Mourinho vs. Villas-Boas: Master Meets Apprentice, but Have the Roles Switched?
Andre Villas-Boas' arrival at Stamford Bridge understandably garnered its fair share of attention in July 2011, but it was a far cry from the fanfare we would witness this summer when Jose Mourinho returned as Chelsea boss.
A little over three months ago it seemed the world's media had decamped in West London with a place at Mourinho's homecoming press conference one of the hottest tickets in town.
While Mourinho spoke of being the "Happy One" and enticed hoards of doe-eyed journalists, there was a more subtle tone to Villas-Boas' unveiling.
Villas-Boas' appointment as manager was more than a personal endeavor for the young pretender—his time at Chelsea was about a project, a point he would often return to in times of need when the pressure grew and one he reiterated just weeks before his dismissal as manager.
"We have a three-year project to change the culture and structure [at Chelsea]," Villas-Boas was quoted as saying on Goal.com in February 2012. "There is a lot we plan to do."
Come the end of 2013-14, that very project Villas-Boas described should be reaching its climax. Rather than sitting in the manager's seat at Chelsea enjoying the fruits of his labor, though, the 35-year-old is in North London, busy on an altogether different scheme at Tottenham Hotspur after things turned sour with the Blues.
It's interesting to observe, however, that the very man who hopes to see Villas-Boas' Chelsea project over the finish line is none other than his former mentor Mourinho—the man who took him under his wing in his youth, including him in his backroom staff at Stamford Bridge, Porto and Inter Milan.
From creating a brutal juggernaut of team in his first reign in SW6, Mourinho's rhetoric of late has echoed the very legacy Villas-Boas endeavored to leave.
"The situation is pure: I don't like the way Chelsea were playing in the last couple of years," Mourinho said in a recent press conference (reported by the Guardian]. "The club doesn't like it. We want to play a different style and we have the players with the profile for that change. This project is beautiful."
On the eve of Chelsea's clash with Spurs this weekend, it's a philosophy that acts to blur the lines of who is actually now the master and apprentice where Mourinho and Villas-Boas are concerned.
Is it the former or the latter? It was once so clear, but until the final whistle blows on Saturday and a winner is decided, we cannot be totally sure.
Without doubt, their past lives together set the boundaries. Villas-Boas was the young upstart while Mourinho grabbed all the headlines, his services demanded by Europe's leading clubs.
Yet now we find ourselves in a position where Mourinho's previous Chelsea blueprint is no longer valid. Times change, sure, but if Mourinho's to succeed at Chelsea once again, it will be on the back of his apprentice's method.
Indeed, it was Villas-Boas who demonstrated the courage many of his predecessors lacked, revolutionizing Chelsea's style in the few months he was manager.
Whereas subsequent managers in the wake of Mourinho's Stamford Bridge departure opted to maintain his structure—formation, personnel and tactics in some cases—it was Villas-Boas who had the desire to modify it.
With Roberto Di Matteo and Rafa Benitez mere custodians between Villas-Boas being fired and Mourinho appointed, his ideas and approach may have regressed somewhat, but now we're beginning to see the same values and ethics resurface.
Does Jose Mourinho remain Andre Villas-Boas' master?
The talk now isn't of grinding out results at whatever the cost, it's about winning in style, utilizing playmakers like Oscar and Eden Hazard to get the crowd on their feet and applaud.
It was headed that way in 2011, and like those who followed his own success at Chelsea, Mourinho appears to be doing the same with Villas-Boas, attempting to bring back those glory days with a style not totally of his own making.
Has the apprentice shown his master the way in the modern world? Or has the master simply adapted, changed his stripes, as it were, to maintain his aura? At White Hart Lane on Saturday, we shall find out.
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