Well, it seems Andre Villas-Boas has been a busy boy since being appointed as Chelsea’s youngest boss. From the look of the detailed diagrams and advanced algebra found on the new manager’s flip chart in Malaysia the other day, it would appear that he has designed the replacement for NASA’s space-shuttle programme. If football really is rocket science, Im not sure how I managed to leave school at 14, without any engineering degree, and managed to win England caps and major trophies.
All I can say is that Chelsea Football Club has come a long way in the 55 years since I was a young player there, working with Ted Drake. Dear old Ted right was famous for the shortest team talks in history, usually the same standard four-word rallying cry all the best, lads. What he would have made of the arrows, diagrams and copious notes of Villas-Boas is anybody’s guess.
Now I am not as sceptical as most about the young Portuguese. Unlike many ex-pros, it doesnt concern me that he never played the game at any level nor that, at 33, he is remarkably young. If he is good enough, he is old enough and a lack of playing experience will also be irrelevant. But I am, and always have been, convinced that football is a simple game and that over-coaching players, trying to bamboozle them with tactics, is the worst thing you can do. If Villas-Boas is to succeed, itll be because of his man-management techniques and not because he has somehow reinvented the wheel.
I can remember Bill Nicholson making me Tottenham captain for a tour match against Fiorentina in Canada, calling me into his office and filling his desk with 22 scraps of paper. He proceeded to manoeuvre the pieces of paper around like some deranged conjuror and left me thinking either hes gone mad or Ive gone mad and Im seeing things. I said you’re wasting your time, Bill, because weve got a team of odds-and-sods and this lot are going to hammer us. We lost 3-0, what a waste of paper that was.
My first England manager Walter Winterbottom was the godfather of football tactics. A lovely man but basically a civil servant rather than a football man. He once famously tried to tell Stanley Matthews how to cross a ball, instructing him: Instead of beating the full-back and crossing it, Stan, Id like you to cut it back to Len Shackleton, who is going to arrive late and stick it in the net. To which Len replied: Any particular part of the net you want me to stick it in boss? It was a lovely line from Len, always a man for a great put-down.
So in the spirit of dear old Ted Drake, Id urge Villa-Boas to frame his tactical masterplan, stick it up on the wall, and send his players out with the words all the best, lads!