EXCLUSIVE — Following his side’s 2-2 draw with Manchester United this past weekend, Andre Villas-Boas made headlines for lashing out at journalists who questioned his ability to manage Tottenham (see video).
Accusing the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton and Martin Samuel of launching an attack on “my integrity, my human values, and my professionalism,” many felt Villas-Boas came off as overly-sensitive and even petty.
He had just finished a high-intensity 2-2 match with Manchester United, a game that may not have seen his side take the three points but one that did, however, go a long way to erasing the previous week’s 6-0 nightmare loss to Manchester City.
Fast forward three days and Villas-Boas’ squad finally did get that much-needed victory, although the 2-1 win at Fulham was hardly a convincing act. Down 0-1 after Ashkan Dejagah’s 56th minute strike, Spurs needed goals from Vlad Chiriches and Lewis Holtby to spare AVB’s blushes.
Unconvinced that the Portuguese boss is off-the-hook at White Hart Lane, I sat down with NBC Premier League analyst, Kyle Martino, and talked all things AVB and Spurs.
When asked whether AVB’s job was under threat, Martino issued a decisive “No,” adding the caveat, “but the period of scrutiny has definitely started and you can bet the powers-that-be are now monitoring the situation very close. The reality for AVB is that he lost the best player in the Premier League last year, a player who probably overshadowed a few cracks in the system. But when you spend $150 million or so in the summer, alongside that comes incredible expectations of improvement. If they hadn’t lost Gareth Bale and didn’t spend a lot of money, you’d have more patience with his predicament.”
Hard to disagree with that. With increased resources comes increased expectations.
As far as AVB’s reaction at the press conference goes, Martino was sympathetic. “Look, I understand and appreciate his desire to want to defend himself when he feels he’s being personally attacked but something that comes with being an experienced manager is being calm and secure when playing the media game.”
“Right now the media are getting AVB to do exactly what they want him to do, which is react and get upset. I don’t think he’s wrong in a man-on-man personal situation but he needs to look at the bigger picture – when his team sees an interview like that I think they see a manager that’s slightly over-sensitive before they see a manager who’s standing up for himself.
“When you go back at your critic, you give them bait that validates their comments. Whereas if you dismiss them, that’s what makes you look the strongest.”
Martino’s argument of refrain and dismissal is spot on. A similar philosophy was echoed by Sir Alex Ferguson in his latest autobiography, “Ferguson.”
There, the United legend notes that the best piece of advice he ever received on the media front was from a friend named Paul Doherty, who told Fergie that he was “giving the game away” and “showing his worries” during press conferences.
Ferguson agreed. “Appearing beleaguered is no way to handle the press. Showing your torments to them is no way to help the team or improve you’re chances of winning on a Saturday.”
Ferguson goes on to claim that he “couldn’t allow a press conference to become a torture-chamber” and that it was his duty to protect the integrity of the club.”
For Ferguson, the key to press conferences was to prepare himself mentally while he noted that his “experience” was a huge factor in allowing him to “see the line a journalist is pursuing.”
It all lines up, doesn’t it?
The perfect descriptor for AVB last weekend was “beleaguered.” The press room truly was his “torture-chamber.” And during that bust-up, he definitely would’ve given his left arm for 1/4th the experience of Sir Alex Ferguson.
But that’s life.
AVB is simply not that experienced. He’s only 36-years-old. Those kind of moments are bound to happen.
When I asked how smart he thinks Villas-Boas is, Martino said: “I think he’s very smart, getting his badges as a young man, learning under Sir Bobby Robson and Jose Mourinho. If you’re an intelligent and ambitious person, which AVB is, you can’t help but absorb those things.”
With that high a level of intelligence, however, there is a sense that AVB tends to overcomplicate things. Martino makes an interesting observation: “If you watch AVB on the sideline it takes him three minutes of conversation to get across his points to a substitute. That’s the kind of technocratic overload that can paralyze some players. I’ve heard players talk about him planning training sessions weeks in advance. To be that meticulous can be too much.”
Another thing AVB seems to be taking seriously is the Europa League.
Martino chuckles, “Yeah, I’m not sure if going after the Europa League rather than the Premier League is the best thing to do after spending $150 million on players last summer. Spurs fans want improvement on last year’s Premier League season. They want a Champions League spot.”
That’s the thing in the Premier League – a lot of clubs want a Champions League spot. Right now, it appears the title will be decided by three teams: Arsenal (34p) Chelsea (30p) and Manchester City (28p).
But who will claim that precious 4th spot?
That’s the million dollar question.
And currently any of six different clubs (Liverpool (27), Everton (27), Tottenham (24), Newcastle (23), Southampton (22) and Manchester United (22)) could make it happen.
It’s a situation that has Martino shaking his head in disbelief.
The parity truly is astounding.