Of all the managerial sackings of recent years, it's hard to think of any that were really undeserved. Chris Hughton at Newcastle United and Brian McDermott at Reading are the only real standout examples. There is also a shortage of cases where clubs stuck by a manager and were duly rewarded; a more trigger-happy chairman may have dispensed with Roberto Martinez at Wigan Athletic, but while they were rewarded with an FA Cup, they were also relegated at a time when new TV money could have made the club sustainable.
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This weekend, André Villas-Boas entered the list of names most likely to be out of a job after suffering a humiliating defeat to Manchester City. As disasters go, it was pretty comprehensive. The pathetic goal tally and dull football that the club has been offering were present, but the defensive solidity utterly vanished. Single results can always turn a career -- Villas-Boas never fully recovered his reputation at Chelsea after a home defeat to Arsenal -- and this was about as significant as a single result can be.
It's true that the club is not far from their target of a place in the top four. In fact, two of their current competitors (Everton and Southampton, are highly unlikely to keep up their current form all season. But the reason managers get sacked is for disasters like the one on Sunday, and the reason some managers are kept is because they are showing that they are making progress and moving the club in the right direction. So far, Villas-Boas has not done this.
The man has plenty of vehement defenders, but it's hard to see why. This column has talked about his change in style being oddly praised before, since he has transformed Spurs from the most exciting team in the country to the dullest.
Villas-Boas clearly does not have complete control over transfers at White Hart Lane, but whether through his own input for transfer targets or his own deployment and development of the players entrusted to him, few of the signings from the window have worked out. Roberto Soldado looks to be an extraordinarily average footballer, Erik Lamela has failed to show signs of adapting to England, and Paulinho's early promise seemed to disappear with alarming speed.
The problems aren't just in attack, either. Spurs have, until this weekend, defended very well this season, but they had to use their entire team to do it, and their actual players in defence are questionable. Vlad Chiriches has had a mixed start to his career, but his attacking mentality is also making the club's decision to replace the more sensible Steven Caulker with him even stranger, since it renders him a questionable choice of partner for the equally adventurous Jan Vertonghen. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker are fine players, but similarly, can be defensive liabilities.
If there is a defence of André Villas-Boas, it's that you can see what he's tried to do. The wing play deployed by his predecessor has been replaced with a more patient game. Those kamikaze fullbacks are supposed to provide the width that Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon once did -- made possible by a more solid midfield approach -- with more complete footballers on the wings and a more technically gifted striker up front. It's a great plan, the perfect way to take the club to the next level. The only minor flaw is that it has utterly failed in every respect, and there appears to be no Plan B.
Most worrying of all for Villas-Boas has been his personal touch. The manager's reputation exists almost entirely on his season at Porto, but he had by far the best team in the country, and his European exploits hardly compare to José Mourinho actually winning the Champions League. So not only are people asking whether he has done an acceptable job at Spurs, but now simply: is he actually any good?
There's a lot of fanciful talk among various people in England about the allure of the exotic foreign manager, but it is worth asking, if Villas-Boas is actually that good if he has no record outside of Porto. Winning a league fairly comfortably with by far the best team and having some decent European exploits may not be the sign of a great manager purely because the man in question also happens to be young. If it was, then Neil Lennon would have gotten the Manchester United job. As it is, Lennon's still available. And with the rest of the field being equally disappointing, that and the fact that beards are depressingly fashionable might be the only thing that keeps Villas-Boas in a job.