As one of Andre Villas-Boas’ staunchest early-season critics I’ve stuffed my face full of Spurs-related humble pie in recent weeks. Being of an Arsenal persuasion it’s not been easy to swallow.
I admit it. The Gravelly One’s reinvention at White Hart Lane has been impressive.
Results skew everything of course, but it’s hard to deny the Portuguese coach has galvanised the Tottenham Hotspur squad.
Displaying a much more human, likeable side he’s fashioned Spurs into his own distinct style, creating an athletic, well-organised, happy and united team. Even if they are rather reliant on a certain Welshmen’s left boot. (sorry, couldn’t resist).
The one aspect of Villas-Boas’ management that’s swayed me most however, is his magnanimous handling of Michael Dawson.
Presumably before he’d had chance to fully shake off the ill effects of life at ruthless-and-diseased Chelsea, the new Spurs boss began his reign by cruelly, rather clumsily, writing off his club captain.
Without affording Dawson so much as a cursory glance he’d made his mind up that a central defensive quartet of Jan Vertonghen, Younes Kaboul, Steven Caulker and William Gallas would suffice. The England international was made available for transfer.
To his credit, Dawson, now 29, wasn’t having it.
The Yorkshireman knew he wasn’t the Premier League’s best defender, he knew he wasn’t even the best at Tottenham, but he also knew he was better than QPR.
There were no back page spreads, slamming the decision. Toys remained in pram. Instead, the defender politely declined the opportunity to leave, knuckled down and coolly went about the process of winning his manager over.
And AVB loved it. Who wouldn’t?
Actually, you’d be surprised. There are plenty of managers - maybe even the majority - who would have absolutely despised that situation. Out of sheer stubbornness, and an unwillingness to be made to look silly it would (I guarantee you) have sent many gaffers into a torrent of rage.
How dare you ruin my plans! If I say you’ll be sold, you’ll be sold! Train with the kids!
Not Villas-Boas. Not the new, happier, more relaxed AVB.
Quite rightly, he recognised that Michael Dawson had a bit of spunk; something about him. So, he was willing to give the defender a chance.
Since then, Dawson has made 18 starts for Spurs in all competitions. They have won 12, drawn five, and lost one. This season, the defender has not lost a Premier League match which he has begun.
Has the manager’s U-turn paid off? You’d better believe it.
Brought up in the rough and tumble of junior football in Yorkshire, the younger brother of two lower league professional footballers, Dawson was bred to be tough as old boots. And he is.
He can also play. Most footballers educated at the City Ground can. However, Dawson’s natural instinct is to stop, rather than to shine - a remarkably rare quality in the modern day central defender.
Character is what sets him apart though. He’s a man’s man.
Before kick-off it will be Dawson who leads the rousing pre-match huddle. When a big tackle is required to lift the crowd or his colleagues he’ll step in and make it. If a ball is heading towards goal he’ll voluntarily throw his body in front of it. When a team-mate slacks off, he’ll let them know all about it. If a goal is conceded he’ll hurt more than most. At the final whistle when the points have been earned, it will be he, who grabs his pals for a celebratory hug.
Nothing’s done for show. He’s himself; a sound bloke, an old school leader.
Michael Dawson isn’t perfect, he isn’t super-talented and he isn’t particularly fashionable, but in a world of fancy-Dan ball-playing softies his 100 per cent honesty marks him out. I like him.
And so, you suspect, does Andre Villas-Boas now that he’s got to know his skipper.
No matter what happens in the next ten matches, when the Tottenham manager formulates his plans for 2013/14, Michael Dawson’s name will be one of the first he writes down.
Yes, he may have made his manager look silly for doubting him, but Villas-Boas knows the league table might not have looked half as pretty if he hadn’t given his central defender a second chance.
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