When the final whistle came, it came like a blood stained towel hurled into the ring. It was probably the only way that an eternity of Liverpool possession was ever going to end.
Andre Villas-Boas exchanged a brief handshake with his conqueror Brendan Rodgers and stood for a while on the touchline in the thin, persistent rain. If he was hoping for poignancy, a stolen moment of compassion before the end came, he didn’t find it.
“Do one, Andre.” came a derisive shout from the stands. And thus, Andre duly did just that.
You’d pity him if you didn’t know that the financial settlement for this failure, allied to the financial settlement from the last one, is enough money to pay for a secret underground lair on a small island in the Pacific Ocean. From there, Villas-Boas could pore over his mistakes, cackle at the Moon and put together a devious plan for revenge. And that’s exactly what he should do. Give or take an underground lair on a small island in the Pacific Ocean.
Whatever some people believe, Villas-Boas is not a spoofer. He didn’t get the Porto job on the back of a particularly successful run on ‘Football Manager 2010’. He saved a doomed Academica side from relegation and oversaw a transformation in their style of play. He then took a Porto side that had been comprehensively outclassed the previous year by Benfica and won the title without losing a game, adding the Portuguese Cup and the Europa League to the trophy cabinet as well. Villas-Boas obviously has some talent.
What he appears to lack is a sense of expediency. An ability to read the room and then reconfigure his means to lay a path to an end that doesn’t involve a P45. Theoretically, there wasn’t much wrong with his conclusion that Chelsea were over-reliant on senior players and needed to play a higher, more intense game. Realistically, it was professional suicide. Frankly, it’s amazing that John Terry didn’t flush his head down the toilet on his first day.
At Tottenham, there was less resistance to his methods because there were fewer key players. Ledley King had hung up his kneecaps, Rafael van der Vaart had taken his 60-minute performances to Germany and Luka Modric was in solitary confinement after begging to be sold to Real Madrid. Stripped of three stars he made the most of one, built the team around Gareth Bale and, for a time at least, reaped the rewards. Villas-Boas’s determination to treat the bloated Europa League like the Champions League didn’t exactly help in the fight against fatigue though.
This season saw the departure of Bale and the arrival of seven new players. No manager in the world would have had an easy time managing that transition. But Villas-Boas didn’t help himself. Having used more cautious tactics to great effect against Manchester United, his return to the high-line, rampaging full-backs, inverted wingers, final third congestion, Robert-Soldado-stuck-in-the-middle-of-it-all-like-a-frightened-man-trying-to-cross-a-busy-motorway plan fell horribly flat.
And then there were the spats with the press. It was entirely understandable that Villas-Boas would want to stand up for himself, particularly against the more unfair attacks, but any victory he won in that field would only ever be Pyrrhic. Never, as the old saying goes, pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.
I would have given him at least until the end of the season to find some equilibrium, but I am not Daniel Levy and I do not have to pick up the phone every Monday and let Joe Lewis know how his investment is getting on.
There is talk now of Villas-Boas rebuilding his career in France, and it’s quite plausible. After all, he has been sounded out in the past by both Paris St Germain and AS Monaco and doubtless will be again. But rather than seeking a swift return to the fray, he’d be better served by taking some time off and doing some thinking. Villas-Boas is almost a good manager, but without adding some tactical flexibility and some PR skills to his repertoire, he’ll be doomed to repeat the same mistakes again and again.
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