Crunch match at the beginning of a crunch period for Villas-Boas


SOCCER ANGLES:Andre Villas-Boas takes his Spurs side to meet their old boss today, writes MICHAEL WALKER

He could annoy you, Andre Villas-Boas. If you were one of his players, that could definitely be the case. If you are Harry Redknapp at Loftus Road this lunchtime, it will certainly be possible.

Observing Villas-Boas on the touchline is to watch a study in micro-management. He is obsessive about detail, gesturing at players to move inches rather than yards.

A fraction this way. Yes, that’s better. Of course he would never say he does not trust players, but you would not have to be paranoid to take it that way.

But then “AVB” is part of a new breed of coaches for whom spontaneity seems incompatible with their “methodology”. It is the sort of new-school jargon, and approach, a man like Redknapp sneers at. You can understand why, because it is a view that sneers itself, at the likes of supposedly off-the-cuff managers such as Redknapp, who might just be a bit sharper in his football intuition and accumulated knowledge than he is often given credit for.

That said, Villas-Boas will arrive at Loftus Road as manager-of-the-month having guided Tottenham to four wins and a draw in their six Premier League games in December. He is not doing a bad job at White Hart Lane, and the form is good, but his performance deserves to be evaluated over the piece, not just after a sound month.

As Redknapp would be entitled to say, AVB inherited a pretty decent squad last summer, one that would be in the Champions League but for Chelsea winning the European Cup, once AVB had gone.

What Villas-Boas is doing though, is resuscitating his reputation post-Chelsea. It needs it. At Stamford Bridge his pedantic style of management played a part in his removal after only nine months. There were other factors, of course, not least Roman Abramovich.

Old guard

Villas-Boas appeared to have been charged by Abramovich with gradually removing the Jose Mourinho old guard at the club but was decreed to have taken to that task with too much haste and not enough humanity.

Much of this was said to have occurred at the club’s Cobham training ground, where Villas-Boas was deemed to be aloof, monosyllabic. This was a contrast with Carlo Ancelotti.

The peculiarity was Villas-Boas knew Chelsea from the inside having been there with Mourinho.

By Chelsea’s demanding standards, AVB looked a good fit. At games, meanwhile, crouching on the touchline, coiled and anxious, the new, young manager of an experienced, old team became a magnetic distraction.

What AVB attracted, though, was criticism – from the stands, the boardroom and, again, from the dressingroom. It’s not a winning combination.

The mood within the group soured – which was not unpredictable considering what he was expected to oversee – but it was he who was jettisoned. The mood lightened. Chelsea rode a horse called luck all the way to a startling night in Munich.

AVB went to ground. He was only 34 last March, when his sacking came, but this was a serious blow to the status he built at Porto.

Could he resurface in English football, and quickly? It was unlikely, and not at Tottenham Hotspur where Redknapp was busy ensuring Spurs would finish in the top four, two places and 13 points above Chelsea.

Not fully explained

Given the finish, that Tottenham disposed of Redknapp still strikes many as not fully explained.

What we don’t see, however, are the human relationships within a club, of the sort between AVB and the Chelsea core of players. Redknapp may have had a difficult time with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, that was long a rumour.

But Levy may also have focused on Tottenham’s results after Christmas in the last two seasons and been underwhelmed. At this stage last season Spurs were seven points better off than they are now, but won only six of their last 18 league games. That – six wins from the last 18 – was the same record the season before.

AVB preventing Spurs from withering again in spring would presumably be viewed with pleasure and a measure of vindication in the boardroom, but as Tottenham showed at home to Wigan in November, there are no guarantees.

So today’s is a crunch match at the beginning of a crunch period for Villas-Boas. It is the first time he will have encountered Redknapp since taking his job at White Hart Lane. That’s the human factor.

When it comes to games, there are 17 left in the league and Spurs must win more than six of them for AVB’s new hierarchy to be approaching ease about his appointment. Winning eight might mean a Champions League place next season, and winning two more than Redknapp would be the type of incremental improvement on which Villas-Boas seems keen.

Touch Wood Leicester pinning their hopes on free-scoring striker

Around this time last January Jason Roberts arrived at Reading on loan from Blackburn. On the surface it seemed a common sense move for a 34-year-old increasingly overlooked Premier League

striker to drop down to the Championship. It turned into something a bit more than that.

Roberts became an inspiration to Reading, who were eighth at the time. In his first Reading game, Roberts scored the winner. In his second he scored again. In his fourth he again scored the winner. And so on. Roberts appeared in 17games for Reading and they won15. By May they were champions and promoted to the Premier League.

Chris Wood was 21 only last month, so has a long way to go to equal Roberts’ experience. But as soon as Leicester City agreed to pay West Brom about £2 million for Wood, it triggered a Roberts comparison. Wood has spent the first half of this season on loan at Millwall and the New Zealander is a significant part of why Millwall are so high up the table. He scored 11 in 19 appearances.

At Leicester he has already played twice and scored three. As a club, Leicester have lurched through nine different managerial appointments since relegation from the Premier League in 2004,and even spent one season in League One. But Leicester sit fifth in the Championship and now have a proven goalscorer in Wood. We shall see if heis this season’s Jason Roberts.

Leeds United are another Championship club to have made an eye-catching signing. Yesterday they took Everton’s Ross Barkley on loan for a month. Barkley was 19 in December but has a talent beyond those years. One month is not long enough for his signing to be transformational, but it is unquestionably a boost for a team two points outside the play-offs.

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