by Kevin Henning
Since arriving in London at the start of last season, Andre Villas Boas has received more than his fair share of criticism. Some of it has been justified; he clearly tried to change too much too soon at Stamford Bridge and had the rug pulled from underneath him by the self important bullies that make up the spine of Chelsea’s line-up. Some of it has been harsh; he was in a no-win situation with Fernando Torres, a player so out of form that it was rumoured he’d head for the bar of the players’ lounge after each game only to miss it by some distance.
Accused of not sticking by his man and therefore affecting the £50 million man’s confidence one minute, mocked mercilessly for playing the most goalshy striker in the top half of the table the next, AVB dusted himself off and tried again across the capital with Spurs.
On Sunday, the Portuguese coach was taken to task by various football know-alls for having the audacity to leave out Brad Friedel. The American stopper hadn’t missed a Premier League match since May 2004, a run of some 310 games. He has been in fantastic form so far this season and has done absolutely nothing to warrant being dropped. To look for reasons for Friedel’s exclusion however, is to miss the point of what AVB is trying (and simply has) to do.
The legacy of Harry Redknapp will for the majority of the press, be that he took a struggling club from the relegation zone to the Champions League with attacking football full of flair and magic. Of course they weren’t, they played the direct ball as much as any team over the last couple of seasons and were still left in Arsenal’s wake in the style stakes. What Redknapp left at White Hart Lane was a squad with obvious problems. Three goalkeepers were left for AVB to select from. A 41 year old Friedel, a 39 year old Carlo Cudicini and in Heurelho Gomes, a keeper never more than a scuffed shot away from a calamity. The squad was desperately short of strikers and this led to Emmanuel Adebayor being brought in at the eleventh hour to compliment Jermain Defoe a player criminally underused by Spurs last season. The only other option was youngster Harry Kane who was so short of experience, he was loaned out to Norwich City for first team experience.
Villas Boas decided that he needed to improve the squad and lower the average age of it. He has learnt to take his time with these things and has been clever in the transfer market. Major surgery has to be carried out delicately and AVB now knows this. As with most of the managers who have had to start again in order to reach the top (Alex Ferguson, George Graham and Roberto Mancini spring to mind), Villas Boas is starting at the back. He was aware that sooner or later, the goalkeeping position would need to be dealt with. The opportunity to bring in a 25 year old, French international keeper rated as one of Europe’s best for £12.3 million was presented and only a fool wouldn’t take it in AVB’s position.
He showed fairness to Friedel but the 41 year old must have realised that time was against him. Villas Boas picked the right moment to install his new number 1. A home game against a shot shy Aston Villa (apart from when they go and whack four in at the home of the Champions) directly before a two week international break. The French squad will gather in Paris this week for a friendly match against Japan and the Tottenham boss knew full well that handing the gloves to Lloris before he crosses the channel would boost his ego. Can you imagine for one moment that not one of the French squad would have pulled Hugo’s leg about his inability to dislodge an old timer at his new club?
Of course Brad Friedel has done nothing to deserve this but Villas Boas is not his agent, he is the manager tasked with re-building a Tottenham Hotspur squad left in need of repair by the wheeler dealer who left it to him. This could just be the start of a something for AVB, Hugo Lloris and Tottenham Hotspur and the timing is perfect.