AVB: The iGaffer Who Needs Translation App

Ian McGarry said he was 'borderline Aspergers' - the sharpest tip of a media fascination with a manager who has the gall to use words that you might not understand...

Last Updated: 09/11/12 at 14:22 Post Comment

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Trying to get to grips with André Villas-Boas is difficult. Since the High Court refused to overturn the injunction and the officers took our binoculars away, we're limited to what we can gather from his regular appearances in the press. Not that 'limited' is quite the right word, since writing about the squatting Portuguese has become something of an obsession for the nation's hacktocracy.

Barely five minutes into his Tottenham career, the sight of a team taking a few games to get the hang of things - gasp! - and a new signing not being thrown straight into the team - swoon! - has provoked a succession of comically unbalanced articles and headlines, culminating in last week's defiantly bonkers pronunciation that he had three games to save his job. Inconsiderately, Spurs won the first of these quite comfortably, and so a more subtle angle will be needed next week. Look out for '...and sources close to Hugo Lloris indicate that he is deeply concerned that his new manager's name anagrams to AVOIDABLE SNARLS'.

The Villas-Boas we're given exudes a vague sense of intellectual peevishness, the air of a man who might happily devote his enormous brain to creating a time machine, just so he could travel back to a row he had last Thursday, and unload all the zingers that popped into his head a day too late. This contrasts neatly with the chumminess of Harry Redknapp, and also his former boss and compatriot José Mourinho, who took the edge off his foreign cleverness with smouldering charisma and entertaining extremes of dudgeon and wit. Redknapp made the press his friends, and Mourinho made them his fangirls; Villas-Boas seems genuinely not to understand why they exist, much less why they keep bothering him.

More unforgivable is his devotion to one of the great evils of our age: management speak. He's precisely the kind of man who dabbles in unnecessary TLAs, is AVB, and it's easy to imagine 'incentivise' or 'stakeholders' falling out of his mouth. Last week it emerged that he'd applied, in 2010, to replace Owen Coyle at Burnley, but was passed over thanks to his incomprehensible jargon. Then-chief executive Paul Fletcher was concerned that his players might not understand what to do if Villas-Boas asked them to 'solidificate', and with good reason, since it literally isn't a word.

(In support of his decision, Fletcher cited Tommy Docherty, who apparently never said anything to his players his milkman wouldn't understand; as distressing as their subsequent relegation under Brian Laws must have been, at least they weren't put through the hell of a missing pint of gold top.)

Of course, it wasn't always thus. Villas-Boas' arrival on these shores was greeted as the dawning of a brave new footballing era. Roman Abramovich had paid Porto just over a third of a Carroll to snare him, and glowing profile pieces appeared, recounting his birth (grown in a vat by a cloistered society of Lobanovskyi-worshipping geneticists), childhood (aged two, he wrote 'vertical enganche' in Alphabetti spaghetti), and precociousness (aged 16, he broke into a securely guarded compound to interrogate Bobby Robson)*. Chelsea fans went squirrelly over a leaked scouting dossier that promised unheard-of sophistication. Here was the boss of the future, football-manager-as-designed-by-Steve Jobs. All hail the iGaffer.

* One of these is true, almost.

Then the results didn't come, and the maven became the moron. Stories of his peculiarity began to drip from a dressing-room with limited interest in or patience for Villas-Boas' methods. Curious habits, derisive nicknames, a willingness to entertain the notion that Frank Lampard might not be the greatest human being midfielder in the world: manna to a greedy press pack. A rather disappointing nadir came when Ian McGarry, speaking on the BBC, described Villas-Boas as 'borderline Aspergers', showing the nation that he knows as much about mental health as he does the transfer market.

This is not to defend Villas-Boas' time at Chelsea - he got the job badly wrong in a lot of ways - or to suggest that he's not, at times, a bit silly. But the idea that he's a humanity-repulsing oddball, as opposed to a decent-if-callow manager that cocked up a difficult task, has taken hold and stuck with remarkable tenacity, and there's already a dread momentum to his Tottenham reign. Huge great elephant traps are being dug, then filled with sharpened pencils and poisoned pens, and Villas-Boas is skipping blithely towards them, head filled with Powerpoint and pressing ratios. Kippered, just for being a slightly cold fish.

What he needs is an interlocutor. A mouthpiece. Somebody to stand between him and the nasty men with dictaphones who are out to make him look foolish, somebody to smooth over the chippiness and break the management speak into easily-digestible chunks. If Tony Blair was right, and the media are a feral beast, then you need a man who knows just where on the tummy they like to be tickled. Somebody, in fact, just like Bournemouth's new director of football. Because you know where you are with Harry Redknapp. He's so damnably straightforward, his name doesn't yield any decent anagrams at all.

Andi Thomas

Andi also writes for SB Nation and The Score, and is on Twitter. He also contributed to the Surreal Football Magazine #1, which is out now, and available here.

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