Chelsea's hunt for a new manager has the air of the last scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. They've both come so far but now a final decision has to be made. A variety of options await, the ex-pro in Van Basten, the semi-retired grandee in Hiddink or the promising young talent in Villas-Boas. Each is tempting for different reasons, yet only one offers a real shout at footballing immortality, which ties this metaphor up nicely as Abramovich's obsession is grail like in its intensity and ruthlessness. Chelsea, like Indy, have chosen wisely.
Villas-Boas is an excellent choice for Chelsea. In 2005 Chelsea exploded onto the European football since, since then the Chelsea team has remained fearsome but has grown stagnant. The players which Mourinho assembled and forged into a European powerhouse have remained largely unchanged. The spine of the team in Terry, Lampard and Drogba still remain but age and exertions have taken their toll with the latter two players being the same age as Villas-Boas. This season has exposed the team to the realities of their physical style as injuries and age finally caught up with the team.
The team needs refreshing with younger talent and the opportunity is there for a manager to imprint his own football vision onto Chelsea's playing style. Despite the procession of managers brought in they've played with Jose's team and largely in his style. Chelsea have played with a functional, effective style which has brought them success but apart from Ancelotti's first year has rarely been thrilling and appealing to the neutral.
Villas-Boas' tenure at Porto has been anything but cautious. Porto have been dominant this year domestically, winning the Portuguese League at a canter as welling as winning the domestic cup. European success has also been forthcoming with Porto beating Braga in the final to win the Europa League whilst beating an excellent Villarreal team in the semi-finals to progress. They've accomplished this by playing attractive, highly effective attacking football which has yielded 148 goals in 58 games. This success has re-announced Porto on the European stage in way not seen since they were led by another young, ambitious Portuguese manager.
By appointing Villas-Boas Abramovich might be suggesting that he recognises that the team which Ranieri and Mourinho built is coming to an end.
The appointment of Villas-Boas suggests that Abramovich is tired of appointing fire-fighters and instead wants a manager who can build a team which plays attractive, attacking football whilst competing at the highest level. Hiddink and Ancelottli, whilst talented managers who've both had success in the Champions League, were always brought in to win with what was provided. Neither was given the time or option to bring in players to change Chelsea's footballing style and allow the team to evolve. By appointing Villas-Boas Abramovich might be suggesting that he recognises that the team which Ranieri and Mourinho built is coming to an end. Chelsea have been established at the top table of English and European football, now is the time to build a new team which can win over neutrals whilst delivering the ultimate prize that has eluded them for the past 7 years.
Villas-Boas' appointment at Chelsea follows his illustrious predecessor in a more subtle way which gives some indication of the changing thinking of top clubs. Last season Real Madrid paid upwards of €40 million to secure the services of Mourinho and his assistants from Internazionale because they knew that spending vast sums on players is one thing but a successful team needs a manager who can distil an esprit de corp as well as delivering the tactical nous required for success. Florentino Perez stated that the capture of Mourinho was the galactio signing of the summer. Madrid identified the right manager and were prepared to pay whatever price to secure his services, the decision has been rewarded with a trophy as well as bringing Real Madrid to the closest they've been competitively to Barcelona in years.
The decision process in appointing managers remains one of the more bizarre aspects of modern football. Clubs spend a fortune on players and then entrust them to some jobbing ex-pro. Cough *Adams* Cough *Shearer* Cough *Pearce*.Why clubs believe this is a worthwhile strategy is a mystery but change is in the air. From the appointment of Mourinho to Spurs' capture of Redknapp, clubs are prepared to spend the money to buy proven managerial talent. Hence the €15 million to secure the services of Villas-Boas. Why Van Basten, a truly sublime player but a deeply mediocre manager was linked with the job was representative of this old fashioned thinking. This ethos is even present in the Championship with my beloved West Ham being handed over Sam Allardyce, a manager who shuns ascetics in exchange for professionalism. It wont be pretty but Allardyce will probably restore West Ham to the Premier League and the bonus structure in his contract reflects this. It's set up to reward promotion rather than pass completion.
That's why the money Chelsea have paid to secure Villas-Boas is money well spent. They've got a manager who has managed a big club abet within a small league. He's got a track record of success and Chelsea have made the decision that he's the man they want to rebuild the club. Since the departure of Mourinho they've burned through elite managers link Hiddink in a hope of finding a manager who can deliver the success and identity which Mourinho gave them.
Villas-Boas is Indy and Mourinho is Henry Sr. Like father like son, the two managers could be part of a final, transitional effort to secure what has become the Holy Grail for Chelsea.
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