By Jay Jaffa
The backlash began before Andre Villas-Boas was even officially announced as Tottenham's new manager and, though much of next season's storyline will involve comparisons with Harry Redknapp, Daniel Levy should be given credit for taking the club in a new direction.
Criticism of his methods is nothing new to Levy; he has received plenty of flak in his time as Spurs chairman – now perhaps more than ever by dismissing Redknapp, a man who had achieved two top-four finishes in three years.
Yet, Levy adjudged the Redknapp era to have run its course, losing faith in the 65-year-old after a league collapse that left the club's Champions League future in Chelsea's hands.
The task will be simple for Villas-Boas: Return the north London club to Uefa's money-spinning competition while revamping a weary squad and building a club befitting of the off-pitch plans afoot.
|VILLAS-BOAS' POTENTIAL TARGETS
Club: Manchester City
Market value: £10m
Market value: £15m
Market value: £12.5m
Market value: £20m
Market value: £8m
Market value: £9.6m
It is not without risk, though. Only two weeks ago, I suggested that appointing Villas-Boas would be the most daring appointment that Levy could make. The 34-year-old experienced unprecedented success at Porto before having his fingers burnt at Stamford Bridge last season.
His attempts to uproot old hands Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba backfired spectacularly as he first lost the dressing room before finally losing the support of Roman Abramovich – the man prepared to part with £13.3 million to acquire his services just nine months earlier.
But, rather than focus on where it went wrong at Chelsea, we should examine what it is that Villas-Boas brings to Tottenham. His champions may argue that it is a backwards step for one of the game's up-and-coming managers while Spurs fans may suggest that it is a similar step for their club. In actuality, both team and coach have seen their stock move and meet at just the right time.
Levy has always run the club with a focus on the long-term future. The new Enfield-based training ground, the Northumberland Park project, even the failed director of football structure from the Martin Jol years – all point to a progressive and forward-thinking figure.
These are traits familiar in the Portuguese's disposition. His style of football puts the emphasis on attack, to be proactive and press the opposition into mistakes. He cut his teeth scouting for Jose Mourinho, producing reams of detail on the opposition as a leaked scouting report on Newcastle in 2005 showed. One can only assume that he retains that meticulous approach with his management.
In this respect, Villas-Boas is the antithesis of the man whom he is replacing. For the Spurs fans quick to malign Redknapp for his (presumed) blase attitude towards tactical preparation, the club are moving to the exact opposite end of the spectrum.
That the high defensive line, so prevalent and vital to the success that Villas-Boas enjoyed in Portugal, was so brutally exposed by Arsenal in their 5-3 win at Stamford Bridge hinted at a communication breakdown with his players, but he is an articulate and well-considered speaker when in front of a camera.
He may not have the charisma of Redknapp, but he is an intellectual character, let down by the narcissistic attitude of a dressing-room clique at Chelsea.
That is why his move to Tottenham is a logical fit. The squad retains a youthful edge despite a group of signings in the last two years who nudged the average age upwards. And very few of them have actually won anything. It is far easier to command the respect of a group still unaware of what it takes to win than it is of a group almost bored by it. The whiff of Mourinho-era Chelsea still lingered at Stamford Bridge and though Villas-Boas may have offered another method to achieve success, stubborn minds sabotaged him.
At the heart of Levy's vision in the early 2000s lay plans to invest in promising talent, giving them a platform to develop, before selling on at a profit. It is a business model first and a football model second, but one that can lead to success – see Borussia Dortmund and Porto as prime examples.
|22/1||Tottenham are 22/1 with Sportingbet to win the 2012-13 Premier League|
The issue of the likely departure of Luka Modric won't go away, though, no matter who Levy appoints. The Croatian playmaker looks set to finally seal his move from White Hart Lane this summer, ironically avoiding the collaboration with Villas-Boas that last summer's longest-running transfer saga threatened.
If anxiety still bothers the fans, fears over the future of the club's other stars were dismissed by Gareth Bale's decision in June to pen a new deal – quashing media fantasy of an imminent player revolt.
Of all the speculation surrounding the future of the club, this is perhaps as telling a sign of the trajectory in which they are heading in than anything else. Would the Welsh winger have been made aware of the man Levy whom intended to appoint during contract discussions? Probably. And so, in signing the new deal, Bale symbolically ratified the decision.
Levy's modern Tottenham were built on the transfers of the likes of Bale and Modric. However, short-sighted planning is not welcome and though this is not strictly a transitional year, it is clear that it must be managed correctly. Redknapp lost Levy's trust and, as the prospect of Champions League football evaporated for another year, it reached an irreversible impasse.
It is bold, it carries risk, but it could be legacy-defining for Enic and Levy. Crucially, Tottenham have picked their moment well and in Villas-Boas they could find the synergy to steer the club towards an exciting new chapter. Be warned, though; if Villas-Boas starts slowly, the press will bite.