André Villas-Boas has a problem. His freshly remodelled Tottenham Hotspur squad isn't performing as they should, and Spurs enter this weekend's international break with two points from three matches.
The team he now helms is very different from the last iteration of the White Hart Lane empire that Harry Redknapp and his SUV presided over. Gone are Modric, Corluka, Kranjcar and van der Vaart, while Louis Saha and Ryan Nelsen added stripes to the white and beat well-worn paths to Wearside and West London. Ledley King, their captain and best defender, limped towards the sunset – and a knee replacement.
Forty percent of the Spurs squad is changed from last year, the second highest percentage in the league.
For the second consecutive year, AVB's resume convinced the owner of a top-six EPL team that he was the man to trim a cumbersome top-heavy unit into a sustainable future force – without sacrificing the present. The first attempt ended at the hands of the Cobham senior pros, frustrated at an ill-suited gameplan and seemingly arbitrary decision-making. As I suggested last week, identity is important – and after initial experiments with a high-line, Chelsea were basically faceless until Villas-Boas' dismissal.
Although it's only early, Villas-Boas' second attempt has not started well. He was denied his priority transfer, Joao Moutinho, but buttered up by signing Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris – who is already reportedly unhappy. This is one example of the Spurs' faithful hushed disquiet - the most obvious feature of Villas-Boas' early reign isn't the results, but the equivocacy radiating from White Hart Lane.
Football management can be distilled down to three roles: ego administration, reasoned decision-making and inspiring belief in subordinates – the three most public actions of a leader. These were further expanded by award-winning coach Ric Charlesworth, who in his autobiography “The Coach”, laid down five principles that every coach needed: knowledge, diligence, flexibility, consistency and honesty.
Despite his tactical nous, disarming honesty and unquestioned devotion, André Villas-Boas is yet to prove himself fully as a leader. This is because he is yet to demonstrate flexibility and consistency in dealing with his players. In hindsight, his Chelsea reign can be thought of in two periods: one of inflexibility where he impelled ill-suited tactics on ill-tempered players, and another of inconsistency in which he employed frantic on-the-job problem solving.
As regards Spurs, Villas-Boas can't afford a repeat of his Michael Dawson corollary. Dawson, amongst the League's better central defenders, was recently thought to be surplus to requirements and offered up for sale only days after captaining the club. Captaincy is a sign of trust from the coach, that a player should display all the attitudes of a coach who (usually) can't take the field. To then suddenly put a price on that captain's head – no matter what the need – is both affrontingly mercantile and painfully inconsistent.
Indecision and inconsistency is easily picked up by players and a coach's credibility is eroded – slowly at first and then with increasing speed. Villas-Boas' greatest challenge isn't getting the team to gel, but to prove himself once and for all a leader.
Hopefully the confusion will settle now the transfer window has closed and squads have been submitted for the first half of the campaign. The new guy deserves, and will be given, time to really create something of value in North London. However, in order for his players to fall in behind him, André Villas-Boas needs the chance to prove himself – first to those players, and then the watching public.