Villas-Boas' Drops Torres And Earns His Chelsea Spurs

By dropping the misfiring Spaniard Villas-Boas has shown that he is prepared to do things his own way at Chelsea, but is this part of a long-term plan to bring out the best in Torres?
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By dropping the misfiring Spaniard Villas-Boas has shown that he is prepared to do things his own way at Chelsea, but is this part of a long-term plan to bring out the best in Torres?

Andre Villas-Boas is a conscientious student of football, a man who has spent his entire working life analysing the game - even by the tender age of 17 he'd been given a job in Porto's Observation Department by Sir Bobby Robson and achieved his UEFA 'C' coaching license. No-one could seriously question his knowledge of the modern game, but more than a few people have doubted his ability to manage in the Premier League - mainly because he's 33 years old and has never played professional football.

The accusation I heard from several football pundits over the summer was that he would struggle most of all with the man-management side of things, in a Chelsea dressing containing more than it's fair share of big personalities. Those questions rather ignored the fact that he'd just won a quadruple of trophies at one of Portugal's biggest clubs, with a group of players who, almost to a man, were prepared to wax lyrical about his coaching and man management methods at every given opportunity.

Despite all that and his well-known self confidence, I'd think that when Villas-Boas boarded his flight from Portugal to London back in June, one issue will have been concerned him more than any other - how to manage the 'Fernando Torres situation'. This is a global superstar, Chelsea's club-record signing and the man who Roman Abramovich will have seen as the centre-piece of his star-studded squad - an absolute dream for any manager when he's scoring goals, but Villas-Boas was inheriting a player in the worst form of his career.

It's working because the 33 year old, with no professional playing experience, is managing the situation perfectly

The new Chelsea manager will have been well aware that if he were to manage the Torres situation wrongly, it has the potential to become a story so big and so negative that it could end up ruining and defining his time at Stamford Bridge. On the face of it Villas-Boas had two potential options - try to restore Torres to former glories and build a team around him, or cut Chelsea's losses and sell straight away - in reality he's done neither of these things and, so far, it seems to be working.

It's working because the 33 year old, with no professional playing experience, is managing the situation perfectly - demonstrated best by the calculated risk he took before Chelsea's 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light against Sunderland. Torres had been dropped midweek by Spain and his form publicly questioned by his national team manager, Vicente Del Bosque - and in many ways I believe this did Villas-Boas a big favour that he capitalised on superbly.

In terms of PR, the decision by Spain's Head Coach smoothed the path for Villas-Boas to do the same thing - rather than being a total shock, perceived as a big statement by Villas-Boas, it actually seemed fairly understandable when Torres didn't start for Chelsea either. I believe the reaction would have been much louder, a lot more negative and far more damaging, had it been Villas-Boas who had made the first move in this respect.

What capped it off for Villas-Boas was the performance of one of the men picked ahead of Torres, Daniel Sturridge.

It's also in the interests of Villas-Boas right now to foster the belief that Torres is no different to Chelsea's other strikers

If you're going to drop a £50m striker, you've got to have real faith in anyone coming in to replace him - and although Anelka played in the central striking role, the more decisive contribution came from Sturridge, with a beautifully taken second half goal, celebrated passionately by his manager in Chelsea's technical area. It really couldn't have worked out better for Villas-Boas, and he'll know it gives him that bit of extra leeway to make the same decision again, or even give Fernando Torres time out of the side to get his head right.

It's also in the interests of Villas-Boas right now to foster the belief that Torres is no different to Chelsea's other strikers and that they'll all be treated the same and rotated on occasion throughout the season - something the manager was keen to stress after the game. Everything that I can see is geared towards making sure the Torres story doesn't get out of hand, that it doesn't become an unmanageable situation and that Villas-Boas doesn't feel compelled to pick a player who's totally out of form, in the way it was claimed Carlo Ancelotti did at times last season.

In terms of Roman Abramovich, Villas-Boas has more bargaining power than his predecessor in this respect, in that the Chelsea owner has just paid £15m to secure his services on a long-term contract. As much as Abramovich will want to see his star acquisition molded into a winning Chelsea side, the way Andriy Shevchenko couldn't be, I'd think the Chelsea owner will also see the potential long-term benefits of allowing a very talented coach to take things in his chosen direction.

And that's what really intrigues me about the whole 'Torres situation' more than anything else.

From the way Chelsea are setting up under the attack-minded Villas-Boas, and from the signings he's made, I think it's fair to question whether Torres is in the manager's long-term plans. Rafa Benitez struck gold with the special relationship that developed between Torres and Steven Gerrard - an almost telepathic understanding so rare at the highest level - but Benitez also made sure that his Liverpool team gave Torres what he needs most - space.

Rafa Benitez struck gold with the special relationship that developed between Torres and Steven Gerrard

Torres at his best runs at defenders and does much of his work outside the penalty area - even dragging opponents out wide - he likes quick service from midfield and he doesn't share the limelight well up-front. Liverpool's relatively defensive set-up under Benitez, playing with two sitting midfielders - one destructive and one creative - meant that there was a lot of space at times between the centre of Liverpool's midfield and their attack, which Gerrard and Torres often had a free reign over.

That considered, I don't see that Juan Mata, Chelsea's recent signing from Valencia, is necessarily the type of player who'll help get the best out of his Spanish team-mate, even though they're said to be good friends. Even if he's playing out wide, Mata likes to cut in-field, get the ball at his feet and create on the edge of the area - surely that reduces, rather than increases the space that Torres craves?

Romelu Lukaku, brought in for big money from Anderlecht, is seen by many as a much younger version of Didier Drogba, and we've all seen the lack of success the Ivory Coast international and Torres have had when paired together. On the flip side, it could be that Villas-Boas eventually wants to partner Meireles and Essien in midfield, with Mata just in front of them and Torres alone up-front - in a style reminiscent of the way Liverpool got the best out of Torres using Mascherano, Alonso and Gerrard.

Whatever the intention, there's no doubt that the Chelsea manager has plenty of options and lots of decisions to make about the direction he wants to take Chelsea in - but right now he's coping well, with what is perhaps the biggest man-management and PR challenge of his career.

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