Andre Villas-Boas’s arrival at Chelsea over the summer was a sensation. Young, confident, and possessing a pedigree of mentorship, transformation at Chelsea was expected. But instilling new and unfamiliar ways would be palliative before firmly rooted—this was Chelsea after all, part exclusive nightclub, and part outpost of the new Moscow, an engineered beast resistant to obedience. Villas-Boas nearly made it three months before Fernando Torres’s untoward comments opened the door for his manager’s first encounter with sensationalism. The Villas-Boas era’s most tangible influence to date may be guiding Chelsea through an understated summer.
The Torres interview with the official website of La Liga was translated into English and posted on his personal website, rendering whatever he said in Spanish about Chelsea’s senior players as “very slow”. With this move, he effectively replaced the third-party publication as reliable scapegoat with his own, thereby making him both perpetrator and victim of that dastardly translation issue known as slippage. It is more likely that Torres simply undervalued the role of an editor than brazenly let loose a bilingual criticism of his colleagues. Still, he would have to answer.
Since the firebrand days of José Mourinho, Chelsea has produced their share of sensationalism; sex scandals and shootings are the prime cuts of daytime television. Historically, Torres’s comments hardly qualify as scandalous, yet under Villas-Boas’s reign of humility and self-restraint, “very slow” was sufficiently meaty for the media to grab and run toward disproportionate implications. For the first time as Chelsea manager, Villas-Boas was forced out of his low-key and contained persona to chase down his drifter striker and publicly address a club issue.
On Torres’s comments:
“We’d just talk. Just talk. To share opinion. If it was unauthorised, I’d fine him. Of course. Anyhow, it’s one player’s perspective.
“I don’t think it’s a perspective that the manager shares. I don’t have to share my players’ ideas sometimes…Maybe we just have to speak about that situation and he has to see our view as well.”
Consistent with his high regard for communication and empathy as the basis for professional relationships, Villas-Boas made it clear that he would remain a sincere and honest listener who in turn offers his take on matters without aggressive imposition, without—as he stated upon arrival— imposing his “radical-self”. Governing principles will take the lead.
When he speaks, one can see the abstract thinker in him, as if he’s visualizing the idea’s model at the same time, referencing some architectural or geometric shape hovering in front of him under a cone of light.
By way of ego, self-awareness, restraint, and motivation, Villas-Boas expansively detailed the central importance of the group dynamic and the place of the individual within it, both on and off the pitch. Aware that he can be occasionally wordy and indirect, he bookends the underpinnings and expositions with concise summaries impossible to misconstrue:
“The only thing I could never tolerate is an individual looking for individual objectives. Collective objectives go above everything else.”
His comments about Torres were similarly stern and clear, yet had an additional hard edge.
“We are going in-depth to regain the tape of that interview. We’ll see if things play exactly as they are in that interview.”
This communicator was now the interrogator. Torres’s comments were hardly incendiary or revelatory. Going outside the family always get the manager’s boxer briefs in a bunch, and Villas-Boas’s tone certainly conveyed an uncomfortable tightening. But the family does not mark the sanctified circle for him. If Torres’s translation had proved accurate, he would not have been guilty of insubordinate speech, but insubordinate action, a breach of the concept of the group, whose cohesion and health is dependent upon open communication and understanding. The possibility of the individual objective lying behind Torres’s comment could be damaging to the group.