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The Portuguese coach's impact on the Spurs squad has perhaps been overshadowed by the form of Gareth Bale as the Londoners target a top-four finish and Europa League glory

SPECIAL REPORT
By Greg Stobart

Andre Villas-Boas is from the breed of modern, progressive managers who combine science and instinct, research and preparation to get the best results in a sport played by finely-tuned athletes and increasingly determined by small percentages.

When Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy took the controversial decision to sack Harry Redknapp in the summer, he wanted a new manager in keeping with the club's shiny new €46 million training centre.

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He decided that man was Villas-Boas and so far the Portuguese has, with little fanfare, efficiently done his job as Spurs sit fourth in the Premier League and take a 2-1 advantage into Thursday's second leg of their Europa League last 32 clash against Olympique Lyonnais.

Villas-Boas has unarguably been helped by the genius of Gareth Bale in recent weeks, but it has been a satisfying campaign for a man who faced "three games to save his job" headlines after barely six weeks in charge at White Hart Lane.

The 35-year-old had to deal with the immediate media backlash after replacing the popular Redknapp and with the task of restoring his battered reputation following his Chelsea failure.

He would himself admit that the media hostility was in some ways reflected by the attitudes of certain players within the squad during his first months in charge, not least as he clashed with Emmanuel Adebayor.

But Villas-Boas quickly learned from his mistakes after being sacked by Chelsea last March, where he alienated key players in the dressing room at Stamford Bridge and took a confrontational approach to the media.

At Spurs, he has the players on his side and is very much making the Enfield training base his own as he looks to guide Spurs into next season’s Champions League and secure a major trophy in the form of the Europa League.

The Europa League is, of course, the competition in which Villas-Boas announced himself to the world during his stunning season in charge of Porto in 2010-11. Success in Europe this year would be the first step as Spurs target a place in Europe's elite, a mark of their ambition as they target regular Champions League football in their proposed 60,000-seater stadium.

The gradual improvement in the Spurs squad over the course of the campaign has been no coincidence as Villas-Boas and his backroom staff, which includes former midfielder Steffen Freund, have worked on incrementally improving aspects of the team's play.

From Redknapp's 'piggy in the middle' training sessions, the players now turn up every morning expecting something different from the day before. The training ground is a mountain of dossiers and powerpoint presentations but, on the pitch, he makes sure it all makes sense to the players.

Training drills are designed to improve player combinations; the team work on ways of handling specific threats posed by the next opposition. When Spurs had a problem conceding last-minute goals, Villas-Boas complicated training exercises to attempt to discombobulate the players but get them to keep their focus.

From Redknapp's 'piggy in the middle' training sessions, the players now turn up every morning expecting something different from the day before

So as the superlatives pour down on Bale for his 17 goals this season, maybe Villas-Boas deserves more credit for getting the best out of the flying Welshman.

Similarly, Aaron Lennon has had his best season at the club while the defence is organised and effective, with Spurs losing just twice in their last 18 games and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris conceding just 14 goals in 16 Premier League appearances.

Villas-Boas' handling of Lloris, who had to wait for his chance to establish himself as No.1, is symptomatic of a considered approach to man-management, one that has also seen the club open talks over a new contract for Michael Dawson just months after the club captain nearly joined QPR.

While Villas-Boas is sometimes considered somewhat robotic and intense, there is no doubt now that he has the respect of the Spurs squad, his office door always open to talk, his phone constantly in action via text messages and calls.

He also has the likes of Freund adding the fun, light-hearted and passionate side to the management team, the German a virtual cheerleader on the touchline on match days.

MAKE OR BREAK
Tottenham's big four
Feb 21
Olympique Lyonnais (A)
Feb 25
West Ham (A)
Mar 3
Arsenal (H)
Mar 10
Liverpool (A)
When Villas-Boas was named manager of the month for December, he made sure the official photograph was taken with the full backroom team, including the medical staff. He had dropped the ego that frustrated some at Chelsea, the need to prove himself or take the credit.

Villas-Boas has proven to be the modern manager Levy wanted, even though his tunnel vision has led to some clashes with the chairman about transfer targets both last summer and in January.

Yet Villas-Boas is increasingly making a case to be heavily backed by the club in the summer, especially given the lack of quality strikers in the squad.

He seems to be enjoying it. Villas-Boas is relaxed and affable, not the tortured man who would sleep overnight at Chelsea's Cobham training ground, but nevertheless the first man to arrive in the morning and the last to leave.

Villas-Boas will be aware that Tottenham's season could be defined by the next few weeks, during which they face Lyon in Europe before crucial league matches against West Ham, Arsenal and Liverpool.

But this is undoubtedly a Tottenham side that is reflecting Villas-Boas' impact on the club. They will be prepared.

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