Should AVB choose his battles more wisely at Tottenham?

Andre Villas Boas 2

Tottenham Hotspur manager Andre Villas-Boas has fired back at journalists who mounted pressure on him in recent weeks.

Following Spurs’ 2-2 draw with champions Manchester United at White Hart Lane this weekend, the Portuguese coach took shots at Daily Mail duo Neil Ashton and Martin Samuel for their critical commentary of him in the week since Spurs’ embarrassing 6-0 defeat at Manchester City.

"A couple of people insult my integrity, my human values, my professionalism and one of these people is sitting over here,” he said.

"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 think it's a very driven agenda by somebody that doesn't honour the club, neither myself nor my players," he added.

Whilst I personally agree with Villas-Boas to a degree – given that it is the job of media workers to analyse and comment on such topics – I do have reservations as to whether his choice to respond to criticism in that manner is wise.

Villas-Boas is not the first manager to receive criticism in the aftermath of a disappointing and, as he put I himself, ‘shameful; defeat and he won’t be the last – in fact criticism, so long as it is just criticism, is often a healthy means of ensuring focus and improvement after a loss like that.

There are, of course, many people in the media with their own agendas – that is an accepted wisdom – print journalists such as Samuel and Ashton are long-serving members of the news establishment which is in decline due to the abundance of online resources that are gradually outdating previous modes of journalism and putting print journalists under pressure from their previously unrivalled established news corporations. In that context, a sweeping statement, a sensationalized headline and a personal attack on a Premier League manager is not a surprise.

Neither is it a surprise that online journalists, who are ultimately slaves to the clicks, perform much the same role as the print journalists, generating narratives of sensation and catastrophe, charged with jeopardy (whether real or perceived) and emotional triggers.

For example, I can write countless articles analysing the games, the stats, or the tactics, and yet an article about a meltdown or a mistake often draws in readers – likewise, if I write a positive article about Tottenham, I’ll get fewer comments than if I write a negative article about Tottenham. Like a naughty school kid, often the attention is given most to those who are disruptive, rather than to those who are behaving themselves.

Villas-Boas is perhaps preaching to the choir on this one – Spurs fans know that much of the speculation over his future in the last week or so has been derivative and divisive and is designed purely to sell newspapers and attract clicks. At least the more discerning fans do. Those who are drawn in to the saga to defend him or attack him are also feeding the beast as much as he is. It's reactionary and short-sighted.

The problem is, that by firing back at his critics, Villas-Boas does himself a disservice – it’s the old adage of lowering yourself to their level. He needn’t have come out to defend himself or declare himself vindicated after a draw to Manchester United. He sets himself up for the next ‘crisis’ at Tottenham, he welcomes the next ‘told you so’ moment, and degrades his own integrity by responding to criticism in an inflammatory manner. Now the journalists have a new 'story', a plot twist, a new chapter that reads: ‘angry AVB lashes out at press’.

His best option would be reduction – to really put the whole ugly episode to bed, he could have just minimized the issue, dismissed it, poured cold water on the whole debacle but he’s risen to the baiting now and given the fire another douse of fuel. As Tottenham manager, he’s made a rod for his own back – not only does he now have to reassert his authority over Spurs after a challenging period but now he has to do it with (some of) the press as his enemies. He could have used them as friends. He ought to have chosen his battles more wisely.

Furthermore, these attacks weren't really personal, they were professional - an astute experienced manager like him should know it's part and parcel of the game and the job at this level. It's nothing personal, it's business. At least it is for them and by acknowledging them and responding to particular individuals, ironically, it becomes personal. He has now cultivated a relationship of hostility with the very people who, to a large extent, control, manipulate and manage the image and the narrative of Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham.

He says to the Tottenham fans (via the press) 'the press are picking on me and it's not fair' to which the press just shrug their shoulders and carry on. It could have been the other way around - in the midst of a manufactured crisis at Tottenham, Villas-Boas should have just shrugged his shoulders and carried on. If he felt bullied and persecuted, he should have done what kids are told to do. Ignore them.

Eventually, they'll get bored and go away. By reacting to the perceived bullying, he's just given the bullies more column inches.

image: © justinlim

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