Andre Villas-Boas is Tottenham’s most divisive manager since, er, Harry Redknapp. The Portuguese can do no right in some fans’ eyes and no wrong in others. Villas-Boas will inevitably make mistakes and their severity will dictate his future as Spurs boss; the only certainty is that his reign will not be defined by a 2-1 away defeat to billionaire bankrolled Manchester City.
At the Etihad Stadium, Emmanuel Adebayor’s substitution was greeted with anger and derision by pockets of the Spurs away support around me. I had called the change minutes earlier feeling that the effective Adebayor’s ongoing spat with City’s Pablo Zabaleta might have seen the Togo striker dismissed for a second yellow card.
The obnoxious Zabaleta adroitly switched roles from mugger to victim with Adebayor the constant focus of his ire. It reminded me a little of the way Peter Crouch was targeted by Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final first leg. Villas-Boas duly made a ‘like-for-like’ striker change that was anything but. While Adebayor and Jermain Defoe technically play the same position they are poles apart as players.
The predatory Defoe offers greater pace on the counter, but in a game that was fast becoming a backs-to-the-wall situation cannot offer the focal point of Adebayor and his nous for bringing others into play. Clint Dempsey has proven as anonymous as namesake Eastwood’s film roles of late and was the preferred option among many fans for withdrawal. Yet a conventional 4-4-2 at City would have likely opened up the floodgates at this point. Dempsey for Defoe was not a realistic switch with bullish billionaires City in the ascendancy and their wing-backs pushing on furiously for the win. One glance at the sidelines showed Jake Livermore, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Tom Carroll sitting in tracksuits. The Tottenham bench looks thinner than Victoria Beckham on a beach holiday. Money is a great divider and, compared to City, we shop at Poundland and this financial disparity should always dilute expectations with a healthy drop of realism.
With many of City’s team and bench in the £20million plus bracket and Spurs stripped of midfield dynamo Mousa Dembele, defensive rock Younes Kaboul as well as player of the season Scott Parker and celebrated LOL-merchant Benoit Assou-Ekotto this away day was always a tough ask, especially given City’s long unbeaten run on home soil. Positives were the welcome return of Sandro who put in a characteristic ball-breaking performance, the overdue inclusion of Adebayor in a Premier League starting line-up and some spirited stops by the ageless Brad Friedel.
It is fair to say that Villas-Boas’ tactical acumen has not come as advertised. He is certainly guilty of negative substitutions in positive positions. But he has been hamstrung by injuries and Daniel Levy’s ‘careful’ spending policy (Spurs were again in the black in the last transfer window having moved on star players Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart for that ubiquitous ‘good deal’ while once more sidestepping a pressing need for an additional striker).
AVB cannot yet be labelled messiah or fool; he merely requires the time neither of those individuals have.