Even when Andre Villas-Boas is in the right, he manages to get it wrong.
He is a tactically astute and bold young manager with much to offer the game, but Sunday’s spat with the press was just another example of his utter hopelessness in the field of public relations.
You can understand why Villas-Boas fought back against his laptop-clattering tormentors, you can even admire it, but that still doesn’t make it a good idea. And if you really must insist on opening fire on an organisation as powerful and influential as the Daily Mail, you can’t afford to miss. Far from ‘owning’ or ‘rinsing’ Neil Ashton, as some Spurs fans claimed, the beleaguered Tottenham boss simply swung a wild haymaker at him and then fell over.
In the eyes of many Spurs fans, Villas-Boas was making a brave stand, but let’s not kid ourselves that White Hart Lane is united behind their manager. The jeering that greeted his decision to withdraw Aaron Lennon on Sunday was a better barometer of public opinion than Twitter.
In the eyes of the media, Villas-Boas is hurting. He’s reacting to what they say and what they write. So what do you think they’ll do? Send a basket of muffins and a handwritten note of apology or intensify their attacks?
In the eyes of his superiors, the most important eyes of all, Villas-Boas looks like he’s losing control. There are already people at the club who are briefing against him, telling journalists that ‘everyone wants him to succeed’ in the same breath that they whisper dark hints about his apparent paranoia. This only plays into their hands.
It’s hard not to feel sympathetic to Villas-Boas’ plight. He is managing a team that was stripped of its star in the summer and is struggling to adjust to the arrival of seven new players. No team in the world would be comfortable with such upheaval, but no-one seems in the mood to make him any allowances, least of all Ashton and his colleague Martin Samuel.
Villas-Boas was upset with the two of them, and understandably so. After all, there’s a world of difference between claiming that, ‘the players should be ashamed,’ as Samuel implied Villas-Boas had said, and claiming that, “we should be ashamed,” as Villas-Boas actually said. Unfortunately for Villas-Boas, there is also a world of difference between Samuel and Ashton. Taking a swing at one man for another man’s column was reckless and doomed to failure.
Not that Ashton was entirely innocent in Villas-Boas’s eyes. His crime was to assert that any one of us could have won all those trophies with Porto, which was a rather mean-spirited observation. After all, the Portuguese League didn’t look so easy the year before Villas-Boas’ arrival when Jesualdo Ferreira finished third with Porto, a whopping eight points adrift of Benfica and three behind Braga. And the relative strengths of that league have no bearing on the Europa League, where Porto beat CSKA Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Villarreal and their old friends Braga in the final.
But while Samuel is certainly on shaky ground with his fluid definition of the word ‘we’, Ashton’s points about Porto were simply his opinion, an opinion he’s earned the right to voice. Yes, it was disrespectful, but...well...welcome to the big time, Andre. Every time a journalist criticises a manager it is, to a certain extent, disrespectful. Everything I’ve ever written is disrespectful. How could it not be disrespectful when the high water mark for my own achievements in the game was a successful trial for the third string of a Cornish non-league outfit?
But there are better ways of dealing with it than this. Villas-Boas would have been far better off just ignoring the criticism and allowing his team to provide a compelling riposte. Tottenham had just gone toe-to-toe with a Manchester United side that had obliterated Bayer Leverkusen in their own stadium earlier that week. Crisis or no crisis, a spirited and deserved draw against the champions is always a good result.
Unfortunately, that’s not the story now. And if Villas-Boas thought he was in trouble with the press before, he hasn’t seen anything yet. The claws are out. They very rarely go back in again without making a kill.
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