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Jun 17, 2013

Fresh-faced AVB faces litmus test

As the star-studded club of out of work managers continues to attract high-profile membership subscriptions every year, one youthful figure stands alone as the most wanted coaches in European football.

He has not won what is considered to be one of the elite competitions in the game, does not have a Champions League triumph on his C.V., and is not even among the class of experienced tacticians whose respect has been built up over the course of a long and varied career.

No, this 35-year-old has had just one season of genuine success on a resume that features a glaring failure and a campaign that saw him guide his current employers to a less impressive Premier League finish than his successor had managed before he was sacked.

Yet, whatever he has got, Andre Villas-Boas is an attractive commodity to football club owners around the continent, who have been swept away by the modern notion that fresh-faced touchline operators have a little more to offer than their more mature counterparts.

The stunning impact made by the dashing, charismatic Jose Mourinho a decade ago was the spark for this ideological shift that saw the tried and tested manager usurped by their brash novices, with Villas-Boas among those who happened to be in the right place at the right time as this mindset was formed.

Had Villas-Boas been applying for Premier League jobs in the mid-90s, this kid who had never even kicked a ball in anger as a professional would have been laughed out of town as some deluded football fan trying to muscle his way into a closed shop that only catered for those who had friends in high places.

As ex-star players Alan Shearer, David O'Leary, Alan Curbishley, Martin O'Neill, Alex McLeish, Roy Keane and Roberto Di Matteo wonder if they will ever be invited back onto the touchline after less than glorious spells in the Premier League, Villas-Boas finds himself in demand even though he could still be classed among the ranks of the unproven.

For anyone else, the scale of his failure at Chelsea last season would have tarnished the reputation he developed in his brief stint at Porto for good, yet he only needed to wait three months before another top Premier League job was being thrust in his direction.

Now, after guiding Tottenham to fifth place in the Premier League and failing to achieve their basic target of Champions League football, Villas-Boas not only finds himself secure in his current job, but is also being courted by a variety of big name clubs in three different countries.

First, mighty Real Madrid, then Serie A upstarts Napoli and, finally, big spending Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with bids to lure Villas-Boas from Tottenham in recent weeks. And while it seems the Portuguese is content to stay in north London for now, it would be intriguing to learn just what this one-time analyst on Mourinho's staff list has that makes him so attractive to potential employers.

So what do we know about Andre Villas-Boas? Apparently, he is a master of the job interview. Former Burnley chief executive Paul Fletcher confirmed as much after admitting he was left bamboozled by the complexity of Villas-Boas' vision of the game when he considered appointing him as Turf Moor boss back in 2010. In the end, Brian Laws beat him to that post, yet his rise to the top was only temporarily halted.

After guiding his beloved Porto to a Portuguese league and cup double and then, crucially, adding the Europa League trophy to his collection in 2011, Villas-Boas had the credibility he worked so hard to gain after fleeing Mourinho's nest at Inter Milan a couple of years earlier.

In many ways, he is still living off the glow of success created by his achievement in becoming the youngest manager in history to win a major European trophy two years ago and even though his experiences in the Premier League have been mixed, that lofty status appears untarnished.

There can be no doubt that Villas-Boas the Tottenham manager has been a more rounded and impressive figure than the one he cut at Stamford Bridge, who was exposed as being out of his depth dealing with personalities who refused to give him the respect he needed to function in his job.

The galling sight of the Chelsea team he failed to inspire becoming European champions a few months after he was ushered through the club's exit doors appeared to compound his diminishing standing, but the remoulded Villas-Boas impressed many in his debut season as Spurs boss.

"I learned a lot from the experience at Chelsea," he told an assembled cluster of journalists a few weeks ago. "There are things I do dramatically different and things that I do exactly the same because you still have to stay true to your principles.

"The Chelsea experience allowed me to see things in a different way and helped me address the mistakes I made. This always allows you to develop on a personal and a professional level.

"Life is all about learning from mistakes and taking something from them and football is no different. What has happened at Tottenham is different because I have been very well received here and feel happy with how the players have committed to me. That is the only way it can work."

Unlike his spell at Chelsea, there were no media leaks suggesting discontent with Villas-Boas among Tottenham's big names last season, while the man those of us in the media got to know at the club's Enfield training base was also a huge improvement on the edgy, defensive newcomer who never found his feet at Chelsea.

With so much speculation surrounding his future, there must be a question mark over Villas-Boas's long-term future at Tottenham, but he should remain loyal to the club that gave him a route back into the game so long as the club's hierarchy meets the following conditions.

Firstly, Franco Baldini needs to be appointed as their sporting director to bring an end to the disastrous transfer dealings of chairman Daniel Levy, whose personal failures ultimately cost Spurs a top-four finish last month. Villas-Boas wanted a top-class striker to add to his squad in the January transfer window, but Levy failed to deliver on that request.

Second, Gareth Bale's services must be retained for another year and, finally, a transfer kitty needs to be presented to Baldini and Villas-Boas that will allow the duo to right the wrongs that eventually undid Tottenham's push for a return Champions League football.

Having drowned so horribly when exposed to the sharks at Chelsea, Villas-Boas will be shrewd enough to know he is onto a good thing at Tottenham, so jumping ship before time once more is a mistake he dare not make again.

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