Oh Fernando. All he wanted was to be loved. Throughout his 25-hour goal drought, he was the black sheep of the family, shunned by those he cared for. Every hour, every minute seemed to last eternally. I was so afraid Fernando. But then the evil Andre Villas-Boas departed. Roberto Di Matteo took over, and a hug and few nice words was all it took. Then came Leicester City in the FA Cup. There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright. Two goals and an assist. Fernando.
Sorry about that. So are we led to believe that all Fernando Torres’ problems were down to bad management? This seems to be his suggestion this week, saying that he finally had a manager who believed in him. So was having a manager who had doubts about him before making him play badly on the pitch? And was this the reason he performed badly for the previous manager too?
Fernando Torres is a player who has performed at the highest level, appeared in a World Cup Final (briefly), a Champions League performer, been in a title-pushing side, and scored the winning goal in Euro 2008. He has commanded a £50m transfer fee. And now we’re led to believe that he can’t perform without a manager with oodles of TLC.
Of course there is complete validity in the idea that managers can improve players by managing them well, reassuring them, saying the right things, and so on. Harry Redknapp’s biggest skill is said to be just this – man-management. I just find it incredible that Torres could see such a spectacular fall from grace just because his manager didn’t treat him well enough.
Some players need handling differently to others of course, but the mercenary/Judas/misunderstood (delete as applicable) Carlos Tevez is able to perform easily enough (should he grace us with his presence on a football field) despite falling out with everyone at some point or another.
And then there’s the old guard at Chelsea.
Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole were left out of the side for the first leg of their Champions League tie against Napoli, which they lost 3-1 in Italy. Lampard admitted he had told Villas-Boas what he thought of that decision, adding: ‘I wasn’t disrespectful. I just told him I thought I should be playing.’
The oft-peddled story in the papers about Villas-Boas freezing out the old guard was a complete lie. Lampard got plenty of time on the pitch – he certainly isn’t the club’s leading goal-scorer again this season by sitting on the bench every week. And the old guard were present on the pitch during plenty of bad results. Was it all down to bad tactics from the manager?
On the rare occasions the likes of Lampard or Drogba have been “excluded”, it was done for a good reason. They are reaching the twilight of their careers, and whoever the Chelsea manager is has to re-build the squad, easing them out and easing in new blood. Tough luck if they don’t like it. I’ve no problem with players wanting to play, it beats the likes of a Winston Bogarde or a Wayne Bridge, but my problem lies with the fallacy that the old guard were pushed out by Villas-Boas, or that a 33-year old being dropped once is somehow a cause for complaint, or worthy of him commenting to the press. It really isn’t.
But the lies about the old guard being “frozen out” were peddled regularly by the most ignorant of Fleet Street. Shaun Custis in The Sun exclaimed after Chelsea beat Napoli 4-1:
‘That Didier Drogba – what a donkey, eh? John Terry? His legs have gone. And, as for Frank Lampard, there has been a space marked ‘Reserved’ for him for months down at the knacker’s yard. Well, that was the theory anyway – and it is one the sacked Andre Villas-Boas had signed up to. But the gang of three were not ready to stand aside this season. There was still far too much fight left in these proud men who refused to be pensioned off.”
So, these pensioned-off players had been excluded by Villas-Boas eh? Terry has made 30 appearances this season, and would’ve made more but for injury. Drogba has played in 24, missing a few games again because injury but also of course due to the small matter of the Africa Cup of Nations. And Lampard has appeared in 37 games. THIRTY-SEVEN.
As football365.com pointed out, these pensioners were involved in defeats to QPR, West Brom, Aston Villa and Bayer Leverkeusen.
And then there’s people like Alex, who think they know the whole situation, and that Lampard deserved special attention:
“I saw some comments of Lampard recently and I think he deserved more respect. It is true that a player knows he will sometimes have to stay on the bench, especially after reaching a certain age. That’s not a problem. But with Lampard’s history at the club, where he has more than 10 years, he deserves a word or an explanation from the manager. Fundamentally, it was a question of respect for everything that he represents for Chelsea.”
Of course Roberto Di Matteo will take a lot of credit for turning around Chelsea’s form with 4 victories in his first 4 games, but surely what this shows just as much is that the team were not performing to their full ability under Villas-Boas, and the manager cannot take all the flak for that, whatever his tactics. At least John Terry admitted this too:
“Sad for Andre, because unfortunately it falls on his head, when I think the players would hold their hands up and say, ‘Clearly, we’ve not been good enough and we all made mistakes together’.”
The fact is that player power is an unstoppable force at times. Managers live or die by results, and if the players don’t apply themselves as a group, if their form drops and the results suffer, it is the manager who gets the “bullet” (especially if Ashley Cole is nearby).
But Villas-Boas was moving towards his own Ides of March moment for many a month, let-down and stabbed in the back by many around him. Just look at the press leaks from squad members, and Abramovich and his cronies overseeing training sessions. As a Manchester City fan I have seen first-hand the underhand tactics that players (and playing staff) can take to get rid of a manager, to undermine him, after years of tabloid stories of dressing room bust-ups, training ground fights and poor little players being left to train with the reserves and not getting the love their huge egos demanded.
Chelsea’s old guard are hardly the worst-behaved footballers of recent years, but they did have the time on the pitch to rectify a difficult situation for their manager. Villas-Boas was always a dead man walking with Abramovich as his judge and jury, and he must take much blame for the real prospect of Chelsea not qualifying for the Champions League next season. But let’s not forget that players are the ultimate deliverers of results – it’s just a shame some of Chelsea’s biggest names didn’t stand up to be counted a bit earlier-or am I wrong and Villas-Boas enforced tactics that could never work in the English game?
Take a look at the latest episode of the ‘Football Coffee Break’
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