There has been a lot of chatter about the evil mutinous players at Chelsea, the dressing room culture, the balance of power shifting from the manager to the senior players and the involvement of the fickle owner. I don’t know what’s gone in inside the Chelsea dressing room but I like most of the tabloid journalists (who have much better sources than I do) can hazard a guess. So I should feel sorry for Andre Villas Boas right? Wrong.
I have no sympathy for AVB. Well maybe a little, but certainly not a lot. Everybody knows about Roman Abramovich. Everybody knows about Chelsea. If you take the job, you know what you’re in for. If you decide to work with rabid dogs you should be commended but you can’t turn round and express shock and disappointment when one bites you, it’s always going to happen. In the event that it does, I’ll feel sorry for you because it’s a tough job.
Chelsea are not rabid dogs, instead they have many good players, a ridiculous wage budget and a new found culture of winning trophies born under Jose Mourinho and carried on by Carlo Ancelotti. The circumstances surrounding the management of the team don’t appear to be easy, but still, in the grand scheme of things being paid millions of pounds to be in charge of a top football team is a pretty awesome job and losing that job isn’t exactly going to invoke sympathy from me if it all goes wrong, especially if it’s a mess of your own making.
AVB’s sacking doesn’t pull at my heart strings for the following reasons: he couldn’t handle the big name players, he didn’t understand the culture of the club, he tried to change things too quickly and he upset everyone along the way. Simply put, he didn’t do a good job. It wasn’t an easy job, but that was clear from the get go. It’s an ageing team full of difficult to manage players with big egos, some of whom aren’t performing to the level they use to but are still at the mercy of a demanding owner.
Rebuilding is a high wire act and AVB fell off. I’m not privy to the details of the Villas Boas’ appointment, but you imagine the progression of the team was discussed with the owner at length. On the back of an incredible season with Porto, AVB will have been full of confidence and I imagine both he and Abramovich thought he was well capable of coming into the set up, adapting the style of play and changing the ethos of the team. Bringing through younger players and improving the Chelsea team for the future, as well as gaining much sort after success in the Champions League. Sadly it seems they were both mistaken.
I don’t care what level you’re playing at, players who like winning, like winning. When you have a lot of players who like winning and know how to win in a particular way, getting them to change takes gusto, confidence and a bullet proof eye for detail to the extent that it’s impossible to pick holes in your approach. If players can see an improvement, if players can be convinced and encouraged by what you’re undertaking, they will support you, but all of this is dependant on results and Chelsea simply weren’t getting them, nor do they look like getting them any time soon.
It’s no wonder the big name players started to ask questions, then when they did they started to find themselves out of the team, which didn’t help the team and eventually the situation started to spiral out of control where both the players were unhappy and results were poor. As a manager you can perhaps afford to have one of these things happen but not both.
It’s as clear now as it’s ever been to me that Chelsea should have kept Carlo Ancelotti, but the owner saw to it that Carlo departed. He got rid of a man who had showed at Milan he could deal with big players, that he knew how to rebuild a team and knew how to win the Champions League and who had brought immediate success to Chelsea bringing home the league title in his first season. It’s also clear to me that AVB wasn’t the right choice to replace him.
The changes AVB made at Chelsea didn’t work, tactically he undid the solid defensive foundation that was the basis for much of their past success, he did nothing to help the fortunes of Fernando Torres, he managed to unsettle and fall out with Frank Lampard and although the signing of Juan Mata was a good piece of business too often I think he failed to get the best out of him, playing him out wide in a system that didn’t work. It looks to me like he was trying to port what he had done at Porto over to Chelsea, all in all this can’t be characterised as anything other than bad management.
The adherence to his tactical ideals first slipped in the Champions League game at home against Valencia which had become a must win tie. Gone was the high defensive line, gone was the pressing that had been a hallmark of his time at Chelsea so far. For this game the team reverted to the Mourinho type, they sat deep, defended well, counter-attacked with purpose and won the game comfortably. But this approach was lost as he once against tried to make an old dog learn new tricks.
Off the back of a good season at Liverpool Raul Meireles’ signing had promise, but his impact on the Chelsea side has been minimal, Daniel Sturridge has moaned at being played from the wing when he considers himself an out and out striker. Gary Cahill was signed then not played and made his displeasure pretty obvious. These problems aren’t that important when the team are playing well, but as soon as results start to slip, the rumblings of discontent become louder until eventually the owner takes notice with devastating consequences.
I don’t feel sympathy for AVB, yes he could have been given more time, but he was the architect of his own downfall, choosing to fight a war he couldn’t possibly win. You can’t pick a fight with the players when you’re the new guy, that only works when you’re Sir Alex Ferguson. If Chelsea had stuck with AVB he may have even got it right in the end, but we’ll never know.
Certainly this summer will be huge for Chelsea. Rafa Benitez is the early front runner, but could all this be the build up to the return of the special one? Stranger things have happened and if Jose Mourinho wins the title at Madrid it might be the time he chooses to return to England like he’s always said he wants to. Return to London where he feels so at home. Who better to rebuild the Chelsea side than the man who built it in the first place? Unless of course he replaces Harry Redknapp at Spurs.