Villas-Boas falls victim to Blues’ superstar power
Posted Sunday, March 4 2012 at 21:24
- Roberto di Matteo takes over at Stamford Bridge after Portuguese falls out with club’s top stars
When Andre Villas-Boas announced his arrival at Chelsea by quipping he wished to be known as the “Group One” he was trying to distance himself from the more egotistical reign of his mentor Jose Mourinho.
But just eight months later, Villas-Boas has been booted out of Stamford Bridge in typically ruthless fashion by Blues owner Roman Abramovich after his clumsy attempts to dismantle the squad that Mourinho built misfired in spectacular fashion.
Villas-Boas’s philosophy of letting relatively unheralded players express themselves within his own strict framework had worked wonders at Porto, but with Chelsea his failure to adapt to the different demands of a superstar-filled dressing room proved fatal.
Mourinho, who dubbed himself the “Special One” on his arrival at Chelsea in 2004, created a cadre of powerful players who willingly followed his every instruction and reaped the rewards during the most successful period in the club’s history.
Villas-Boas, who worked under Mourinho as Chelsea’s opposition scout, saw how valuable the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Ashley Cole were, but by the time he arrived from Porto in June 2011 those same stars were well into the twilight of their careers.
Some were the same age as the 34-year-old and it wasn’t easy for them to accept the young Portuguese coach who had once supplied them with facts about the next opponent would now be giving out the orders.
What made it even worse was that Villas-Boas was clearly intent on easing several of them towards the exit door as he tried to stamp his own mark on the team. It was a sensitive situation that even a naturally gifted communicator like Carlo Ancelotti — the man Villas-Boas replaced at Chelsea — would have found testing. For a raw novice like Villas-Boas it proved overwhelming.
The first signs of trouble came in pre-season when a throwaway remark from skipper Terry suggested Villas-Boas was having trouble getting his message across as he tried to change the team’s playing style.
Juan Mata and Raul Meireles were Villas-Boas’s key signings as he tried to begin a more progressive approach. But a dour 0-0 draw at Stoke on the opening day of the season set the tone for the rest of his reign.
A first defeat of the season — 3-1 at Manchester United — came in September as the flaws in Villas-Boas’s team were brutally exposed by the champions.
Another significant setback came at west London neighbours QPR when Terry was alleged to have racially abused Anton Ferdinand during a 1-0 defeat. A crucial victory over Valencia ensured progress to the Champions League second round, but was more memorable for Villas-Boas taking on the critics in his post-match press conference.
A 2-1 win over table-topping Manchester City followed but that was as good as it got. At the same time, his relationship with Lampard was spiralling towards breakdown amid reports of a divided dressing room.
His failure to get the best out of Fernando Torres, the shot-shy striker signed at such expense by Abramovich, was a further source of discontent in the corridors of power.
The Russian spent virtually an entire week at the club’s Cobham training ground last month in an attempt to get to the bottom of what was going wrong.
And when Everton beat Chelsea 2-0 just a week after Manchester United had come from three goals down to draw at Stamford Bridge, Abramovich responded by holding a training ground inquest.
At that explosive meeting, several senior players were said to have criticised Villas-Boas, whose answer was to go public with belief he could do without them.
Lampard, Cole and Essien were all left on the bench for the Champions League trip to Napoli in a gamble that backfired as the Italians swept to a 3-1 first leg win which left the Blues on the brink of a shock exit.