During his ill-fated reign as Scotland manager, Berti Vogts identified the losing battle he was facing with his own supporters with remarkable foresight. "If I walked on water", mused the dour German, "they would say it was because I cannot swim."
Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas would sympathise. This morning it was reported that he "has 3 games left to save his job" by The Daily Mirror, which speculated that should he lose his next three games, Daniel Levy would be forced to wield the axe. It was just speculation of course - the press don't want this to happen. They're just imagining, in glorious, vivid detail, how his immediate and bloody downfall could transpire if he was very unlucky. The fact they chose to accompany the story with an image of Villas-Boas, a man who ordinarily looks as though he's stepped out of an Armani advert, stood gawping with one finger in his open mouth like a village idiot, was sheer coincidence.
Villas-Boas has had a difficult start to his reign, largely for reasons outside his own control. The departure of Luka Modric was always going to cast a shadow over the summer. Undoubtedly the key signing for Tottenham in the transfer window was a midfielder to replace him, and they blew it. Joao Moutinho appears to have been the target identified, but Daniel Levy's insistence on doing business at the last minute never appeared to make sense to force the hand of a club that did not wish to sell, and a player who does not appear to be desperate to leave. A clerical error reportedly caused the move to break down, and Tottenham missed out on what would've been a superb move, finding a player of near-comparable ability to Modric and arguably greater suitability at a significant profit.
There is every chance the deal could be resurrected in January, but the key issue here is that it is not Villas-Boas' fault that the deal fell through. Indeed, it means that Tottenham have spent less money than they intended to, and thus he is manning an understaffed squad. That will not be taken into account, however - the departure of Modric will be underlooked in favour of the narrative of the no-nonsense Redknapp versus the impenetrable and over-complicated foreigner.
England has always had a bad relationship with anyone deemed to be too studious, and it goes back a long way. Perhaps the most revered manager in the country's history, Brian Clough, was an ardent disciple of the Redknapp school of simplicity, and he stood in opposition to a compiler of lengthy and detailed documents and reports, Don Revie, whose achievements go undersung in English football history.
This apparent anti-intellectualism may or may not be reasonable - it cannot be denied that the great idiot savant Redknapp was a success during his tenure at Spurs, and that every complex dossier must eventually be boiled down into the verbal gruel that can be bellowed across a blustery pitch and understood by your average footballer. It does not exist just within the press corps either - before his managerial reign at Porto, Villas-Boas applied for the Burnley job when Owen Coyle left for Bolton Wanderers. Reportedly, his complex presentation intimidated them, and they decided to hire Brian Laws instead. The rest would be history, were the results and the man not so utterly forgettable. Despite the parochial suspicion of foreign methods, you'd be surprised if Burnley would make the same decision if they had their time again.
It should not be forgotten, of course, where Villas-Boas learned his ability to compile those reports - while under the orders of his mentor, Jose Mourinho. Unlike Mourinho, Villas-Boas lacks the braggadocio and swagger that the English profess to loathe but excuse and worship at every opportunity. They like their dour, intimidating managers to come across in the manner of a drill sergeant, not as an academic.
This image problem goes beyond aesthetics, too. Redknapp was a man hired from below, the Tottenham job the biggest he had taken on after success with smaller clubs, coming into a club in disarray. Combined with his happy-go-lucky image, every draw seemed a battling one, every victory against the odds, every defeat unjust. Villas-Boas is the opposite - a man who failed at larger clubs (his achievements at Porto don't count, clearly) coming into a stable top-four club. Every defeat and draw is an embarrassment and eventual victories will be close shaves.
The final straw is that Redknapp was seemingly sacked for no good reason, having continued Tottenham's establishment as a top-four club and only missing out on Champions League football due to Chelsea's triumph. It was a ruthless decision to replace him, but one that makes sense. It was the classic reason for managerial departures swung in a brutal reverse - Redknapp had not taken Spurs as far as he could, Spurs had taken Redknapp as far as they could. They were a big club now, and needed to adapt to a continentally-respected manager, a trophy-winner, and someone who could force through innovations such as a high defensive line and a more disciplined brand of football which would be necessary to take Tottenham to the next level. On paper, it makes perfect sense. In the papers, the story is very different.
If Tottenham defeat Reading later today by a single goal, witness the negativity and criticism that will follow. Villas-Boas' future has been written out for him, and unless it's ignored by the Tottenham supporters and owners, it does not make for enjoyable reading. Villas-Boas may end up walking on water if he gains time to impose his methods on Tottenham's squad, but it seems the reports will continue to insist he is in danger of drowning regardless.