Soccer: Spurs badly need results

By Sam Wallace

One thing everyone at Tottenham Hotspur will agree on is that Andre Villas-Boas works hard.

Every training is taken by the head coach, to the extent his backroom team Steffen Freund, Luis Martins and Jose Mario Rocha do little more than run the line. Once the players go home, the work goes on.

In his office on the first floor of the new training ground in Enfield, Villas-Boas and his assistants spend their afternoons in front of computer screens, sifting through data, match footage and Daniel Sousa's opposition scouting reports.

In the plush new facility that has the minimalist all-white interior of an ambitious Silicon Valley start-up, the joke is that Villas-Boas has never lost a game on his laptop.

He will, of course, bristle at the suggestion he is an obsessive. The Portuguese hated the way his habit of staying the night at Chelsea's training ground was presented as a weakness rather than a strength. But there is no question his commute to his home in Knightsbridge starts a lot later in the working day than many managers would consider.

Villas-Boas is under pressure and he is feeling it. After the club's joint best start to a Premier League season after nine games, Spurs face Manchester United tonight (NZT) at White Hart Lane without a victory in their last three league matches and on the back of a 6-0 bludgeoning by Manchester City.

Lose, and the visit to struggling Fulham on Thursday becomes uncomfortable.

Within the club, the partnership of Villas-Boas and Franco Baldini, the former general manager of the England team under Fabio Capello, who oversaw the 110 million player expenditure this summer, is crucial.

The technical director Baldini has by far the greater experience around football but has never managed. Villas-Boas is a relative newcomer but picks the team. They need each other to be successful.

The 36-year-old manager, whose career has been polarised by his extraordinary season in charge of Porto and the disastrous nine months with Chelsea, is liable to worry. Part of Baldini's job is to remind the younger man that criticism is fleeting. That the seven players signed this summer came after extensive scouting. That football club boards will always want explanations for bad results. That, at Spurs, he is surrounded by friends, not enemies, and that the club believe this team will click.

For Villas-Boas, the victory over Tromso in the Europa League on Friday was a release from the pressure but that insecurity once again raised its head when he had a home fan moved for singing You're getting sacked in the morning.

Baldini did not attend the match in Norway. He has used Tottenham's midweek European trips to scout all over Europe, ideally without being spotted. But he will be there with Daniel Levy at White Hart Lane tonight. He answers to Levy and Joe Lewis, the owner of Tottenham's parent company Enic, whose presence is felt throughout the club.

It is unlikely that Erik Lamela, the club's record 30m signing, will start against United, having played against City and Tromso, although his form this season has been the biggest sticking point. The Argentine was played out of position on the right wing by Villas-Boas at City and, still not having a grasp of the language, is a shy, quiet figure at the training ground.

For Baldini, there has never been any doubt that Lamela is worth the fee paid for him. He was observed by Baldini in virtually every training session and game he took part in over two years at Roma - so Spurs feel that their homework has been done in that respect. They have already had tentative inquiries about the Argentine from other major clubs in Europe since they signed him.

Lamela's performances in training and his limited appearances in matches - City was his first league start - have been less convincing.

The question being asked is, what is his key identity as a player? Is he a goal scorer? Can he go past opponents? As a newcomer to English football, he is due a settling-in period but the concern at the training ground is that there has been little evidence of what he might flourish into.

The Spurs policy of buying players with a sell-on value is evident in the age profile of Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Paulinho, Vlad Chiriches, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue. The 28-year-old Roberto Soldado, at a cost of 26m from Valencia, is different. He was a player Villas-Boas wanted to sign.

Villas-Boas has a tendency to believe the world is against him. He has never really acknowledged how fortunate he has been to land two of English football's plum positions.

There are still lingering issues, such as Villas-Boas' bad relationship with Emmanuel Adebayor and the future of Jermain Defoe, but now the club are trying to take those problems away from their head coach so he can focus on the team.

For the head coach and the technical director, the goals have always been long-term. As ever, though, in English football, the results are everything.

- The Independent

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