So many aspects of Andre Villas Boas’ short reign at Chelsea have already been pored over, from his philosophy, the need to implement a definable style, his tactics, his substitutions, his man-management
skills, to the need to introduce a younger collection of players while replacing older ones and keeping within the financial straitjacket that FFP imposes. I’d like to address much the same issues but from the perspective of the club as a whole.
When Ancelotti departed, the club declared that it didn’t affect their long terms plans, so it makes sense to begin this review with what happened following the double-winning season.
Ballack, Belletti, Deco and Joe Cole were allowed to leave with no fee, while Carvalho departed for £7m to Real Madrid after a few injury-wracked seasons. When Scolari talks about 7-8 older players needing to be released, it would be wise to recall these departures in addition to Shevchenko, Makelele, SWP, Bridge, Cudicini, Pizarro and Sidwell during and since Scolari’s time. It appears to be 12 players,
none of whom had any usable time left in them. Any claim that an “old guard” was not being moved on is substantially rebutted to the point of ridicule by this list. What’s also notable was the departure of
Sinclair, di Santo & Stoch for a total of £5m, only the latter of whom we might now be missing.
Senior players brought in to replace the departed amounted to Ramires and Benayoun, the intention being that young reserve team players would be promoted to the first team squad to make up the shortfall. Following several long term injuries to established players and also the newly-arrived Benayoun, those young players not only filled the
bench but also received game-time in the first half of the season – Bruma, Van Aanholt, McEachran, Kakuta & Sturridge particularly. Results, however, suffered and our lack of depth was exposed,
resulting in the arrival of Torres & Luiz in January and loans arranged for young players to better prepare them for a later introduction to life in our first team.
Management changes also took place, with the oddly-timed departure of Wilkins just a few weeks after Ancelotti’s father died, closely followed by the early announcement of Arnesen departing at the end of
the season, with only Emenalo coming in as Assistant 1st team coach before the following summer.
Last summer, Zhirkov was sold & Benayoun loaned out for the season, with Mata, Meireles, Lukaku, & Romeu coming in with a rejuvenated Sturridge and a finally fit Lampard & Torres fresh for the season, making for a markedly stronger and fitter squad than last season costing a nett £55m.
What’s clear from the above is that there was a long lead-in for preparation of a new season with a new outlook, a new management team, a new Sporting Director and new players, whoever they might be.
The decision on the managerial line-up, given the reluctance of Guardiola to consider us at that time, was either a combination of Hiddink with Van Basten or Emenalo with Villas-Boas. Events conspired
such that the latter very inexperienced pair were put in place rather than Hiddink’s old guiding-hand with a protege under his wing. This had ramifications for the club in a particular way.
It’s apparent from recent articles that Villas-Boas came into the club with an especially radical brief provided by the owner – one which he was particularly supportive of and keen to carry through. It involved several changes, each one of which would be problematic to implement in isolation, but together would be a challenge to any manager, let alone an inexperienced one. It involved a change to playing style, the introduction and development of new players and the inevitable phasing
out of those players who were unable to carry through that change, with specific players singled out in advance.
When Gianluca Vialli was appointed manager in place of Gullitt, Ken Bates was highly aware of his inexperience and resolved that he and Colin Hutchinson would take over all non training-pitch issues so that Luca could give his full attention to the players on the training ground.
Now, while Emenalo already had a few years at Chelsea, Villas-Boas’ short managerial career at a mature club like Porto, with a strong structure in place, was scant preparation for a club of Chelsea’s
profile and a dressing room full of strong and dominant characters. This was known in advance – no-one would expect it to run smoothly, given the scale of the remit.
The Football Board at Chelsea should have expected to make it a priority to provide strong support for Villas-Boas, which his latter days strongly indicated wasn’t forthcoming at the time he needed them. They should also have been prepared to intervene at an early stage when it became apparent that the manner of his engagement with the players created an adversarial atomosphere after the transfer window had closed and he was unable to bring in replacements for those he’d alienated. At the point where the window had closed it was essential to work with what was available to him at that time, but prepare to make further changes when the next opportunity arose in January. Instead, they allowed him to handicap himself by making Alex & Anelka unavailable to use at a time when no alternatives were possible for some months. And then we replaced those two with just Cahill anyway.
We read that the Football Board were horrified by some decisions made by Villas-Boas through the season, but it’s an abdication of their responsibilities to allow this to occur when they could intervene to either support him or manage the situation from above. Failing to do so allowed the problems to escalate to the point of complete
Now that Villas-Boas has departed, recriminations abound. His supporters complain he was given insufficient time to implement his declared 3-year plan, which had been sponsored by Abramovich from the
outset – that he should at least be allowed to complete a full season. This quite reasonable point is in ironic contrast to the calls of those same supporters to discard some or all of the perceived “old guard” within the first few months of that same 3-year plan. Such simultaneous demands are hard to reconcile when they contradict each other, while also ignoring the extensive departures of the previous three years.
Undoubtedly, Villas-Boas fatally undermined himself through his inability to manage his playing resources on a practical timescale. To alienate the remaining spine of players, who would be vital to support the integration of successful recruits like Mata, Romeu, Ramires and the returning Sturridge in the early part of his tenure, added a level of resistance to change that both he and the club could ill-afford.
The club, having been prepared to write off last season under Ancelotti, are now forced to write off this season too. What’s been at stake while the Board prevaricated in either supporting or reigning
Villas-Boas in, is the possibility of failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League, with its attendant income-loss, while loading further cost into the club for managerial departure and
recruitment, making the club less attractive to player targets and further reducing the remaining time that key players can support the transition if a competent manager were to come in and convince them to buy into the process.
I’m not personally in favour of the intended change of club direction, but I respect and acknowledge Abramovich’s right to have the club he owns play in the manner he wants to see, in return for his generous support. What I seriously question in this piece is whether his most trusted lieutenants – Buck, Gourlay and Tenenbaum, along with Forde and
Emenalo – have served him well this season by standing idly by while their chosen manager effectively sabotaged his own ‘project’ through
his already-known youth and inexperience.
While Villas-Boas certainly failed, I reserve my greatest criticism for those who allowed him to fail. The club’s statement expresses their disappointment that his tenure ended so early, but without any acknowledgement of culpability in allowing the situation to arise.
Villas-Boas and especially the fans have a right to be disappointed too, but I wonder quite how much Abramovich realises HE has been let down. He made the decision that the manager should leave and we’re
told he let the players know they’ve contributed (or not contributed) enormously to this outcome but, in my view, the people who could have altered the outcome did little at the time and appear to have escaped unscathed. At this time, anyway.
Written by @sidcelery