Cracking under the pressure at Stamford Bridge?

The Chelsea manager’s latest scathing tirade against former Manchester United and Sky pundit Gary Neville was as shocking as it was ill-advised. Whether it be that he’s  just unfamiliar with the all-encompassing nature of the English press or that he’s genuinely cracking under the pressure, the state of paranoia that Villas-Boas is currently operating under is both bizarre as it is unsettling.

The young Portuguese manager railed against his critics after his side’s 3-0 thumping of Valencia that saw them progress top of their Champions’ League group after a sticky run of form. He stated that: “My players deserve respect they don’t get. We’ve been chased by different kinds of people and pressures. Here we have given everyone a slap in the face.”

It seems odd to blast your critics after such a convincing victory to begin with. Chelsea have justifiably been criticised this season for a series of displays that only served to highlight what a comparatively fragile squad they have when you look at season’s gone by, they’ve lacked discipline, consistency and have been guilty of far too many individual errors. Most importantly, up until the Valencia game, whenever the opposition was of a continental calibre, Chelsea were soundly beaten.

To my knowledge at least, the media have gone relatively easy on Villas-Boas so far. He’s been criticised, correctly in my opinion, for trying to change too much, too quickly. Obviously eager to get his Stamford Bridge revolution under way, he’s overhauled their style of play, integrated a higher defensive line, changed the club’s transfer policy and started to tear apart a previously successful side, ruthlessly dropping the likes of Frank Lampard to the bench and Alex and Nicolas Anelka to the reserves.

Almost every article that I’ve seen written on Villas-Boas criticises the current state of the Chelsea side, without heaping the blame solely on the man in charge. How could you? He’s only been in charge for four months. Criticisms of the club have almost always been directly followed with the caveat that Villas-Boas, unlike a few of his predecessors, needs more time. The main issue that’s prompted this so-called ‘persecution’ is the history of Chairman Roman Abramovich and his happy trigger-finger.

It also appears to have taken on a personal effect on Villas-Boas too, with him continually singling out of Gary Neville for criticism. The Chelsea manager clearly doesn’t like Neville, not many people do, but that doesn’t mean that he’s a poor pundit. Far from it in fact, Neville has proven, despite some early nerves, to be bother irreverent, funny and insightful. He’s been a breath of fresh air.

Villas-Boas stated after the Valencia game: “We see a (former) Manchester United defender (Neville) say in the preparations for the game things like, ‘I don’t want to be one of the Chelsea players today, I couldn’t play this game and it is a difficult game for them’. This is out of this world for me, I don’t believe this. This is a continuous persecution; it is aggression towards one club.”

That continued today with: “I’d say this to his (Neville) face with most pleasure. You can’t speculate and invent things that are going on. Some people can have more or less an idea. But not him. He cannot know. You cannot approach a top Brazil central defender saying he’s commanded by a kid with a PlayStation. That’s ridiculous. Comic criticism and the lack of in-depth criticism from top ex-professional players… when they take the route to the ridiculous; I think I have a word to say. He (David Luiz) plays for the team with most [world] titles, so be careful with what you’re saying. What does he know about the Chelsea dressing room? What does Gary Neville know about our dressing room? How can you imagine what is going on in the Chelsea dressing room? How can you know? Have you been here? Do you know where Cobham [Chelsea’s training ground] is? You don’t even know how to get here. I’m normally indifferent, not watching on the telly to see what these people say. But I was watching the television at that moment and I was gobsmacked.”

Ironically the only thing comical is this quite frankly baffling rant against a man who is paid handsomely on TV for his opinions. The only thing gobsmacking about this is that a Premier League manager has saw it fitting to launch such a stinging personal attack on a pundit. Gary Neville will be grinning from ear to ear today. Mission accomplished. Villas-Boas has taken the bait and been made to look downright foolish as a result.

It’s reminiscent of Joe Kinnear’s infamously childish rant against Daily Mirror journalist Simon Bird back in October 2008 after the former Wimbledon manager had just unexpectedly taken over a struggling Newcastle side. Kinnear said to Bird “you’re a c**t” before he’d even sat down in his chair at the press conference. While it may be hilarious to watch, it’s simply not the type of behaviour befitting of a Premier League manager.

David Luiz has been terribly poor this season. There is no other word for it. Kudos must go to Neville for providing a genuinely witty piece of punditry. According to Villas-Boas’s twisted and flawed logic, you can only criticise Luiz if you have driven to and played at Cobham training ground. Well I have, Andre, and he’s bobbins, so there.

Villas-Boas stated after the Valencia game: “It is unfortunate for you guys (the media) because you have to report on a brilliant win for Chelsea and we qualify first in the group. It is difficult for everybody and today this is difficult for you.” Putting aside the fact that AVB is doing a handy trade in irony and a startling lack of self-awareness, the problem with attacking the media is, is that you become the story. It detracts from the player’s efforts.

The defeat to QPR for example, Villas-Boas raged after the game after seeing both Didier Drogba and Jose Bosingwa dismissed, correctly may I add: “The ref (Chris Foy) was poor, very very poor and it reflected in the result. I spoke to him at the end and I was very aggressive to him. I don’t care if he’s OK or not.

“Everyone can have a bad day, but this was not a bad day for us. It was a good day for us and a bad day for the referee. Three of the games played by Chelsea were influenced by the referee, and this is not Premier League level. Conspiracy theories can lead to bans and lead to you calling us cry-babies and we’re not, but it keeps happening.” The story should have been about how well Chelsea played with 9-men after the break, how close they came to forcing a result and about the team’s spirit, instead we were treated to little more than the Andre Villas-Boas show and he was fined £12k for his inflammatory and petulant remarks.

Creating a siege mentality at a club is fine, but not when it’s this contrived. It’s just not believable. Villas-Boas, obviously under intense pressure from above, is seeking to galvanise an underperforming side, but it’s just so obvious. It’s been fabricated entirely by their manager. There is no underlying agenda. I very much doubt whether the players even believe it themselves.

Villas-Boas has and always will be compared to his counterpart and former colleague Jose Mourinho. The thing is, whenever Mourinho launched into one of his rants, he did it with a degree of style, panache and a knowing smile. Villas-Boas just appears to have lost the plot, seemingly detached from reality.

Villas-Boas is a promising manager, he needs to be given time to address the myriad of complex issues that face this current Chelsea side. The task in hand is simply far greater than anyone had previously envisaged and their decline has been sharp. However, the current plan by Villas-Boas to attack the media for perceived ‘persecution’ is both embarrassing and laughable in equal measure. Dare I say it; the only person with a biased viewpoint is the manager himself.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1

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