Blues back in familiar place

In the end, there was only one real surprise to Andre Villas-Boas’s eventual sacking.

And that was that John Terry, apparently, had nothing to do with it.

Some sources even suggest the club captain stood against the dressing-room cabal.

Absolutely every other aspect of the story, however, conformed to everything we expect of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea.

And the consequent problem for the overeager owner is that such practices are going to inevitably keep the club chained to their recent past: perpetual revolution rather than evolution; the future delayed once again.

Of course, just as he did with Felipe Scolari in 2009, Abramovich ultimately moved because he feared for the club’s more immediate future: missing out on the Champions League.

But, when you look at the bigger picture, Abramovich has facilitated such potential failure himself — and not because he appointed the “wrong” manager.

As soon as Jose Mourinho satisfied the Russian’s initial craving for mere success in 2005, Abramovich moved on to something else. He no longer wanted to just win but to win wondrously. That has been a demand for every single Chelsea manager since Avram Grant.

The main barrier to playing truly expressive football, though, is that it takes understanding, integration and — if you want to properly set it as your club philosophy — purposeful infrastructure.

Chelsea, however, have another barrier on top of that: a core of aging, influential players whose main attacking strengths are based on athletic power rather than poise. Even when they were at their most entertaining, under Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian merely worked around their muscle. As such, Villas-Boas had it from both above and below: a squad that must eventually be moved on and an owner that actually wants to move on, but neither willing to put up with the temporary pain that progress usually necessitates.

So, ultimately, the brightest young manager in Europe has been sacked after just eight months in a job that required much deeper changes. When you break it down like that, the main problem doesn’t appear to be with the manager.

Indeed, it is one of the anomalies of football owners. Men who have proven so successful in business rarely apply the same good practices to their football clubs. Who, for example, is advising Abramovich? Does he even want advice? But, hardly a football expert, would he approach the geology aspects of his oil companies in the same way? Of course, Villas-Boas is hardly blameless either.

His handling of the club’s necessary evolution wasn’t exactly conducive to smooth change or any way consistent. Having initially — and correctly — decided to feel his way into the job by not making major changes, the only real alteration was the deployment of a high defensive line. When that proved unworkable given the personnel, though, Villas-Boas then began to act rather rashly. Incremental changes became extreme ones. And he didn’t help with some brash public comments that only served to further alienate an already hostile squad. Least of all the ill-considered interview last week which apparently sealed his fate.

By the end, it was as if Villas-Boas attempted to alter too much on the pitch without having done enough off it.

In that, perhaps the job was too soon for him. He seemingly hadn’t yet developed the necessary full range of diplomatic skills required. It’s also hard to escape the feeling he left Porto a season too early, particularly since that team seemed primed for a proper Champions League challenge.

Ultimately, though, it’s likely that Villas-Boas’s career will eventually soar in the manner his early success suggested. But, unless Abramovich eventually gives at least one manager the full, deep support he wasn’t prepared to afford the Portuguese, it’ll be no surprise if Chelsea keep going around in circles.


Frits Potgieter is General Manager with Muckross Park Hotel and Spa.You've Been Served: Frits Potgieter, Muckross Park Hotel and Spa

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