Though yesterday’s sacking of Andre Villas-Boas was perhaps not surprising given their woeful recent run of results it is still shocking to witness a domestic superpower implode to such an extent. Here Rob Ward asks whether it’s fair to lay all the blame at the designer shoes of the stylish Portuguese boss while in our second feature Liam McConville looks at the events that has led to the possible fall of Roman’s empire.
By Rob Ward
You’ve got to wonder what exactly Roman Abramovich expects from his managers. Perhaps Jose Mourinho delivered too much, too soon – since capturing the Premier League title in his first season at Stamford Bridge, the Russian oligarch seems to demand such results every season.
The truth is that Mourinho over-achieved (in much the same way he did at Porto and Inter Milan) before leaving the club barely any better off than they were before his arrival. Mourinho is not a team-builder. He’s a short-termer who blasts his way into a club in a blaze of publicity, creates a siege mentality, draws the absolute best out of his players, spends loads of money and makes excellent tactical decisions.
What he doesn’t do is leave any kind of long-term legacy. Young players are often distrusted, flair players often marginalised. His powerful, pacy teams are not built to last. And when Abramovich tired of the Portuguese manager, he jettisoned him with no real thought as to who might build a team capable of putting together a sustained period of success.
As such, brief spells from Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti have brought mixed fortunes – occasional league titles, Champions League Final appearances and FA Cup wins. But none have been given long enough to stamp their own authority on the team. None have shaped the squad as they would have liked. All but Hiddink have been sacked at great expense.
Finally, it seemed that the Russian owner had realised the error of his ways. Recognising the need abandon his short-termism he appointed a 33 year old built in Mourinho’s image. Andre Villas-Boas thrusting young upstart from Porto was installed with a brief to break up his Portuguese predecessor’s old team and put together a side which would challenge for titles in the long term.
A cabal of senior players –many of them past their peak – remained undroppable in the eyes of themselves and their chairman.
It simply hasn’t happened. Too many of Mourinho’s men retained too much power at Stamford Bridge for the young manager to make his mark. A cabal of senior players –many of them past their peak – remained undroppable in the eyes of themselves and their chairman. The creaking John Terry, shot Petr Cech and the slowing Ashley Cole are shadows of their former selves but are immune from criticism thanks to the internal politics of West London. Frank Lampard remains a valuable player but has become a sulker and a dissenting voice within the club – he need only look at Manchester United’s old guard to see how to handle being rested occasionally. Instead he has leaked his dissatisfaction to the press like a petulant child.
Up front, too, AVB struggled with hangovers from previous regimes. Didier Drogba, undoubtedly Mourinho’s man, was the least of these. He’s a player who always puts in a shift and has performed admirably this season. The manager’s biggest concern has been the £50m Spanish misfit foisted on him by Roman Abramovich. It seems that nobody other than the chairman particularly wanted Fernando Torres at the club – and his stuttering, misfiring, goal-free form has become a problem for AVB which he probably never wanted. Trying to accommodate the chairman’s vanity purchase has meant constantly reshuffling the strike force, forcing Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge onto the peripheries.
Perhaps given time and with less interference from the meddling chairman (increasingly a presence on the training ground in recent weeks) might have given the manager more confidence to shape the team in his own image. Perhaps younger players like David Luiz, Oriel Romeu and Sturridge would have found their places in the team cemented rather than doubted. Perhaps AVB’s tactics might have become established and successful.
Of course, ultimately all managers are judged by their results. And Villas-Boas’ were woeful. But is it really his fault? Was he really allowed to implement his ideas fully? Was he offered the required support from those around him? Did the players ever really play for him? Why wasn’t he given some room to make mistakes? We’ll never truly know the answers, but the suspicion is that he was well and truly hung out to dry.
And now Chelsea are back where they began. Only this time they have a weaker team, a more disjointed squad and an owner becoming increasingly impatient and trigger happy. There’s probably only one man who could unite this squad and inspire the fans: and he was house-hunting in London last weekend.
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