The current 2011/2012 campaign has not gone the way many of us Chelsea fans would have expected. For many, the arrival of Andre Villas Boas ignited a sense of belief and hope after what was a disappointing season previously. A new manager, with a new idea. A belief that he could get the best out of all players. A young, talented, attacking philosophy in which a high defensive line would allow pressure to be put on the opposition high up the pitch. A quick and direct attack capable of creating chances and outscoring oppositions. It seemed to be the perfect mix.
Sadly the perfect theory has rarely been as effective as the manager predicted, after a promising start (even a 3-1 loss to Manchester United was considered a positive performance) somewhere along the line you can all have your opinion when it occurred, something, somewhere went terribly wrong. Teams easily exposed the high line as the current crop of defenders tried to adapt to the new system, the midfield lacked the dynamic nature of its past and continued its slow tempo, not allowing enough chances to be created for our impotent attack. Chelsea now lie in fifth place behind Arsenal on goal difference after a run of two wins in ten league games. Fans agree that this is unacceptable, but what is divided is where to place the blame and which direction the club and the owner Roman Abramovich should take. Fans are split over who should be accountable for the season’s poor performances and absence of effort. Does the blame lie with the new manager? Is Villas Boas out of his depth? His recent decision making including starting lineups and then substitutes have led to the proverbial eyebrow raising, or are the players and those who supposedly have lost faith in the management the culprits? Player power and an excess of it has always been a possible issue at the club in which managers have come and gone but the players have remained and continued to perform, until now. It will be this very important decision that will inevitably shape the club’s short and long term future and here we have our break in the timeline and a look at why a continuation of the past is not the answer but instead focus on continuity and the future.
What would happen if Abramovich fires Villas Boas? Well, even with the money spent to bring the young manager in, it would not be surprising to see the Russian billionaire fire the man he brought in during the summer to rejuvenate the team. It would be the usual reaction that many of us have become used to when a manager does not achieve success since the Roman Empire took over at Stamford Bridge. There is no doubting the talent of the players that are still at the club, talent that is far beyond where the club sit currently in the league table. The arrival of an experienced manager, someone who would command the respect of all players may well cause the players to react and perform to their capabilities and what is more important for the fans; a greater hope in the aim to achieve a place in the Champions league next year. Great, right? Well, no. The club would still face the problem it has had for the past couple of years, a squad that is ageing and declining in quality. Of course it is easy to say, “Qualify for the Champions League first and play the youths next season” but that is what we said last season and what we will say half way through the next season. Numerous promising youngsters have been a part of the youth system but not given a chance and now ply their trade elsewhere, successfully. Borini, Tore and Matic are but to name a few who are now aiding their respective teams in the first team. One thing is certain, change needs to happen! Prolonging the transition period however is not an effective solution. The old guard which has served the club during recent years needs replacing eventually and bringing in a new manager means we are back to square one due to the need for the manager to have time to analyse the squad and put his own mark in the team.
Now, what if Abramovich decides to support the man he chose above all others and keep faith in Villas Boas’ ‘project’? We take a look at what may happen if the manager is given the support to carry on. Villas Boas’ managerial career has been defined by his success at Porto, a team that last season went unbeaten in domestic football and won the Europa League, this all done with an incredible attacking display, the achievements were impressive enough to earn him the managerial role at Stamford Bridge and what was expected? To replicate the success in terms of trophies and style. The current squad now appears to lack the quality to challenge for the title, let alone play with any sort of flair. Yes, we did finish second last season but the performances under a different manager were equally as woeful. The only difference being the teams in and around the champions league places have improved (with the exception of Arsenal). Are the players simply not good enough? Or are they refusing to play for the man in charge? Either way, it is these players that are spreading like a cancer throughout the rest of the squad. Whether they agree with the manager’s philosophy, the players owe it to the club and to us fans to perform to the best of their ability and this has not been the case with a large number of them.
Fast forward to the end of the season and assuming Roman has stuck with his man, it is during this summer transfer window which Villas Boas should be ultimately judged. Those who no longer have the desire to play for the club under new management should be thanked for their service and told to play elsewhere similar to the cases of Alex and Anelka. The next stage of the transfer window will be the opportunity he’s been desperate for – a chance to bring in players whose attributes suit his 4-3-3 system and to inject youth with the ton of experience that currently is at the club. In his first transfer window, the manager brought in Juan Mata, the player has arguably been our best during this campaign. Also added was Oriol Romeu, a graduate of the famous Barcelona academy and an incredible young talent who has shown great potential. Both, a step forward into the future and players capable of playing at a quick tempo with accurate passing. A continuation of this policy in the summer which has already linked us with young stars Eden Hazard and Lucas Moura would see a new dimension of creativity and attacking intent that is currently lacking, hopefully resulting in a team capable of playing a style that would suit the manager.
Whether you are in favour of new management at Chelsea, there are a few points I’d like to note. It seems to be well documented in the press that the manager has lost the dressing room. Now, if I remember correctly this was one of the reasons Scolari ended up being axed and since the departure of Mourinho we’ve had 5 managers in as many years if we are to include Hiddink’s temporary role and all except for Hiddink at one point could’ve been seen to have ‘lost the dressing room’. So, the club has changed managers and achieved limited success, yet the majority of the squad remains. A squad which has grown up together at the club and a squad in which a handful of players to some fans are bigger than the club. It is not only managers that come and go, these players will leave as well but the club will remain and it is the future of the club we need to concentrate on now. The issue with player power is that their influence over the younger and newer players can become detrimental and cause further disharmony within the squad.
Blame has been continually put on a few of the players; Mikel, Bosingwa and Malouda are to name a few. I personally have criticised these players as well, however this same criticism rarely extends to those who have performed for the club brilliantly over the years; Drogba, Lampard and Terry. I would never take away from the passion and influence the three have had over the years, not to mention their great ability but that is no longer an excuse to shield them from criticism and blame, their performances have declined recently and especially in the case of Terry the decline has been masked by the criticisms of centre back partner David Luiz, yet it has been David Luiz contrary to the belief of the media, along with fellow Brazilian Ramires and Spaniard Juan Mata who have consistently performed at a level that would be required to compete on all fronts and all appear to be united behind the manager. Even more promising is the fact these three players by the end of the season will still be 25 years or younger. Along with the trio mentioned, a number of players with youth on their side have shown the potential to being apart of a new era at Stamford Bridge; Sturridge, Romeu and Bertrand. Money has also recently been spent on bringing the hot prospects from around the world; Lukaku, De Bruyne, Courtois, Feruz, Davila and Piazon have joined the ranks here in West London to go with an already talented youth team. The future of the club is definitely bright and the club needs someone like Villas Boas to help develop the players under his ‘project’ and not be afraid of letting go those who oppose the revolution.