On June 22 this summer, Roman Abramovich set a new precedent for expenditure in football, choosing not to throw his money at top players, but instead at a top manager. Chelsea paid Porto £13.3 million in compensation for Andre Villas Boas, a record deal that also saw them pay former boss Carlo Ancelotti and his backroom staff another £15 million on top to remove them from their positions, making a grand total of £28.3 million just to change their manager.
Bear in mind the Blues finished second in the Premier League and reached the Champions League quarter finals, a season that most supporters would gladly accept given their current plight. However the Russian owner decided that the likeable Ancelotti would have to pay the price for a trophyless season, despite his double winning exploits the previous year. He turned to a man who was being lauded in all quarters, the next ‘Special One’ so to speak. Villas Boas had just completed a superb season with Porto, winning the domestic division and the Europa League, making him hot property for Europe’s top clubs. His face fit the bill, Chelsea had raided Porto to great effect before and AVB himself had already worked at Stamford Bridge under Mourinho, as a match scout.
All seemed well at the start of the year, as Chelsea started the season in decent fashion, winning four games in a row before coming undone at Old Trafford, no great surprise given the start Fergie’s side had also made to the season, demolishing Arsenal 8-2. There were sneaking suspicions though that Chelsea’s squad looked weaker on paper than some of their rivals. City spent wisely, adding quality through Sergio Aguero and United added youthful vigour to their squad, with Phil Jones catching everyone’s eye.Liverpool’s summer spending was also well documented, as the likes of Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Craig Bellamy had many pundits suggesting a return to the Champions League could be on the cards. In South London however, only Juan Mata really stood out amongst the new arrivals. Oriol Romeu, Romelu Lukaku and Thibault Courtois also joined, but all three were seen as works in progress who wouldn’t contribute much to the current starting eleven. The problem of Fernando Torres still loomed large for Villas Boas, just as it had haunted his predecessor and the Spaniard’s horror miss against Manchester United only compounded those fears. Their other expensive January signing, David Luiz, also turned himself into a comedy of errors roadshow, causing Gary Neville to compare his performances to a 10-year-old playing on Fifa. Indeed, had it not been for the debacle across the big city at the Emirates where Arsene Wenger had been vilified for his summer dealings, a few more eyebrows may well have been raised at the quality of Chelsea’s squad.
However, Villas Boas’s main problem was undoubtedly the player power he faced upon his arrival at the Bridge. He spoke of the revolution that needed to happen; with the squad he inherited having a rather sizeable average age. Such changes were not viewed too kindly within the ranks at the club either, indeed he first clashed with Frank Lampard early in the season, dropping the club stalwart for a number of crucial matches, thus feeling the full force of Frank’s displeasure later in the year when the player admitted his relationship with the manager wasn’t exactly close. His treatment of Didier Drogba also caused friction, as AVB tried to accommodate Torres into the line-up despite his obvious loss of confidence. More recently though, Villas Boas went one step further, relegating Ashley Cole to the substitute’s bench for the clash with Napoli, a decision that did not go down well within the club. Cole’s form has been consistent year in, year out and his axing looked like one step of authority too far. Rumours of player unrest grew, not to mention a training ground bust-up in front of Abramovich himself. Villas Boas’s position seemed to be growing untenable merely on account of his relationship with the players.
Chelsea’s form also left a lot to be desired, winning just two in nine during October and November, while they are currently on a run of three wins in twelve, a spell that has left them languishing outside the Top Four. Not qualifying for the Champions League would be an unmitigated disaster for the Blues, as they would therefore struggle to attract top quality players to the club in the summer. They also face a crucial Champions League clash with Napoli soon, already behind on aggregate 3-1. Birmingham are next on Tuesday though, in an FA Cup replay that represents their only serious chance of a trophy. The statement on the club’s website admitted that things just weren’t acceptable, stating “Unfortunately the results and performances of the team have not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season.”
Where next for Chelsea then? Its obvious Abramovich made a terrible decision in the summer, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. Villas Boas never really took to England and at 34, lacked the authority to command some of his older troops. Expectations of him being next Mourinho also fell disappointingly short, not just in performance, but personality as well. While Jose charmed the pants off English football, with his outrageous mannerisms and ‘Special One’ mantra, AVB looked more like Fabio Capello, whining at every opportunity in the press conferences and looking generally like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world.
Chelsea have now spent £64 million on managerial merry-go-rounds in the last four years and Abramovich’s next decision could be his most crucial. We know who the Chelsea fans want, they sung it to the rafters at the Hawthorns on Saturday and that man is apparently available in the summer. It could be the only man to guide Chelsea away from the Mourinho era is Mourinho himself! There are no obvious candidates otherwise, apart from Guus Hiddink, who has only signed a short-term contract with Anzhi till the end of the season. Still, more important issues come first; Roberto Di Matteo has been appointed till the end of the season and the fans need to put their Mourinho fever behind them till the summer and get behind Roberto to fire the side into the Top Four.