People are talking about it and it's not going to go away, so I guess I'll weigh in on some of the other parts of the Andre Villas-Boas interview. A little while ago, this tweet from the Guardian's Daniel Taylor, who I normally quite like, popped up on my feed:
The quotes Taylor was referring to were about Andre Villas-Boas saying something along the lines of "If I saw City playing in Italy, I would say that's where they actually belong." The stereotype, of course, is that Serie A sides play boring, defensive football, and if that's what Villas-Boas actually meant, it would have been a deeply silly thing to say - City are a fantastic team and look poised to win the title this year. They certainly deserve to, in my opinion.
But, of course, if you read the interview, that's not what was said. Here's a fuller picture:
Instead of 'sniping' at City, Villas-Boas is paying them a big compliment, even though it's a slightly backhanded one. Roberto Mancini's team is, right now, a Premier League powerhouse, and that's exactly how they're being portrayed. The Italian stereotype the manager is deploying here is a single-minded focus on winning, something that does strike me as fairly Italian, considering the history of their football.
But Taylor's weird characterisation aside, this is an interesting quote, because it shows how divorced Villas-Boas's footballing philosophy is from the team's results. To illustrate what I mean by this, let's take a quick detour to the heart of most things football lately: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona battle. While Jose Mourinho is more than happy to do whatever it takes to win, Pep Guardiola and his player believe in playing the game a certain way, and they win as a byproduct of their style. For Mourinho, style is altered in order to win.
That's a simplistic view of the situation, of course - Guardiola will adapt in order to give his team the best possible chance of getting good results, but Barcelona are, above all things a dogmatic football club, with their way as the correct way. A win by playing in a different style simply isn't as good as a proper Barca victory. From his previous interviews, Villas-Boas seems to come across as holding views very close to Guardiola. Both managers want to win while playing beautiful football - playing to win simply isn't enough.
This, I suspect, is the main cultural element that the manager is trying to change at the club. Under Mourinho, Chelsea were built to win trophies with basically whatever worked. If that meant playing for 2-0 win after 2-0 win, fine. The three points were all that mattered, and the Blues were... well, to borrow from Andre Villas-Boas, we were an organised, well-balanced and efficient team that wanted to be champions. That culture has never been seriously challenged by post-Mourinho appointees.
Now, I personally take the Mourinho side of this argument - I want to win a lot more than I want to see pretty football, and I've been known to make quite a lot of fun of
Arsenal other football teams for being so holier-than-thou about their tactics, as though you got an extra point for playing a lot of pointless passes. I like strong defending, physical play and the counterattack. Possession football is less fun for me.
However, my opinion doesn't count for much in the grand scheme of things, and it's Roman Abramovich and Andre Villas-Boas's right to reshape the team the way they see fit. I'm not entirely sure I want to live in a world where the results matter less than playing with style - that's a recipe for self-reinforcing dogma, in my view - but if Chelsea want to play entertaining football while winning everything I'm pretty cool with that.
That said, the prospect of turning into a team that uses style to excuse itself from actually winning things terrifies me, and if we do go down this path... well, we'd better bloody well win. So far, that's not happening.