Isolated Villas-Boas meets an inevitable ending
Sacked manager felt club had rejected his ideas as relationship with Levy became strained, writes Jason Burt
There was no common ground between Andre Villas-Boas and Daniel Levy as they met briefly after Tottenham Hotspur's 5-0 humiliation at home against Liverpool -- and there had to be if they were to continue.
Both men were hurt and as Levy sought answers, Villas-Boas bristled.
The talk turned to whether Spurs could employ two strikers, for example, and Villas-Boas interpreted this as a suggestion that he should play Emmanuel Adebayor, who he wanted out of the club, who had been a source of friction and who has been a crushing disappointment, despite being the highest earner. The conversation was not constructive.
Quickly the decision was taken to reconvene yesterday morning and, shortly after 10.0am, Villas-Boas and Levy decided that the time was right for the head coach to go. Technically he was not sacked and, in truth, the sense around Villas-Boas was that he wanted to go and was relieved it was over.
He and Levy have never been, according to a source close to the Portuguese, a "dynamic duo". By the end the relationship between the pair was ever more remote; it was not a meeting of minds.
That relationship had started awkwardly with the sale of Luka Modric in the summer of 2012 and the failure to sign Joao Moutinho at the 11th hour as his replacement -- after apparently haggling over €500,000 on a €31m (£26m) bid -- and it rarely improved after that.
Villas-Boas lost Modric one summer, Gareth Bale the next -- even if £107m was spent following the latter's departure. He had called for evolution; he got revolution.
Villas-Boas was devastated not to acquire Moutinho and believed that he struggled to get any of the players he wanted signed by Spurs. It is a long and perhaps, at times, unrealistic list but included Oscar, Fernandinho, Willian, Leandro Damiao, Henrik Mkhitaryan, Fabio Coentrao, Hulk and David Villa.
The latter was even taken on a tour of Spurs' impressive new training ground but decided to join Atletico Madrid.
Levy did not interfere. Far from it. He does allow his staff to get on with their jobs but there is, on occasions, frustration that he appears to be a 'numbers man'.
Not that Villas-Boas, a bright, likeable coach, was blameless. He is far warmer than his public image presents, with innovative ideas, but at times he is unrelenting. The 36-year-old had his fingers burnt at Chelsea and after an initial feeling that he would not return to English football he landed the Spurs job.
He had learnt important lessons. Villas-Boas needed to improve his man-management skills and become more flexible -- and did so -- and of all the criticism he has faced the claim that he had blamed the players or lost the dressing-room is the one he refutes most vehemently.
However, the biggest irony is that here is a young coach who is firmly committed to attacking, exciting football -- and wants to entertain -- but was struggling to translate that on to the pitch. Again, though, he may well just have needed time.
There was also a fractious relationship with Tim Sherwood, Spurs' technical co-ordinator, and highly regarded by Levy, while it always remained unclear as to how effective an assistant manager Steffen Freund was, and who pushed for him to be hired.
The tension increased over the summer when Paris Saint-Germain asked for, and were granted, permission to speak to Villas-Boas to become head coach. He decided to stay but felt that Levy would have happily pocketed the £10m it would have taken PSG to release him from his Spurs contract.
That contract, too, quickly became a bone of contention. Villas-Boas thought that Spurs might have improved his deal -- which had one more year left after this season -- after he showed loyalty and rejected PSG, but instead there was silence.
He did not ask for a better deal but also, having lobbied for the appointment of director of football Franco Baldini, he thought, perhaps wrongly, perhaps naively, that it would be a sign that Spurs believed in him.
That is often the way with Villas-Boas. He rejects the comparisons with his former mentor Jose Mourinho but there are undoubted similarities. One of Mourinho's mantras is that if everyone wears the same shirt then they should "show the same face" and all pull in the same direction.
Villas-Boas believed that also. He also accepts that he is 'Porto school' -- a product of the club he grew up supporting and went on to coach and may now return to as coach.
At Porto there is a strong support system and a very clear way of operating. Villas-Boas did not believe he had that at Spurs. A pinch point arrived last May on the post-season tour to the Bahamas which was also used as an opportunity for Villas-Boas, Levy and the club's owner Joe Lewis, who lives on the islands, to meet.
Top of the agenda was Bale's future, with Villas-Boas urging the club to keep him for one more year -- and add Hulk and Villa to create a new forward line. Villas-Boas wanted that evolution -- not a revolution -- at Spurs in the playing staff but was also pushing for off-the-pitch changes, including the hiring of Baldini and the overhaul of the medical department.
The signings were rejected and, of course, Bale was sold to Real Madrid for £85m but only, in fairness, after he had pushed for the move. Spurs held talks with Manchester United, who would have paid £100m and might also have taken Adebayor, but Bale was adamant he only wanted to go to Madrid.
Baldini got to work in the transfer market with Villas-Boas happy with the pursuit of Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Etienne Capoue but unsure that he wanted a radical overhaul.
But Spurs reasoned they could act quickly and decisively to reinvest the Bale money and use the opportunity to create a new squad.
It was a gamble, and it needed the pieces to fall together but, more importantly, a collective belief that this was not only the right thing to do but that Villas-Boas would be given time to make it work.
By now his relationship with Adebayor had deteriorated to such an extent that the striker was not to train with the first-team squad. Benoit Assou-Ekotto also went to Queens Park Rangers on loan after a deal to sell him to Fenerbahce collapsed, to Villas-Boas' frustration.
Within minutes of the 5-0 loss to Liverpool, Assou-Ekotto posted a picture on a social-network site of him and Adebayor holding up five fingers.
Rightly or wrongly, Villas-Boas felt the club had not backed him on Adebayor while Baldini continued to negotiate with Real president Fiorentino Perez.
A deal was in place and Spurs decided to spend rather than bank the Bale cash -- and with their seven signings, plus other departures, they ended the transfer window approximately £10m up when fees and savings on wages were taken into account.
There was clear method in this -- with the exception of Soldado, who is 28, and Paulinho, who has just turned 25, all the signings are young and should retain a resale value. The exception might be Erik Lamela who, although 21, cost about £30m and was wanted by both Baldini and Villas-Boas. Baldini, having worked with the Argentinian at Roma, has faith he will come good.
Spurs' results at the start of the season were better than expected even if some performances were patchy. Their defensive solidity, racking up clean sheets, was unexpected given the number of changes and there was a growing sense of excitement at the club that they might be title contenders.
Not that Villas-Boas, or Baldini, thought that. They still reasoned that this was a season of transition and a top-four finish was the goal. However, there was a growing, disappointing gap developing between the pair, which was all the more unfortunate given Villas-Boas had previously urged Chelsea to hire Baldini; the Italian had wanted to take the coach to Roma, and then wanted to work with him at Spurs.
But matters were becoming increasingly strained and there were disagreements over the handling of Hugo Lloris' head injury, with Villas-Boas determined that the 'keeper was fit to play.
The 6-0 defeat by Manchester City began to expose the tension further, with Villas-Boas believing that if he had then lost to Manchester United, Levy might want to pull the trigger. By now, he wanted to go. Villas-Boas did not appear happy on the touchline and his goal celebrations did not possess the usual exuberance.
Could he turn things around and see through December?
The games were coming thick and fast and that helped, but there was an increasing sense from those close to Villas-Boas that, come what may, this would be his last season at Spurs. In the end he did not make it to the midway point of the campaign. (Daily Telegraph, London)