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Addressing Some Andre Villas Boas Concerns


With Chelsea's impending acquisition of FC Porto manager Andre Villas Boas, there's been a scramble to formulate some sort of opinion on the enigmatic 33-year-old. For the most part, the facts people are aware of are something like this:

  • As old as Frank Lampard.
  • Did quite well with Porto.
  • Has a cool name.
  • Keeps getting compared to Jose Mourinho.
  • Never played in the Champions League.
  • Roman Abramovich is evil.

Ok, that last one isn't really an Andre Villas Boas tidbit per se, but it's a common staple of 'beliefs about Chelsea' so I'm throwing it in there. From said facts, it's quite easy to construct a number of arguments that imply that this appointment won't be a good idea. I'd like to take some time to explore said arguments. For those of you who are about to accuse me of building and attacking a series of strawmen, I'd like to ask you why on earth you think that smallpox should be released back into the ecosystem you crazy crazy clearly wrong people.

He's Too Young

Andre Villas Boas is 33 years old, barely older than many important members of Chelsea's core. I didn't really consider how young this made him until it dawned on me that our new manager was born within a decade of me, and I'm a hop, skip and a jump removed from university. So yes, Andre Villas Boas is very young. Too young? That's a different question. Certainly, he won't have the same sort of age difference between himself and his squad as he did with his very young Porto side, and that will make things more difficult.

However, that doesn't mean he's doomed to lose the clubhouse to the likes of John Terry and Didier Drogba. He may be judged on his youth initially, yes, but he's reportedly a very strong leader, and if the team is winning and winning well there'll be no trouble at all. It's important to note that the players around Villas Boas' age are probably the least important parts of the squad going into the future, so if there's any trouble it's likely that they'll be shipped out over the new manager, at which point Villas Boas' formidable talent of nurturing younger players will come to the fore.

And that's not even counting the influence of Guus Hiddink, who is expected to be on hand to guide the Portuguese through any pitfalls he may encounter - and Hiddink is certainly able to command the respect of the senior members of the first team. All in all, I'm inclined to say that this is a non-starter.

Jose Mourinho And Roman Abramovich Clashed, Ergo...?

No matter how much he tries to get away from it, it's unlikely that Andre Villas Boas will ever properly escape his mentor's shadow. Like Mourinho, he's a young, charismatic Portuguese coach with an eye for tactics and a massively scientific approach, and he's also following along Jose's career path by demolishing all who opposed him with Porto before moving to Chelsea. So, yeah, he's a lot like Mourinho, and Chelsea will be hoping he can replicate The Special One's success at Stamford Bridge. Which isn't a bad thing.

There's a leap of logic one can take at this point, but it's slightly tortuous. Mourinho, as we all know, is a spectacularly demanding man, and someone with an ego roughly the size of Eta Carinae. This didn't work well with Roman Abramovich, who refused to give the manager the control he wanted at Chelsea, and everything ended up in tears, with the Mourinho-Chelsea dynasty disintegrating less than four seasons in. All fairly common knowledge that. So let's make the jump!

Since Mourinho was too egotistical to work with Abramovich, and Villas Boas is quite a lot like Mourinho, Villas Boas and Roman Abramovich won't work well together. This is a leap of logic too far, I'm afraid, because it implies that both Abramovich and Villas Boas are stupid. Abramovich is investing a lot of money and it makes no sense to hire someone with a massively conflicting personality, while Villas Boas is undoubtedly aware of what happened to his teacher and former friend at Chelsea. One would imagine that this sort of thing was discussed in their personal talks.

So yeah, that's probably fine too.

No Champions League Experience

Chelsea want to win the Champions League. They want to win it quite badly, in fact. It's the only major competition the Blues haven't gotten their hands on, and their failure to grasp it when the trophy was there for the taking is a blot on the club's record (ish. There's no shame in not being able to win the European Cup!). There's a school of thought that the best way of winning the Champions League is by having a manager with experience in the league, and by that criteria Villas Boas isn't a fit.

I'm going to say something crazy and controversial here. In my opinion, the best way to win the Champions League is by putting together a good team and knowing how to use them against different opponents. A lack of experience in the Europa League didn't stop Villas Boas winning it with Porto this season, and Pep Guardiola did just fine in his first year with Barcelona*. So why focus on a relatively trivial piece of the puzzle when Villas Boas offers you the rest of it? Our most successful Champions League run came at the hands of a manager who had no managerial experience, if everyone will recall. In other words, I think it's cool. Plus, hey, Hiddink.

*Yes, I know. Semi-final. Still angry.

Doing Well With Porto Doesn't Mean He'll Do Well In England

Nobody is denying that the Primeira Liga is a step down from the Premier League. Villas Boas will face tougher opponents and far more media scrutiny, and maybe some of that shine will fade. That does not, however, equate to him being unable to compete in one of the top two leagues in the world.

There isn't much of a way to create an argument that says Villas Boas' record with Porto is meaningless without assuming an ignorance of Porto entirely (and I'm sorry for anyone who did miss out on Porto last year, as they've been great fun). Villas Boas faced inferior competition in Portugal, and he destroyed them. He faced some quite good teams in Europe, and destroyed them too. Villarreal were dispatched 5-1 in the first leg of the Europa League semifinals, and that's a tough thing to do for anyone. And I think most would agree that Porto's main rivals for the title in Benfica and Braga would have done fairly well in the Premier League too - after all, the former did supply almost 20% of Chelsea's first-choice starting eleven.

The only rational response to the league move is to assume that Villas Boas' talents will translate but be less effective than they were in the Primeira Liga. Anything else is just being silly about just how good the Premier League is. He'll be fine.

He'll Last Two Years And Then Get Fired, So Who Cares?

Ah, the cliche. It's a good joke, especially in light of what happened to Carlo Ancelotti, and with Chelsea's reputation for firings left and right you can hardly blame anyone for just going for broke on this angle of attack. Unfortunately, it's one of those attractive cliches that doesn't bear up to much scrutiny under any sort of logic.

Villas Boas represents the next generation of this Chelsea team, a changing of the guard more than just another man on the merry-go-round. The last few years of managers have essentially been an attempt to squeeze more trophies out of the team that Jose Mourinho built, and the idea has been very different. Win, and win now. Avram Grant was only ever temporary, Phil Scolari was an unmitigated disaster, and Carlo Ancelotti simply was not suited to turn the team over to the youth movement.

We're coming into the time where Chelsea must rebuild, and it's best if we have a manager who can remould the side in his image. If the board are following anything like the same thought processes that I am, they're buying into a project where Villas Boas gets to build his Chelsea side, and they're all aware that that takes time. That's not to say he's bulletproof, of course, but the idea that he'll be canned for failing to win the league seems to be a knee-jerk reaction rather than a well-thought out one. Simply put, I think he'll be given plenty of opportunities to establish himself, and I'd expect him to last a long time with the club.

I that wasn't too strawmanny, I think. Anyway, I expect that everyone recognises that Villas Boas brings a lot to the table, and those voicing concerns over various aspects of our expected new manager are perfectly correct in doing so. But at the end of the day, the plusses are huge, and the negatives (for me) are essentially trivial. Andre Villas Boas is the man - and I'm really looking forward to him partnering up with Hiddink.

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