At least that's what the media would have you believe. Months of speculation, poor performances, and incendiary quips have led us to this 'inevitable' conclusion- that AVB has lost the plot, the players, and the respect of his self-appointed staff. So that's that, then? If you're so willing to accept the world wide web at face value, then perhaps. But if you've got an inkling that there's more to this story than meets the eye, join us. More, after the jump:
Calling his final shots?
To begin, we need to bed the speculation that's been running roughshod across social media outlets for the past fortnight. Despite the cravings of some of our more ardent, albeit nostalgic supporters, Guus Hiddink ain't walking through that door. Jose Mourinho ain't walking through that door. Hell, Larry Bird ain't walking through that door 1. So like it or not, Andre's going to stick around for a while (at least until the end of this campaign). Some of you are outwardly worried about our long-term prospects, i.e. where we'll end up in the table, and as a by-product, what our prospects for Champions League qualification are. I can promise you that nobody in the galaxy is more informed or acutely aware of the very necessity for this to happen than Andre. With the looming axe that is Financial Fair Play growing closer by the hour, it's increasingly critical that Chelsea find alternative methods of raising capital and stuffing the coffers with as much cash as possible. Revenue-sharing from television contracts, qualification payouts from major tournaments, gate receipts, merchandising, and of course player transactions are the typical buckets used to supplement cash flows. Every dollar makes a difference, and when you consider that Chelsea still have an outstanding balance owed to Herr Roman Abramovich for that interest-free loan (cash injection) that he's made over his ownership lifetime, it makes sense that the club would fight tooth-and-nail to grab every dollar hanging in the balance 2.
Let me be clear. I actually like Andre. For all his visible flaws, he seemingly has the right components to be an effective manager, and perhaps a tactical paladin. Though he might have a tempestuous side that tends to manifest in post-match press conferences, and a tendency to ostracize the limited support he currently receives, there have been moments (albeit a few) where we've all joined in the chorus singing his praises. But I need to be honest with you lot, because there's no other way to do this if I'm not. And rest assured, I'm getting to the headline of the article, but you'll have to bear with my slight diversion of sorts. See, we paid somewhere in the region of 28 million pounds to swap Carlo for Andre. That's roughly the cost of one David Luiz or if you prefer, 56% of a Fernando Torres. Astounding, really that an unproven manager with one solid season in Portugal would come with such a steep price tag. But you'll recall that last summer, when the moves to bring Andre to The Bridge began emanating, all of us were revitalized and excited at the very real prospect of having a young, Mourinho-mentored manager that would bring about Roman's much-coveted brand of attacking football to West London. I was a part of said cheerleading squad, encouraging all with a pulse that, if given time, Andre would leave his mark. Little did I know that such an impression would be pock-marked and sullied at such an early stage in his tenure.
A huge part of me wanted to justify his selection as flavor-of-the-month based on his price tag. It's simple economics blended with expectations, really. You pay X for a widget, and if that value is significantly higher than the median, you anticipate that the widget will outperform the mean. But Andre hasn't been stellar, to say the least. He's been average at best, in a season that's rife with parity for the first time in decades. There are more quality teams vying for top spots than there has ever been in the modern era. The Manchester Squads, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool, and yours truly are always in contention for one of the top slots, but never before has a title race been so gilt-edged as it has been this year. Simply doing enough to get by won't guarantee a berth for next season's European competitions (just ask Liverpool supporters how this feels). Moreover, only qualifying for EU tournaments is not sufficient enough in this day and age- particularly with an owner like Roman who outwardly covets the golden ticket to paragon. One need look no further than United and City, who are vying for the Barclays PL title while being relegated to Thursday-night Europa League battles across the continent. It's been a hell of a year for the casual observer, and one that's caused a number of us fervent Chelsea backers migraines. If ever there was a year to grab the bull by the horns and make a strong impression, this was it. But that opportunity seems to have passed and now we're left with the ruins of what could have been 3.
To track the trajectory of Villas Boas since taking charge of the club would be as simple as tracing a line around Jeremy Lin's protractor 4. We tempered our expectations to start, waded through the choppiness of the opening fixtures, ascended to a relative rhythm, only to watch it crumble during the QPR fiasco. Andre, by his own admission, agrees that our season was derailed in full by the debacle at Loftus Road. Any Chelsea fan with a sense of reality would rightfully agree that the QPR dust-up was the tipping point- but the seeds of discontent were planted long before that catalyst kicked in. In many respects Andre's gradual decline from Supreme Leader to Puppet-Master began with his bizarre exiling of Nicolas Anelka and Alex to the reserves. At the time, many of us were perplexed by a decision to render two hugely valuable members of the first-team inept (in Nico we lost a potent attacking threat and valuable squad player in the final third, in Alex, we lost the thunderbolt free kick) 5. Their inevitable departures were masked by the spate of youthful signings since Andre too the helm (Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata, Thibaut Courtois, Oriol Romeu, Kevin De Bruyne, and even a moderately young Gary Cahill) suggesting a shift in our intentions was not only palpable, but probable. We rallied to defend this policy, at last embracing the notion that a manager would place a greater emphasis on youth instead of resting on the laurels of big-money impulse purchases and fading stars past their prime. But appearances can be deceiving and no example is greater than AVB's continued use of Mr. Jose Bosingwa as a make-shift left-back instead of Ryan Bertrand (a natural option and the heir apparent to Ashley's throne) 6. Elsewhere, there's that dreaded high-defensive-line, a tactical ploy which has been interpreted, analyzed, and lambasted by many as less of a strategy and more of a farce. After defending its integrity for weeks on end, it was abandoned in favor of a more traditional approach- which yielded immediate results 7. Score one for the press, zero for Andre.
There's plenty of other miscues to review. There's the Frank Lampard issue- including his inclusion and removal from the team sheet. There's the repeated use of Daniel Sturridge on the flanks instead of through the center. There's the isolating of Kalou, the failure to integrate new-signing Gary Cahill, the insistence on plugging Raul Meireles into the squad weekly, the rotating formation schema which oscillates between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1, the failure of our striking contingent to find the back of the net, our defensive frailties highlighted by our sieving goal tally, our depressing home form which has seen us lose more games in Andre's first season in charge than Mourinho did in his entire career, and of course, Terry-Gate (which isn't Andre's fault, just something he has to deal with). Look, it's a yeoman's task running the show 'round these parts. It takes a manger with mettle, tenacity, and a massive identity to fill the hallowed double-breasted peacoat. Andre's certainly not short on ego, however. Which, at long last, brings us to the meat of the discussion- his recent quotes that confirm without a doubt that several of the current crop do not believe in his vision for the club, and are not presently backing him to be a success. Now, forgive me if this is a bit revisionist, but fuck if that's not a game-changer. From what we've seen of Andre so far, he's intensely private, guarded, and thoroughly protective of his 'project' and plans. He's gone after the press, he's had members of the staff fired, and he's even reviewed Chelsea TV headlines prior to airing to make sure stories being transmitted carried a specific tone. He's a perfectionist, and he's also a homeless-man's Mussolini. Equal parts brilliant and brash 8.
The pressing issue is whether or not Roman has the stones to see his 64 million pound musical-chair investment in managers over the last three financial windows pay off. With the club currently mired in a stretch of poor performances it's not unrealistic to imagine a morning when Andre is relieved of his duties. But what if he is sacked? How, or more importantly, what good will that do for the club? Short-term, it would require another rescue-effort from the ever-so-reliable Guus Hiddink. But then again, he's in Moscow having advanced discussions with Anzhi Makhachkalaaaaaaaaaaaaaa over replacing player-manger Roberto Carlos. But what happens after the season is finished? How does having a new manager in August, Roman's 8th in 9 years as owner, serve the club for the better? Like it or not, there has to be a willingness among all parties to accept that bad results and poor form will be a cost of doing business under Andre's reign. There's no substitute for winning, and certainly it cures all that ails us, but in the meantime, these winless streaks will have to be stomached just like any other. As a club we cannot always be so trigger-happy to fire-and-replace each manager that fails to deliver on expectations (lofty as they may be). Moreover, we need to address the growing discontent amongst our current squad, and dive deeper into the very realistic conversation on player power. Have we reached a point in our history where the players truly are in control of what happens? It's not an outlandish thought, when you factor in our history 9.
If a small contingent of powerful players feel that Andre has run his course, shame on them. Seriously, shame on them. What gives them the authority to make unilateral decisions on what works best for the club? It's neither their place nor their prerogative to decide when a manager has run his course. Last I checked, these guys were paid professionals contracted to the club, under the express pretense to perform at the highest level possible at all times. That they're willing to vacillate between interested and numb is absurd. The last time this story came up, under the Scolari regime, we backed the players and decided it was time for Luis to be replaced- as did Roman, who wasted little time in wielding his proverbial axe. This time? I'm not so sure siding with the players is going to be the right course of action. We've seen how quick Andre is to dismiss those that question his authority, and we've seen how patient Roman can be amidst this growing chorus of discontent and naysayers. If Andre was going to be fired, my guess is it would have happened after the Everton debacle. If our losing trajectory continues, then mark it down he's gone. But if we continue our inconsistent streak of performances, extreme highs and lows, and squeeze out a 4th place finish, then Roman I'd estimate will live with the realities. That's the ultimate kicker in my eyes, that fourth place finish. Roman might well settle for no silverware this year so long as we continue to qualify for next season's dance. A full season in the rearview, and another summer to rebuild could be what Andre needs to revitalize his 'project'. Surely, you can expect some of our bigger, aging names will be vanishing over the next 16 months- replaced by younger, Andre-style imports.
But this war that's going on? The one that sees Andre fighting the press, his players, and everyone with a Twitter on a weekly basis? This, has to stop. He has to be wiser and more savvy than this. He can't simply go on the offensive at every turn. Mourinho, for all his hot-headed impulses, had the knack of knowing when and where to pick his spots. And trust, he fought many an epic battle during his tenure. For comparison purposes, Andre is a shadow of what Jose was in his first season. But all of that can change, quickly. We can't in good faith measure Andre against his predecessors. Our squad is different, and quite literally, the game done changed 10. Teams are better, squads are more complete, talent is more resplendent, and the smaller clubs are cutting the distance on the larger ones. With an influx of capital flying about, teams that previously served as middle-of-the-pack fodder are becoming forces to reckon with. It's not simply a matter of who has the bigger bank-roll that guarantees success. Every year, we see squads with microcosms of budgets produce big victories and go on extended runs through the campaign- and this year has been no different. But you can bet Andre knows this. Which is why I'm flummoxed by what I'm reading and watching. Because never before have we had a manager who needed a PR expert than Andre. There are, however, several schools of thought on this particular issue:
- He leaked the quotes and the story in the hopes that it would buy him an olive branch and possibly a stay of execution.
- It was done strategically to put the players in question on notice that their actions will have consequences.
- Needing to show Roman that he's in charge, he put this story into consumption to let everyone know that, despite the chorus, he's got the backing of the only man that matters.
- He's petulant, and further alienating himself from a squad that's teetering on the brink of mutiny.
Your guess is as good as mine. Sometimes, I think we're closer to option four than option one- at others I'm not so sure. But the over-arching point is simple: Andre's facing, truly, his biggest test as a young manager. Individual games and results come and go- but the mark of a great leader is defined by how they rise to the occasion in the face of genuine adversity. This is the first authentic spell of turmoil he's had to endure since taking the reigns (we've been in it now for at least a month) and it's entirely up to Andre how this plays out. From my seat, I say its time for him to swap lenses and focus exclusively on the business that occurs on the pitch, and leave the squabbling to those bespoke-wordsmiths at The Sun and The Mail. Rumor-mongering and second-guessing are part of the game, and with social media outlets being what they are at present, there's little that can be done to stop a salacious story from spreading. Why offer more fodder? Simply put an increased emphasis on training sessions, have it out behind closed doors with your players, listen to what's being said, and kick on. For the players in question? Enough. You're doing us as a club no favors, and you're expecting a miracle if you think Roman's going to bail your underperforming behind's out on this one. Stop the bickering and figure it the hell out. You're paid enough. Seriously, no excuses.
We've been through a lot already this season. But it ain't over. And I have a funny feeling the next three months are going to be particularly interesting. With our Champions League hopes still very much alive, our FA Cup aspirations in view, and a fight for fourth place still being targeted, we should expect some chaos. Whether that chaos skews on the organized or unorganized side remains to be seen. But let me be the first in saying that if Andre loses this presupposed 'war' and allows the inmates to run the asylum, then we're all doomed. Times are changing and our club is evolving. Thus, we say growing pains. It hurts, at times sucks, and ultimately we as fans are the ones who truly suffer. But we'll ride this out- we always do. Have faith and breathe. We'll see the end of this madness soon enough. Need I remind you all of Carlo's 'bad moment'. It gets better friends, trust in the system. And trust in AVB- he may screw it up at times, but so do our players (and yet we're so quick to protect a handful of them). We need perspective, patience, and a healthy dose of reality. Andre's going to be here until Roman's heart desires, and we best all fall in line and respect the King.
1. In his heyday, Rick Pitino gave some memorable press conferences. One of the all-time greats, featured him going in on a reporter for asking what needed to change for his ailing Celtics squad to win some games.
2. We gave you this link before, but just in case you haven't digested the latest financials from our beloved CFC, here's an absolutely brilliant breakdown of where we stand at present.
3. The headline stems from this AFP article, in which Andre spells out the very honest fact that some of his Chelsea squad do not currently back his 'project'.
4. All I do is Lin, son. And for the record, Jeremy Lin-wise, I'm not buying the hype. He's a product of his environment- in this case Mike D'Antoni's hybrid offense. You think Quentin Richardson was any good? Look at his stats from that season he spent in Phoenix under Mike. See where I'm going with this? What about Steve Nash? Only time he was an MVP candidate and winner was under Mike's tutelage. Just sayin'...
5. Alex's apex, in film.
6. He, of Unibrow lore.
7. Anyone else remember this gem of a press conference? Not only did Andre take the press to task for their repeated insistence that he needed Guus's help, he vehemently said the high-line was here to stay. Whoops.
8. Tommy Langley made the unfortunate mistake of speaking out against Andre. In turn, he lost his job. Seriously, when a manager goes to these levels to exercise his authority, you know it's going to be a long year.
9. You'll recall that Scolari was deposed amidst rumblings that players such as Michael Ballack and Petr Cech disliked his lackadaisical approach to training. He claims it was because he couldn't sign Robinho.
10. Cutty knows exactly what this feels like.