Andre Villas-Boas Arrives at Spurs a Wiser Manager for His Chelsea Nightmare
Four months have passed since Villas-Boas was ushered out, all too inevitably, at Stamford Bridge—left to watch on as his assistant, Roberto Di Matteo, played alchemist in the Blues' runs to FA Cup success and improbable Champions League triumph.
Villas-Boas' dismissal cost Chelsea an estimated £12 million in compensation and the Portuguese coach a scar on his otherwise unblemished reputation. It was a depressing end to a bold new dawn that saw Villas-Boas arrive at Chelsea in June 2011 billed as the natural heir to Jose Mourinho.
But ultimately, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich felt compelled to act. Villas-Boas was not just failing to deliver results, but according to sources close to the camp he was also failing to rule over the dissenters inside his own dressing room.
Ironically, some of the names mentioned—the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and John Terry—were among those who delivered Mourinho the success Villas-Boas was employed to emulate. Four managers had come and gone since Mourinho, and the "Cobham mafia" grown more powerful with each revolution.
Villas-Boas will have felt their influence straight away, but he wasn't prepared to compromise. He stuck to his tactics and refused to play favorites. But when the results went south, he was left with a mutiny on his hands and a notoriously impatient owner looming large over his shoulder.
Somebody had to go. Villas-Boas was the last in the door, and he'd be first out. Wrote David Hytner for The Guardian in February:
The movers and shakers around Stamford Bridge will say that it is not only the stalwarts of the squad who have lost faith in the 34-year-old manager. Away from the Spanish and Portuguese players, there are heavily set grievances. Listening to those who know, it is remarkable that Villas‑Boas remains in situ.
He wouldn't for much longer. On Sunday, March 4, the day after a 1-0 defeat to West Brom and with Chelsea still reeling from a 3-1 loss to Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal, Villas-Boas was sacked.
"Unfortunately the results and performances of the team have not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season," read an official statement at Chelsea's website (BBC).
On the surface, it looked like the ruthless, trigger-happy Abramovich had rushed to judgement and killed off another manager. But Neil Ashton, writing for The Daily Mail, was not the only insider to say he'd done so reluctantly. Along with several others, he claimed Abramovich blamed the Chelsea players for Villas-Boas' failure.
Whether that's true or not, we may never know. But I think we know enough to be sure Villas-Boas fell out with a number of his senior players at Chelsea and that he failed to assume total control in his nine months with the club.
It's a tough lesson Spurs chairman Daniel Levy must be confident Villas-Boas has learned in the four months since his departure, because he's trusted the 34-year-old with his most prize position at a crucial time in their evolution.
With Harry Redknapp gone, Tottenham find themselves at a fork in the road—Champions League football one way, mid-table mediocrity or worse the other. The decisions they make this summer could determine their fortunes for the next five years, and Levy has made a huge one in appointing Villas-Boas. Judging by his comments, he's supremely confident it's the right one.
Said Levy, as per Tottenham's official website:
I am delighted that Andre has agreed to become our new head coach. He has an outstanding reputation for his technical knowledge of the game and for creating well-organized teams capable of playing football in an attractive and attacking style.
Andre shares our long-term ambitions and ethos of developing players and nurturing young talent, and he will be able to do so now at a new world class Training Centre.
In truth, Villas-Boas' coaching credentials have never really been in question. There were things that didn't work at Chelsea, but to be fair, he had never had time to impart his own identity on the team and send them out in his image. Afforded patience and the support of his players, he may well have succeeded.
You could argue he'll be a better coach for facing adversity. After all, winning three major trophies in a season at Porto might be great for your employment opportunities, but most managers will argue you do your real learning in the trenches of defeat and under a slew of critics' arrows.
Villas-Boas has been there, and he emerges on the other side with a fresh challenge and new squad of players at his disposal. Judging by the work ethic he showed at Chelsea, he'll already be deep into the planning process and applying himself in the most fulsome way possible.
How he starts relations with the players will be vital. Like a schoolteacher taking on a new class, Villas-Boas must stamp his authority straight away at Spurs to set the tone for his reign ahead.
In his favor will be Spurs' relatively young squad and scant evidence of the rampant player power we saw exercised during his time at Chelsea. Redknapp wouldn't have stood for it, and Spurs fans will be hoping AVB 2.0 won't either.
When it comes to omens, Gareth Bale's new deal won't hurt his quest for Premier League redemption, and neither would the rumored signing of Portugal's Joao Moutinho—who worked with Villas-Boas at Porto and recently said he'd "work with him again tomorrow" (Guardian).
If Villas-Boas has learned his lessons, his losses at Chelsea could yet prove Spurs' gain.
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