What’s Eating AVB?

Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas has carried himself well since taking over at Spurs at the beginning of last season, his earnest, temperate behaviour earning the respect of supporters and the football community alike. No doubt he still bears the scars of a media mauling while he was at Chelsea but he’s hidden them well, preferring to get on with his job and ensuring that attention remains on his team rather than on his merits as an individual.

Until now that is. The headlines after our last two matches have all been about the manager. After a squeaky win over Hull, he blamed the poor performance on the home crowd for allowing their anxiety to transmit through to the players. Yesterday he railed against anyone prepared to denounce the decision to keep Hugo Lloris on the field last Sunday after he inadvertently head-butted Lukaku’s knee. It’s a sudden and marked change in his approach. He’s come out to battle but the problem is, I’m not sure who he is fighting and frankly, whether AVB himself knows the answer.

After the Hull match, my concern was not so much what he said about the fans but more why someone so singleminded had allowed something beyond his control to intrude upon his decision-taking and distract from his focus on the team. This was nothing compared with his sustained, aggressive rebuttal of widespread accusations of negligence over the Lloris incident. The Frenchman took a heavy blow to the head and appeared dazed and disoriented for several minutes. Any player who is concussed or appears to be concussed should receive treatment and not carry on. This is the case in other contact sports like rugby or American football.

Villas-Boas was having none of it. Described as ‘angry’ in most papers, Villas-Boas was adamant that he stood by his decision to allow our brave keeper to play on. “I have registered the fact that a couple of people have taken this opportunity to find the chance to get themselves publicised. They have no experience on the pitch whatever in these situations.”

More than mere commenting on a controversial decision, Villas-Boas upped the stakes by suggesting people are using him and the club to criticise and make something of their own position. presumably he means the media or pundits. He denied that he takes this personally, saying enigmatically that, “After my Chelsea experience I took a vaccine that makes me immune to a couple of things.” He must be referring to the media here, yet has chosen to add remarks to his discussion of the incident itself that amount to an attack on that media, or at least sections of it. It’s clearly got under his skin. I hope my flu-jab is more effective than that vaccine.

The Lloris incident is a classic example of the clash between the old values of gutsy football hardmen, playing on regardless (think blooded bandaged Terry Butcher) and the modern application of science, where sports medicine has moved on from smelling salts and a cold sponge. There’s not a Spurs fan reading this who could deny admiring Lloris hugely for carrying on, and the same can be said for Townsend after his tumble into the stands the Sunday before. It showed committment and emotional investment in the club. Unfortunately, his bravery could have put his long-term health at risk and the decision was not his to make.

If Villas-Boas is searching for an issue where he wants to take a stand, this was a poor choice. Eminent experts in sports medicine queued up to explain the risks and condemn the decision. His denial of the value of comparisons with other incidents leaves him flailing wildly, his adversaries the best people in the medical field, not the media.

He’s also inconsistent regarding the key attribute of a good leader, accountability. On TV it looked clear that Spurs’ medics wanted him to come off. After the game, AVB implied he had overruled them, whereas yesterday he still took ultimate responsiblity for the decision but added that the doctors agreed.

We will never know the full truth but it is a shame, as AVB pointed out, that the team who saved the life of Fabrice Muamba are now under fire.

It’s hard to recall now the way sections of the tabloid media gleefully lined up to wait for what they saw as Villas-Boas’ imminent and inevitable downfall. His appointment was derided. Couldn’t handle the big boys of the Premier League. This coaching dossiers malarkey counted for nothing. Reports of disruption in the camp. Lloris was unhappy because he was not in the team. Now look at him – just one example of how Villas-Boas proved them wrong. So why start having a go now?

Perhaps he has had enough. Feeling secure, it’s time to fight back. Connected with this, it could also be that he is adopting the favourite managerial ploy of creating an ‘us against the world’ mood in the squad. We’re under bombardment, everyone is against us so we will stay strong. If this is the case, his public comments over the fans and the Lloris incident were in fact intended more for the private consumption of the team.

It’s perfectly possible that he believes this is a worthy cause, that he is defending his honour and that of the medical staff. He undoubtedly feels aggrieved but if that were the whole story, I suspect he would not have gone on the offensive against mysterious forces of evil with such determination.

I’m left to conclude that this is an outburst of underlying anxiety about the current situation at Spurs that he has projected onto other events. We all know in life that when people lose their rag, often the incident that provoked it was not in proportion to the level of expressed anger and irritation. It’s the tip of the iceberg, a trigger for deeper meanings.

Our Andre knows things are not going as well as he hoped. For the first time, attention is turning to the way he has set his team up. His chosen tactics and personnel do not enable us to score goals. He is more ambitious than any of us, a burning, overwhelming desire to prove himself through his methods and his team, to receive validation through the medium of his side. While many of us are counselling patience, AVB is rattled.

He has plenty of options and it’s wrong to characterise him as rigid in his thinking. However, he needs to keep his mind firmly on the job. Having a rattled manager is not good for the club. Never mind the crowd, it’s his anxiety transmitting itself to the players that we should be concerned about. Frankly he’s not handled this well. Going public is not helping Andre Villas-Boas and not helping the team.

23 thoughts on “What’s Eating AVB?

  1. Interesting stuff, Alan. I must confess my initial reaction to the post-match furore was to wonder if Spurs should instruct staff to answer the phone with the greeting “Hello, Tottenham Hotspur Football club, what have we done wrong now?” as it seems to be open season on Spurs. That is, as some people pointed out to me on twitter, a touch paranoid – but a feeling fuelled after the singing hoo-ha, the pyro hoo-ha and the support hoo-ha.

    It’s perhaps also worth wondering why, when Lukaku himself was knocked out when scoring the winner for Everton against West Ham, and then let back on the pitch, there wasn’t quite the same outcry as followed the spurs decision to let Lloris play on. I can’t quite banish the feeling that there seems to be a bit of an agenda against Spurs and AVB in particular – but it would also be wrong to let this obscure some serious issues. As in all cases, it’s better to look at the issues rather than use them to grind axes.

    Spurs did follow the rules. Premier League guidelines allow a player to return to play after being assessed my medical staff. So to frame the debate as a “mistake” or “bad judgement” by an obviously skilled medical team and manager is factually incorrect, as well as perhaps more evidence of that axe-grinding. Whether or not a player should automatically be removed from play after being knocked out is another, of course related and very important debate.

    It’ll take a lot more reading of medical opinion on this before most people who are making pronouncements are actually equipped to make those pronouncements. And, in the end, the thing with medicine is that it’s a science, so there are facts that can be proved or refuted – very different from football in which so often an opinion is merely just that.

    My gut feeling is that it makes sense to withdraw a player. But it’s no more than a gut feeling, and so I don’t know how long it should be before a player is allowed to play again. Clearly, the club’s medical staff were satisfied Lloris was OK, so was AVB, so was Lloris. There’s a perfectly good case for saying the decision should not have been theirs to make but, as far as I can see, it was, so they did. I don’t believe for a minute they would have done anything to risk the health of a colleague and, let’s be blunt, a valuable asset.

    This is where I tend to agree that AVB has not been wise to make this such a battle, although I have some sympathy with his irritation. What’s needed is rational explanation and rational discussion, rather than people trying to back each other into corners. That’s not something the sports media is great at, but it’s not impossible to achieve.

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    • We can have fixed views either ways about AVBs aptitude in everything but really its all a guessing game and all we have are some clues.
      I believe Townsend’s comments about when he game back from the terraces in that Hull game he said on Talksport that the fans cheered him and AVB told him to go back on. So I wonder between that point and the Lloris point if AVB is not anxious about where we are at and his system as Alan presented here.
      I dont know how good a manager AVB really is and have an open mind about it but I just hope he is not an ideologue and is stuck with the one idea. I havent seen too much to the contrary,in his flexibility of changing the paradigm in the moment.
      he looks like a great manager.But is he?
      These are all clues as is fourth place.

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    • Martin, I’m sure the media are wating to pounce. It will be a crisis if we fall as low as 6th, mark my words. That should be “crisis”.

      I would genuinely be interested in a study of the way the media deal with top clubs. I have a feeling fans of every club say their team is victimised. We got a really easy ride when HR was with us.

      Re the Lloris decision, I hope the medics did say play on, from the TV it appeared they were having an extended arguement with Hugo, the ref, AVB etc saying he should come off.

      re the facts, there is an established body of evidence from other sports re concussion. One of AVB’s poor choices with this press conference was to imply they were outside football and therefore did not know what they were talking about. Dangerous in my view and also typical of the English game’s blinkered attitudes.

      Regards, Al

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    • Thanks Ronnie. Have a root round the blog. Like it or not, this is typical of the style and approach. Hope you find what you want.

      Regards Alan

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  2. It is obvious that AVB is starting to realise that the job in hand is over and above him and unless he becomes a little more flexible in decision making and less set in his ways, he will fail horribly at White Hart Lane.

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    • It does worry me a little that he is sounding a bit paranoid all of a sudden but I’m patient in other aspects so I’ll reserve final judgement on that one. Recent blogs show my hesitation about his persistent tactics with the inverted wingers. He has changed things in the past so I’ll hang on but he needs to respond either with a different shape or different players to make it work.

      Regards, Alan

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  3. AVB is not over-reacting. He is entitled to state his feelings. You are playing amateur psychology here. Of course he feels the pressure. The press have to find their stories and they are properly skilled at digging, and putting meaning into stuff that happens.
    Like, you’ve a blog to write. The most important thing is to stay positive. AVB appears to be working his guts out for Spurs. Why shouldn’t he have a go at silent fan support? Or, these mugs having a go at him for leaving the goalie on? You’re right, he does want the players to believe they will succeed by sticking, and fighting together.

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    • Not entirely amateur but of course I’m speculating. It strikes me that the change in his approach is so marked, therefore I’m curious. Which is why I write – I don’t have to write the blog, it’s only me, no money is made from it so no targets or deadlines. I am positive about him, have been from the start, and agree he’s working very hard, totally committed to us.

      Regards, Alan

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  4. AVB has shown bad judgement in the last 2 weeks, comments regarding the Fans while the team fail to spark were tactless enough but this flawed defence of a decision he clearly failed to make ( AVB paced up and down the Technical Area clearly concerned but clueless as to what action was required of him ) and his remarks re: Fabrice Muamba (Heart) show him as confused and indecisive.
    Dawson and the Doctor clearly advised Lloris to go off for Medical reasons due to concussion, AVB should have re-enforced their efforts by insisting on the substitution.

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    • Raz,I think over the enxt short while we will get to see the true substance of AVB’s ability to manage Tottenham.These problems regarding injuries etc are a symptom of his inability to get fluid in the final third as scoring more will take that pressure off.
      This is the crux of the situation,for Tottenham,the fans and for AVB himself.

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  5. 4th, 5points off the top. players still to gel, still doesn’t know his best team. AVB keep up the good work,cos if spurs a in still in the mix into the new year….happydays days.

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  6. You are mistaken my friend. What you have seen in the last few months is who AVB really is, i.e. the same arrogant, angry guy he was at Chelsea. Last season, because he was trying to rebuild his reputation that had been badly damaged in the EPL, he put on a well disguised front each and every time he faced the media. If you look back, you will note how deliberate all of his interviews were, the concerted effort it took from him to be cautious and say the things people wanted to hear, because he was stiffling the true him in order to convince everyone that he was rashly judged for his Chelsea stint. Now that he has had a successful first year at Spurs, of which he has been reminding everyone that would listen that we achieved our highest points total and best away record, we are seeing AVB’s true colours once again emerging. He will probably see out this season but Levy will get rid of by start of 2014/15. When you see class acts like Pellegrini, Ancelotti, etc., this guy is a joke (must be a Portugese or Chelsea thing, probably both).

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  7. What a nit picking article but I expect that you have to write something however insignificant the topic. At least AVB does not wear that coat any more. He is learning fast.!

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  8. i think you’re on the wrong blog. Please no cheerful comments. This is about the current “let’s help the media query AVB( he’s not Harry) passing bandwagon. So please wait for the requisite bandwagon or the gloom might drift away. Ther’es a good lad

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  9. I think AVB is railing against the media machine and quite rightly so. Too many media outlets are jumping on the bandwagon to have a pop at him (for not being ‘arry) and Spurs for trying to break the stranglehold of Sky’s chosen top 4. League position and points tally don’t lie, they are objective measures! Unfortunately, however, bigots never let the facts get in the way of their prejudice and inane and uninformed blogs this just aid their cause.

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  10. I am amazed at what is being written here. Have you really got such short memories – not so long ago we were a mid table team with crazy managers long past their sell by date (including Harry who lost the plot). AVB has now got the team to be one of the most feared teams in the EPL. NO ONE likes to play us at home or away – and I mean everyone. I would take that every day of the week. The reason their is so much banter about Spurs is the so called original “top four” has had there little party turned over and they don’t like it

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    • I think you have to undersatnd that AVB may well be the man for Tottenham but position in the table is not the only story for Tottenham fans.Was Jol’s 2 5th place finishes good enough.Was Harry’s malarkey good enough aven though he brought us higher than we had been for a ,long time and now AVB’s inability to score more except against small market teams.
      The one thing that would have immediately got us rsspectability with our own fans without winning anything is getting ahead of the arse and look what happened.
      AVB may well put it all togetherbut up to now our expectations are higher than he has offered in the quality of football and the potency we need to feel assured that we can beat anyone.

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  11. As a true Spurs fan I fully support the manager. I see no issues with what’s happened of late, massive case of mountains out of molehills. But I do agree that AVB ought not to comment on any of these things – all the media is trying to do is provoke him. I suspect it’s because with Sir Alex gone there’s a whole dollop of controversial rubbish that’s gone missing and the media are looking for a replacement. Plus, Mourinho’s constant absurdity has become boring.

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  12. Spot on.

    Hugo should have come off the pitch. If he didn’t want to then AVB should have subbed him.

    As I recall there were reports that Hugo didn’t know where he was. It was balls-out bravery to stay on the pitch, and testament to a mighty team ethic, but very very risky. Unnecessarily so.

    (And much as Brad has been great for us, he is getting creaky now. Last night’s goal was a fumble and the two against Hull he would have stopped even a year ago.)

    I’m a huge admirer of AVB. He is the right man for the job and I hope he is in it for the long haul. C$$$$$$’$ loss is our gain.

    However, I wonder if the pressure isn’t building.

    We spent a lot of money this summer. In a same and reasonable world we would acknowledge that the players need to time bed in and develop a style of play.

    But this is modern football where results are demanded yesterday at the latest.

    It won’t be helped by A****** being the form team at the moment. (Stress the last three words of that sentence.)

    AVB is the man for us but he is, to quote Nietzsche and disappear up my own arsehole, human; all too human.

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