Tottenham hired Andre Villas-Boas as its new manager on Monday. His arrival marks a new dawn in North London, which comes just weeks after it looked like the club was a rudderless ship drifting aimlessly toward the Championship.
In 2011-12, Spurs finished fourth in the Premier League. It would have finished higher had speculation about the future of then-manager Harry Redknapp not robbed the team of momentum, focus and a sense of purpose.
Chairman Daniel Levy fired Redknapp in mid-June. Shortly after that, star midfielder Luka Modric made it clear that he would request a transfer. It was thought at the time that winger Gareth Bale would follow his teammate’s mad rush for the exit door.
But Levy moved quickly to assure players and supporters that Tottenham is going in the right direction. First he re-signed Bale, the club’s prized asset, to a new four-year contract. He then closed in on a number of promising transfer targets. Finally, he took a gamble in replacing Redknapp with Villas-Boas and arming the new manager with a three-year contract and a hefty transfer war chest. If that risky move pays off, it could take Spurs into the most successful period in the modern history of the club.
Villas-Boas moves to White Hart Lane with a bruised ego, but he is hardly the broken man that some depict. The wounds from his failed stint as Chelsea manager are still fresh. After all, It was only last March that Chelsea ushered the boy-wonder of European soccer managers out of Stamford Bridge.
Since then, Villas-Boas has rested, reset and considered a number of interesting offers. The Tottenham post allows him to return to the very city in which his reputation took a drubbing and rebuild it point by point. He is undoubtedly eager to make amends for the Chelsea debacle and prove his critics wrong. That experience must have humbled him to an extent. It may have even mellowed him to a certain degree.
The Portuguese tactician’s willingness to work under technical coordinator Tim Sherwood, whose role many expect to grow into that of a director of football, shows a humility that he may not have had a year ago. He worked under a sporting director at FC Porto, so the setup is not alien to him. Nevertheless, the 34-year-old workaholic will stick to his core principles and beliefs. Those were what drove his stock so high in the first place, and the four months of down time did not afford him the opportunity to shed them in favor of a new approach.
Tottenham needs Villas-Boas to implement his ideas with the same speed with which Levy turned crisis into opportunity. The 2012-13 season kicks off in just over six weeks, and the club has pressing issues it must address. It needs more strikers and central defenders. It’s unlikely that Modric will stick around, especially if Real Madrid, Manchester United or Chelsea offer the £40 million ($62 million) Tottenham wants for the playmaker. Funds from the (seemingly) inevitable Modric sale will be combined with the reported £50 million ($77.6 million) Levy has promised Villas-Boas to give Spurs that fresh injection of talent it needs.
Levy’s graft has already helped Spurs snatch midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson from under the noses of Liverpool. The £8 million ($12.4 million) signing from Hoffenheim is thought to be Modric’s replacement. Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen should join the club for £9.5 million ($14.7 million) in the coming weeks. Tottenham is locked in negotiations with Brazilian club Internacional for midfielder Oscar. The Brazilian club values the FIFA U-20 World Cup winner at £20 million ($31 million), but Tottenham is not willing to go that high.
Spurs could poach unsettled Chelsea striker Daniel Sturridge, although his recent bout with meningitis casts doubt on the reported £10 million ($15.5 million) move. Villas-Boas will use his existing network of contacts to entice talented players from Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and other South American to join his project.
The project is a daunting one. Redknapp guided Tottenham to three-straight top five finishes, becoming the first manager in 47 years to keep the club flying at that altitude. Villas-Boas is tasked with consolidating that position, reducing the average age of the squad and getting Spurs back into the UEFA Champions League if possible. Levy has given Villas-Boas money, security and a brand-new practice to help reach those goals.
While Levy rolled loaded dice in hiring Villas-Boas, the manger is taking a chance as well. He could have gone to another country to rebuild his reputation before returning to English soccer. He decided that London was the place where he would make both amends and his mark on the English game. There are few better places to do so than at Tottenham Hotspur.