Andre Villas-Boas: Dead Man Walking From The Start

Player power has seemingly won out at Stamford Bridge today as Chelsea have sacked Andre Villas-Boas. After a defeat to West Brom yesterday, the tenth defeat of Villas-Boas' reign, and amidst reports of a mutiny by many of the senior players at Chelsea, the writing was seemingly on the wall and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has taken action by firing a man that he had paid over £13m to sign only months earlier.

Chelsea’s success has come largely as a result of being able to assemble a squad containing some of the best players in the world, pay them the wages that the best demand, and have funded this almost entirely by Abramovich’s money being able to cover some massive losses. With the Financial Fair Play regulations due to come into effect soon, Chelsea have to be able to balance the books and can no longer be supported so much by Abramovich’s billions.

This means that qualifying for the Champions League is a must, as the club needs the riches that come as a result of being in that competition, and needs the prestige of playing in Europe’s best competition to keep ambitious players happy. So, with Chelsea currently three points behind Arsenal in the battle for fourth, Abramovich has clearly decided something must be done in order to preserve Chelsea’s participation in next seasons Champions League.

Sure, Villas-Boas made mistakes, but what manager doesn’t? He did try to employ tactics that involved Chelsea playing a high back-line and a fast-passing game, which the Chelsea players were unsuited to. He had to change his gameplan to suit the squad he has, and was not given time to overhaul the squad and bring in players more suited to the style of football he wishes to play. Chelsea are a team in transition, and it was always unlikely they would be challenging near the top of the table. Top 4 is still a realistic proposition for Chelsea, so it seems strange, but not surprising, that Abramovich has pulled the plug, even with that goal of the top 4 in sight.

The Napoli game was a microcosm of the problems Chelsea have at the back all season. To defend against such skilful, wily forwards as Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik requires discipline and organisation. Unfortunately, too many times this season, organisation and discipline have been exactly what the Chelsea defence has lacked, both individually and collectively.

It seems that Villas-Boas was a dead man walking almost from the moment he arrived. There are a core of players at Chelsea that were integral to the club’s success under Jose Mourinho. Players that have served Chelsea with distinction for years now. Unfortunately, many of these players’ best days are behind them and they should have been replaced, but they carry so much weight, that they have to be involved. Players such as Lampard, Drogba, Terry, Cole and Malouda. These players seem to have undermined Villas Boas at every turn for not kowtowing to them and for Villas Boas not being afraid to leave them out of the side.

When a new manager arrives at a club, they have to be given time for the players to adapt to their ideas. Villas-Boas was never afforded that luxury as most of his players either could not or would not adapt.

Carlo Ancelotti was a very popular manager with the players, a man liked and respected by most of the Chelsea squad. Ancelotti liked his players to all play the same way. That is not Villas-Boas’ philosophy however, as he allows his players greater individual freedom. This was what worked for him at Porto, as by trusting and allowing his players to make their own decisions, it made Porto very unpredictable and hard to stop, as last season Porto ran away with the Portuguese title playing some scintillating football along the way.

That kind of system needs everybody to buy into it though. Some of the players did, and some players flourished under Villas-Boas, namely, Mata, Sturridge, Ramires and Romeu, who it has to be noted, are all relatively new to Chelsea and seemingly open-minded to the new ideas and methods Villas Boas wished to implement.

Many of the ‘old guard’, the established stars whose feet are firmly under the table, evidently decided that they were not prepared to take orders from a man who was a similar age to them. That they were not prepared to forget what they had learned under Ancelotti and adopt a new manager’s methods. That they knew better than the man standing in front of them, so could disregard his tactics and instructions.

That is ultimately why he failed. Because he came up against a group of players that did not want to adapt, did not want to listen and did not respect the manager. This season Chelsea have looked dispassionate and subdued, which is exactly the opposite of what usually happens when there is a young manager in charge. Unfortunately these players were too big for Villas-Boas to leave out of the side.

It’s difficult to feel too sorry for Andre Villas-Boas, as he will walk away from Chelsea with millions in the bank and still has the reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting young managers, so he’ll have no problems getting another managerial position soon. I think this sacking will prove to be Chelsea’s loss rather than Villas-Boas’.

The challenge the next manager of Chelsea faces, aside from Abramovich’s itchy trigger finger, is to rebuild a Chelsea squad that has too many players whose best days are behind them, to bring players in who are prepared to listen and learn, and to try and instil a team-first ethos on a group of players that seemingly out for themselves. Which is exactly what Villas-Boas was trying to do.