits as Lloris has proven himself to be one of the best goalkeepers in the league.

Michael Dawson was another player who had an up and down start to the year. Left out for the first few games despite AVB making him club captain, he looked to be on his way to QPR. Yet he chose to fight for his place and after another conversation between player and manager he has done just that.

This seemingly more personable approach is in direct contrast to his time at Chelsea. There he regularly locked horns with some of the senior pros to the point where the personality clashes played a major part in his downfall.

Now he seems more relaxed and has admitted making changes to his management style after Chelsea.

Another pivotal moment came in December at Everton. Two goals in injury time snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and led AVB to change training to put more emphasis on improving concentration and stamina in the last ten minutes of games. This change of focus proved to be inspired.

Spurs would go on to score a multitude of late goals which would see the club pick up valuable points. In the last four games alone goals in the last  moments of games have seen an extra six points gained. Resiliency is not a trait that has been linked with Tottenham over the years but it has been instrumental in their league position.

It hasn't all been positive though. Home form has been sketchy at times and the home crowd has shown it's displeasure on more than one occasion. There has been less clean sheets this time around as well, just seven compared to last years 13.

However how successful or not of the season for AVB and Tottenham would be judged primarily on their league position and whether they qualified for the Champions League.

While not guaranteeing the club that coveted Champions League spot, victory over Sunderland would see Tottenham finish on 72 points, which would be their highest ever points finish in the Premier League. Should Arsenal also win it would also set a Premier League record as being the highest points total gained by a team finishing fifth. (It would be the second highest points total by a team who did not qualify for the Champions League. Newcastle hold that record with 78 in 1995-1996 when they finished second. 1995-1996 was in the days when only the Champions qualified.)

And it is this more than anything else that proves this year has been a success. Yes we may have overachieved and yes at times it hasn't been as pretty but all things considered, we're in a great position. If Champions League does elude us then so be it. It will be down to a combination of bad luck more than a poor season. A total of 72 points would have been good enough to get into the top four in 15 of the 17 previous Premier League seasons.

More importantly AVB seems to be enjoying life at White Hart Lane. Gone are the days of crouching on the touchline, the frowned expressions, instead there's smiles. This year has been a good start to his Tottenham career. With a touch more luck and a bit of backing, who knows where he can take this team.

To more success hopefully!

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