As Birmingham City fans taunted Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) with chants of ‘Jose Mourinho’ and ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ during the weekend’s FA Cup tie, you couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for AVB, a man that most had Mourinho expectations of when he rejoined the west London side as manager in June last year. AVB has a tough task at Chelsea, but then again he has not made it easy for himself.
34-yer-old Andre Villas-Boas is an interesting character who does have some similarities to Jose Mourinho – he is animated on the touchline, can be spiky in press-conferences, he’s young and unconventional, not to mention the fact he used to work with Mourinho and had similar success with Porto before being given the Chelsea job…but this is where the similarities stop, there is only one Jose Mourinho.
Villas-Boas was tasked with shaking up Chelsea and building a new legacy as it was seemingly ‘out with the old and in with the new’ at the club. At Chelsea he found a club with an aging team who were set in their ways after years with the same nucleus of players. To all intents and purposes, John Terry and Frank Lampard run Chelsea both on and off the pitch after being empowered during the Mourinho era, they have grown in influence under other foreign coaches. Since arriving, AVB has had to fight on many fronts, one of which is a battle to win control at the club, a fight that is still ongoing.
With AVB being a similar age to the players that rule the roost at Chelsea, he has struggled to gain respect and influence. No one likes change, people get used to the way a club runs day-to-day; Frank Lampard likes the fact he can strut around the canteen in just a towel and get people to clear up after him, John Terry enjoys being the main man everyone goes to, who has the power to send staff home early if he wants and likes nothing more than getting the ‘runners’ at the club to go down the bookies and put bets on for him – you can see why AVB wants to change things, this is a place of work after all. There is a clash between this blasé attitude that the influential English players exude and how the more respectful and professional foreign players act and you can guess which approach AVB wants to underpin the club.
Like the proverbial naughty kids at school, it seems AVB decided to split the key influencers at Chelsea up; Frank Lampard has gone from one of the first names on the team sheet to one of the last, whereas John Terry remains central to his long-term plans. There is no doubt AVB realises Terry’s importance to the team and also the club – John Terry is Chelsea and he needs him on side. He has publically backed the Chelsea captain in the face of controversy; this is one of the few areas in which he has won support.
Where AVB has done well with keeping John Terry onside, he has been naive in his handling of Frank Lampard as it seems relations between the pair have deteriorated over time and Lampard’s future increasingly looks away from the club. For me, in the same way Fergie has utilised Paul Scholes in his twilight, AVB should do the same with Lampard. I can understand that Lampard may need to be moved for financial reasons, but he is not going anywhere until summer at the earliest, he is also Chelsea’s best performing midfielder and should still be seen as important to the team as Terry is, at least for this season – AVB should have kept him happy.
You could even argue that Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry are as important to Chelsea as Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand are to Manchester United. Alex Ferguson knows that he needs as much experience as possible to see his team through this season and bring success before new faces can arrive in the summer, perhaps this is something that AVB should have learnt from. Whether he can gain the respect of the senior pro’s now is another matter and such is there influence on the club, it could be too late to prevent an already toxic situation worsening.
Following the FA Cup result versus Birmingham, AVB now faces an anxious time as his Chelsea side prepare to face Napoli in the Champions League, a match they could easily lose. It is time like these you need your players to dig in and play for you, be motivated by a manager that exudes personality and the ability to man-manage, but maybe AVB may not be that man. Things can be quick to turn and AVB has not made many friends in England so far as neither the media nor the fans seemed to have warmed to him, he seems to be becoming very isolated.
AVB is defiant that he has Abramovich’s backing for his long-term ‘project’ at Chelsea and that he doesn’t care if the players are along for the ride. On one hand you have to admire his single-mindedness, but putting people’s noses out of joint so early in your tenure is a dangerous game. Although Villas-Boas knows Rome wasn’t built in a day, it wasn’t destroyed in one either. You can understand the want of any person in a new job to make an impact, but it needs to be a positive one initially to win people over, otherwise you face a losing battle.
I would like to see Villas-Boas be given the time he needs at Chelsea and buck Abramovich’s trend of a lifetime of not giving managers time, but I am starting to get the sneaking suspicion the Chelsea job is just a little too big for him as the Mourinho hangover seems to linger on.
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