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Ghanaian focus on Partey ahead of Madrid derby


Enigmatic AVB a puzzling personality

If Andre Villas-Boas is supposed to be a man already under pressure, he certainly doesn't act like it. In fact, he seems perfectly willing to invite more of it.

It's one of the curiously complex elements of an individual who has already developed a very well defined - and, occasionally, simplistic - public image despite such a brief time as a manager. For someone many would consider modern enough to have a deep understanding of how the media works and can be manipulated, he doesn't seem to mind allowing all manner of mixed messages to filter through the air. But then maybe that's his intention.

Take his reaction to the issue that has dominated the week for Tottenham Hotspur and consumed most of the club's Friday press conference: l'affaire Lloris. At one stage towards the end of a lengthy discussion, Villas-Boas made an interesting, and revealing, point to a French journalist who insisted that, yes, despite the manager's claims, Hugo Lloris was unhappy with recent comments.

"There is one thing I want you to understand," Villas-Boas countered. "It happens quite often when you speak in one language, and your language has to be translated. When you [the media] translate, you can put it whatever way you want and imply different types of verbs to make it look a little bit more like what you want to achieve."

In a roundabout way, though, that analysis could also apply to Villas-Boas himself. Despite his proficiency with so many different languages and generally excellent English, there are moments when his meaning seems as if it may be lost in translation, when he's not quite clear; not least when he appears to invent business-style words like 'perspectivate'.

A classic example came in regard to Lloris, who Villas-Boas confirmed would not make his debut against Reading on Sunday. In the midst of all the chatter around that, the Tottenham manager actually gave two perfectly clear and understandable reasons for his decision.

For one, there is the fact that Lloris will only have had two training sessions with his new team-mates before the match. And secondly, there is Villas-Boas' point that, with the English league possessing different characteristics to the French equivalent, he wants to ensure Lloris is fully prepared for such alterations so he goes into his debut properly ready. Rushing in, after all, can result in the kind of unnecessary debut error that has done so much to undermine the careers of even the finest goalkeepers when they move to a new country. You only have to look at Edwin van der Sar at Juventus.

"I think, in the Premier League," Villas-Boas explained, "we have a situation where contacts happen more often than in Europe and the direction of the attack changes more frequently from one team to the other... he will be in contention, differently, after the game against Reading."

When he puts it like that, it's much easier to believe the manager's assertion that "there is no issue whatsoever".

Remarkably, though, he then went and created one with lengthy comments about entitlement and fighting for a place. Here, Villas-Boas' otherwise admirable attempts to be honest and transparent only created more trouble. Ultimately, there seems no doubt that Lloris will very soon be Spurs No. 1, nor that he is a signing for both the present and the future who was suddenly available at a very good price.

Such double-edged messages, however, were all too common in his weekly press conference. Indeed, it comes across in his very demeanour. Essentially, Villas-Boas is passive-aggressive: calm in the face of questioning but still provocative himself.

In the wider world of his job, you wonder if he is the same with his players and, if so, what they think about him. Does it cause confusion as regards his plans? Because, when it came to the rest of the team, there was another example.

At one point, Villas-Boas was asked to expound on a previous statement that his side had looked "anxious" against Norwich, and whether they were feeling the pressure of not having won a game. Again, the explanation wasn't quite clear.

"I didn't say they were anxious about the start of the season. I said they felt anxiety during the game because of the way it was going for us, which wasn't very clear in what we were doing because of our playing style. And that anxiety maybe dragged on through to the last moments when we suffered by conceding that goal. But I think it [confidence] comes."

Of course, whatever existing media perceptions of Villas-Boas and unfair expectations after just three games, the fact remains it will simply be impossible to properly judge his Spurs team until he has had an acceptable amount of time to integrate his own group into a new style.

While Villas-Boad admirably didn't want to make this an excuse, he couldn't help offering it as an explanation.

"In the end, we have concluded four deals during the season so we ended up not preparing in the proper way. The problem is we haven't had a lot of time to work with the team. This is the first time we've had everyone together, the first time we've trained properly, the first time most of the players have seen [Clint Dempsey's] face, Hugo's face so, at this time, it's important for us to have more time together, to establish ourselves.

"At this time, it is important to fine-tune this team for where we want to go and what we want to achieve. I think, at this moment, the style of play also depends on your strategy for [each] game. It is important for the team to gain confidence. I can't tell you what it is because we were very, very good at Newcastle and West Brom but we decreased a little bit against Norwich and it's the pattern of West Brom and Newcastle that we want."

Afterwards, though, Villas-Boas made a curious comment: "We are looking for an established way of playing and making sure we get the best."

Of course, the natural assumption would be that the "established way of playing" is something akin to his proactive and emphatic pressing game at Porto. Even more curiously, though, Villas-Boas didn't seem pushed about going down that route. And, when asked whether there will be much of a difference in style from what went before with Harry Redknapp, he said there wouldn't be too much.

All of this may, of course, be a tactic. After what happened at Chelsea, he may want to portray himself as a manager more capable of nuance, both in terms of dealing with players and with compromising his style.

Occasionally, too, there were flashes of the more forthright individual that created such an exceptional team at Porto. Indeed, since Villas-Boas' troubles at Chelsea, there has been an odd - and unfair - revisionism of what was a truly brilliant side. Although it may "only" have been the Portuguese league and "only" the Europa League, it wasn't just that his Porto won so many games and trophies. It was how they won them.

And, interestingly, when it comes to the continental trophy that made his name, Villas-Boas takes a wildly different view to both his predecessor and the majority of Premier League managers.

"We are grateful for it because it gives us more playing time on the pitch, the players get to know each other, we can rotate the squad a little more so this is also extremely important. We want to win the Europa League and we want to focus a lot on that competition."

Of course, before winning a trophy, Tottenham have to win a game; which brings us back to the pressure building ahead of the trip to Reading on Sunday.

Again, Villas-Boas is serene... but serious.

"The first win comes when it has to come. [Confidence] is intimately related with us getting the first win on the board and then, going on from there, players finding each other on the pitch, which is the most important thing. It comes with playing more frequently together.

"What we don't feel at any stage is any kind of pressure because the Premier League shifts on a weekly basis."

That is one issue that Villas-Boas is admirably consistent about.


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