Andres Villas-Boas has had a tough few months. Appointed Chelsea manger under a sea of comparisons to Chelsea God Jose Mourinho, the 34-year-old was given the task of building a legacy at the Blues which would, eventually, see Chelsea return to the top of the English football pile.
Before Saturday’s win away at Newcastle, Chelsea had managed just four wins in ten games. They’d lost to QPR, taken a battering from Arsenal and lost to Liverpool twice. It hardly means the club are in crisis, but it certainly warrants comment.
There has been much talk about the eccentricity – and, at times, stupidity – of centre-back David Luiz. Mikel Jon Obi has taken some flak for being an ineffective midfielder. Aging stars such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole are, seemingly, nearing the end. The form of Fernando Torres has been beyond a joke now for months and there is a genuine possibility that we will never see the Spaniard back to his best again.
But there has been very little criticism of Villas-Boas, and any criticism of Chelsea has – on the whole – been justified.
It is well-known that to win the Premier League is vital to Chelsea, and winning the Champions League is something at the very forefront of Abramovich’s mind. Villas-Boas himself said that not winning titles at Chelsea would be unforgiveable.
After last night’s comfortable and impressive victory over Valencia, the manager sat down for his press conference and, basically, attacked the press. He criticised what he saw as the “continuous persecution of Chelsea”.
“We have become your target,” he continued. “We accept that. But you have to accept that today was a brilliant win.”
Villas-Boas named Gary Neville amidst his rant, which is odd given that Neville has backed the manager in the past – although AVB is perhaps still unhappy with Neville’s description of Luiz.
Now, some points need to be made here, mainly regarding Villas-Boas’ astuteness. This rant takes the limelight away from his players, something that most managers do and is becoming more tedious with every passing press conference.
Villas-Boas protects his team and almost creates an ‘us against them’ mantra, something his constant shadow Mourinho is famous for. Again, this stance is getting old and tiresome.
The timing of the outburst is also rather odd. The ‘Ha! In your face!’ retort could have at least been saved until after Chelsea come through some difficult fixtures: Manchester City, Tottenham and Fulham all the before the New Year. Just as Chelsea’s form this season does not mean the club are in crisis, two 3-0 wins on the bounce is hardly enough to start readying the trophy cabinet for a new instalment.
Even so, on the whole, the press have been rather calm in terms of Villas-Boas’ managing of the club. Various writers at The Telegraph have stated that Villas-Boas is the right man for the job, and that Villas-Boas is not the problem at Chelsea – the players are. The Sun has led with a similar line, whilst also slating the Chelsea defence.
Villas-Boas, then, is clearly thinking of what is best for his team – whether that be in moving the limelight elsewhere or taking criticisms of Chelsea to heart. He has – compared to managers in the past who have been criticised by the press early on – got off lightly but the criticism of Chelsea has been continuous, something that AVB maybe sees as unjust.
On the whole, the press have been supportive of Villas-Boas but critical of the Chelsea team and wary of Abramovich. And those three stances are justified. AVB should be supported, certain aspects of Chelsea’s squad have either underperformed or simply cannot play at such a high quality as they have in the past, and Abramovich has a history of short-termism when it comes to managers.
Mourinho quit in September 2007 and, of the managers hired by the Russian billionaire: Avram Grant lasted the season, Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked nine months into his tenure and Carlo Ancelotti was given the boot after his second season.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the majority of the commenters on Villas-Boas’ appointment back in June stated that he should be given time in the job and it is even less surprising that Abramovich’s short-termism is mentioned now when Chelsea perform below par – and produce below par results to match.
Granted, rumours regarding a possible return to the club for Guus Hiddink are needless and, in all likelihood, baseless. Provocative headlines such as “Time for AVB to start praying” and “Villas-Boas loses authority with every defeat” also don’t help, while using the phrase “dreaded vote of confidence” is a clichéd way of looking at a genuinely positive piece of news.
It is unfair to say that the media have agendas and it is surely incorrect to say that journalists will be disappointed to be writing positive things about Chelsea. But of course, column inches have to be filled so every minor, interesting development is expanded to 800 words of piffle.
But the media’s treatment of Chelsea has been surprisingly reserved, frankly. The negatives have rightly been commented on and the positives have rightly been pointed out (Didier Drogba was fantastic last night, and David Luiz put in a very calm, collected performance).
Perhaps one of the oddest points AVB made was that of the difference between the coverage of his side Manchester City.
“The approach to Manchester City is basically, ‘if they qualify, they qualify. If they don’t qualify, they don’t qualify’. We don’t get that margin, basically, from you guys (the media).”
City are top of the League, have a resoundingly stronger squad and at times look like genuine world-beaters. But when cracks have appeared, the flaws have been pointed out.
AVB sees the difference between City and Chelsea as one is wanted to fail, one isn’t. The real difference is that one is top of the League and flying – the other is on the edge of the top four.