x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Andre Villas-Boas' time starts now

Andre Villas-Boas will be under pressure to work with a team that was largely picked by his club chairman Daniel Levy, and succeed.

Andre Villas-Boas has a team largely picked by the club chairman, writes our columnist.
Andre Villas-Boas has a team largely picked by the club chairman, writes our columnist.

September has reached its mid-point, the majority of their rivals have completed 10 per cent of their league campaigns and yet Tottenham Hotspur's league season begins in earnest today. That has become the Spurs way, where winless Augusts of uncertainty and lowly league positions have become an annual occurrence.

Twelve months ago, their season was kick-started after the transfer window was closed, keeping Luka Modric at White Hart Lane and sliding Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor through it before it closed.

Twelve months on, the Togolese is a common denominator. Having arrived permanently, Adebayor's second full debut could come at the Madejski Stadium along with Moussa Dembele's first start and a maiden appearance of any kind for Clint Dempsey, though probably not Hugo Lloris.

Newcomers are condemned to playing catch up, charged with settling and gelling straight away after Tottenham's latest game of brinkmanship. Because, while there is an understandable focus on a manager, in Andre Villas-Boas, who is yet to win, the Portuguese was obscured at the end of August when his chairman took centre stage.

While the former Chelsea coach became a divisive figure at Stamford Bridge, Daniel Levy is one at White Hart Lane. Is he help or hindrance, astute trader or gambler who can hamstring his managers, long-term planner or short-term profiteer? The truth, perhaps, is that he is all of them, to varying degrees and at different times.

The composition of the Spurs squad is a case in point; there are inspired buys and misfits, players seemingly selected because their value should rise or they were underpriced. There are men who remain because Levy, in trying to drive a hard bargain, has failed to find a taker. There are footballers who were the chairman's choice, not the coach's.

And, sometimes conspicuously, there are not the additions the manager wanted. Neither Joao Moutinho nor Willian, the Portuguese and the Brazilian Villas-Boas envisaged for his midfield makeover, arrived. The Fulham pair of Dembele and Dempsey did. The Belgian had a brilliant debut as a substitute against Norwich City. The American is available now and joins Gylfi Sigurdsson, another summer signing, in the ranks of the goal-scoring midfielders that Levy has acquired comparatively cheaply.

Yet the process is as relevant as the end product for Villas-Boas. The midfield is the key area of his tactical plan; the 4-3-3 he played at Porto, and was unable to implement at Chelsea, was notable for pressing high up in the pitch by a trio with the awareness and ability to interchange positions.

His brief time at Tottenham has been notable for the use of a 4-2-3-1 formation with either Sigurdsson or the now-departed Rafael van der Vaart supporting the sole striker, in front of two holding players. It may seem a slight distinction, but it is a very different philosophy, between rigidity and fluency. Dembele is well equipped to adapt, and Moutinho would have been, but others of Villas-Boas's current charges may not be.

The other consequence of Levy's trading is that the manager now has four senior goalkeepers, all with experience of being first choice for major clubs. Despite the addition of Lloris, Villas-Boas has confirmed the in-form Brad Friedel retains his place today. It is both an enviable and an unenviable position, one where a degree of diplomacy is as important as managerial judgment. By praising Friedel, Villas-Boas was accused of undermining Lloris.

It is a no-win situation for a manager still looking for his first victory. The backdrop is why teamsheets are scrutinised as closely as performances.

Today is a test if Tottenham have emerged from the summer stronger. Levy's ability to emerge from a transfer window in profit was proven with Modric, Van der Vaart, Steven Pienaar, Niko Kranjcar, Vedran Corluka, Sebastien Bassong and Giovani dos Santos all sold. Now we may see if the team are in the black, too.

sports@thenational.ae