Chelsea: Sacking Andre Villas-Boas Was Foolish and Unjust

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Chelsea: Sacking Andre Villas-Boas Was Foolish and Unjust
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

John Terry is saddened by Andre-Villas Boas' sack. He thinks Chelsea players are to blame for it.

Sad for Andre, because unfortunately it falls on his head, when I think the players would hold their hands up and say, "Clearly, we've not been good enough and we all made mistakes together."

This, perhaps, is the beginning of the recriminations, and Terry's words to Chelsea TV sound like someone realizing something too late.

Or they could veil the real emotions in the Chelsea dressing room: Joy at having their way, at having another manager dismissed.

As Jonathan Wilson notes, "even before Villas-Boas they had got rid of at least one manager and possibly as many as three."

Or he might just be saying what their oligarch would like to hear. It is reported that after he sacked the manager, he stormed in angrily on the players, chastising them for causing the sack of the manager.

Talk about being helpless and at the mercy of the players.

"Mutiny at Chelsea after Brum draw" was The Sun's sensationalist headline just three week ago, and although these thoughts were later played down, no one, though, was on hand to deny the following report by The Guardian.

André Villas-Boas sparked a blazing row with some of his senior Chelsea players on Sunday after calling the squad in on their day off to vent his anger over the 2-0 defeat at Everton. The manager tore into his players, who had pockmarked their display with sloppy errors, but he found that some of them gave back as good as they got. In the blow-up, they told him exactly what they thought of him and his tactics, to lay bare the tensions at the club.

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Frank Lampard, a player that may have contributed to Andre Villas-Boas' sack.

Jonathan Wilson, in the article cited above, sums up the situation insightfully when he notes that:

11 on this squad played under Jose Mourinho...a problem not merely in terms of the age profile of the side, but also because the older players get the more conservative they become, the more they like things to be as they were, the more resistant they are to change. And this is a particularly assertive group of players...Their influence can be seen in the way successive Chelsea managers tried to change the style of play but always ended up reverting to the old-style 4-3-3.

 

After the above news, cited in The Guardian article above broke, Villa-Boas admitted at a press conference that he had lost the support of a number of senior players, but that he wasn't worried about it, as he had the backing of Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea owner.

My authority is total because it's the owner's authority. I have told you that we set out this team to try to win four trophies, believing in this team. Next year it's another one because there are different ongoing situations regarding contracts which will have to be addressed so that means different changes. Two players have already departed and further will depart in the future and won't make part of the project, which more or less they expect but this is the reality of any football team. We prepare to be more competent in the present and we have to prepare the future as well.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
He sacks managers at will.

That was the brave and sensible thing to say by a man charged with the mission of transforming Chelsea by moving the older players along, introducing new ones while bringing a new attractive, attacking football to Chelsea.

What Villa-Boas didn't know, though, was that his flaky employer with money to burn did not have part of the equation right, the teething problems that follow transitions as a matter of course.

He wanted a transition without problems.

Or— to put it in the apparently delusional reckoning of the billionaire for whom managers are like napkins he can discard with at will—he thought a manager who had achieved remarkable things in just one season at Porto was a miracle worker, who would just come to Chelsea and wave his hands, and pronto, the team would begin to play a different style of football—a more attractive style.

Else, he thought the manager is like a software programmer who inputs strings of instructions and, again, pronto, players start playing attractive football and winning trophies, even the coveted Champions League trophy.

For someone who lives in the clouds as a result of being filthy rich, success is like snapping one's fingers.

The Champions League trophy is as easy as employing a new manager at the steep price of £13 million—chicken feed—after sacking another at just half the price.

Someone has observed somewhere that the money Abramovich has spend on Chelsea in the past year is less than what he has lavished on his boats.

He is that rich. Money is not a problem. He can employ whomever he likes and sack whomever he wishes.

What Abramovich seems unawares of though, is that money cannot always buy you everything. It may buy you a league title, because it encompasses a whole year of fixtures. It can't, however, buy you a Champions League trophy or instant attractive football.

You can employ and sack all the managers you want. Attractive football and Champions League trophies are more a product of a legacy than the tweedling of a billionaire's fingers.

Jonathan Wilson recounts a story—in the article cited at the beginning—probably apocryphal, in which "Abramovich invited Txiki Beguiristan, who had overseen Barca's youth setup, for a chat.

'What would you need to do the same here?' the oligarch supposedly asked.

'Ten years,' the reply supposedly came."

And there you have it. The mission Abramovich charged Villas-Boas with required time to be accomplished. 

 

As the Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck explained when Villas-Boas was hired, the mission required  "Andre-Villas Boas (sic) [to] deliver the Champions League trophy that Roman Abramovich craves in the next four years."

David Ramos/Getty Images
Abramovich wants Chelsea to be like Barcelona.

The enthusiastic Buck continued:

In three or four years' time, we expect to have a 36-year-old manager who's been with us for four years, we expect to have won a couple of trophies - preferably a big one in Europe - and of course we hope and expect to have a contented fan base, a contented board and a contented Mr Abramovich.

Four years, at least, is the time Buck stipulated, but alas, a run of bad results, after a promising start to the reason, dealt patience a mortal blow.

 

With that wisdom that accompanies hindsight. Harry Pearson, writing for The Guardian, observes:

It was always destined to end badly, though, if only because working for Roman Abramovich is the most difficult job in football. The Chelsea owner is like one of those fairytale princesses who attract suitors from far and wide – the Netherlands, Israel, Italy, Portugal – but rejects them all without so much as a shrug. And since he remains resolutely silent, nobody really knows why. There are theories, of course. The failure of the princes in the chivalric task of pursuing the Champions' League title is one; while rumour has it that José Mourinho was banished from the kingdom because his team were boring.

Or as Marina Hyde puts it, Andre Villas-Boas did not reckon that  he was taking a job from 

 a preposterous little Caesar who [behaves] in such a way that the Swansea City manager, Brendan Rodgers, has ruled himself out of running one of the most high-profile clubs in the world because he's not looking to "destroy" his career.

Ceasar, we know, can do whatever he likes...or does he?

Jonathan Wilson begins his article—cited in the beginning—by noting the old maxim that Rome wasn't built in a day. It appears, though, that the man whose first name is Roman has never heard of that maxim.

Or if he has, the evidence may point to the fact that he doesn't understand how football works.

He doesn't understand that you can't have the players pulling the strings and getting whichever manager they don't like sacked.

He doesn't understand that possession football takes time to develop, that Barcelona's project took 30 years to arrive at where it is. 

But who wants to wait 30 years when you can win the Champions League today? Who wants to wait three years when your money can buy you whatever you want today?

Except that it can't. It's what the Villas-Boas escapade illustrates, and it is the foolish part of the entire situation.

 

Abramovich wants Chelsea to be anything he wants.

Let's examine the injustice part.

I know that, in the Abramovich era, we have the worst results but I think I have felt the confidence from the owner. Let's see if he wants a change in the club or not. The pattern of behaviour of the owner has led to a downfall [of managers] in similar situations, or even 'better' situations. What will be his reaction? It will be one of two: either a continuation of the project and full support from above; or a continuation of the cultural pattern that has happened before. We don't know. We don't know if it'll be tomorrow or in two years from now. It'll depend on what is the understanding of what is happening at the moment.

These are the words of Andre Villas-Boas just days before he was sacked. The plea "to back me" to Abramovich is palpable in those words.

And backing is what Villa-Boas needed after being given the task of transforming the club by moving older players along.

Did Abramovich think that the players would simply fold their hands while they were being marginalized? If you want such a transformation, then you must back the person to which you entrust the task.

Abramovich's failure to give Villas-Boas that support is the first injustice of the situation.

Before the sack Steve Wilson of BBC Sport observed:

The former Porto boss seems to be in a battle for control with some elements at the club who are, at best, ambivalent towards him. If Abramovich were to make it clear that there can only be one winner in that battle, then those dissenters would either have to like it or lump it.

 

When Villas-Boas cried in reference of Chelsea players that "They don't have to back my project, only the owner needs to back my project," there couldn't have been a clearer SOS than that.

"You gave me this job and told me to do what I have attempted to do, now back me."

No one who says that the owner had the prerogative to do as he chose understands the ethical implication of the situation. It is like abandoning an army in the battlefield. Surely everyone will see the injustice of that.

Villas-Boas adds further commentary on the pathetic situation.

I didn't want to be allowed transitional period. At this level you shouldn't be allowed a transitional year. But the project for next year is good and we will be able to compete at a different level.

Next year we will be fighting for title, for sure. I have no doubts in my mind that I will be here next season.

The only problem here is that there's now no "next year," which is a shame.

Another writer observes, days before the sack:

Roman Abramovich is not known for his common sense in managerial matters but if he has any at all he will stick with Andre Villas-Boas.

The trigger-happy Chelsea owner is thought to be scouting around for a replacement, unhappy at the team’s rapid fall from grace.

But what did he expect? Giving a young manager a brief to break-up an ageing side and rebuild in a more attractive image was never going to be quick or painless.

This, of course, only intensifies further the foolishness of the situation and the injustice of it.

 

The following graphic seems to justify Abramovich's decision to sack Villas-Boas. It shows that among all the Chelsea managers of the Abramovich era, Villas-Boas is the least successful.

 

 

However, the fact that Villas-Boas was asked to bring instant transformation to Chelsea, while attempting to continue winning trophies, adds perspective to the situation.

Transitional coaches like Guus Hiddink didn't need to do anything radical, just as Roberto Matteo does not need to do anything radical to succeed—just go back to the tried-and-tested, and you are safe.

Comparison with Jose Mourinho is even more unfair. We shan't talk of Carlo Ancelotti, whose sacked was equally as unjust and unjustified as Andre Villas-Boas'.

Mourinho, for example, was given everything he needed to succeed at Chelsea. The reader would recall that Chelsea in the Mourinho years became the haven of every star of note. (Only Real Madrid was as attractive.)

It was where every player wanted to go. It was where the money was.

The Telegraph provides the following data of Mourinho's spending. He practically bought a whole team.

To put this in perspective, BBC Sport compares this spending with Wenger's at Arsenal.

[Wenger's] net average annual outlay [was] in the region of £4.5m and the estimated £160m he [had] spent [in ten years was] less than Jose Mourinho [had] splurged in his two-year spending spree across London at Chelsea.

This, of course, shows that Mourinho had the tools to succeed while Villas-Boas did not.

When you give someone a specific job to do but give him neither the tools nor backing he needs to succeed, you ineluctably set him up to fail.

If that's not injustice, I don't know what it is.

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