On 22nd June last year Andre Villas-Boas became Chelsea’s new manager. Their eighth
manager in charge since Russian owner Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, but at least an appointment that finally looked like a change in direction for the club.
Previously Chelsea had appointed top managers with CV’s that could get them a job anywhere in football. However you could argue that only Jose Mourinho was successful at Chelsea, winning back to back Premier League titles, an FA cup, two league cups and a community shield. However even the special one couldn’t win the one the owner wanted, and after a poor start in the 2007/08 Champions League campaign, Mourinho left the club by ‘mutual consent’.
Avram Grant took up the role as Mourinho’s predecessor, only to be sacked after a year without trophies, despite making the Champions League and League Cup semi-final and only finishing behind Manchester United in the Premier League. Not a bad season some might say, but he failed to meet the owner’s expectations and he too had to clean out his locker. After Grant it was the turn of Phillip Scolari but the world cup winner had less than a year in London, leading to Ray Wilkins temporary spell in charge before Guus Hiddink lasted only until the end of the 2008/09 season. You got the impression that his appointment was more of a friend helping out his Russian boss. Four managers in just two seasons.
It seemed that Chelsea Football Club was going through more world class managers than the world class players they had in their team. And there weren’t finished yet. In the summer of 2009 they appointed Carlo Ancelotti, a manager with an immaculate record at AC Milan – over eight seasons he had one the Serie A title and numerous cup competitions, but more importantly he had won the Champions League twice. Abramovich surely felt he had found his man. And indeed it looked that way; in his first season at Chelsea the club won the Premier League and FA Cup. But still no Champions League success. In his second season the club slipped down in the domestic campaign and in January 2011 they were sat in fifth place. The same position the present team are currently placed but unlike AVB, Abramovich stuck by Ancellotti. Results did pick up but a quarter final lost to United in the Champions League and the season ending with Ferguson’s team beating them to the title race led to the Italian’s sacking in May last year.
The Chelsea job seemed more doomed than the position as England’s manager.
So Abramovich scrapped the idea of over spending to attract the world’s top managers and instead looked for inspiration in the form of 33 year-old Andre Villas-Boas. Despite AVB only having one season of experience in senior football, it was a successful one as his Porto team won the Primeira Liga, the UEFA Cup and their league cup equivalent. He had also worked along side Stamford Bridge favourite Jose Mourinho during his time as Porto’s manager. But the deal was not as cheap as Chelsea would have hoped and they had to pay Porto almost £14m just to activate AVB’s release clause. Results and performances quickly suggested it wouldn’t be a natural transition for the club and pressure quickly mounted on the young manager. To his credit, but no doubt contributing to his downfall, he was always willing to answer the press, and for one he showed confidence in his own ability. But this did not seem to seep through to his squad and it was suggested senior members were becoming aggravated at the set-up – notably Frank Lampard referring to the relationship between him and his boss as ‘not ideal’.
Again AVB was not afraid to comment and he did just that, saying to the British media, ‘Chelsea players don’t need to back me.’ Probably one of his biggest mistakes whilst in charge, no doubt losing the respect of many influential players within the club. And it appears this notorious ‘player power’ that has surrounded Chelsea for so long has led to the exit of another manager. The club system of certain players having direct contact with the owner, some even using his yacht for holidays, doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.
Watching AVB’s last game in charge – away to West Bromich Albion – it was clear he didn’t have to attention of certain senior individuals. Didier Drogba looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world than at the Hawthorns and Lampard failed to show any leadership or ability. No doubt these players care for the club, but there was every suggestion they wouldn’t show this whilst AVB is in charge. The problem the owner doesn’t seem to grasp is that the players being talked about are the same players from the more successful Mourinho era. Meaning they are nearly ten years older, meaning they are not as influential at the highest level of football anymore. No doubt they still have a place in the set-up, we have seen United’s senior players play a vital role in their current transition. But they have to accept that their position is not what it once was, and this hasn’t happened this season.
For me AVB was unlucky, it is true he didn’t have the experience such a huge job demanded but he did deserve time to rebuild a squad that at present is not capable of challenging for the domestic title, or capable of progressing in the Champions League. And until the squad is revamped with young talent with the kind of enthusiasm that we have seen from players like Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea will not be the club the owner wants them to be.
Thoughts and comments welcome. Please follow @pitchsidetalk.