The appointment of Andre Villas-Boas heralds the dawning of a new age at Stamford Bridge, in spite of some uncanny historic echoes: A young Portuguese manager, inexperienced in the big leagues, replaces an old, admired Italian coach, for little reason other than Abramovic’s impatience. And just as there were tuts when Ranieri was made a ‘proud man walking’ so too were there sighs and moans about the treatment of Carlo Ancelotti. Yes it was brutal, to the point where it may almost be considered disrespectful, but really, under the Abramovic administration, the fact that Carlo was given until the end of the season must be considered a sign of respect. For all his World Cup success, Scolari never received the same tolerance.
In truth, Carlo had to go. Even with a first League and Cup double, Carlo didn’t have what it takes to satisfy the Chelsea apparatchik, because frankly, he was just too nice a guy. He was too willing to admit when he was wrong, too magnanimous in his praise, too broad shouldered in his acceptance of criticism. In a word, he was too content, and contentment is not an attribute you look for in a successful Premiership manager.
Contentment says, hey, I’ve been here before, I’ve heard this music, you guys are all worrying about trivialities. Good runs come and go, decisions sometimes go against us, luck rolls in and out with the tides; don’t fret guys, when you look at the big picture it all evens itself out.
And just as that makes Carlo the kind of guy you’d happily share a bowl of tomato and chilli conchiglie with, or seek as Godfather to your newborn son, it just doesn’t cut it in the ruthless world of Premiership football. Managers like Mourinho and Ferguson are never content: when they lose it’s never their fault; it’s poor refereeing, or even biased refereeing, an unseen “stonewall” penalty at a crucial time, or an unfair red card. Whatever it is, you can bet that if the same thing should benefit them next time around, well, no, in that case it’s deserved, naturally.
To win, you need to be single-minded, selfish and above all else hungry. You need to want to prove yourself. And for all his merits as a coach and a footballer, you could never say Carlo needed to prove himself.
So in comes the new generation, just as it did after Ranieri. And yet, if this is the right policy, why didn’t we just stick with it first time around? Why isn’t Mourinho still the special one at Stamford Bridge? He is clearly still hungry, still desperate to prove himself on every stage. But at a time when he had arguably the steadiest ship in Europe, Abramovic let the captain slip overboard.
For all the explanations of personality clashes and ownership interference, the reason for Mourinho’s exit may be a bit more straight-forward: Mourinho wins dirty, and he makes no secret of it. The football he plays can at best be described as effective. He sacrifices every other aspect of the game to win. Witness the Intermilan victory over Barcelona in the previous Champions League: a masterclass in containment.
Abramovic has greater ambitions than mere victory, yes he wants to win the Champions League, but he really wants to own the greatest team in the world, to have a legion of fans admiring Chelsea. He wants what Barcelona have. He wants adoration. Unfortunately, the manner of Mourinho’s management means that for every victory he generates as many naysayers as he does supporters. Real Madrid are currently undergoing fundamental soul-searching as they try to work out if Mourinho’s win-at-all-costs approach is doing them more harm than good. (You couldn’t have scripted a more symbolic image than Sergio Ramos dropping the Copa Del Rey under the wheels of the victory parade bus. A trophy that cannot be proudly displayed in the cabinet.)
The arrival of Villas-Boas, hungry for success, young enough to attract the most eager footballing youth from around the world, and above all else, an attack-minded manager, heralds a Guardiola style era where camaraderie is king and the manner of winning is just as important as the winning itself.
Bring on the good times I say, and let the new dawn rise.