The sacking of AVB, sad but increasingly inevitable, ends yet another sorry chapter in Chelsea’s attempts to appoint a long-term manager who will provide stability and rebuild the team. What I find hardest to understand is the fact that when he was appointed last summer it was known a) he was young and inexperienced, especially in the working in the kind of goldfish bowl that is Chelsea in the Roman Abramovich era and b) over a relatively short period of time much of the core of the team would need replacing, meaning strong man management skills and a sure touch at spotting players were required. Added to this, of course, was the need for the team to compete on all fronts, especially the Premier League and Champions League.
Given the above, you have to make the basic assumption that AVB would have had tough interview questions on how he would handle these tricky transition issues, as well as ideas on the team and type of football he would like to play, and presumably he gave coherent answers that satisfied the board. When appointed, you would like to think he was promised support from the board if things got tough with the existing players (including mentoring/coaching in advising experienced players that their days as regulars were coming to an end without a major rumpus being caused), and also in dealing with the ever-attentive media. AVB was probably unlucky in that some of his predecessors – e.g. Ranieri, Mourinho and Ancelotti – were skilled media operators and generally had a pretty sympathetic press.
As we now know, his relationship with some of the senior players steadily deteriorated, and he clearly struggled to handle this situation, which would be tough for any manager, let alone a 34 year old in his first overseas job. Surely the club should have spotted this very early on and actively encouraged him to set up a series of informal individual meetings (possibly with AVB’s boss Ron Gourlay present as well) with the relevant players.
The club should have coached him in how to handle these players and how to break ‘bad’ news (that their days as regulars were gradually drawing to a close but still valued team members, he appreciates all they have done for the club etc.) in such a way as to keep them on board, with follow ups as necessary. Maybe this was done but given everything else at the club leaks and this hasn’t appeared in the papers, the assumption must be that it wasn’t.
In parallel, AVB’s media interviews became increasingly strange, seemingly veering between defensiveness, hostility, arrogance, weariness and brutal honesty, creating in reaction an odd mixture of alienation and sympathy from the more reasoned journalists. Again, the Chelsea media team should have provided him with far more protection and support in terms of topics to cover and the best way to cover them. Again it must be assumed that he was given media training but it just didn’t seem to work.
Neither of these issues would matter as much, of course, if results were consistently good. As we know, though, the team seem to have struggled with tactical innovations and AVB maybe wasn’t quite as tactically astute as he thought he was. Certainly some substitutions were hard to understand and resent results and performances have fallen well short of expectations.
A fair proportion of the crowd at West Brom were starting to turn on him and in the end he looked almost a broken man in the dugout, crouching alone with his thoughts and the end may have come as a merciful release for him – though I am sure it does not feel like that at the moment.
Maybe I am doing the club a massive disservice and they did all they could to help, mentor, coach and support AVB, but it doesn’t feel that way. If senior managers in multi-nationals get personal mentoring on taking up a new post, why shouldn’t young, bright and brash football managers?
Written by Tim Rolls, @tim_rolls