x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Cracks starting to show in Villas-Boas’ cool facade

Lashing out at fan in Tromso reveals pressure on Spurs manager's shoulders

Tottenham Hotspur coach Andre Villas-Boas, right, is starting to show signs of strain as pressure builds amid his team's underwhelming performances. Rune Stoltz Bertinussen / Reuters
Tottenham Hotspur coach Andre Villas-Boas, right, is starting to show signs of strain as pressure builds amid his team's underwhelming performances. Rune Stoltz Bertinussen / Reuters

It is easy to understand why Andre Villas-Boas would object to a fan sitting behind his dugout and chanting, “You’re getting sacked in the morning.”

Yes, a lot of managers have had to put up with worse, but one voice in a generally quiet crowd can grate more than an entire grandstand bellowing abuse.

It is easy to understand, too, that security should have proposed moving the fan to the other side of the stadium as a reasonable way of resolving the issue.

And it is just as easy to understand why the fan, a Manchester United-supporting hairdresser, would decide to leave the ground altogether, then sell his story to the newspapers.

What happened during Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-0 Europa League win over Tromso on Thursday is not particularly important, but a narrative is in place. The incident confirmed the prevailing view of Villas-Boas as prickly and humourless, and it added to the impression that, for all his protestations, he is under pressure and beginning to feel it.

Whether he deserves to be under pressure is another issue, but once the stone of a firing story gets rolling, it is extremely difficult to stop. That makes Sunday’s game against Manchester United even more important for Tottenham.

Last Sunday’s 6-0 defeat at Manchester City has changed the mood.

Before that loss, there had been a mild grumbling about a lack of goals, an acceptance that, having brought in seven players and lost Gareth Bale, that it would take time for Spurs to find a rhythm. But the insipid nature of the City display, the lack of fight, the bewildering insistence on a high defensive line with two centre-backs, Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul, who seem uncomfortable with it, has set alarm bells clanging.

Some perspective is required. This, after all, remains Tottenham’s third-best start to a Premier League season and Villas-Boas last season led them to their highest points tally in the Premier League era.

There might not have been much to celebrate in Villas-Boas’s 50th game in charge, but he should have credit in the bank – quite apart from the fact that the summer outlay, a rare if not unprecedented opportunity to strengthen the squad afforded them by the Bale windfall, has meant a second period of bedding in.

Perhaps the performance at the Etihad Stadium was just a glitch, a day in which everybody was off-colour, but the worry is it signalled a general loss of faith in the manager. Even Villas-Boas’s staunchest fans would have to admit that his inability to arrest the calamity was troubling.

“We need to bounce back and give the club and fans what they deserve,” the midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson said. “We need to put on a performance that is more like us and we need to play attacking football, create chances and score goals and I am sure that we will do that on Sunday.”

Playing United is, in a sense, a bonus. A win would soon erase memories of the City defeat and, given United’s problems in midfield – Wednesday’s win in Leverkusen notwithstanding – Tottenham can take control of the centre.

But then, they have done that repeatedly this season. Their problem has been converting possession into meaningful chances. No side in the top half has scored fewer goals than Tottenham, yet no side in the division has had more shots.

The long-term aim must be greater patience and efficiency in attack, but for Sunday, regaining a measure of stability will do.

sports@thenational.ae