I was desperately sad when I heard the news that Andre Villas-Boas had been sacked by Roman Abramovich. Quite obviously, AVB isn’t the first (and in all likelihood won’t be the last either), to have his tenure at Stamford Bridge cut short by a happy-trigger owner, but of all the former Chelsea managers, AVB is my favourite.
Why do I like AVB? He is football’s poster boy for youthful determination. When he was 17 years-old, he dared knock on the door of his neighbour, a footballing legend in the form of the late Sir Bobby Robson. Not to ask for an autograph, but to bravely provide tactical suggestions and improvements for Robson’s Porto team. When he was 17 years-old, he impressed Robson so much that Robson decided to enrol him at Lilleshall to take official FA qualifications. Except that at 17 years-old and still considered a minor, AVB wasn’t legally allowed to enrol at Lilleshall. But when you have a knight behind you, rules can be bent. By far the youngest coach enrolled in Lilleshall, AVB still managed to successfully attain his UEFA C badges.
That’s what AVB achieved at 17 years of age. His passion for football at such a young age is astounding, but what made him stand out was his determination. Not every 17 year-old has the balls to show a world-famous football manager where his team’s performances have gone wrong.
Why do I like AVB? He isn’t afraid to make mistakes if there are lessons to be learned. Just 4 years after attaining his UEFA C badges, AVB was an international manager. Not just any international manager, he was the youngest international manager in the world at 21 years of age. Sure, he was in charge of the British Virgin Islands, hardly world-beaters, but he wasn’t looking or expecting any form of tangible success. He was looking for experience, and he definitely gained from that, calling it ‘an unbelievable experience for a guy so young’. Having absolutely zero professional football-playing history, he couldn’t rely on any sort of reputation that some other wannabe managers clearly are doing (I’m looking at you Steve Bruce), and starting his managerial career at such a young age and with an international side no less, was another terrific instance of his youthful determination.
Why do I like AVB? Determination leads to hard work, and the clearest, most tangible example of AVB’s incredibly hardworking attitude is this marvelously detailed scouting report on Newcastle from 2005 when he was the chief scout under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea. He said it ‘takes me four days to put an entire file together’, an exhibit of his undoubted effort. AVB’s hard work continued as he knuckled down and played his part in title-winning teams. He knew he still had much to learn, and he learned from the best. Returning to coach Porto’s U19s side after a year in charge of the British Virgin Islands, he was promoted to being a first-team staff member under Mourinho, arguably one of the greatest managers ever, making the moves with him to first Chelsea, and then Inter Milan.
Why do I like AVB? He’s intelligent football-wise, and that intelligence is an extremely attractive feature. Bravery might have been the reason for knocking on Robson’s door, but it was his remarkable insight at 17 years-old that led to Robson bending the Lillshall rules for him, convinced that AVB had the potential to be an exceptional coach or manager. Hard work and determination might have been the reason for AVB putting in the long days for each scouting report, but it was his intelligence that consistently produced such brilliantly informative dossiers – give someone else four days to create a scouting report and you might not even have 10% of the detail of AVB’s. His footballing intelligence is striking in this interview just before he made his Chelsea debut, requiring a glossary (for the less-informed football fan) of some of the terms AVB uses. The interview illustrates the stunning amount of thought AVB has put into his football philosophy, and above all, it makes so much sense, such as the idea of ‘how to provoke them [teams which play with an ultra low-block] with the ball’.
Why do I like AVB? He’s got a defined football philosophy, a very clear idea of how he wants his team to play as evident from the aforementioned interview. Some people thought that he was stubborn when, using his own terms, his Chelsea team failed to adjust to his relatively high-block, but it also showed his determination and clarity of mind with regards to his footballing tactics. (He eventually compromised, playing a generally medium-block which Chelsea were much more comfortable with, and that highlighted his intelligence and readiness to adapt.) The very best managers have always had their personal football philosophy from which they build the foundations of their team: Sir Alex Ferguson traditionally plays a 4-4-2 with flying wingers and crossers, Bill Shankly nailed the idea of ‘pass and move’, Arrigo Sacchi had his famous Milan team press relentlessly, Marcelo Bielsa almost always plays with a back three, Viktor Maslov created the original 4-4-2, Johan Cryuff and Rinus Michel pioneered ‘Total Football’ that Pep Guardiola embraces today etc etc. AVB isn’t a tactical innovator like some of the above (at least not yet), but his steadfast belief in sticking to his footballing principles, coupled with his obvious willingness to learn from experiences and adapt, will serve him well in the long-run.
Why do I like AVB? Above all, AVB is a winner. You probably know all of his achievements somewhere at the back of your mind, but the English press does a good job of having you forget them, so let me remind you. During his first club managerial stint, he led Academia to a very respectable 11th place, 10 points clear of relegation, having taken over the club when they were rock bottom of the league without a single win and looking dead certain to be relegated. Beyond that, they were playing good attractive football that was pleasing on the eye. He was snapped up by Porto, winning the treble in his first and only season, going undefeated for the whole season in the domestic league, and becoming the youngest ever manager to win a European title in the process. Critics who point out that AVB took over one of Portugal’s Big Three that had previously won the Champions League have only got half the picture: the season before AVB took over, Porto had finished 3rd in the league, their lowest position in 9 years. AVB had taken over a club very much in crisis, and proceeded to lead them to one of their most successful ever campaigns, playing some sumptuous proactive attacking football along the way.
He may not have achieved what he wanted to at Chelsea (and really, with the current set-up and players, who could?), but with his attributes that I’ve underlined, AVB will be back. Back and winning I hope, if only to prove to all those that have conveniently put all the blame on him, what a manager AVB is. I’m no Chelsea fan but I honestly did believe that given the time and unconditional support from his bosses, and having such an absolute and definitive football philosophy and future plan, he would have done a fantastic job. Surely, AVB’s dismissal is Chelsea’s loss.
– this article first appeared on itsroundanditswhite