Andre Villas-Boas was today sacked by Chelsea after just nine months in the job. With The Blues languishing in 5th place, 20 points off leaders Manchester City, Abramovich has wielded the axe for the sixth time in his nine-year tenure at the London club. The change in management will certainly please Lampard and co. who never bonded with Villas-Boas in the way they did Jose Mourinho, or to a lesser extent Carlo Ancelotti. However, questions must be asked of Abramovich after yet another manager fails to meet his exceptionally-high standards.
This Chelsea squad is in need of a complete rebuild, and that is what AVB should have been allowed to oversee for many years. Teams in transition will inevitably suffer from a dip in form and fortunes – just ask Arsene Wenger. The problem that Villas-Boas had from the start was that he was never totally in control at Chelsea. The club’s failure to generate home-grown talent from their Cobham training ground led to substantial investment in promising young European players. However, these signings were often not selected by AVB but by the powers above. In the January transfer window, Chelsea announced the signing of exciting Belgian winger Kevin de Bruyne from Genk – a move that the Londoners had been working on for over 6 months. Upon announcement of the deal, Villas-Boas commented:
“It’s a target that’s decided by the club…it’s the club policy for the future. I’m a manager who respects club policy. A club has to look to the future, whether it’s with this manager or another.“
The signing of de Bruyne followed deals to bring Romelu Lukaku, Oriol Romeu, Thibaut Courtois, Lucas Piazon and Juan Mata to Chelsea. Whilst well over £60m was spent bringing these players in, only Mata and Romeu have made an impact on the first team squad. Indeed, de Bruyne and Courtois were immediately loaned out to gain further experience, whilst Lukaku and Piazon have been largely confined to the reserve team. This recruitment policy clearly points to the future, as did the signing of the hottest young manager in Europe (at a cost of £13.3m) following a season in which his Porto side went unbeaten in the league (only the second Portuguese team in history to acheive this feat) and completed a phenomenal quadruple. Yet the London club seem to have backed out of this plan less than a year into Villas-Boas’ contract. Which begs the question – why employ him if he isn’t going to be given time to rebuild the team around his own tactics and style?
The odds have been stacked against the Portuguese since day one. Chelsea have been without direction and clarity for several years, and there is no greater evidence of this than the signing of Fernando Torres. Another Abramovich decision (despite the approval of then-manager Carlo Ancelotti) – Torres joined Chelsea for £50m despite more than a year riddled with injury and poor form for club and country. If ever there was striker to build a team around, it is Fernando Torres. Quick and agile, he is an instinctive finisher who thrives on high tempo attacking play and dissecting through balls. Instead, Chelsea left him up front whilst Ancelotti played slow, methodical possession football. Torres spent his first six months at Chelsea being dropped in and out of the team as a lone striker, then alongside Drogba, then out wide in a trident attack. His confidence already down from a year of injuries, he became a shadow of his former self.
Underperformers like Anelka and Alex left, and the club invested in Gary Cahill as a long-term replacement for the ailing John Terry. However, the senior players were not happy with Villas-Boas and private issues soon became public. The young players Villas-Boas had brought in would take time to develop, and he needed time to work with these players and raise them to play ‘the AVB way’. The club needed to trust in his tactis, his methods, and his vision.
Young players like Lukaku and Courtois are ready-made replacements for Drogba and Cech respectively, whilst de Bruyne is showing signs of being the winger Chelsea have missed since Arjen Robben left for Madrid. Aging players like Lampard, Terry, Lampard and Drogba are past their prime and yet continue to dominate the club, still basking in their Mourinho-built ‘Legend’ status. What Villas-Boas needed was the club’s full support when senior players openly criticised his team selection and tactics. Instead, all he got was a telling silence.
In a time when the club needed to support their talented, charismatic young manager in building a new-look team for the decade ahead, Abramovich has again hit the panic button. With Guus Hiddink recently lured to Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea haven’t got a replacement in mind. Di Matteo has been put in charge until the season’s conclusion but will not command much more respect than the outgoing manager. Mourinho is certain to return to England in the summer, and will be the leading contender for the permanent job in the eyes of many Chelsea fans. His relationship with the Russian owner may well be the decisive factor in whether or not he makes a sensational return.
Villas-Boas will surely not be short of options when he is ready for a return to managerial action. With Harry Redknapp ready to take the England hotseat for the European Championships in June, Villas-Boas might not be selling his London home just yet.
And so Andre Villas-Boas becomes just another chapter in the Chelsea story. Abramovich has tried, tested and rejected the experienced Ancelotti, his personal friend Avram Grant, the enigmatic Luis Felipe Scolari, and now the wonderkid Villas-Boas. Only time will tell if the story is to take the biggest twist of all and lead back to the Special One – Mourinho.