Friday 20 April 2018

Latest sacking exposes folly of Levy's merry-go-round

Villas-Boas was a foolish choice by club paying price for sacking ideal boss Redknapp

Andre Villas-Boas admits that his job is under threat
Andre Villas-Boas admits that his job is under threat
Daniel Levy, Tottenham Hotspur
James Lawton

James Lawton

For the second time in 21 months Andre Villas-Boas has become another statistic of football managerial mayhem. But this time his plight took on a wider significance than just one strange case of over-promotion.

The forlorn 36-year-old pictured distractedly tapping his mobile phone outside his London home was a symbol of a game gorging on money and starved of even basic common sense about how it best works.

Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman who pulled the trigger on AVB -- a swift but widely anticipated merciless act after the manager had first been put to the sword by Liverpool's Luis Suarez in front of a dismayed home crowd -- is now thought to be courting former England coach Fabio Capello.

If he does invite Capello to become Tottenham's sixth full-time manager in nine years it will complete a cycle of futility that is remarkable even by football standards.

The possibility of the move was flagged by Capello's presence at the White Hart Lane slaughter. Currently managing Russia, he is a close friend of Tottenham director of football Franco Baldini, who was his No 2 in an ill-starred reign as England boss.

Baldini's part in Villas-Boas' latest debacle is thought not to be inconsiderable in that he approved, and advanced, much of the spree of summer signings that wiped out the world record transfer fee received for Gareth Bale from Real Madrid.

As Liverpool ripped Spurs apart, only three of the signings started the game; Erik Lamela, the £26m winger from Roma about whom Baldini was particularly enthusiastic, sat on the bench.

At the end of the match the distraught Villas-Boas hugged Suarez. It was a bit like a condemned man embracing his executioner.

Yet given the prevailing level of job insecurity at the top of the game, sympathy for the latest victim will be muted. He was said to be £13m richer after Roman Abramovich cut him loose at Chelsea a year last spring, and his latest pay-off might just accelerate his plan to leave football after a decade and pursue other interests.

The owner of 12 sports cars, he may well take an earlier-than-planned run at the Dakar Rally.

That might be a welcome distraction for the wounded Villas-Boas, but in the minds of many Tottenham fans it would surely only compound the folly of his appointment in place of the popular, and strikingly successful, Harry Redknapp.

The fact is that the story of AVB has become a walking parable. It is of big-time football's ever-increasing belief that instant change makes more sense than the kind of patience which marked Manchester United's confidence that Alex Ferguson would, sooner or later, get it right.

Villas-Boas never played football professionally. He attached himself to Bobby Robson when the former England manager was coach at Porto and was sent off to a coaching course. Thus qualified, he ran the British Virgin Islands team for a year, then worked in the shadow of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Inter Milan.

There followed a spectacular year of success at Porto and the conclusion of Abramovich that he had a lot more to offer than Carlo Ancelotti, who won the Premier League and the FA Cup at Chelsea to put alongside two Champions Leagues and a Serie A title with AC Milan.

FORGIVEN

Ancelotti, now installed at Real Madrid after winning the French title with Paris Saint-Germain last season, might have been forgiven some wry reflection yesterday when he heard of his Chelsea successor's latest career setback.

Wry, rather than bitter this surely was, because Ancelotti was reported to have picked up £6m on his way out of Stamford Bridge.

The heaviest irony at Chelsea, of course, was that Roberto di Matteo's reward for delivering the Champions League and the FA Cup after the sacking of Villas-Boas was to see the deeply unpopular Rafa Benitez take over his desk.

Now Di Matteo is the front-runner to return to West Bromwich, for whom he won promotion to the Premier League before falling at the first dip of form.

For the moment, though, Tottenham surely hold the franchise on football irony. Before the sale of Bale, AVB was being hailed as potentially the messiah longed for ever since the days of Bill Nicholson's Double glory in 1961.

Before Real Madrid pressed their overtures, Bale went out of his way to praise the help he had received from the young coach.

Chairman Levy preened over the speed with which he had recovered from the shocking decision to fire Redknapp, who had carried the club from the malaise which cost three of his predecessors -- Jacques Santini, Martin Jol and Juande Ramos -- their jobs in four years, to a spectacular re-entry at the top of European football.

Victories over Inter Milan and AC Milan signalled, it seemed, a new dawn for a club with the solid backing of its billionaire owner Joe Lewis. Redknapp knew the club -- he had played there as a boy -- and he knew what was expected of him.

It was to deliver superior football, which he did with the help of Bale, who he had done so much to cultivate, a placated Luka Modric and the sophisticated Rafael van der Vaart.

However, on the way to this success Redknapp acquired a dangerous commodity. It was popularity on the terraces, the aura of a man who knew the game and precisely what he was doing.

He also appeared to be in the running for the England job after winning the tax case which had clouded his future for years. So Redknapp was cut down and saw his job handed to the man who had failed to make any kind of rapport with the old sweats of the Chelsea dressing-room.

Soon after AVB's appointment, one senior player was asked about the quality of the pre-match scouting reports the young assistant had supplied to Mourinho for absorption by the team.

"I couldn't really tell you," he replied mischievously. "I always threw them straight into the rubbish bin."

As Spurs were cruelly eviscerated by Suarez's Liverpool, chairman Levy was pictured shaking his head. Could it have been at his own part in the football madness? The instinct, and all previous evidence, suggests not.

Hits or misses? -- Tottenham's summer signings

Paulinho

Settled in well but dismissal against Liverpool on Sunday proved very costly.

Verdict: Hit

Erik Lamela

Argentinian winger signed for a club record £27m but has only started two league matches.

Verdict: Miss

Etienne Capoue

Frenchman impressed before ankle injury but has been used as makeshift defender since return.

Verdict: Hit

Nacer Chadli

Injury-prone Belgian has yet to make any impact after joining from FC Twente.

Verdict: Miss

Vlad Chiriches

A solid if unspectacular start for cultured Romanian. Scored in recent win over Fulham.

Verdict: Hit

Roberto Soldado

A disappointing return until his hat-trick in the Europa League last week.

Verdict: Miss

Christian Eriksen

The Dane made a promising start but picked up ankle injury on international duty.

Verdict: Miss

Irish Independent

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