Chelsea's young manager cannot be blamed for inheriting an aging squad, Manchester City's superb start, or his £50M striker missing sitter after sitter so why are the fingers being pointed his way?
It's a funny old game isn't it. On the 18th of April this year, and with the scent of Portuguese and European glory on his whiskers, I proudly put pen (fingers) to paper (keyboard) and told you all that Chelsea's Andre Villas-Boas was someone we should all be getting excited over.
Two months later, he stood in the stands at Stamford Bridge and proudly posed for photographers as he was appointed to fill the rather ample Carlo Ancelotti sized hole at Chelsea. A massive opportunity for him, an even bigger excuse to be smug for me; everyone's a winner.
It's now December though, and after what could best be described as an “indifferent” start to the season, journalists and Russian oligarchs alike are allegedly sharpening the knifes on his Premier League tenure. Worst of all, I'm going to be at my beloved St James park to watch Newcastle United, a club so closely linked to AVB's old mentor Sir Bobby Robson, potentially put the last nail in his chiselled and well-dressed coffin.
Chelsea have big, big problems at the moment. But these are problems that would be ruining the best laid plans of whoever was in charge.
First of all. It's not his fault he's inherited an ageing squad. The Drogbas, Lampards, Terrys, Cechs, Anelkas, Essiens and Coles that had previously proved the mainstay of the club's success, are all either circling the footballing plughole of 30, or have long since disappeared down the drain for various form and fitness reasons. The likes of Ballack and Carvalho vanished long ago and were never, if we're honest, properly replaced.
Those brought in to freshen the side up by previous incumbents are either struggling to find a role in the side (Ramires), desperately short of confidence (Torres), or being forced to play alongside John Terry (Luiz).
Nor can he be blamed for certain players alleged off-field problems, the renewed competitiveness at the top of the table, the failure to sign Modric, or 50 million quid strikers missing an open goal... at Old Traffod... at 2-1.
But this isn't an apologist piece. The greatest argument for him being given more time doesn't come from a disassociation from the negative, but from how obvious his influence is in the positive.
I loved Jose Mourinho, but Jesus Eff, the brand of football he won the league with was, at times, so slow, painful and pragmatic
I mean, hand on heart, who doesn't think Chelsea's three best players this year have been Juan Mata, Daniel Sturridge and Raul “half punk drummer, half smacked up cockerel dipped in paint” Meireles. All either brought to the club, or given a crack at the first team, by the current boss. Not to mention bright young things Lukaku and Whereforeartthou Romeu, who are banging so hard on the changing room door that Mikel and Drogba's pegs appear to be loosening.
They play better football as well. I loved Jose Mourinho, but Jesus Eff, the brand of football he won the league with was, at times, so slow, painful and pragmatic, it was like watching a slideshow of someone being sodomized with dental equipment.
Now they pass out from the back and connect with neat interchanges in the final third. It cost them the decisive goal at home to Liverpool, but that's no reason to abandon the entire approach. David Luiz keeps getting caught out in the opposition half or giving away daft penalties, but that's no reason to drop a player who's still only 24 and choc full of potential. Most importantly though, just because Frank Lampard has perfected the art of nicking a goal after spending 89 minutes anonymous, doesn't mean that his time in the Chelsea first-time isn't coming to an end.
If he can be accused of anything, it's trying to change too much too soon. His much maligned and exploited high defensive line is impossible to implement while a player as slow, wooden, defensively dim-witted as John Terry remains a mainstay in the side. The system, like everything else, will come good if given the time.
In short, it's going to take Chelsea the better part of two seasons to really refashion themselves into an new threat with a new side playing a new style. AVB's nearly a quarter of the way into that already and, whilst the problems can't really be laid at his door, what he has done so far has looked largely encouraging.
Look at it this way. Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Spurs COMBINED fielded less players who weren't bought by the current manager than Chelsea did last weekend. Proof that, for all their millions, stability cannot be bought.
A new boss would look to steady the ship at Xmas, and maybe spend a few quid in the summer, Andre Villas-Boas is already looking at what can be achieved over the next five years. If he is given the push, it's not an ageing squad, suspected racism, or the form of Spanish strikers that'll be Chelsea's biggest problem, it'll be their owner.
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