“Don’t expect something from one man.”
The first phrase uttered by Andre Villas-Boas upon his unveiling as the new messiah, tasked with reigniting Chelsea’s journey towards European domination. Despite an equally impressive record at Porto, he was keen to distance himself from his Portuguese predecessor.
There were no brash claims of superiority, instead he wanted “to create a dynamic group of everybody getting together.” Villas-Boas clearly understood the challenge ahead of him, but a constant struggle to exert himself in the dressing room has meant he is still the ‘self-effacing one’ rather than the ‘special one’.
Fast forward exactly eight months and Chelsea find themselves licking their wounds after a humbling defeat in Naples. The front three of Cavani, Hamsik and the sublime Lavezzi tore a Terry-less Chelsea defence apart with their intricate movement and deadly speed on the counter attack. The Blues failed to inflict the same misery on a equally susceptible Napoli backline, which has often been the case in front of goal this season.
It’s clear that alongside assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo there’s a potential to succeed, both have a deep understanding of the game but they both fail to create that presence on the touchline. AVB’s trademark crouch merely creates the effect of a man trying desperately to hide from the glaring spotlight.
Yet it’s evident that the landmark Chelsea figures are yearning for the return of Jose Mourinho, with reports of constant communication via text message serving only to fuel speculation. AVB strikes me as Mourinho without the bravado, a blessing for the neutral supporter but it means the egos at Chelsea are starved of the confidence Jose used to inspire within them. Regardless, how can a manager make his mark on a team of unprofessional professionals?
Club captain John Terry is without question the Braveheart character of the Chelsea backline and his performances this season have proven he can still go toe to toe with the very best. However, on more than one occasion the skipper has looked over to the bench and slung his arms up in air, an apparent act of despair as his defensive counterparts fail to match his expectations. A sign of understandable annoyance or immature petulance?
Frank Lampard sits alongside Terry as a key figure in the dressing room but he has endured much of this season as a spectator, which has won AVB few fans. Idolised on the terraces Lampard’s exclusion from the first team has left a severe lack of creativity in the heart of midfield. AVB is clearly making a point with his omission of Lampard, perhaps shining a light on his attitude in training or his reluctance to adapt his game at the manager’s discretion.
Didier Drogba is no longer the pedigree racehorse that used to strut around the pitch at Stamford Bridge. His vast arrogance was usually tolerated as he swept aside any defensive pairing with his brute force and clinical eye for goal. Nowadays his pace and first touch appear to be filtering away, which has seen him drift to the wing in search of a timid, young full back, and to presumably keep Fernando Torres company. Napoli’s vulnerable rearguard would have been easy prey for the Ivorian in his prime but alongside Kalou and Malouda, Drogba has failed to recreate his exceptional and uncompromising performances for his new manager.
Although Drogba has dismissed reports that he wrestled the team talk from AVB at half time against Birmingham. The fact that these stories are emerging speaks volumes about the growing unrest at the club. Perhaps the best way to encourage this underperforming team is for the senior players to get behind AVB, both on the pitch as well as in the papers. I can’t imagine the likes of Rio and Rooney chipping in with their two cents after Fergie is done talking. Player power is rife at Chelsea and needs to be subdued before the club can move forward.
Perhaps the biggest ego in the dressing room sits at the top the tree, Roman Abramovich often sees fit to berate his team after every unconvincing performance. No good has ever come from a chairman interfering with the managers role at the club. What he should be doing is publically backing his expensive manager, rather than have the poor man answer questions about his future during every single interview. This sends a clear message to the fans and the press that he is here to stay, and would no doubt force a reaction out of any disgruntled players.
In AVB’s defence he has sought to remove the disruptive elements from his squad by putting the inconsistent Alex on the Eurostar to Paris whilst sending the infamous Le Sulk half way round the world to China. The January window provided an ample opportunity to address Chelsea’s defensive frailties but the apparent refusal to throw new signing Gary Cahill straight into an ailing defence would suggest this was another example of Roman’s influence on the team.
This brings me onto former-and-yet-current Genk winger Kevin de Bruyne, “a target decided by the club” who cost a reported £9m. Why an earth wasn’t that money given to Villas-Boas to fund one or two loan deals or a move for the likes of Chris Samba, who would almost certainly provide a solution (albeit short-term) to their fragile defence.
The senior Chelsea players appear incapable of falling in line behind a man who’s shared a similar number of birthdays. Chelsea’s brightest lights have been the fresh-faced Sturridge, Mata and Ramires who are ten years younger than AVB not ten months. A quick glance at the Porto squad who enjoyed so much success under AVB, reveals just one player over the age of 30. That Player was goalkeeper Helton Arruda and we all know they get better with age. Is this evidence of an ill thought out decision by Abramovich, bringing an inexperienced individual to manage an ageing team, clouded by his desire to replicate the success under Jose Mourinho?
AVB has two main options, either succumb to the growing murmurs around him and stick with his established professionals or hail a new dawn by putting faith in the next generation. I for one would much rather see the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Daniel Sturridge spearhead the Chelsea attack rather than the impotent duo of Torres and Drogba. I mean, they can hardly score fewer goals can they?
Perhaps it’s time for Roman to shift his allegiance from his seasoned internationals to the young prospects that will help form the future of Chelsea football club. Only time will tell whether he includes AVB in that vision.
Did AVB pick the right team against Napoli? What changes would you implement ahead of Saturday’s must win game against Bolton? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @theunusedsub
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