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Andre Villas-Boas: 10 Reasons Chelsea Are Not on the Right Track

Louis HamweyAnalyst IIIJanuary 3, 2012

Andre Villas-Boas: 10 Reasons Chelsea Are Not on the Right Track

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    Chelsea earned a thrilling 2-1 win over Wolves on Monday with a late goal by the always timely Frank Lampard. Fernando Torres played a good 90 minutes, including getting in on the build-up to that winner. Feelings around Chelsea community all point to this as being a step forward for the squad. But for all that positives, it does not excuse that Chelsea scrapped out a win against a 16th-place side and dropped nine of their last 15 possible points.

    For a squad that is expected to compete for the title in England and Europe every single season, this is simply not good enough.

    The smatterings for Andre Villas-Boas’ dismissal are starting to make their way around the Web, but for now the manager seems to have his job safely secured. But this does not mean it will be forever.

    At the rate he is going, the Blues are a far ways away from being a squad that is competitive in anything other than early rounds of domestic cups. Poor defending, a bland offense and players that all seem to be scratching their heads over what exactly they are suppose to be doing have the club in real risk of finishing outside the top four for the first time in over a decade.

    Here are 10 reasons why the path Villas-Boas has them on needs to change or things will only get worse.

Poor Personnel Management

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    The announcement of Villas-Boas as the new Chelsea manager immediately set off a whirlwind of rumors aimed the many veteran players on the squad. So many had been great for years, but were getting up in age and it seemed likely that their spots would be in question. Pair that with a tactical approach that many were not familiar with or adept to playing, and you had to figure they would be on their way out.

    I am OK with this kind of speculation. Why would players in the twilight of their careers want to learn a new system, when they can stay in their comfortable mode and continue to have success elsewhere? But the issue arises when the coach purposefully alienates the players in front of the entire club.

    About a month ago Villas-Boas humiliated Chelsea veterans Nicolas Anelka and Alex in front of the entire squad by telling them both, "I don't want to see you anywhere near the first team again."

    At the time of the statements Chelsea were going through a rough patch and perhaps they were essentially exiled as examples. There also may be more that was not reported. After all Anelka is not one known for keeping his mouth shut when he disagrees, and Alex perhaps believed he deserved more playing time than his younger countryman David Luiz. Of all the veterans on the squad, those are the only two you could see it happening to and it not becoming a PR nightmare.

    Anelka was on the first flight to China, realizing that he does not want to even attempt to fight back for a spot on a team run by someone like this, and Alex seems to want back to Brazil as quick as possible.

    But for all the Villas-Boas could have done it to help the team, there seems to be a bit of brashness in the way that he is willing to call out players in this fashion. At this level of the game, player management is just as important as tactics—a happy team means they will always play hard and follow your lead.

    But when you bash players like this, you really risk alienation amongst certain players. Just look at Ramires’ goal against Wolves the other day. The players ran over to the bench to celebrate with the staff as Villas-Boas so egotistically claimed they should. But if you really look at it, was it not Meireles, Luiz and Bosingwa who were pulling the rest of the team over there—the three players that are benefitting most from Villas-Boas’ arrival? Terry, Lamps and Cole looked like they wanted nothing of it. Even Ramires looked hesitant.

    Now perhaps this is reading into it too much. Or maybe those guys have just been in around long enough to not get all giddy over a fortunate goal in 54th minute of a back-and-forth game.

    However, the real stupidity comes in just being short on players. Anelka and Alex are quality stars who have been great for more years than Villas-Boas has even been coaching. Even if you intend to deal them in January, why not have them full of confidence so they can be ready to play should injuries occur or form of players drop? Would you not want to showcase their talents when you could to get more money in the transfer window? Why would any club be willing to pay a premium price when they already know you don’t want the player?

    Villas-Boas’ player management has been poor tactically, financially and personally.

Tactically Stubborn

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    Villas-Boas got this job by having a historic season at Porto. There he won the treble by a considerable margin in all competitions, with a team that was firing on all cylinders. But part of the reason why he was able to have such success is because he played a 4-3-3 formation with a high defensive line and very swift attacking front.

    That front line had the likes of Falcao and Hulk and the back was anchored by Rolando and Pereira. It was a machine geared for explosiveness and always going forward with pace and control.

    Part of the reason Villas-Boas was brought to Chelsea was to enact this system here.

    Trophies have been won over the past decade, but it was always on the back of stalwart defending and a bruising attack that pounded defenses into submission. Abramovich wanted the personality of the club to be more likes the Barcas of the world and figured Villas-Boas was the man to do it.

    The problem is Hulk, Falcao, Rolando, Moutinho and the rest aren’t on Chelsea. You have Lampard, Terry, Cole and Drogba. Man for man I think there is little doubt that the Chelsea contingent far out succeeds anything the boys from Porto have, but for some reason they look terrible this season.

    To make a simple analogy, Villas-Boas is trying to fit square pegs into a round hole.

    You can’t just expect to throw pieces together on to a field and think it will work. This is not FIFA 12. You have to make sure you are placing your players in the best position to excel at what they do best, not what you want them to do.

    It is obvious that the 4-3-3 attack is not working with this group of players. We can all argue on and on about how he needs the right players. But buying up a squad is not only unlikely in the day of FIFA's Financial Fair Play rules, but also risky should some of the players not fit as well as you had expected.

    But say you can wave a magic wand and buy Hulk, Goetze, Hazard, Cahill, Pato, Robinho, etc. and all the players play great together and fit the system perfectly. That still does not change the fact that he his personality has been too stubborn to adapt when those players are shut down.

    In this league there are too many good teams that play a variety of styles to just perfect one way of playing. You need to be well versed in many forms.

    Against a side like United, a midfield of perhaps four or five players is necessary to make sure you don’t get beat on the counter. Against City, you had better have two forwards that can play off one another against a very athletic back line. Against a lower side, play with a midfield that control the ball as not to get beat on a giveaway, which really is the only way a team like Wigan can hurt you.

    It just is dumbfounding to me personally how obstinate Villas-Boas is being about trying out new systems to play. Other managers never have to second-guess their squads or formations because they already know what they are facing when they play Villas-Boas.

    It is all fine that he wants to a certain style of play to become the Chelsea way, but every team has multiple formations and styles they can fall back on should their primary way be off. Villas-Boas is yet to prove he is a dynamic manager in this sense.

Always a Step Behind

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    Let’s not be naive about the situation and let’s just say it—Chelsea is trying to be Barcelona, not only in style of play, but in appeal as well. And why not?

    One of the best ways to become great is to find the best and mimic what they do as close as you can. You want to be able to hit a baseball, watch Albert Pujols. You want to make a movie look at Steven Spielberg. And if you want to win trophies in Europe, become Barcelona.

    Like I said in the previous slide, Villas-Boas was brought into Chelsea to make this happen. But the one problem that there is with trying to mimic the best is that you are always a step behind. You can only mimic what has already been done, and at this level of the game if it has been done before, then everyone expects it.

    Sports are cyclical in trending styles. Someone invents a new way to play, it wins them a trophy for some time and eventually someone else figures how to counter it, and that becomes the dominant style and so on. If you are not that team that is figuring the best way to counter, then you are never going to be relevant in the grand scheme of things.

    You must be innovative.

    Right now what Villas-Boas is doing is not innovative. It is banal and stagnant. It is an attempt to tweak an already proven system. It is essentially like taking someone else’s work and calling it your own. Villas-Boas is plagiarizing.

    Who knows how long this quick passing, tik-tak style of play will dominate the game, but it will not last forever and odds are by the time Chelsea has mastered it to a point of domination, it will be obsolete, meaning Chelsea will have to change again.

    I’m all for new styles of the game, but the new style needs to be truly new, not just different from the old.

Handling of the Media

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    I will be the first to admit that the way I was lured into Villas-Boas’ web of approval was through his smooth talk for the camera. He is a young handsome man, with the brightest of smiles and a side that just implores you to feel safe under him.

    But all of this has recently changed.

    Back in late November, at the beginning of this slide out of title contention, I wrote an article that poked at the idea of how his addressing of the media had changed. However, Villas-Boas hit a new low after the loss the Aston Villa over the weekend.

    Swerving talks about a possible exit from the club, Villas-Boas launched an unprovoked attack at the holiday schedule. "I don't think it's fair for the calendar to be spread in this way,'' Villas-Boas said, less than two weeks after insisting he had no problem with the scheduling.

    "For us to go through this period with 48 hours in between, it should be done for every club. I know that television demands are high, but for all the players, they'll go through physical strain and physical integrity, which can undermine their careers or their Euro 2012 ambitions—and the club's objectives.''

    Not only is he going back on his words, but he seems to taken on the form of an elderly rambling man, going off on tangents that don’t matter in defense of himself. It is also very low to criticize forces beyond your control for your own shortcomings.

    He continues with a defense of his team’s lack of defense:

    "I don't see that performance being only related to defensive problems. If there is something to correct, we need to regain that confidence in the way we build up from the back. It's an easy thing to solve with players of this technical ability. I will keep away from defensive fragilities.''

    Not only does this line keep me scratching my head trying to figure out what he is trying to say, but it does not really answer anything at all. It is not enough to say there is a language barrier (the man is fluent in English), so we can only assume that he is confused on how to answer.

    But the real issue that I have with how he handles the media is that he never seems to be at fault. You would be hard pressed to find some moment where he says he or his system is to blame for the lack of production. This is an extremely poor tactic—to deflect blame elsewhere.

    You are the manager and this is your team. Whether there is a tactical error in a substitution or a player slips and falls leading to a loss, you take the blame. A good coach knows this and a good coach makes sure the media does as well.

Confused by Adversity

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    Last season Villas-Boas coached Porto to a historic season, winning the league by a monumental amount and cruising to the Europa Cup. It was about the least stress any big-time coach could have ever had. Nothing went wrong and everything fell their way. The season before that he was in charge of Portuguese side Academia and moved them from the bottom to a safe spot in the middle of the table.

    Yep, he sure seemed to have everything figured out. But then again he was never really challenged.

    Villas-Boas got the job at Chelsea by having a history of success in his very short career. But one thing that I and many others questioned was how he would react under pressure and adversity. Well, it does not look like he is getting it too well.

    At this level you are not always going to have the very best form week in and week out. There will be dips, there will be injuries and there will be tension. You have to be able to take that adversity and manage it well to still get the best out of your players.

    So far Villas-Boas has seemed to struggle in how to be able to play through this current bad stretch the team is on. As evident in his press conferences (slide 4), handling of players (slide 1) and tactics (slide 2), there is this trend that shows he may not be the man for this particular job.

    We have all seen United go through some very poor starts in the past few seasons, but does Fergie ever bat a brow?

    It is important that Villas-Boas figures out a different strategy in how to approach adversity for himself and his players. Because the way he goes about dealing with it now is just prolonging the poor run of form.

His Attempt to Build a Team

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    I think few people really expected Chelsea to ever be the same team after Villas-Boas was signed, but the question still remains about the strategy he is taking in building a new team.

    In this age with the Financial Fair Play rules ready to come into effect very soon, gone are the days of revamping a squad with a few £100 million transfer windows. No longer can you buy up all of your talent. A majority of it must be grown in-house.

    For Villas-Boas’ system to trickle down to the academy could take three to four years before they actually have competent players that can actually be a part of Villas-Boas’ senior side. While at the same time, he is alienating the likes of youngsters that were once the hope for Chelsea by basically deciding the way they were raised was not correct.

    Just look at Josh McEachran. Once expected to be the apparent heir to Frank Lampard, he still is, but it will be where Frank is now—on the bench.

    The attempt to radicalize the club overnight is more detrimental to their development than anything. At this level you cannot wait around for the bright youngsters playing at the U-17 level to emerge. There just is not enough time. Do you not think Llorenç Serra Ferrer, Carles Rexach, Louis van Gaal and Radomir Antić did not know Messi, Xavi and Iniesta all had the talent to be great players? Of course they did, but they did not last because it took too long for them to get to the next level. Rijkaard was lucky enough to get to see them come to fruition.

    Beyond the academy, the idea of building a great team by buying up talent may be effective, but does it denote a great manager? I think not.

    Just look at some of the names that are being thrown around for whom Villas-Boas would like to buy: Hulk, Goetze, Pato. Why not throw Ronaldo in there as well. You think that Ancelotti would have struggled as he did, had he gotten these guys?

    A great team is not formed by writing checks. It is does by a manager knowing how to deploy his players in a way that utilizes what they bring the game, putting them in the best possible position to win.

Results

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    This may seem obvious, but if there is anything that shows Chelsea are heading down the wrong path, it is just the results.

    Already there are more than half the number of losses from all of last season. Already conceded only eight goals less than all of last season. Four of the five losses to teams below them in the table. Ties to another three. And most importantly, they are all but mathematically eliminated from the title.

    It is difficult to keep players and fans optimistic when facts like these are on all their minds.

Torres Is Still an Enigma

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    Before we all start irrationally declaring the return of El Nino, let’s put Monday’s game in perspective. Chelsea was playing a side that is currently 16th in the table and has one of the worst defensive records in the league. The fact that Torres had a good game should be the norm against a side like this, not one were we as fans are praising him for his performance.

    I by all means am not someone who is going to bash someone who is lacking in confidence for having a good outing, but I think Torres is still far from paying off his £50 million price tag. And honestly, this blame has to fall on the feet of Villas-Boas.

    Whether you think he is hindering the progress of Torres by not playing him enough or you are on the opposite side that thinks playing him means certain death for the squad, you both are really looking at and criticizing Villas-Boas’ decision.

    The problem really is that, for whatever reason when Torres plays, they just do not win. You would have to go back two months and over 10 games to find the last time the Spaniard played more than 15 minutes and the team came away with a victory. It is difficult to blame Villas-Boas for having such hesitations about playing him consistently.

    But at the same time he should have been aware when he accepted the job of the situation he was walking into. We can now safely assume that part of the reason Ancelotti was fired was because he did not handle the Torres situation well. Villas-Boas had to have known that how he addresses the way to use Torres would become the defining mark of his early career at Stamford Bridge.

    Just look at the articles and stories around the team. This is a squad that is hemorrhaging goals despite having a back line that has all world-class defenders. Yet the topic of conversations always reverts back to Torres and the dispute over whether or not he should play.

    Villas-Boas was brought in to end that debate and all he has done has added fuel to the fire.

A Split Fanbase

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    Sports are for the fans. Whatever a club does needs to take into consideration how their fanbase would feel about it. The only reason that teams are formed to win championships is because it is unanimous that wins are the one thing all fans have in common.

    As evident in an article I published a few days ago, the Chelsea fans are split over what they want out of their team. Some prefer Villas-Boas’ modern approach with wide wingers and a high line that joins the attack. Others want to keep things as they were, being the bullies of the Prem and winning off of defense.

    The only reason that this debate is taking place is because the team is not winning. No one would care how Chelsea played as long as they win trophies.

    But as long as they continue to slide, there will be a split in the amongst the supporters on which is the best method to approach the game. The worry for Villas-Boas is that the longer this debate goes on, the more that one side will start to persuade the other. Odds are that if his way is not working then the ‘old timers’ will force Villas-Boas out.

    If Villas-Boas can unite everyone under his banner of football, then he will not need to worry about his job security. But like I said winning is the only way to do this. Easier said than done.

An Uncertain Future

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    The fact that, only six months into Villas-Boas’ tenure in charge of Chelsea, there are already questions about his future with the club cannot be a good sign. It is difficult to manage a team when you are doing it while looking over your shoulder to see if Abramovich is ready to stab that knife in.

    As long as the results are spotty and the team looks uneasy, this will be a looming threat. Unfortunately for Villas-Boas there is no easy fix. All he can do is win and do it quickly.

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