If you’re not giving your opinion on Andre Villas-Boas and the current situation at Chelsea, you’re clearly missing out on an old English custom, because everyone from pre-school to pension age seems to take a view on Chelsea managers – or at least that’s how it feels on a seasonal basis.
Personally, whilst I was glad to see the back of Scolari and sad to see Hiddink stick to his word after such a short spell in charge, these were both decisions you could easily anticipate, so neither provoked too much of a reaction from me. Similarly Carlo Ancelotti, whilst I respected him throughout his spell with us and thought the club were as cold as ever when it came to dispensing with his services, we kind of knew it was coming so I was about as animated as Malouda has been lately when the axe finally fell.
In fact, I don’t remember being quite so vocal or opinionated about a Chelsea manager since Avram Grant’s spell in charge and as I recall, I seemed to have a different hymn sheet to everyone else then as well. Whilst plenty appeared to defend him on the grounds that he’d ‘got us to our first ever Champions League final’ and ‘challenged United for the title’, all I could see was a complete charlatan – a mate of Roman’s who’d somehow gone from shuffling cones about in training to loitering on the touchline with as much command over the games as my nan has over a dancefloor.
Seriously, since Abramovich was clearly having a ‘be generous to employees’ moment when he appointed Grant – well, either that or he was pissed – he might as well have given the job to one of the canteen ladies. They wouldn’t have held the correct coaching badges either but would probably have given more eloquent interviews to the press to be honest. And given the squad we had, together with their ‘us against the world’ attitude in the face of such perceived injustice pretty much managed themselves, we wouldn’t have noticed the difference in terms of results either.
Thankfully, that unfortunate episode is behind us – and yet, there’s probably supporters out there who’d rather a return to that than what we have now. Not that I’d blame them, I mean, who wouldn’t want that squad again? I just wouldn’t want the same manager to go with it. Again, I suspect that’s not a sentiment shared by everyone either but it’s not one I’m prepared to shy away from because in spite of all the arguments to the contrary, I still think sacking Andre Villas-Boas would be a mistake on Chelsea’s part.
After our game against Napoli, the Chelsea manager has taken responsibility for our latest slump, saying “There is one… person who takes responsibility – myself. The players don’t have to take it and they shouldn’t take it. They are top players and they know what they can do for the benefit of the team but there is only one person that is responsible which is me.” And whilst my initial reaction to that was ‘why should he take all the blame?’ What he says next, makes it a lot easier to see why he’s made that statement because, with regards to the pressure our current situation inevitably brings, AVB says “It doesn’t affect me at all. It is the same whenever results don’t go your way. The big lesson might be that in that moment of adversity you have to be aware of extra motivation, extra work to avoid going into a bad run of results that can compromise your position.”
See what he’s done there? I don’t doubt plenty won’t have seen it and won’t want to but from where I’m standing, in a much more subtle way than he managed last week when he made the mistake of saying he doesn’t need senior players’ backing, he’s just given them the responsibility back. Whereas last week, he showed some naivety and apparently committed the mortal sin of being human – reacting to not only persistent pressure but what amounts to downright bullying (captured brilliantly by Annie Eaves by the way) from both inside and outside the club with a bit of a stamp of the feet, this week, he seems to be turning that pressure back onto his squad.
You see, by suggesting they’re ‘top players’ who ‘know what they can do for the benefit of the team’, he’s putting the onus right back on the senior players to step up to the plate and do it. Not only that, but when he’s answering the questions around pressure on him by suggesting ‘in that moment of adversity you have to be aware of extra motivation, extra work to avoid going into a bad run of results’, it’s giving those players something to think about in terms of their motivation and work-rate to stop this run of poor form.
Smart man, but he hasn’t quite done there because, with John Terry injured at the worst possible time for us, he throws him in the players’ faces for good measure, saying “He is a player we badly miss and is of massive importance to us. He is a leader and had great performances for us this season… he was amazing.” And if that isn’t a challenge to the rest of our senior players to show they’re every bit as ‘important’ as our captain – particularly aimed at our vice-captain I suspect – then I don’t know what is.
Now I’m sure at this point, at least half of those reading will be convinced I’ve finally lost the plot here but think about it – with it looking ever more obvious against Napoli that several of our players hadn’t responded well to hearing he didn’t need them to believe in him, and the spells on the bench clearly having the opposite effect to the one he’d hoped, AVB could easily have lost his job that night. He didn’t though and ironically, by learning some very tough lessons, he might just have saved it.
After what has to have been his worst week at Chelsea so far, Andre Villas-Boas has learnt some very harsh lessons. Granted, he made mistakes last week and if he hadn’t learnt from them, then even I might have struggled to defend him much longer. As it is though, he’s shown he’s not a one-trick pony and if he needs to adapt his management style to get something out of players who, increasingly of late, have shown absolutely no desire to play for him (or their shirts), then he’s neither too stubborn nor too full of his own self-importance to do it.
More than that though, he’s shown he’s not the idiot he’s been made out to be. Let’s face it, when it was Jose Mourinho doing this sort of stuff, the players responded, we got the results and he was hailed ‘The Special One’. Andre Villas-Boas is obviously a long way off being regarded as special – in fact, right now he probably wouldn’t even be regarded as The Chosen One – but given time, he just might prove his critics wrong.
So, whilst we didn’t get the result we wanted midweek (although only AVB’s sacking would have pleased some), I have a feeling it could still prove to be a turning point for him because after last week’s tantrum, this week the Chelsea manager seems to have grown up and learnt some valuable lessons. I guess the question now is – have his players?