Amid a torrid run of form, player backlash and the famed “backing” of a trigger happy owner, the following month could be make or break for Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas
Every manager goes through it. A run of important fixtures that can ultimately decide a team’s season. It’s around this time of the year too. Games of all sorts, league, cup clashes and European endeavours start to creep its way in the calendar. Chelsea’s period starts now and it has all the problems, issues and pressures the size of an iceberg. And it could be a very important period for one man — manager Andre Villas-Boas.
This is no exaggeration. Villas-Boas is under intense pressure to lift the Blues, who have fallen on very hard times. They sit fifth on the table, behind Arsenal on goals scored, in the chase of the Champions League final spot. It’s not that the Blues are out of the hunt, far from it, but it’s their recent form that has brought this unwanted pressure on the team. Two wins from their last 10 league games says it’s all. And that’s not even near the tip of the iceberg.
The rumour mill has started to swirl with talk that former Chelsea maestro manager Jose Mourinho could make a sensational return to Premier League next season; with the destination being Stamford Bridge. It might just be the gossip and talk, but it’s an unwanted cloud hanging over Villas-Boas’ head. The rumours instil an uncertainty in the works of Villas-Boas who is having trouble to implement his own style, a high pressuring, possession based game, in an very Mourinho moulded team. Added to the fact that FC Porto President Da Pinto points out that “there are players who exchange text messages with Mourinho”, and more worrying that “Abramovich knows this”, which surely undermines the Chelsea’s managers work in constructing his own team. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.
After Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Everton, Villas-Boas was confronted by senior players in a heated exchanged the day after the game. The players expressed their doubts about Villas-Boas’ ability and skill to take the club forward. Villas-Boas even admitted that “They [the players] don’t have to back my project”. Difficult enough to implement and construct a team with a blend of both old players tied to old ways and new signings. More difficult if those players don’t believe in the project themselves. Villas-Boas has had problems to instil his new style, forcing himself to slowly go back in the Mourinho mode (defending deep and countering) at times during the season, but there’s always been that effort to change the formula. If the players don’t believe it, it’s more of a problem. And that still isn’t the tip of the iceberg.
Villas-Boas’ respond to his players’ outburst was that, “My authority is total because it’s the owner’s authority” and “It’s the owner who backs my project”. This is the same owner who fired Mourinho for playing too “pragmatic”; who sacked Avram Grant despite him leading the club to final of Champions League after the departure of the ‘special one’; the same owner who sacked Carlo Ancelottli,even though he lead the team to ‘double’ in his first season. So what’s the chance of Abramovich keeping Villas-Boas around if he can’t satisfy the owner’s needs of a trophy and European competition? Villas-Boas has said that “It is a relationship that is perfect at the moment”. How many times have we heard that before? Tip of the iceberg?
No, that’s not the tip of the large iceberg. All those problems and pressures that Villas-Boas is facing is merely the ground work leading to the tip of the iceberg: the “make or break” period that is steering straight at Villas-Boas. Over the course of the next few weeks, Chelsea have an important FA Cup replay; their Champions League ties against Napoli and a host of Premier League teams fighting against relegation in Bolton, West Brom, Stoke then an double header of Manchester City and Tottenham.
A couple of bad results in the League and could struggled to get fourth place in what is turning out be a four-way battle including Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle. Failure to continue in the FA Cup might results in more disastrous outcomes; not to mention if they fail to beat Napoli. This on top of backing of a trigger happy owner, a revolting group of players and persisted rumours of replacement. Villas-Boas has never been in a more intense situation before in his short managerial career. Best bet to get those results and fast.