Bell tolls for coaches

Published: Thursday | December 19, 2013 Comments 0
Hubert Lawrence
Hubert Lawrence
Former Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas ahead of the Europa League group K soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Anzhi Makhachkala at White Hart Lane in London on Thursday, December 12. - AP
Former Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas ahead of the Europa League group K soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Anzhi Makhachkala at White Hart Lane in London on Thursday, December 12. - AP

It's the plain truth. The sudden firing of André Villas-Boas at Tottenham Hotspurs caught me by surprise.

Bowled out by his chairman, Daniel Levy, AVB left Spurs seventh in the English Premier League and undefeated in the Europa League. Take the long view and Spurs could have settled their new squad sufficiently to grab a coveted Champions League place in the five months that remain of the 2013-2014 season.

That would have been my call. As close sporting confidantes of mine have been saying, big spending clubs want immediate return on investment. Spurs spent a ton of money - all the income from the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid - on new players without league-leading results. Last Sunday's 5-0 home loss to Liverpool was the last straw.

AVB did himself no favours by labelling some of Spurs' fans as not supportive, and one suspects that this might have weighed against him. Even so, he probably shouldn't take the full blame for the performances that led to his departure from White Hart Lane.

In consecutive seasons, Spurs had sold their most potent attacking players. Luca Modric and then Bale to Real Madrid. The immediate past manager of Spurs, Harry Rednapp, had made a point of trying to hold on to them. He felt that strong teams became strong by building around prime playing assets.


Bale had become a one-man army, turning results around the way he turned full-backs. Without him, as the new Tottenham took time to form, results have been mixed. In-between heavy losses to Liverpool and Manchester City, Spurs have beaten Sunderland and Fulham away and drawn with Manchester United in the Premier League.

After 16 games, Spurs have 27 points, five behind City in fourth place. The teams ahead of them and behind league leaders Arsenal don't look out of reach. Liverpool and Chelsea have 33 points, City have 32, Everton 31 and Newcastle United have 27.

If AVB had some more time, the 36-year-old ex Porto and Chelsea manager might have gotten his new Spurs to gel and to produce. Sadly for him, time has run out.

As surprising as this dismissal was, it isn't my number-one shock Premier League firing. That occurred a few seasons ago on the blue side of London when Chelsea unseated Carlo Ancellotti. The Italian had taken the Blues to first and then second in his first two seasons as Chelsea manager. Remarkably, he was ditched by chairman Roman Abramovich for the team's modest performances in the ECL.


Ancelloti seemed ideal for Chelsea. In addition to his coaching acumen, he was a past master at extending the careers of veteran players. When he arrived, Chelsea had quite a few of those, including John Terry, Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. Milan players like Andrei Pirlo, Filippo Inzaghi and Paolo Maldini can attest to that.

With Roberto Di Matteo at the helm, Chelsea won the 2012 ECL. Di Matteo himself fell under the Abramovich axe when domestic results went against him last season.

So, the AVB firing isn't the worst of recent time. It shows that very few managers are safe. A string of bad results at home or abroad can send the boss packing. Six Premier League managers have already lost their jobs this season and others may follow.

Sam Allardyce's West Ham United have been without England striker Andy Carroll due to injury. Without him, West Ham struggle for goals. And further drift into danger could put Big Sam on the chopping block. West Ham are one place above the relegation zone.

It's the same in the local Premier League with managerial changes something fast and furious. Building teams and playing styles must be developed while at the same time getting results.

I suppose it's the way of the world. Sport needs business and has been influenced by it. The business manager has to be decisive and sometimes that can have a sharp edge. Old-school one-club loyalists like Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard are rare, as players are bought and sold like units of football. Managers fail and pay for it.

Discarded at Chelsea and now Spurs, AVB knows who the bell tolls for. Manager or coach, it tolls for you.

Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.

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