It's been nearly five months since Roman Abramovich and Chelsea paid Porto £13.3 million to sign the then 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas to replace the departed Carlo Ancelotti. At the time, there were certainly a few who doubted the signing of a manager so young with so little top-level experience, but most Chelsea supporters, including me, saw it as a great signing, and a sign that Roman was ready to settle down and build for the long-term. I haven't changed my mind since then, I still believe AVB was the right choice, and will bring us plenty of trophies and great football, but I no longer see him as the managerial demi-god I thought he was. Though that sounds negative, I think it's a good thing.I'm not going to go into the recent rumours of a return for Guus Hiddink, or that AVB's relationship with Roman has begun to become "frosty" over his treatment of his players. Though he was the man who paid more than £80,000,000 for Fernando Torres and Andriy Shevchenko and received a less-than-stellar return on the pitch, Mr. Abramovich didn't make his billions by spending loads of money on projects and only months later abandoning them if they were less-than-perfect. Of course, any businessman will tell you that there is a point where it does, in fact, make sense to cut one's losses, but we are nowhere near that point.
Sure, City appear to be running away with the Premier League, and we're in 4th place, but if any club should be aware of the perils of an 'Uncatchable' lead, it should be the team who gave up a 12 point lead last year. As for our current league standing, fourth is about right for the moment. City and United deserve their places ahead of us, but Newcastle should fade in the coming weeks, as there is always one team who starts well, only to fade later. Tottenham, one place below, in fifth, are equal with us on points, despite having played a game fewer, as are Arsenal, who have played a game more. If we win today against Liverpool, we will go third, back above Newcastle on goal difference. If Tottenham can hammer Aston Villa, they could go third, but it would require quite a hammering. If we lose, though, we could be anywhere from 4th to 7th, depending on the margin of victory, and a draw will keep us 4th, at least until the Spurs-Villa match.
All that said, is it time to hit the panic button on AVB's tenure at Chelsea? Of course not. We have actually played decently, and have been somewhat unlucky this year. We really should have won at Stoke, and but for games against United and Arsenal which could have gone either way on another day, and a poor refereeing performance against Q. P. R., we would be right there with City, who have had a good run of luck. No, now is not the time to panic. Reason says that our form will improve, and the results will come with it. The players, after all, are adapting to their new system, and who knows what we'll do in the January transfer window.
Why then, you might ask, would I say AVB's honeymoon period is over? Simply, I don't believe in him to the same extent I once did. I have to admit, it's probably my fault. I don't think he's any less competent than he was when he began his Chelsea career, it's that he's not the Portuguese Jesus we thought he was. He is simply a man. A highly-competent man, but a man nonetheless. I have always been a fan of comparing the reign of a football manager to a relationship. It is demonstrated well with AVB. At first, the other person seems as if they could do no wrong, but eventually, you hit your first rough patch, and the veil of perfection comes down, and you see them as they truly are.
It isn't the form of the team which has brought the honeymoon period to its end for me, it's been the actions of AVB himself. In the GameThreads, we've all openly questioned some of his substitution choices, such as Kalou against Valencia, and some of the things he's said in the media have been poorly-chosen or come across as naive. For instance, his rant against the refereeing Chelsea have received, while perfectly justified, wouldn't be a recommended course of action. We can all give him a pass on saying what he said, since managers occasionally must take one for the team.
Appealing, rather than accepting the charge of improper conduct against him for criticising Chris Foy, is, frankly, amateurish. As I said, his actions were completely justified, given Foy's performance, but the suits at The FA don't operate with logic. In fact, they stick slavishly to their rules. He must surely know this is an unwinnable fight, having spent three years with the club while Jose Mourinho was running his course on how to piss off the suits at The FA.
Having said that, it's not just the stupidity of launching an appeal he will never win which has made me come back to Earth with Villas-Boas, it's the way he handled the media on occasion. Don't get me wrong, dealing with the British media is no easy job, and I sure as hell wouldn't want to do it, but AVB has left me wanting at times with his comments.
First off, his stance on the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand debacle has been poor. I love that he is willing to defend our players against their harshest critics, but his support has been a bit overzealous. It's to the point that his comments have painted him into a bad position should JT be convicted of or even charged with racially-abusing Anton. As I said, he should be commended for making it clear that he felt the accusations were based on speculation, but he's made promises of support which will be untenable if the investigation goes against Terry.
It seems as though every press conference results in another instance of AVB saying something which makes him seem oblivious to common sense. Just today, he expressed his disappointment with Brendan Rodgers having said he would willingly take Josh McEachran on loan. I'm sorry, Andre, but you know, we know, and Josh knows he needs to go out on loan if you're not going to play him regularly this season, which you haven't done. I just don't get why he felt the need to express his displeasure at Rodgers, rather than saying he hadn't made any decision yet, which he did, in fact, go on to say.
Lastly, I come to an example I was loathe to bring up, but I feel it illustrates my point well. Would you pay £50 million for Fernando Torres today? Again, I appreciate the show of support for a player who has been struggling, but nobody would pay that much for him, not even Fernando himself. I'm not sure he was ever really worth that kind of money. As I've said a number of times, some of AVB's answers come across as stupid or naive, and this is probably the biggest example. Of course, overtly saying, "No, I wouldn't spend £50 million on him" would be worse, but he gave a great answer listing the reasons Fernando hasn't exactly been a flop at Chelsea which was overshadowed by his first response.
Maybe I've come across as harsh here, but I don't mean to be. In fact, I'm glad we have AVB as our manager, and I'm very optimistic he'll deliver in the years to come. The thing that worries me is his handling of the media. I suppose I should be thankful for a manager who speaks his mind and gives the soundbite, rather than giving the boring answer, and I am, but too often, his comments have bordered on making him look like an idiot or at least cripplingly naive. More worryingly, he has, on occasion, acted like his old boss Jose Mourinho.
Again, maybe it's me, but I don't want another prickish, young Portuguese manager at Chelsea. I fell out of love with Jose a long time ago when I realised he was actually kind of a dick. I thought AVB was a completely different man, but with the benefit of five months, I've seen that it's impossible to spend so much time around Mourinho and not take on some of his personality.
Andre, you're really not the man I thought you were. I still like who you are, but the traits you share with your mentor are a slight concern. That is why the honeymoon period is over. You're not a demi-god, I see that now. In fact, it was probably unfair for me to think you were, though you're still a fabulous manager, in whom I fully believe. Now is the time for you to start proving it; I can't take it solely on faith any longer. I need a bit of time to learn to accept your faults. Now is the time for our relationship to get serious.