Old Bill could teach Villas-Boas a thing or three

There are always lessons to be had from the masters, says NORMAN GILLER, as he sees the Tottenham manager dig himself into a hole at a post-match press conference

What a pity Bill Nicholson, the Master of White Hart Lane, is no longer with us to teach Andre Villas-Boas a thing or three about tongue control in his privileged role as manager of Tottenham.

Under pressure? Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas
Under pressure? Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas

His press conference spat with the Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton was unbecoming of AVB, and suggested more than a whiff of paranoia. It was his players who found the best way to answer the critics with back-to-back away victories at Fulham and Sunderland.

Bill Nick always believed in his team doing the talking on the pitch, and never in a million years would he have been drawn into a public showdown with any football reporter. He kept his rollockings private, and my ear still rings from several quiet admonishments.

AVB is not much older than my eldest grandson and needs lessons in how and when to shoot from the lip.

He had huge support from Spurs fans online, with Ashton and his illustrious Sportsmail colleague Martin Samuel getting roasted for what was seen as their anti-Tottenham stance.

Most of those Tottenham supporters cannot see that it is they who are blinded by bias, rather than two professional observers who report about the whole wide world of football, not just the N17 corridor.

For the record, this was the gripping exchange between AVB and Ashton, whose polished anchoring of Sky’s Sunday Supplement has made him comfortable and confident in front of what can be intimidating TV cameras. The showdown came during the press conference after Tottenham had held Manchester United to a 2-2 draw on December 1, a week after a 6-0 hammering at Man City:

“A couple of people insult my integrity, my human values, my professionalism and one of these people is sitting over here,” AVB said, singling out Ashton.

“It insults the success that I have achieved in other clubs and I don’t think it’s fair. I think it’s a lack of respect and an attack on a person’s integrity.

“I don’t want to undermine other managers. You can easily compare situations. We have sat above Man City before and above Man United before and we haven’t seen any kind of these personal attacks to somebody, so I think that is unfair.

“It’s something that obviously comes with the 6-0 thrashing but more important is the team and the response and I think the players did that in great, great fashion.”

Ashton: What was personal about it, Andre?

Villas-Boas: You can easily understand. I don’t need to explain. I think you have always chased people, you attack people. You don’t attack them by the front, you attack them sitting when you write. You attack integrity, you attack competence, you attack the integrity of the person, their human values and you don’t even know that person. We never got a chance to sit down and speak about it.

Daily Mail's Neil Ashton: measured approach
Daily Mail’s Neil Ashton: measured approach

Ashton: I’m happy to speak about it.

Villas-Boas: Only when I give you that chance, when I know you and you know me are you able to reach conclusions like the one you did. I think yours and Martin’s articles were completely out of order. That is my opinion.

Ashton: And I’m entitled to mine.

Villas-Boas: Of course, but I’m entitled to mine.

Ashton: But you are the one who has the problem with it, not me.

Villas-Boas: OK but I’m making it public.

Ashton: Surely you don’t think there is a personal agenda?

Villas-Boas: I don’t think that, when I say there are articles that attack my integrity and human values. I think I don’t need to explain myself on that. Each one of us draws their own conclusions, that’s mine, obviously Neil and Martin have theirs and I respect their opinions as well but this is my opinion of what they write… even mixing the words that I said in the press conference after Man City.

Ashton: Sorry, can you explain?

Villas-Boas: I never told that the players should feel ashamed of themselves. We, that includes me.

Ashton: But if you say we should feel ashamed of ourselves, you are including your group of players?

Villas-Boas: Obviously.

Ashton: So…

Simon Felstein (Tottenham head of media): It’s not about dividing them, that’s the difference. It’s not a discussion for right now, not with the cameras on Neil. I think we can talk about this after.

Ashton: No, I am happy to talk about it now.

Villas-Boas: We is us. We are everybody at the club. Don’t you agree? Why do you think this is any intention to separate myself from it?

Felstein: Move on.

I make no attempt to camouflage my Tottenham leanings (The Editor writes: “You support Spurs? Who’d have thunk it?”), but I am open-eyed enough to see that AVB is far too uptight and tense for his own good, an attitude that is often reflected in the performances of his team.

Would never have happened in our day... Norman Giller with his latest book
Would never have happened in our day… Norman Giller with his latest book

Even during Saturday’s game at Sunderland, the manager and his team selection were taking murderous criticism from unforgiving Spurs fans, most of whom had changed their tune by the time Paulhino was celebrating his winning goal.

Everybody is entitled to opinions, but there are times when they are best kept sheathed. AVB would have been wisest ignoring his critics at the press conference. He must grow a thicker skin. His old mentor Jose Mourinho, with whom his relationship soured, knows how to play the press like a fiddle. AVB needs some of Jose’s charisma to go with his coaching mania and manual.

Just wait and see the bullets that will fly his way from his own supporters if Tottenham fail to beat Liverpool in their crucial Premier League battle on Sunday. Tongue-biting time, AVB.

A last word from the Bill Nicholson school of football commonsense: “The only thing that matters is what happens out on the pitch. It’s action not words that count in football.”

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