The vultures are circling. Roman Abramovich and his cronies are watching training sessions now, which is never a good sign. Andre Villas-Boas is a man under pressure, squatting on the touchline suggesting he may be trying all means to avoid eviction. Statistically, Villas-Boas is the worst Chelsea manager since Ruud Gullit. By the time you read this, he may have gone, after a bad night in the furnace of Napoli’s Stadio San Paolo. If so, close the page down, and read a good book instead. Try a Season With Verona.
If not, recent history suggests he is on borrowed time, but this time might be different. Considering he cost over £30m to get in the first place (both to buy him and pay off his predecessor), then the doubts remain as to whether Abramovich can afford to sack him, especially with Financial Fair Play Rules to consider, rules that Chelsea are clearly struggling to meet, the previous declarations from the likes of Peter Kenyon that Chelsea would be self-sufficient by now just a distant memory.
The struggles of Villas-Boas come as no surprise to the man whose success hangs over the club with every disappointing result. Jose Mourinho haunts his successors, and it is he who is supposed to have told a Premier League manager that Villas-Boas was not ready for the challenge at Stamford Bridge, that he would need to develop before he could guide Chelsea back to the top.
Maybe, maybe not. Abramovich could follow form and get rid of him as soon as possible. Follow form and get in a short-term experienced replacement to secure 4th place in the league. Then follow form by throwing money at another big name, who will inevitably be gone within a couple of years, and himself have to face the dilemma of re-building a flagging squad. He won’t be able to call on his favourite fire-fighter Guus Hiddink either, who took up new employment elsewhere this week.
But there is another way. Villas-Boas may not be pulling out the desired results, but he is a victim of circumstance and bad timing to some extent. Taking over an ageing team, with a distinct system to implement, it is clear he has hit obstacles every step of the way. Admirably he has stuck to his principles, perhaps less tactically, having to abandon the idea of a high defensive line and constant pressing of the ball, but he has been resolute in wanting to phase out the old guard, and not surprisingly this has caused problems, in a squad that has been cliquey and where player power has been too great for many a year.
To succeed, Villas-Boas needs his own players, to play his way. This naturally will cost a lot of money. Abramovich has that money of course, but spending it will leave Chelsea making huge losses again. By ridding the team of the old guard, there won’t be much money coming in for players in the twilight of their career. The market value of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and even Ashley Cole is not that great, whatever their form.
Abramovich has already told the players Villas-Boas will be there for at least two more seasons, so he now has to support him financially. Villas-Boas was appointed by Roman Abramovich after selling the vision that he would transform Chelsea into Barçelona inside three years. We know building teams while still achieving results ranks among the hardest tasks in football, as Villas-Boas is finding out with every passing week. You need the experience of Alex Ferguson to do it without major upheavals and the odd rollercoaster ride.
So I suggest they spend, and big. Re-build the team, stick with a manager for once, and start a new era. Ignore the cost. Don’t meet Financial Fair Play rules – after all, what’s the worst that could happen? Getting kicked out of Europe for a season (or two) is a small price to pay in my opinion if it allows title pushes and for a team to be re-built – especially when it means being excluded from a competition that they have never won anyway. Villas-Boas didn’t get many of the players he initially wanted – Luka Modric, Alexis Sanchez and Alvaro Pereira amongst others. With his targets secured, who knows how differently the season may have panned out? His players, playing his way. No excuses.
Of course this is a plan that might not sit prettily with Abramovich himself, who eyes the Champions League as his holy grail. But then would they be kicked out anyway? Another reason to spend as they see fit rather than how Michel Platini sees fit is to test the Financial Fair Play rules to their limit. Don’t meet them, rack up the losses, then see what UEFA do. After all, should someone like Real Madrid fail to meet these new financial regulations, do you really think UEFA would kick them and their highly marketable team out of European competitions? Or Manchester City, or Chelsea? More likely, a small team with little appeal to the global football audience will be made an example of, whilst the likes of Madrid or Chelsea will get the obligatory warning, a final warning, a final, final warning, and then a small fine to make them aware of their responsibilities – the sort of fine handed out for racial abuse from a team’s fans at a match – let’s say about £10,000.
So to hell with UEFA, with rules, restrictions, and threats for those that do not obey. Spend what you want Abramovich, as a team meeting the rules whilst playing in the Europa League is no better than a top-class team fighting for titles and other domestic trophies but not in Europe at all. Let’s see what UEFA do – but either way, better to re-build your squad, stick with a manager for once, and then worry about the consequences afterwards. Once you have a settled team and a settled manager, self-sufficiency will inevitably follow.
Howard has a book out on the Kindle, for the price of some chips. Have a look – http://www.amazon.co.uk/High-Stakes-ebook/dp/B004LDM51O
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