Welcome to my football blog. I'll be covering most of the key issues and stories which dominate top level English and European football over the coming months, and so if you love this fantastic sport as much as I do, I hope you'll appreciate reading and responding to what I've got to say.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

‘Special’ won’t cut it for Villas-Boas at Chelsea

New Blues boss must outdo achievements of former mentor Mourinho and win Champions League to be a success at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea's appointment of 33-year-old former scout Andre Villas-Boas has surprised many
For someone who claims to be trying to avoid comparisons to Jose Mourinho, Andre Villas Boas has gone a funny way about it.

One of the Special One’s most trusted assistants over the course of eight years spent at Porto, Chelsea, and then Inter Milan, Villas-Boas ultimately decided to leave his mentor’s side and carve out his own legacy in management.

Yet after an impressively overachieving but brief stint at unfashionable Academica, where did this single-minded and ambitious young coach choose to go to make his mark? Porto, a club still struggling to emerge from the shadow cast by Mourinho’s monumental domestic and European achievements there six years earlier.

Still, make his mark Villas-Boas certainly did. Under the 33-year-old’s astute guidance, Porto won four of the five tournaments they entered, romping to victory in the league by 21 points without losing a single match as well as triumphing in the Portuguese Cup and Europa League.

Along the way, Portugal’s latest coaching whizz-kid broke many of Mourinho’s old records and established himself as a top managerial prospect in his own right. The footballing world was at his feet, with Inter Milan and Chelsea both weighing up the possibility of a summer move to procure his services.

Neither option would have done much to discourage the perception of the 33-year-old as ‘the Special One: Mark II’. 
But Villas-Boas is a smart man as well as a talented young coach. While he may continually stress the differences between him and his former boss in press conferences, he has recognised that comparisons with arguably the greatest coach of the past decade could only boost his career prospects, and has used this image to his advantage.

Reportedly the Italian giants were unwilling to stump up the outrageous sum of £13.3million required to release Villas-Boas from his contract, leaving Chelsea the only viable suitor. But even had it been a straight choice between the two, it is likely the Porto boss would have favoured a move to west London anyway.

Why? Partly because the Premier League currently has the edge on Serie A in terms of quality of competition and prestige. Partly also because Villas-Boas underwent much of his coaching development in the UK, first on Uefa coaching courses and then in the corridors of Cobham.

But mainly because although either option would have placed the burden of expectation on Villas-Boas to match Mourinho at the scene of one of the most spectacularly successful chapters in the Special One’s illustrious career, only Chelsea could offer the opportunity for the student to surpass the master.

For despite delivering a trophy haul unprecedented in the club’s history, Mourinho left Chelsea in 2007 feeling relatively unfulfilled by his own impossibly high standards.

The Champions League was the only major trophy to elude Mourinho at Stamford Bridge

Sure, he had ended the Blues’ 50-year wait for a league title and then repeated the trick a year later, but he had not – as he had done at Porto and would go on to do at Inter – brought the Champions League trophy back to Stamford Bridge.

The notable absence of the greatest prize in club football from Chelsea’s modern success story is still referred to with a degree of regret and frustration by Mourinho to this day, just as it is still the source of the unrelenting obsession which drives Roman Abramovich’s astoundingly lavish spending.

For Villas-Boas then, the Champions League represents the greatest opportunity of emerging from the shadow of his former boss. It also happens to be his only chance of long-term survival.

Carlo Ancelotti’s swift demise barely twelve months after he had led the club to its first ever Double illustrates that domestic dominance is now expected rather than cherished at Stamford Bridge. A league title can buy a Chelsea coach another season, at best, but only European glory can make him a permanent fixture.

Just matching Mourinho’s achievements, then, will not be enough.

Abramovich may be addicted to the thrill which success in football brings, but Premier League and FA Cup triumphs no longer provide a sufficient high. Villas-Boas will have to deliver him the ultimate prize, or recent history suggests he will become just the latest in an illustrious list of managerial casualties.
The 33-year-old’s task will only be made harder by the fact he inherits a considerably weaker squad to the one Mourinho assumed control of in 2004. 
The spine of that title-winning team remains the same in name only, lacking both in youthful hunger and vigour. There is also a distinct absence of cover in many areas – the result of an apparent cost cutting drive last summer, later rendered futile by January’s £75million spending spree.

As well as refreshing the first team ranks, Villas-Boas would also do well to rein in the player power at Stamford Bridge. The likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba have grown in influence as well as experience over the past few years, and the sway which Chelsea’s captain appears to have with Abramovich is a particular cause for concern.
The close relationship between Terry & Abramovich would worry any incoming Chelsea coach
But for all the potential pitfalls inherent within it, this is not an impossible job. It is merely a very difficult one. Moreover, it is one for which, despite his relative lack of experience, Villas-Boas may be uniquely well-equipped to flourish in.

Of each of the six previous managers Chelsea have hired and/or fired since 2004, Mourinho lasted the longest in the job – a relative lifetime of three years. 
Villas-Boas witnessed first-hand how the Special One managed to maintain a working dialogue with his impulsive and ruthless chairman for all this time, and he was also present as the relationship gradually broke down. This means he is arguably better placed than anyone not only to replicate Mourinho’s successes in this regard, but also to learn from his former boss’s misjudgments.

The other great advantage Villas-Boas has is an established rapport with the Chelsea players, many of whom benefited from the exhaustive scouting reports he diligently compiled during Mourinho’s reign and still retain a genuine respect for him as a result. 
Of course, it still remains for the 33-year-old to ensure this relationship now assumes a player-manager dynamic, but the emphatic nature of his success at Porto suggests this won’t be a problem.

It is clearly a massive risk for Villas-Boas to plunge himself into football's ‘lion’s den’ with only 18 months’ worth of managerial experience to his name, but equally massive are the potential rewards. 
He has the opportunity to finally emerge from the sizable shadow of Mourinho by completing his former mentor’s ‘unfinished business’ in the Champions League and begin writing his own history in the process.

One thing is clear, however: Anything less than making Chelsea ‘kings of Europe’ will be regarded as a failure, because being ‘Special’ just doesn’t cut it at Stamford Bridge anymore.


  1. I'm extremely intruiged at how next season will pan out. Andre Villas-Boas will either sink or swin, ans as a Chelsea fan I really hope he manages to front-crawl all the way to (at the very least) the Champions League Final - that, combined will fine attacking football will certainly see him remain Chelsea coach, unless of course, some unknown incident(s) occur behind closed door, (anyone remmember a guy called Ray Wilkins? Bald? Used to help out another guy called Ancelotti? No? Alright then...). From all the stories in the papers, there's money availible, he needs to buy right, rejuvinate a few of the players (and get a bit lucky) and then Chelsea will be the powerhouse of old. Good luck to ya Villas-Boas!

  2. Tough job, tough job. he is going to have at Chelsea. Chelsea's expectations are nothing short of a Premier league top spot and a Champions league trophy.. Tough job. It wil be interesting to see if he plays defensive tactically like Mourinho does.