Villas-Boas fails to match high expectations
Andre Villas-Boas now knows the answer to a question that was thrown into the air at Stamford Bridge as the first cracks appeared in the reputation he built so rapidly at FC Porto.
It was late November and Chelsea had lost at home to Liverpool in the Premier League.
Villas-Boas had awoken to headlines suggesting owner Roman Abramovich was having his first doubts about the young manager he appointed at great expense to replace Carlo Ancelotti.
Villas-Boas, under heavy interrogation, responded: “The owner didn’t pay 15m euros to get me out of Porto to pay another fortune to get me out of Chelsea.”
Andre Villas-Boas has been sacked as manager of Chelsea FC after a string of poor results and assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo will now take charge of the team until the end of the season. PHOTO: Getty
It turns out he did – or at least that he was prepared to do so once he was convinced that what was meant to be a new era of modernisation under Europe’s brightest emerging coach had turned out to be a mirage.
In that November moment, Villas-Boas certainly showed a flimsy grasp of Chelsea and Abramovich’s history, as well as some of the naivety that characterised his tenure.
All he needed to recall was that Ancelotti was sacked at the foot of the stairs at Goodison Park only 12 months after winning the Premier League and FA Cup double.
As recent figures revealed, it cost Abramovich the not inconsiderable sum of £28m to dispense with Ancelotti and his staff while bringing in Villas-Boas and his.
In other words, never believe Abramovich will feel it is too expensive to rid himself of a manager in whom he has lost his faith.
Villas-Boas breezed into Stamford Bridge backed up by a glowing Chelsea reference claiming he “was the outstanding candidate for the job…one of the most talented managers in football today”.
The man christened “AVB” may fulfil those credentials in time but it soon became clear that the task of challenging for the Premier League title while wrestling with the beast that is cryptically known as “the Chelsea dressing room” was too much for a manager whose career was still in its infancy.
So with Chelsea’s Champions League campaign on the edge after a 3-1 defeat in the last 16 first leg in Napoli, the title a distant dream and a place in the top four no longer a certainty after another defeat at West Bromwich Albion, Abramovich decided to call time on Villas-Boas on Sunday afternoon.
Villas-Boas’s recent words, coupled with his resigned body language, suggests the call will have come as no surprise.
He bristled with defiance in the early days of his time at Chelsea but recently looked burdened, the natural confidence replaced by a careworn expression.
And Chelsea’s fans, who sympathised with Ancelotti when he was dismissed and greeted Villas-Boas optimistically, delivered their own verdict when the manager was vociferously criticised by the travelling support during the defeat at Everton last month.
The Villas-Boas who arrived at Chelsea was summed up by a feisty December exchange with the media when he claimed the Champions League win against Valencia was “a slap in the face” to his critics.
The one who leaves is a young man chastened by a brief, fruitless experience that leaves a blemish on his previously spotless CV.
One of Villas-Boas’s main tasks on taking over from Ancelotti – and one that will face his eventual successor – was to move an ageing team populated by influential and powerful personalities on to the next stage of its development.
He could hardly have been expected to accomplish this overnight, but Villas-Boas was in the building long enough to discover it was a task easier said than done.
He had to deal with the fall-out from Chelsea captain John Terry being charged with racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand - a claim Terry denies - in the league game at Loftus Road in October.
Villas-Boas was publicly supportive of Terry but his relationship with another of Chelsea’s old guard was fragile and provided a backdrop to the closing days of his reign.
Frank Lampard, a pivotal figure in Chelsea’s successes, became a symbol of the perceived unrest at Chelsea as he was left out of key games, with many suggesting he was being used as a tool for the new manager to demonstrate his authority.
Ultimately, as ever, it is results on which Villas-Boas has been judged, even though the clock ticks more quickly for managers at Stamford Bridge than at most places in football.
Chelsea were starting to lose some of the old air of invincibility under Ancelotti and it was hardly likely to improve under Villas-Boas without a major rebuild and the removal of some of the elder statesmen.
Terry and Lampard, while still serviceable Premier League players, are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. The same applies to Petr Cech, Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole.
And for all his coaxing and cajoling, Villas-Boas has had no success in restoring Fernando Torres, regarded in most quarters as Abramovich’s prime vanity project, to anything like the form that made him one of the greatest strikers in world football during his time at Liverpool.
The next man ushered in by Abramovich will find the same work in his in-tray.
Even the Russian, not noted for patience, may have expected some period of transition but results have been so poor, and the prospect of not qualifying for next season’s Champions League so real, that another manager has bitten the dust.
The appointment of Roberto di Matteo smacks of a holding operation and no more. Is this an attempt to preserve some semblance of continuity, even from a failed regime, or an admission of defeat for this season?
And while Villas-Boas pays for his shortcomings with his job, what of the players whose failings have ensured his sacking?
The time is surely coming for Abramovich and his cohorts to cast a glance towards Chelsea's dressing room and seek some responsibility in there.
Results aside, Villas-Boas was undermined by a series of less-than-flattering stories seeping out about his work at Stamford Bridge, ensuring the spotlight remained on the manager rather than players who were letting him down with their dismal performances.
Villas-Boas has the confidence and ability to emerge elsewhere but ultimately the task on and off the field proved too much for even this most self-assured character.
The process now starts again. The task of rebuilding Chelsea passes to another manager.
And, despite the cost involved, the Villas-Boas experience proves there is no long-term guarantee given out with any Abramovich contract.