Playing the long game: Andre Villas Boas and Chelsea

by Andreas Vou

Manchester United are the benchmark to every football club aiming for long term success. The Red Devils stuck with Sir Alex Ferguson despite winning nothing in his first four years in charge and have fully reaped the rewards, having overtaken Liverpool’s record 18 domestic league titles last year and winning two Champions League titles in the Scot’s ongoing 25 year reign.

Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck believes the club has found its very own Ferguson in new manager Andre Villas-Boas after claiming that the Portuguese could hold the position for the next decade or so.

“It has to be the right guy in the job for 10 or 15 years and, in light of Andre’s age (34 next month) he may well be that guy.”

You know when you are watching a product being advertised on TV and everything seems perfect: the features, the design, the price yet just when you are ready to sprint out of the house and go to the shop before they sell-out, you see the small writing next to an asterisk that completely nullifies the significance of the whole advert… well Buck’s later comments are essentially that asterisk.

The message for Villas-Boas is clear: rebuild a team while entertaining but you need to win trophies if you want to stay.

“It might take time, it might not. A manager needs success to have a long-term relationship with a club. Why are we here but to have a successful football club?”

If the past serves as any indication for future outcomes, as it so often does in football, then the above statement from Buck puts Villas-Boas in a very vulnerable position seeing as the last four Chelsea managers to end a season trophyless have all been sacked by demanding owner Roman Abramovich.

The Russian billionaire has now employed seven managers in his eight years at Chelsea and has consistently shown impatience with the men in the dug-out. Jose Mourinho, who guided Chelsea to back-to-back Premier League titles in 2005 & 2006 (the first in their history) and won the League Cup & FA Cup, was sacked in 2007. His replacement, Avram Grant took Chelsea to the League Cup final, their first Champions League final and came 2nd in the Premier League but was sacked almost immediately after. And finally, this summer, Carlo Ancelotti felt Abramovich’s wrath after failing to add to his first year’s League and FA Cup double success

One of the main reasons behind the young manager’s appointment may be the FIFA Financial Fair Play Rule which will be in full swing from next season. It aims to level the playing field for all clubs across Europe by reducing the debt limit of each club to £39.5m by 2014 and no club can be bailed out by their owner’s personal wealth.

Perhaps Financial Fair Play has made Abramovich realize he can no longer change managers so often as it would hamper Chelsea’s need to reduce debt and reach FIFA’s targets. Claudio Ranieri, Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari’s severance packages were worth around £6m each, Ancelotti’s around £10m while Mourinho received a staggering £18m, which totals to an estimated £46m just on compensation to sacked managers.

Employing the most promising young manager in the game, and being patient with him, may therefore go a long way to reducing Chelsea’s debt in the coming years.

So what has Villas-Boas done thus far to try and meet his high expectations?

First of all, the signings, which also seem to indicate a more long-term vision for the club: Romelu Lukaku, Oriol Romeu and Thibaut Courtois are all extremely talented young players while they made only one ‘star’ signing, Juan Mata, who himself is just 23 years old. Daniel Sturridge, who impressed during his loan-spell at Bolton last season, has been brought back and is proving his worth by scoring three goals in as many games.

As impressive as the new policy is for the players coming in is the policy for those going out: Gael Kakuta (Bolton), Patrick Van Aanholt (Wigan), Jeffery Bruma (Hamburg) and Courtois (Atletico Madrid) have all been loaned out where they are being groomed to follow in Sturridge’s footsteps.

Arriving at one of the best teams in the world is big enough pressure but when you are near the same age as some of its legends then it could become even more complicated. Villas-Boas has treated the situation with dignity and respect to the older players who are no longer automatic starters; those like Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba have been used in a rotation system that has so far brought good performances from each.

Something that rarely brings success is when a new boss has to build a team from scratch or opts to completely change the existing squad. The Portuguese has only sold a few fringe players and kept the majority of his team while his new signings have gelled very quickly.

Will it last? What makes the situation difficult for Villas-Boas is that the word ‘success’ has a slightly different definition to the owner. You would think that only once finishing outside the top two in the Premiership, winning the FA Cup three times, five Champions League semi-finals and one lost final, all in just eight years, for a previous rank outsider, would be regarded as a great success but not so far for Abramovich. However, with FIFA’s Financial Fair Play Rule coming into practice soon the owner has shown signs of adapting by investing heavily in youth.

Andre Villas-Boas is undoubtedly a hugely talented manager. Only time will tell whether the owner expects the same instant impact he had at FC Porto where he won the treble in his first season, or if he is wiling to give the youngster time to create an empire that can dethrone the current king Sir Alex.

Andreas Vou is an English-Cypriot sports journalist based in Barcelona involved with scouting and charity work, and columnist for Just Football. Follow him on Twitter @AndreasVou89

(photo credit: scottgair2009 on Flickr)

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One Response to “Playing the long game: Andre Villas Boas and Chelsea”

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    October 18, 2011 at 6:42 am #

    Villas-Boas has treated the situation with dignity and respect to the older players who are no longer automatic starters…