Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s search for a new manager this summer – if, as expected, he dispenses with the services of Carlo Ancelotti at Stamford Bridge – will lead the Russian down a familiar path, trodden before with unprecedented success in West London.
Seven years ago, a highly-rated young coach, much coveted across Europe, was taken by Chelsea from the Portugese champions Porto, after their manager had lead the unfancied side to european glory in successive seasons – the Uefa Cup triumph against Celtic in 2003, followed by Champions League success the following year. That man would go on to win the Premier League in his first two seasons at Stamford Bridge, ending the clubs 50 year wait for the English Championship. That man, of course, Jose Mourinho.
Now, after defeat on Sunday at Old Trafford effectively ended Chelsea’s defence of their title, Ancelotti, despite double success in his first season in English football, is likely to leave the club. And Abramovich, has placed the highly-rated, 33 year-old manager of Porto, Andre Villas Boas, at the very top of his managerial shortlist.
Villas Boas has enjoyed an outstanding debut season at the Estadio Dragao, leading unbeaten Porto to the league title – having won 26 of their 29 league matches with one fixture still to play – and also to the final of the Europa League, where they will be strong favourites against fellow Portugese side Braga in Dublin next week.
Playing a brand of attractive, attacking football, built around the likes of Colombian goal-poacher Falcao, Portugese schemer Joao Moutinho and Brazilian powerhouse Hulk, Villas Boas has impressed right across Europe with the way that he turned a side that was well off the pace in the Liga Sagres last season into a relentless, dominant force this. Boardrooms across Europe have taken note of what the coach has achieved and already major clubs, such as Liverpool and AS Roma, have been linked with possible summer moves.
Yet, it is reckoned that Chelsea have moved to the head of the queue for Villas Boas, whilst Abramovich is known to be keen on a return to Stamford Bridge for former caretaker manager Guus Hiddink. However, the current international coach of Turkey, has no inclination to return to full-time club management.
Nonetheless, a possible return as a Director of Football, working alongside a young up-and-coming coach like Villas Boas, may appeal to the former PSV Eindhoven boss, especially if Turkey lose their vital Euro 2012 qualifier away to Belgium on June 3. The Dutchman has offered to hand in his resignation if he fails to win the do-or-die clash. Such a scenario would prove a dream to Chelsea’s Russian owner.
Villas Boas has already worked at Chelsea, having joined the club during the Jose Mourinho era, in a role that ultimately saw him scouting opponents and producing in-depth reports for the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole.
He remained a close aide of Mourinho, continuing in a similar role at Internazionale, until leaving to become a number one himself last season, taking over at lowly Academica midway through the campaign, and saving them from relegation.
The Porto boss, is known to be ambitious, and although he believes a further season in Portugal learning his trade could be for the best, he may struggle to resist returning to Stamford Bridge, especially with the affinity that he feels for the club and the city of London.
“London is a city where I could live perfectly,” Villas Boas said this month.
“The people in the club are fantastic – from the players, staff and the owner. With José we reached maximum success.
“Chelsea won the Premier League title, 50 years after they last won it. It was something very, very strong and made a big impact on world football and maybe it established the name of Chelsea as a really successful club in the world.”
Any move for the highly-coveted coach is likely to be repelled by the Porto president Pinto da Costa, who, speaking on Monday evening at a dinner to commemorate Porto’s 25th Portugese title, stressed his desire to keep Villas Boas.
“Out of the thousands of times that he has been asked if he would be leaving for another club, he has always responded that he is in his dream position already,” said Da Costa to those in attendance, before turning to his manager and adding directly: “We want to see you happy in this job for many years, and we will provide you with the conditions so that this season is the first of many with the success that we all want.”