Football Friends Online – When 90 Mins Is Not EnoughRe-Writing History: Andre Villas Boas Struggling To Prove Patience Is A Virtue At Chelsea - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough Re-Writing History: Andre Villas Boas Struggling To Prove Patience Is A Virtue At Chelsea - Football Friends Online - When 90 Mins Is Not Enough

Re-Writing History: Andre Villas Boas Struggling To Prove Patience Is A Virtue At Chelsea

Chelsea manager Andre Villas Boas’ stark admission that the Premier league title is little more than a ‘fantasy’ so early in the season is almost comical (for a neutral – forgive me, Chelsea fans) given both its manner and its maker. Stranger than Chelsea’s season and overall league position, however, are the questions raised by Villas Boas’ tenure so far and the placid faith shown by a previously ruthless Russian oligarch in the young Portuguese.

Indeed, it’s probably best to reflect first on the surreally despondent air about Chelsea this season. Once fans and critics got over the painfully obvious comparison with Jose Mourinho, ‘AVB’ was heralded as a sort of ‘exciting unknown’ figure, a prodigal son parachuted in over the series of experienced old heads which would surely have followed those of Phil Scolari, Avram Grant etc onto Roman Abramovich’s managerial guillotine within six months or less. Villas Boas’ technical background sat behind the combination of a suave Mediterranean temperament and the refreshingly banal content of his press conferences to create a character apparently immune to substantial media criticism (though Mourinho’s protégé would, naturally, disagree).

What’s uncanny about the AVB regime is that it’s hard to put a finger on exactly what’s going wrong. At the start of the season, Chelsea were the insidious threat to Manchester’s dominance(their unfortunate defeat at Old Trafford notwithstanding), quietly accumulating points whilst City and United stole the limelight; then, they started to drop points, both at home and in Europe. So they switched to a more pragmatic style of play. Their results improved, for a bit, before this latest set of bizarre hiccups.

The one constant through the chaos has been the manager himself. Villas Boas’ gravel-throated mutterings about the ‘improving atmosphere within the collective’, warbling alongside increasingly lacklustre performances, have almost given Stamford Bridge the air of a defeated power, whose deluded dictator refuses to stop preaching his vision to masses long ago defeated.

Now, all this amounts to quite a harsh assessment of a brilliant young man who has come into one of football’s most difficult jobs, made relatively few signings and tried to instil an admirably positive brand of football on a wayward club whose one consistent strength over the years has been the ability to eke out results (a legacy of the Mourinho period). But facts are facts: Roman Abramovich has sacked and paid off far more experienced coaches for far less.

First of all, there was Mourinho himself, ruthlessly purged at the most politically prudent moment (when Chelsea’s results were, for once, rubbish) due to a ‘personality clash’ with Chelsea’s owner; then, when Avram Grant delivered second place in the League and Champions’ League he was axed for precisely those reasons (maybe he should’ve come third and made the semis…); Luiz Felipe Scolari started brilliantly, then had a bad month and was sent packing; Guus Hiddink was a temporary solution before Carlo Ancelotti was given a generous two years and then given his marching orders.

The truth is that Chelsea is a pretty unique club. Whilst the fact that AVB’s position looks remarkably secure under the present circumstances might be a statement about the increased patience club owners are having in ‘their man’ (another would be Steve Kean…), I think there’s something more to Villas Boas’ situation than the simple idea of a long-term project.

The shadow of Mourinho hangs over Chelsea. Though it isn’t often talked about, the effect ‘the Mourinho era’ had on the club is probably the most significant phase in a Premier League club’s history since Arsene Wenger’s appointment at Arsenal. And when I say ‘the Mourinho era’, I mean not just the man but the financial support he had. On the one hand, Mourinho was able to throw extravagant amounts of money at players in order to build the side he wanted (Chelsea’s new wealth is arguably the most important factor in the history of the transfer market since Bosman); on the other, his dictatorial outward persona, his ‘us-versus-them’ mentality and the now clichéd aura about him were what made Chelsea ‘great’.

It is the Mourinho legacy which makes Chelsea feel as though they have been in crisis since he left – an idea which simply doesn’t ring true. The double under Carlo Ancelotti in 2009-2010 was the high point in a period which saw the club reach a Champions’ League final for the first time and cement their (newfound) position among English football’s elite. The club was in a bit of a trough when AVB signed on, needing some direction and, ideally, success; but it was not in crisis.

The greater context, therefore, makes it seem as though AVB is not just being given a couple of years to develop a new brand of football at Chelsea. He’s here to give the club an entire identity which was lost with Mourinho, the persona of invincibility which the club had under old Jose’s tutelage. In this light, the young manager’s guttural rumblings about biased media, the strength of his beloved ‘collective’ and the defence of his players’ individual errors all make a lot more sense.

Obviously, this article is intended to raise questions rather than to provide answers. Exactly how well AVB is doing is open to debate; how well Chelsea can justify keeping him, even given the context, is also a difficult question to answer; indeed, whether they will even make the top four this year isn’t an easy one to think about. But sometimes, it’s important to think about football in terms which aren’t spoken aloud. Rather than look at the game through the lens of cold, hard facts, it’s pleasant and illuminating to write our own histories.

Augusto Neto

Football Friends bring you the latest football news and opinion from football fans around the world.
Football News