Villas-Boas first among equals at Spurs

March 7, 2013

André Villas-Boas is deploying man management methods that suggest the harsh lessons of Stamford Bridge have been learnt.

AVB man management

In the Europa League clash with Inter at White Hart Lane, something interesting happened. During the second-half, André Villas-Boas reportedly called Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale to the touchline, individually, asking them if they fancied playing on. Both wanted to continue. And so they did.

With the danger of reading too much into such an isolated situation, it is rare to see coaches ask players for such consent. When arriving at Chelsea, questions were raised about how Villas-Boas would win over the dressing room – particularly due to his young age (he is now 35) and his lack of professional playing experience. As it happened, Villas-Boas did have problems with this, struggling to influence players such as John Terry and Ashley Cole. His man management approach was criticised, and there were reports of divides in the squad, with a small Portuguese-speaking group staying loyal to their manager.

Villas-Boas is not stupid. Although the Tottenham squad is generally more responsive to authority, he knew the issue of man management could reappear. On evidence of the Inter game, Villas-Boas may have changed his approach into a ‘first among equals’ strategy, where the manager is more in line with the players in terms of authority. Whereas other managers may play the role of a teacher lecturing pupils, Villas-Boas is instead the friend who knows better.

This would be a common-sense approach to take. Villas-Boas’s personality has never been particularly dominant, and he does not appear to be a follow-at-all-costs leader, such as José Mourinho. If superiority and unquestioned authority cannot be established, his current strategy is a good substitute. Besides, no matter how much Villas-Boas grows as a coach, he can only get so old with time. He is 35. The squad’s oldest player, Brad Friedel, is 41. You need charisma and extremely good interpersonal skills to bridge that gap.

Then again, it may be that Villas-Boas deployed a similar man management strategy at Chelsea, and that the Tottenham players are simply much more responsive to it. Whatever is the case, his approach to the leadership role is, in the context of what is normal, very interesting indeed.

  • Got thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below.

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Photo: micheldf


di Matteo seemed to employ a similar strategy at Chelsea, evidenced in that champions league game where John Terry appeared to interrupt di Matteo’s instructions to the team from the touchline saying “no Robbie…”. Looked like he was contradicting the manager’s instructions but then again, it WAS the totally ignorant of authority, perpetual underminer that is John Terry.

by sunburntdonkey on March 9, 2013 at 2:45 pm. #

Yes. Perhaps Di Matteo realised that was the only way to do it – hand more responsibility to the players, and avoid conflicts and mistrust. Some have argued the constant managerial changes at Chelsea give the players more power. There seems to be a lot of truth in that.

by Thore Haugstad on March 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm. #

Same thing happening now in Barcelona with Roura as interim?

by Sebastian on March 8, 2013 at 6:55 am. #

Interesting observation but you omit to mention one of the key factors in is failure to succeed at Chelsea: he was a scout there under Mourinho, and so was subordinate to the players at that time. To come back as manager, having been a subordinate, undermined his authority with the players still at the club from that time.

by Kobi on March 7, 2013 at 10:44 pm. #

Excellent point.

by Thore Haugstad on March 7, 2013 at 10:51 pm. #

So, how would explain Avram Grant who held the technical manager position (before was selected as Chelsea manager) did manage to take the team one single step from champions league winning?

Do you remember the headlines?
“Avram who???…”

by Lior on March 15, 2013 at 8:47 pm. #