So after 267 days in charge of Chelsea football club, Andre Villas-Boas has become the sixth manager to fall victim to the trigger happy ways of the clubs owner Roman Abramovich.
The most sought-after manager on the planet last summer following his stunning 2010/11 season in charge of Porto – which saw AVB take the Portugese league & cup as well as the Europa League crowns to the Estadio Dragao – has found himself undercut by player power at Stamford Bridge, and after a difficult spell, encompassing three wins in the last 12 Premier League matches, has fallen foul of the Chelsea owner.
A former aide to Jose Mourinho, AVB has never been able to exert his authority or his philosophy over a Chelsea side still dominated by his old master. In the end, regardless of what may be said publicly from the club, the hardcore of Mourinho loyalists within the Blues dressing-room – Cech, Terry, Cole, Lampard, Essien, Drogba – appear to have done for the 34-year-old, in much the same way they did for Luiz Felipe Scolari when the World Cup-winning Brazilian challenged their authority back in 2008/09 and was sacked after six months.
On his arrival AVB was tasked with what all managers of Abramovich’s era have been: challenging for the Premier League and the trophy that their Russian backer covets most, the Champions League. However, throw into the equation the owners want for a more expansive and aesthetically-pleasing style of play, and the Portugese boss had quite the job on his hands with an ageing squad and players – Essien, Drogba and Terry in particular – who have started to show the wear and tear of years of top-level competition.
However, resistance was met with his attempts to exert his authority and to change a Chelsea style – of force rather than finesse – which has served the club so well since the arrival of Jose Mourinho.
The high-block defensive strategy that had been such a success in Portugal was quickly done away with after a series of poor performances and the 5-3 home blitz by Arsenal in October, as John Terry’s lack of pace and fragility to the pass into his defensive channel was fully realised.
The high pressing game, which had worked so well with the mobile, powerful and pacey Porto midfield of Fernando, Joao Moutinho and Freddy Guarin was unable to be replicated by the Blues more static Jon Obi Mikel, Frank Lampard and Raul Meireles. Indeed, perhaps only Ramires, one of the younger brigade of Portugese speakers at the club and not a Mourinho loyalist, fully embraced what Villas-Boas was trying to achieve from a tactical standpoint.
It’s largely accepted amongst regular viewers of Chelsea that this side is coming towards the end of a cycle and change is needed. However, perhaps Villas-Boas was wrong to promote a revolution, rather than the kind of evolutionary processes which Sir Alex Ferguson has consistently overseen at Manchester United.
Nicholas Anelka and Alex were sent to train with the reserves when it was decided they were no longer required causing dissention amongst senior squad members. Frank Lampard was increasingly marginalised as Villas-Boas tried to make his mark, similarly Florent Malouda – although his demotion from first-team regular to bench-warmer has been far less noticeable thanks to Juan Mata, the leading light in a disappointing season so far.
The plans that Villas-Boas wanted to implement were never going to be quick and easy. He came with ideas, to make a proper mark on Chelsea and to leave a lasting legacy. The likes of Mata, Meireles, David Luiz, Ramires, Daniel Sturridge and Oriol Romeu were the players around whom the Portugese hoped to build his side for the next five seasons. Initially he thought he’d be given time. As time went by he realised he wouldn’t.
Had results been forthcoming then the criticisms with regards to questionable team selections – Leaving Lampard out has been a stick to beat Villas-Boas with certainly, but selecting Bosingwa over a 70% fit Ashley Cole at left-back against Napoli, certainly looked like a man trying to prove a point – would have been overlooked by fans and media alike.
Alas, they haven’t and so the scrutiny of Villas-Boas has been ferocious, something he would not have experienced in Portugal as Porto were sweeping all before them. He’s not dealt with criticism of his management well, and developed something of a spiky demeanour in recent times, having arrived in a blaze of glory.
In the end, Villas-Boas has been shuffled out the side-door, exiting stage-left following what has been termed a “parting” rather than what is quite clearly a dismissal.
Unquestionably, his stint at Stamford Bridge is something Villas-Boas must learn from and grow because of. Undoubtedly, he’ll pitch up somewhere in Europe – possibly at Inter Milan, who were keen on securing his services before his arrival in London – and be a success once again. He’s too driven and intelligent an individual not to be.
Perhaps Villas-Boas was the wrong man for the job. Undisputably it was a case of the wrong club at the wrong time for him. Whether he could have been the right man and led Chelsea into a bright future, we will never know.
And what now for Chelsea? The new man will still have the same problems that faced Villas-Boas; An ageing squad, the enigma that is Fernando Torres, the power wielded by the experienced pro’s in the dressing room and the knowledge that he’ll always be a poor run from the sack.
On the plus side Roman Abramovich has been in the situation before and has given himself time to make the right decision (of course there is no guarantee he will), by placing Roberto Di Matteo in charge until the end of the current campaign.
A certain former manager may be ready to return come the end of the season, having decided to leave his current position of employ. That man is likely to have lead Real Madrid to the Spanish title this season, and possibly their first European Cup since 2002. That man of course is Jose Mourinho. Whether he’d be willing to return, only he will truly know.
It’s said that pride comes before the fall. For Roman Abramovich, this summer may be a good time to swallow the pride which saw him sack the man who masterminded Chelsea’s first league title back in 2005, and to return him to the manager’s desk at Stamford Bridge.