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Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012
Villas-Boas slowly but surely turning reputation around
LONDON — When the media decides a manager is not to its liking for whatever reason, it takes time, trophies and charm to turn it around because humble pie is not a diet the press enjoys.
Andre Villas-Boas has done little to sell himself in a positive way. Confidence is one thing but when it is perceived to cross the line into arrogance then any mistake by that person is jumped upon. During the Portuguese's nine months at Chelsea, his mistake was to try and fail miserably to break up the Gang Of Four — Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba — heavyweight personalities and strong players who had been the backbone of the Blues' success under Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti.
Some claimed they wielded too much power and influence at Stamford Bridge but Chelsea needed them — and needed them more than it did AVB, who was replaced by Roberto di Matteo in March. Two months later, Chelsea was the champion of Europe.
Any humiliation was cushioned by compensation reported to be around £10 million ($16 million). Few tears were shed at AVB's departure and Tottenham fans did not exactly hold street parties when it was announced the man who flopped at rivals Chelsea was to replace the popular Harry Redknapp, mysteriously sacked after Spurs finished fourth.
AVB's lack of public relations skills were soon evident when, in a matter of hours, Michael Dawson was made captain and then made available for transfer. His handling of the transfer of Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris lacked tact, which is being polite, and there were headlines that AVB had three games in which to save his job. The shadow of Redknapp loomed large over his successor.
Yet to the disappointment of the Redknapp fan club, Spurs are a healthy fifth in the Premier League and last week beat Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in 23 years. On Thursday, Spurs had a creditable 1-1 draw against Panathinaikos in Athens in the Europa League. The loss of Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric has been amply compensated by the arrival of Clint Dempsey and particularly Mousa Dembele, the Belgium international looks a bargain, even at £15 million ($24 million).
Slowly but surely AVB is attracting praise, albeit begrudgingly in some quarters. If only the manager could be as likeable as the football Spurs have played in the last couple of weeks he may win over his detractors, but it will be a long turnaround.
* * *
IT IS the sort of decision Roy Keane never dreamed he would have to make: whether to work for an Istanbul-based club where he is likely to be greeted by the Turkish prime minister or one in the northwest of England owned by Indian poultry processors.
Keane has been in Turkey this week to have talks with Kasimpasa, second in the Super League and whose stadium is named after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country's prime minister who grew up in the neighborhood and is a frequent visitor to home matches.
The 41-year-old Keane is said to be delaying a decision with Kasimpasa to monitor the situation at Blackburn Rovers, where manager Steve Kean, or Steve Kean Out as he was known by the fans, resigned last week. Owners Venky's, who have become the laughing stock of English football except that no one is laughing, have ripped the heart out of a proud club with a series of inexplicably poor decisions. One of the reasons Kean quit was allegedly because of interference in team selection — the good news for the Scot is he won't have to travel to Pune, India, for board meetings any more.
Keane has been out of management since he was sacked by Ipswich in January 2011 with the club 19th in the Championship. He had previously left Sunderland in December 2008 with the club in the relegation zone.
One of the truly great players of his generation with Manchester United, Keane has not convinced as a manager but has won praise for his predictably acerbic comments as an ITV pundit. While Kasimpasa is riding high in the Super League, it would be interesting to see how Keane fares in a country whose culture is very different from what he is used to and with two or three exceptions, players who do not speak English. On the other hand, as man-management has been a problem for Keane, it may help not being able to speak to his players.
The decision-maker at Blackburn is Anuradha Desai, who is Venky's chair. At the time of the takeover two years ago with Rovers in the Premier League, she said: "I am not promising that we will be a top four team, but I can promise that we will try and that is what we will aim for."
Rovers are now a top four team in the Championship.
The first of Venky's mad decisions in their reign of error was to sack the successful and respected Sam Allardyce because he did not "share our vision."
Kean is a decent, honest man but was elevated to a position for which he was ill suited. Rovers won only 22 percent of their games under Kean, who became the target of such abuse he had to employ a minder.
Why Keane might want to work for the Monty Python of English football is unknown, and the Turkish prime minister is a much saner option.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.