June 19 2013 Latest news:
Paul Lagan, London24’s Chelsea blogger
Monday, March 5, 2012
“I have to say, that even at that early stage there was something very un-empathetic about Villas-Boas.”
I remember the first time I met Andre-Villas Boas. It was in summer for his first press conference.
I was sitting beside Ron Gourlay and listening to the man who was going to usher in a new dynasty of Chelsea success.
Here was Villas-Boas, fresh from his UEFA Cup triumph with Porto all smiles and confidence.
And it was seemingly justified confidence too. At a cost of £13m to get his release from his former club, Chelsea appeared to be making a statement that they wanted an end to the quick hire and fire policy of recent seasons. In fact, they hoped he would be there longer than his contracted three years.
If he was then it would mean that the Blues were a success – in particular a European success. Forty matches in and Roman Abramovich sacked Villas-Boas - his seventh manager.
I have to say, that even at that early stage there was something very un-empathetic about Villas-Boas.
Clearly briefed by the high-level media operatives to respond on first name terms with the assembled hacks, he talked the talk.
He was all about consensus. He wanted to work with the players to make them better and the team better. He was not a “Special One” but rather a “Group One”.
It was disingenuous really. Villas-Boas was always about Villas-Boas.
I was furious with his response when he was asked about his family and if they were coming over to England.
Villas-Boas responded by saying that his wife did not want him to take the job, wanted the family to stay in Porto and stop travelling round Europe for the time being.
Villas-Boas was quite proud of this – he saw it as the actions of a man committed to his job. All it really did was show just how self-centred and single-minded he was. They are admirable qualities, required for any top management position, but not one to share with journalists when he wanted to portray himself as a man who engaged in consensus. If you can’t convince the wife, you have no chance really.
And so that was Villas-Boas in a nutshell. He is a man who was forever saying one thing and doing the opposite.
A classic example of this was down at the training ground where he demonstrated “his all for one and one for all club spirit” by physically separating the first team squad from the rest of the club. It was not appreciated by the lower ranked players and certainly not by the powers that be and it was a typical error of judgement by Villas-Boas.
His ham-fisted, isolating treatment of likable Alex and Nicolas Anelka who wanted to get away from the club caused fury among the senior pros who viewed it as an attack on the team spirit. There was never a consensus policy; there was always only a Villas-Boas policy
Rather than creating a super club, he was spiralling out of control within it and the net result was that many first-team players simply did not believe in him. In football parlance he “lost the changing room”.
Now none of that would really matter if he could bring the team close to success – third in the table would be viewed as an acceptable position in a transitory context. Any domestic cup trophy would be considered a bonus, but he was required to reach the Champions League semi-final as an absolute requirement.
By publically stating in December the league title was beyond him, he still had the comfort in knowing that top-three was all that was needed for him to be safe on that front. Capitulation to Liverpool in the carling Cup was still within acceptable limits.
What finally did for Villas-Boas on the results side was the seeming drift out of Champions League contention for next season.
It was a resurgent Arsenal, who earlier on Saturday defeated Liverpool after hammering Spurs which forced the Chelsea board to recommend to Abramovich to sack Villas-Boas.
They could not see Chelsea improving enough to overhaul Arsenal into fourth place and were concerned that Newcastle was closing in on them.
One thing Chelsea board members never want to do is talk about Abramovich and certainly not embarrass him. The prospect of no Champions League next season would be the ultimate embarrassment to the Russian owner and they could not countenance it.
While Villas-Boas was losing the “changing room” he was also losing key allegiances within the corridors of power.
In the past couple of weeks, it was made perfectly clear that his time was coming to an end unless a seismic change in fortunes on the pitch materialised.
Villas-Boas knew it wasn’t going to happen, the players knew it too. So it was just a matter of time – Villas-Boas, as reported in London 24, was a “Dead Man walking”.
His body language during the game changed. Gone was his bouncing up and down the touchline like a latter-day Tigger. Here was a man sending out signals that his much hyped “project” was in tatters.
So what did he do, well, he did what he always did, he looked after himself.
Villas-Boas got his message out to the public, bypassing the official Chelsea media channels and doing a “Mourinho” by speaking to trusted Portuguese media people.
He knew it would be translated into English and picked up by the domestic press.
All he did was to get in the public arena all the things he would want to say, but would be prevented from saying within any “gagging clause” when the inevitable sacking came. He went from talking about having the full backing of Abramovich to “I don’t know if I’m going to be sacked” to “Ask the owner if I am going to be sacked.”
He finally went “off message” in his last pre-Match press conference last week by claiming Chelsea and by extension Abramovich could not compete with Manchester City.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it again showed his error of judgement. By all means upset players even non-playing club officials, but never, ever attack Abramovich.
Villas-Boas lack of empathy cost him his job, his basic lack of man-management skills failed to endear him to his players. He talked in jargoned English that no one truly understood. He even made up words that became an in-joke between seasoned Chelsea-following hacks and some club members.
He was becoming an embarrassment to Chelsea and Abramovich.
And so it came to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday and the ultimate insult a manager can endure during a game – the loyal travelling Chelsea fans chanting “You’re going to get sacked in the morning”.
A clearly beleaguered Villas-Boas refused to accept that he had heard the chanting but he already knew, the die had been cast, he was simply marking time.
At lunchtime on Sunday, soon after taking what would be his last training session, Villas-Boas was given the “tap on the shoulder” and asked to meet Abramovich, chief executive Ron Gourlay and club director Eugene Tenenbaum in an office at the Cobham training ground.
The meeting was short and swift and Villas-Boas was sacked. Roberto Di Matteo was then called in and offered the job until the end of the season.
The players were then told by Gourlay.
I am led to believe that there were a few mutterings from some of the Portuguese-speaking members of the squad that are unprintable in a family-friendly website.
Later in the afternoon, Champagne corks were heard popping by the neighbours of some of the non-Portuguese speaking members of the squad.