Amongst the many private codes that the weird parallel universe of football operates, perhaps the most curious of the lot is the bond between the tabloid press and the professional game. Players, officials, managers and scouts all have axes to grind to some extent or other and the red tops provide a free and confidential service to those who want their grievances aired in public without the discomfort of actually having their names attached to the stories. Anybody can say anything about anyone in tabloid world, and this frequently includes the journalists themselves.
In such an environment, supporters are drip fed a constant diet of salacious gossip and half-formed opinion masquerading as rumour which, under the guiding principles of what we might call Tomorrow’s Chip Wrapper Theory, which determines that in the short-term memory loss world of the tabloid press, ninety percent of everything that is said will be forgotten within forty-eight hours of having been printed in the press.
Hell, however, hath no fury like a tabloid journalist scorned and this is a lesson that has been repeatedly forced upon Andre Villa Boas over the last few months or so. Villa Boas’ current list of offences is two-fold. In the one hand, he’s not like other managers. He is young, smart – ‘too clever by half’ you can imagine his detractors saying, as if having the mental acuity of a pit pony should the default status of anybody working within the professional game – and didn’t have a lengthy playing career at the top level during which he formed useful allies in the press. In joining Tottenham Hotspur during the summer he compounded these crimes by replacing Harry Redknapp, whose departure from White Hart Lane didn’t stop far from causing a candlelit vigil from some members of the fourth estate. Redknapp, always ready with a quote from the window of his car from the Spurs training ground, was their darling. Villa Boas doesn’t conform to the norms of what a Premier League manager should be like and daggers were, therefore, drawn from him from the minute he put pen to paper.
Last week, Andre Villa Boas compounded the crime of actually being Andre Villa Boas by making a tabloid hack look like a fool at a press conference. Perhaps it was the perfect storm for the journalist concerned. Hugo Lloris, signed at considerable expense during the summer, has thus far been unable to dislodge the seemingly evergreen Brad Friedel from the goalkeepers position in the first team, and the opportunity to use this as a line of attack against the manager seems to have been considered too great a temptation to pass up. The manager, however, didn’t bite, made the hack look a little foolish and it was this, perhaps,which resulted in a direct attack on him in yesterdays edition of The Sun, in an article that quoted unnamed sources stating that there is unrest in the Spurs camp on account of ‘tiredness ‘. There was an element of gamble on the part of its writer. After all, football supporters can just as easily turn upon the writer of such a piece as on the manager himself, and whilst opinion amongst the Spurs support itself on Villa Boas is far from unanimously supportive of him, most agree that half a dozen matches into the season is a little soon to be sacking a new manager. Yesterday, however, Spurs were heading to Old Trafford to play Manchester United, a trip that they hadn’t made successfully in the league since 1989. Further ammunition against him was, with the best will in the world, likely.
The path of such matters seldom runs smoothly, though. Spurs were a goal up within two minutes at Old Trafford last night, were two up by half-time and, despite a predictably torrid second half onslaught, clung on to snatch a most impressive and unexpected win by three goals to two and move up to fifth place in the table. In doing so, Villa Boas has shot down a large proportion of what has been starting to look like an orchestrated vendetta against him in some corners of the press. Gauging levels of support for any manager at more or less any time can be a tricky business, but it seems clear that he did his own reputation no harm whatsoever with this result last night, and the paucity of Manchester Uniteds performance – along with Arsenals home defeat at the hands of Chelsea yesterday lunchtime will further have strengthened the conviction of those Spurs supporters who believe that a return to the Champions League is far from beyond their team.
The ridicule of managers is no new phenomenon, and neither is the hypocrisy which accompanies it. Perhaps the highest profile examples of this have involved the England job. The vilification of Bobby Robson before and during the 1990 World Cup finals was as nasty as as it was premature, and his subsequent canonisation by many of those that had howled for his departure just weeks before demonstrated the shape-shifting values of those concerned. The formula remains the same more than two decades on. Overblow the extent of a ‘crisis’, pick a character trait that is easy to ridicule – which surely reached its nadir with Steve McClaren was mocked for using an umbrella in the rain, of all things – pick some choice quotes from ‘pals’ and ‘sources’ to stir up unrest amongst supporters and sit back and wait for either a groundswell of abuse to make his position untenable or for a skittish chairman to turn trigger-happy with the jitters. Hell, some journalists can even help with the appointment process with handy lists of who they think should be the successor.
Andre Villa Boas has, in beating Manchester United at Old Trafford last night, bought himself that most precious of commodities for the manager of a Premier League football club – time. It would be a stretch to suggest that he is now untouchable by any stretch of the imagination, but last night he demonstrated that he may just be able to confound the expectations of those amongst us that have been expecting or willing him to fail at White Hart Lane this season. Early season form would seem to suggest a three-way battle for the Premier League title between Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United, but neither of the Manchester clubs have really kicked unto gear this season and last nights result and performance suggests that Spurs are capable of a top four finish this season. Hysteria is as has hysteria does, and Andre Villa Boas is no more the second coming this morning than he was a travesty this time yesterday. Last night, though, he turned a corner in terms of his perception at his new club and that, rather than any single win that we might care to mention, could be the legacy of beating Manchester United at Old Trafford. It’s early days, but this may just turn out to be a fruitful relationship after all.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.